by Frank Schnittger
Mon Jan 14th, 2008 at 06:19:18 PM EST
Charlie Wilson's war is an ambitious attempt to make a popular entertainment movie on a sometimes horrific political topic - a bit like The Last King of Scotland which also creates something of a comedy out of Idi Amin's horrific regime in Uganda.
It has a screenplay written by Aaron Sorkin, of "The West Wing" fame, the best political soap in the business. The film lionises a semi-obscure Texas Democrat Congressman (the eponymous Charlie Wilson, played by Tom Hanks) for helping to defeat the Soviets in Afganistan by securing funding for a covert operation to arm Mujahedin rebels who resisted the Soviet Union after the Red Army invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Historian Paul Kengor argues that it pointedly ignores the fact that Ronald Reagan and key members of his administration played a far bigger role in promoting this covert war effort.
The film suggests at the end, that "we f*cked up the endgame" because, for all his success in securing $1 Billion funding for arms for Afgani resistance fighters, he couldn't secure a paltry $1 Million in congressional funding in aid of reconstructing schools at the end of the war. Although never explicitly stated, the viewer is invited to come to the obvious conclusion that that this miserly conservative anti-aid ideology allowed Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban et al to step into the vacuum and set up Madrases and educate a new generations of fighters who would use the training and weaponry gained from the fight against the Soviets against the USA itself.
Let us forget for the moment that this film is primarily about popular entertainment, not about historical accuracy. It is easier to fictionalise relatively unknown characters like Charlie Wilson and Gust Avrakotos, the colorful maverick CIA agent portrayed in the movie by Philip Seymour Hoffman, in cinematic terms, rather than the more historically accurate but boringly bland figures like CIA Director Bill Casey and National Security adviser Bill Clarke, who along with Reagan, were the major authors of the Afghanistan policy.
The film is thus an ideologically inspired re-writing of history, claiming the lead role for a Democrat in what is supposedly the last morally unambiguous war fought by the US or its surrogates, but at the same time, at least by implication, blaming the subsequent rise of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ultimately 9-11 on the failure to develop a more liberal US foreign Aid policy.
The film portrays the arms as going to Ahmad Shah Massoud who in fact received less than 1% of the aid and deliberately obscures the fact that 40% of the US covert military aid went to the bloodthirsty Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, who is "credited" with killing more Afganis than the Russians themselves. He also, with Abdul Rasul Sayaf, set up the Terrorist training camps which attracted thousands of of Arab volunteers, including a wealthy young engineer named Osama bin Laden.
AlterNet: Tom Hanks Tells Hollywood Whopper in 'Charlie Wilson's War'
Hekmatyar and the Arab volunteers did make an appearance in an earlier draft of the script, making it clear that their absence from the final cut was no oversight on the part of the filmmakers.
The film is thus a blatantly propagandist attempt to claim credit for the last supposedly morally unambiguous war fought by the USA on behalf of a Democratic Congressman, whilst at the same time willfully obscuring the direct consequences of that act in the subsequent rise of the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden.
Having said all that, it has its moments, including some politically incorrect jokes and a rather irreverent take on the realities of US political life. The contrast between the high living Hanks and the poverty stricken Afghanis shown being used as cannon fodder in lurid detail and the glorification of Stinger Technology (When the real Charlie Wilson allegedly got kickbacks for supplying inferior technology) provides for some uncomfortable contrasts.
Politics is a game and war is terrible unless you have assured military superiority, seems to be the motto.
"Thank the Lord that we have got,
The Gatling gun and they have not."