Friday, February 12, 2010

RIP, Charlie Wilson....

Meant to post this the other day.  Among the more quietly influential people of the last 100years....

WSJ has a nice tribute:

The average Member of Congress casts votes along party lines, passes out pork to the folks back home, attends fund raisers, and if he can't find anything better to do with his life serves long enough to revel in being called "Mr. Chairman." Then there are the rare likes of Charlie Wilson, the 12-term Texas Democrat who died this week at age 76, having helped to win the Cold War.
Wilson's exploits in arming the Afghan resistance against the Soviets in the 1980s were memorialized a few years back in "Charlie Wilson's War." The movie portrayed Wilson, played by Tom Hanks, as a politically incorrect swashbuckler who liked the company of beautiful women. This is true. We got to know "Good Time Charlie" from talking to him on defense issues, and typically he was surrounded by people too impossibly attractive to work in Washington. This did not detract from his value as a source.
His greatest work, however, was in collaborating with the Reagan Administration and the CIA to provide arms to the Afghan rebels. These included small arms at first, but the tide of the war turned once the mujahideen received Stinger antiaircraft missiles that compromised Soviet dominance of the skies. The Soviet military left Afghanistan after suffering fearsome casualties, the first time the Communists had been forced to cede territory they had taken in the post-Stalin era.
Wilson's support was crucial because he served in a crucial committee post at a time when Democrats dominated the House and much of the rest of his party had become anti-anti-Communists. It's hard to remember 20 years after the Berlin Wall fell, but giving Stingers to the Afghans was highly controversial at the time. For that matter, so was the entire Reagan defense buildup and the re-moralizing of U.S. foreign policy that called the Kremlin an "evil empire." Defeating the Soviets was not foreordained. It required the conviction of men like Wilson and Reagan.
The movie about Wilson includes an undercurrent of ambivalence about arming the Afghans, some of whom would later become jihadists against America. You know the trope: We created Osama bin Laden. This is not true. Bin Laden is his own brutal creation, and his revolt against modernity would have happened with or without the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. The Cold War was the epic struggle against an enemy that wanted to bury the free world, and arming the Afghans as proxies was not a morally or strategically ambiguous decision. It saved lives and contributed to the liberation of tens of millions.
The mistake, if we made one, was in abandoning that part of the world once the Soviets had left. Our soldiers have now returned to that theater in the battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban, and our guess is that Charlie Wilson would have wanted us to fight until we win this war too.

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