Daniel Korski

The End of Charlie Wilson’s War

The End of Charlie Wilson's War
Text settings

Rarely are obituaries so full of parties, history-changing events and personal contradictions as those of ex-Congressman and rebel-armer Charlie Wilson, who died last night aged 76. War will mix with cocaine. Burqa-clad women will mingle with strippers. "Good Time" Charlie's life was genuinely remarkable.

Described as "one the most distinctive" congressmen, he spent most of his time partying until he found the cause of a lifetime: ejecting the Soviets from Afghanistan. As detailed in the book and film "Charlie Wilson's War", the Texan politician used his contacts and seat on a powerful Congress committee to arm the Afghan rebels.

And he did it in style - all buttoned-down, white-collared shirts, college ties and striped suits that would make Gordon Gekko envious. Tom Hanks is a good actor but he could not quite convey the alpha male power of the Texan.  

History is unclear about how important Wilson was in kicking the Red Army out of Kabul, but then Pakistani president Zia ul-Haq was not in doubt. "Charlie did it", he said. Mike Vickers, then a Wilson co-conspirator and now a senior Pentagon official, agrees.

Exibit A is $1 billion given to the Mujahedeen with Wilson's help. Exibit B are those stinger missiles that were procured for the rebels to shoot down Soviet attack helicopters, again with Wilson's backing.

Given today's challenges in Afghanistan the ex-Congressman's death will bring back discussions about the unintended consequences of policy choices. But there ought to be no doubt: the Soviet Union's defeat did not create the Taliban. There was no predestined trajectory. History is not so linear.

However, the post-withdrawal vacuum, international neglect and years of civil war created circumstances that allowed the Taliban to win. None of this can be laid at Wilson's door. But nor can it be argued that he saw it all coming, as the Hollywood version of his campaign suggested.

Few lives are lived to the swash-buckling extent that Charlie Wilson's was. In today's world of professional politicians and overly planned lives it is hard to find anyone like him. Nor is it even easy to find someone outside of executive office that has had such a big impact on world affairs. I will raise a glass of Cutty Sark - the congressman's favourite drink -