charlie wilson

March 2, 2008

Minor admissions of guilt in a pile of… the usual US self-aggrandizing…

“Charlie Wilson’s War” is a Hollywood movie about a congressman from Texas who managed to persuade the House Committee on Appropriations to increase financial support for Afghans fighting against the Soviet Union in the 80s from 5 million US dollars to 500 million. As one might expect, the movie is about an American’s (albeit a womanizer cocaine-consuming politician) struggle to help the poor Afghan people overcome communism. Complete with the whole shebang, even the emotional music at the end, in the scene that glorifies the hero, a hero with tears in his eyes. Julia Roberts says this is the story that proves how a few people can change history…the American dream, that is. Oh, there’s also the wicked Russians shooting at running children.

The movie ignores completely any connection with September 11.

As the movie shows, the Americans directed the aid through Pakistan (through General Zia, who “did not kill Bhutto”), which means they did not have a close supervision to where the Stingers went. Certainly, not all of them went to “friends of democracy”, as the movie claims. Certainly, even if the Americans were capable of controlling where the weapons went (which they rarely manage to), we should doubt they would send it all to genuine friends of democracy, there’s only so many proofs to the contrary only in the last half of century.

There’s also no mention of Bin Laden. Yes, the Afghans pushed out the Russians with US military aid. But, without the strength of the religious warriors, rallied not only from Afghanistan but also from all over the world, by people like Bin Laden (himself a Saudi), who would have shot those rockets? It’s like the determination of a people to defend itself and also of Muslim brothers to protect each other, were completely irrelevant.

The movie has a few good points. Chronologically, one is a crazy speech by the CIA operative played by Seymour Hoffman who angrily explains what he had to suffer in order to support the dictatorship in Greece, another is a moment of comunion between a Christian zealot US senator and Afghani refugees who have nothing to hope for but God (and that’s a good moment because, naturally, the depiction of the Afghans is orientalist, they are poor religious savages, Muslim fundamentalists, and so the moment of communion just shows that the US has its religious fundamentalists too, and that they are fat rich white senators in many cases). Finally, the end of the movie is good, when the CIA guy warns Wilson that if they don’t continue to put money in Afghanistan, hell will break loose and there’s no way to know the consequences. After managing to get congressmen to pay 500 million for warring the Soviet Union, he couldn’t manage to extract another million for building schools.

And I suppose that says a lot about the US foreign policy. And, even though the movie ignores all the connections, they are so much out there that a viewer aware of current events sees them anyway. You helped take out the Soviets from Afghanistan(not so much for the poor Afghans, no one knows where the country is, but because you are in the Cold War and the Afghans fight the Russians directly), as you took out Saddam and the Talebans, each for their respective reasons, surely not because of the suffering of the poor Iraqis and Afghans. And then you have no clue what to do. That is, assuming that you would even want to, after you took your spoils.

The other interesting thing is that, before Wilson came to the scene, it seems the strategy of the US was to help the Afghans just drain the Soviets out, as they themselves had been drained in Vietnam. But then, once the Soviets were out, what actually happened was that the Americans took their place, as the dominant force and later occupier of the country, only to be drained out again, like in Vitenam.

So, the brilliant thing contained in this movie is the Zen tale whose teaching is “you never know”, you never know when a victory turns defeat and when a defeat turns victory.

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