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Monday, January 07, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

I saw "Charlie Wilson's War" on December 25 and was thoroughly entertained.

The film is a sharp satire and offers a long-term critique of American foreign policy. Before reading further, be warned that this review includes plot spoilers.

Texas Representative Charlie Wilson was apparently fairly liberal on domestic social policy, but he was a vehement cold warrior. During the early 1980s, he literally and politically climbed in bed with a wealthy member of the religious right, Joanne King Herring (the sixth richest woman in Texas). For ideological reasons, Herring helped convince Wilson to support the mujahideen in Afghanistan.

Arguably, Charlie Wilson was a neocon.

The film clearly demonstrates that cynical neocon foreign policies can have counterproductive -- even disastrous -- consequences.

While the mujahideen's insurgency against the Soviet military undoubtedly contributed mightily to the red army's defeat in Afghanistan, the end of the cold war had multiple and complex causes.

The movie, in fact, reveals many of the dubious alliances the U.S. made during the cold war. In the case of Afghan policy, the U.S. teamed with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. As many cold warriors used to say, "They may be bastards, but they are our bastards."

In the film, as in real life, American officials simplistically characterize other states as good or evil -- and the designation seems arbitrarily to turn on a dime.

The average viewer of the movie may be tempted to cheer through the scenes when U.S.-supplied Stinger missiles shoot down Soviet jets and helicopters. However, by the end, the filmmakers clearly signal that America turned its back on Afghanistan and invited the blowback that led to 9/11.

Charlie Wilson's war didn't end the cold war -- and in many ways, his war continues to rage in Afghanistan.

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