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To The Point News arrow Behind The Lines arrow Free Articles arrow CHARLIE WILSON AND RONALD REAGAN'S WAR
Written by Dr. Jack Wheeler   
Wednesday, 26 December 2007


This picture was taken during my wedding on May 25, 1986.  The ceremony took place at the villa of a friend of mine in St. Tropez, France.  My bride was a gorgeous California redhead named Rebel Holiday (yes, her born name).  The dapper gentleman you see between us was serving as my best man.  The reason he doesn't look like Tom Hanks is because he's the real Charlie Wilson.

When Rebel tossed her garter after the ceremony, it was Charlie who caught it.


He promptly and gallantly put it on the shapely leg of his then-fiancée, Annelise Ilschenko - who was more beautiful and classier than Julia Roberts, having been Miss USA (in 1975 at age 17).  Besides, Charlie hadn't seen Joanne Herring (played by Ms. Roberts) in years.


So it was a strange experience for me to see the movie Charley Wilson's War, a movie portraying events I participated in, to see how it was both true and not true, magnificent and ludicrous at the same time.

First the truth.  Tom Hanks has Charlie spot on.  His mannerisms, voice, posture, facial expressions:  Hanks is Charlie, and he might get his third Oscar for playing him that he was denied in Cast Away and Saving Private Ryan (he along with six others have won Best Actor twice, no one has won it thrice).

Further, Hanks portrays Charlie as the hero he really was.  A larger-than-life America-loving Communist-hating true blue patriot who used his power and influence to the max to stick it to the Soviets big time.  That Hollywood would make a major motion picture about a genuine Anti-Communist hero, about a noble Anti-Communist triumph over the Evil Communist Empire of the Soviet Union is morally thrilling.  The movie is magnificent.

Not taking anything away from the magnificence, it is also ludicrous.

And not just because I'm not in the movie.  After all, I'm the one who explained to him how defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan could win the Cold War, not some socialite in Houston.  It's that no one who had a critical role in helping the Afghans or winning the Cold War is in the movie except Charlie, whose sidekicks are a single CIA lone ranger and a blonde chick in Texas - not Bill Casey, not Ronald Reagan, no one.

In fact, at the movie's end, a character lauds Charlie as a Democrat for what he has accomplished despite "a Republican president."  That's the movie's only reference to Reagan and it is negative, as if Reagan were a hindrance in Charlie's way.  That's an insult to both men, for Charlie had the highest respect for President Reagan.

This is due to the author of the best-selling book upon which Charley Wilson's War was based.  George Crile was a super-liberal who refused to give any conservative, any Republican from Reagan on down, any credit for anything.

There's a scene in the movie where Charlie is showing a girlfriend the view from the balcony of his condo overlooking the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge, the Washington Monument, and the US Capitol.  Charlie's condo really did have a balcony with that view. 

I explained the concept of the Reagan Doctrine to George Crile on that balcony, recounting my experiences with the Afghan Mujahaddin to him, as well as those with other anti-Soviet freedom fighters like the Contras in Nicaragua, the UNITA guerrillas in Angola, and the RENAMO guerrillas in Mozambique.   It was like talking to a wall.

I remember getting really ticked off at Gust Avrakotos on that balcony.  He's the CIA guy played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. 

The movie is about providing weapons to Afghans fighting the Soviets, yet only one specific Afghan is named in the film, the legendary "Lion of Panjshir," Ahmad Shah Massoud.,

Yet the CIA in fact provided little or no aid to Massoud for most of the war.  The film never mentions who did get most of the CIA aid instead of Massoud:  an America-hating Khomeini-loving Islamofascist named Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and his "Hezbi" Mujahaddin.

One month after 9/11, in October of 2001, I wrote Gulbuddin and the CIA, stating that:

"The CIA's obsession to support Gulbuddin in vast preference to all other Mujahaddin leaders bordered on the pathological."

It was Gust Avrakotos in particular I was referring to in that article when I said:
Every CIA agent I ever talked to -- especially the armchair analysts at Langley - - was insufferably condescending whenever I would state that Gulbuddin's people did no fighting, that the other groups were begging for weapons while the Hezbis had an oversupply of weapons they didn't use. The agents would patronizingly assure me their "intel" contradicted what I and every other independent observer who actually went into Afghanistan saw with our own eyes - - so we all must be wrong.
I ended up inviting Avrakotos on Charlie's balcony to engage in self-induced carnal knowledge because, surprise, he had never been inside Afghanistan with the Muj himself.  At least the movie was honest in not depicting him doing so.

In his book Holy War, Inc., CNN's terrorism analyst Peter Bergen states that of the $1 billion in US aid to the Muj, at least "$600 million" went to Hekmatyar, who "had the dubious distinction of never winning a significant battle during the war, training a variety of militant Islamists from around the world, killing significant numbers of Mujahaddin from other parties, and taking a virulently anti-Western line."

Whenever I came back from Afghanistan throughout the 1980s, along with various people in the Reagan White House, the Pentagon, and Congress, I would always brief Charlie.  My years of ranting at him about Gulbuddin finally got through to him in early 1987 - because it wasn't just me.

"Why do you and everyone else who's been inside [Afghanistan] tell me one thing, and the same thing, about the Hezbis, while the CIA tells me the opposite?" he mused. 

"Because the CIA is lying to you, Charlie," came my reply.

"What do you suggest?" came his question.  After a discussion, he took out a piece of paper, wrote a letter, put it in an envelope, and said, "Take this to Rabbani."  Burhanuddin Rabbani was the leader of the Jamiat Mujahaddin, ones who did a lot of the fighting.  Massoud was a Jamiat commander. 

It wasn't long before I was in Islamabad to hand Rabbani the letter.  Its contents can be surmised from this excerpt from Gulbuddin and the CIA, which at the time could not mention any names:
A number of United States Congressmen also had figured out that the CIA was lying about Gulbuddin's effectiveness, and were well aware of the great danger he was to the future of Afghanistan. I once delivered a personally written note from one such Congressman to Burhanuddin Rabbani. We had met a number of times before, but on this occasion we had a long discussion. The note was an explicit request for Rabbani to have his people spare no effort to assassinate Gulbuddin.

"If you do not do this," I explained to Rabbani and his chief aide, Abdul Rahim, "any victory the Afghans achieve over the Shuravi [Soviets] will result in chaos and disaster. Gulbuddin has to be killed, killed dead, if Afghanistan is to have any future and any freedom."

After our discussion, the Congressman's letter, of which no copies were made, was burned before my eyes. A few days later, Gulbuddin's Toyota Land Cruiser blew up in Peshawar, Pakistan. Gulbuddin's driver was killed, but Gulbuddin, although injured, survived. Subsequent attempts also failed.
If Crile had written more of the truth, it would have made a better book and movie.  The same goes for the crux of the plot, providing the Muj with Stinger missiles.

The movie has Charlie demanding the Muj be given anti-aircraft weapons against the Soviet Hind helicopter gunships right from the start.  It whiplashes from 1980 to 1987, shows a schematic of the European Milan anti-tank missile, then in the very next scene two Afghans use a US Stinger against a Hind.  This is a farce.

How the Afghans got the Stingers that won the war is a fascinating story never fully told and can only be abbreviated here.  The very condensed version is this:

All the massive weapons flow organized by Charlie and the CIA had, by mid-1986, done no good as it was mostly going to Gulbuddin.  When I was in Afghanistan in August, the war was over.  The Soviets had won, most of the Muj had retreated back to the refugee camps in Pakistan.  Soviet Spetsnaz teams were hunting down and killing the Muj who were left.

Ronald Reagan had been well aware of the need for shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles, and in April 1985 signed a classified Executive Order giving CIA Director Bill Casey the authority to provide the Muj with Stingers.  The EO was blocked by CIA Deputy Director John McMahon.

McMahon was determined that the Afghans not get Stingers, and used every bureaucratic trick in the book in a constant stream of excuses to prevent their delivery, despite the demands of Reagan, Senator Gordon Humphrey (R-NH), Charlie, and many others in Congress such as Don Ritter (R-PA).

By late 1985, the entire conservative movement was demanding military aid to anti-Soviet freedom fighters, so we decided to make an end run around McMahon.  A visit by UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was arranged to Washington, where he met President Reagan in the Oval Office on January 30, 1986.

Savimbi told Reagan about the coming Soviet-Cuban offensive scheduled at the end of the rainy season in April, that UNITA would be destroyed without Stingers against the Hinds.  Reagan gave Savimbi his word that the Stingers would be provided.

The President then called Bill Casey and said he just didn't care what the excuses were anymore.  Any reason given by McMahon was to be disregarded.  He signed an EO to that effect on February 18.  Two weeks later, McMahon resigned.  I was in Angola at UNITA's Jamba headquarters in April when the Stingers arrived.  The Soviet-Cuban offensive was stopped thanks to them.

Now the way was cleared for Stingers to the Afghans.  The Paks (Pakistanis, particularly the ISI Inter-Service Intelligence boys who controlled all Muj arms shipments and led the CIA around with a ring through its nose) got in the way and delayed things - so much so that in August I saw the Muj on the ropes with my own eyes.

Finally, on September 26, 1986, the first Stinger missile was fired by an Afghan freedom fighter - and it shot down a Hind just like in the movie.  The launcher of that first Stinger ended up proudly displayed in Charlie Wilson's office.

The CIA/ISI vainly tried to see that Stingers were only given to Gulbuddin, but now Charlie, Reagan, Humphrey, Casey et al were on to the scam, so the entire weapons flow along with the Stingers was redirected to Jamiat and other groups actually fighting.  The Muj erupted out of the refugee camps, poured back into Afghanistan, and the war was back on.

It was the Stingers that won the war, just like the movie shows, just as I told Charlie my conclusion after my first travels with the Muj in 1983, "Take the Soviets out of the air, and the Muj will defeat them on the ground."

After the loss of hundreds of Soviet warcraft and pilots from late '86 through ‘88, the Soviets retreated in defeat.  Less than nine months after final retreat from Afghanistan on February 15, 1989, the Berlin Wall was down, Eastern Europe liberated, and the Cold War won.

It was a victory of many people, chief among them of course being Ronald Reagan, for implementing the entire strategy of the Reagan Doctrine targeting Soviet vulnerabilities.  Support for anti-Soviet guerrillas in Afghanistan and Nicaragua, for democracy movements in Eastern Europe, was a critical part of that strategy but only a part.

And in that part, Charlie Wilson played a critical role.  It is silly for the movie to pretend that Charlie did it by himself without Ronald Reagan, and it is sad for the movie to end on a sour note of blame for the Taliban and Al Qaeda.  To understand how Afghanistan ended up with this twin-infestation, again read Gulbuddin and the CIA.

Yet caveats aside, I am so glad this movie was made.  It is so much better than the book, which is hopelessly permeated with hyper-liberal prejudice.  It is wonderful that the world knows about this extraordinary man, knows what a hero Charlie Wilson is.

The movie overplays his flamboyance as much as the décolletage of his staff.  The ladies who worked for him, such as Molly Hamilton, were beautiful but serious and professional.  Charlie was a consummate pro who knew just what he was doing, including the "Good Time Charlie" act.  I never saw him drink to excess or act inappropriately.  He was always the true gentleman, treating Annelise, for example, like the true lady she was.

The moral lesson of the movie should be a very sobering one for the Democrat Party.  Charlie Wilson was proudly and unashamedly a Pro-American, Anti-Communist Democrat.  His heroism should be a deep embarrassment to the party of Pelosi Galore and Lost Harry Reid, the party who apologizes for America's existence and has neither the spine nor will to defend her.

The Democrat Party - indeed, America - needs more Charlie Wilsons.  I will always have the greatest respect for what he did for our country, and I will always treasure his friendship.

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