Thursday, February 11, 2010

Charlie Wilson, 1933-2010. R.I.P.

Former Texas Democratic Congressman Charlie Wilson died yesterday of a heart attack. He was 76.

Wilson is, of course, best known for his efforts to covertly assist the Mujahadeen after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This was documented in a book written in 2003 by George Crile titled Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. This book would be adapted into the 2007 film Charlie Wilson's War starring Tom Hanks as Wilson.

There are those who argue that by aiding the Mujahadeen he unleashed a monster. Many of those who were the beneficiaries of U.S. aid rewarded our kindness by being part of the Taliban and harboring Osama bin Laden. There are also those who argue that had we remained present in Afghanistan after the Soviets were driven out there might not have been an environment that would have allowed the rise of the Taliban and of al Qaeda. Yet is it all that simple? Who can say that our continued presence in Afghanistan would have been any more welcome in 1990 than it is in 2010? Let's remember that as long as we are in Afghanistan we have to find allies to support our efforts. Somehow I don't think we're going to find the likes of The Dalai Lama in Kabul.

And suppose Charlie Wilson hadn't come along? Perhaps the Soviets would have been successful and had they been successful perhaps the USSR would not have collapsed. Yes, one could make the case that bin Laden and al Qaeda might not have established a base in Afghanistan. But who can say he wouldn't have established a power base somewhere else as he had in Somalia?

Suffice it to say an otherwise obscure liberal Congressman from Texas played a small but important role in the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. As for Afghanistan, the situation there remains fluid by the day if not the hour.

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