|Charlie Wilson's War
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Crile's book is the true story of how a Texas Congressman and a rogue CIA agent conspired to launch the biggest, meanest, and most successful CIA campaign ever -- the operation to fund the mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet army that had invaded Afghanistan. Moving from the back rooms of the Capitol to secret chambers at Langley, from arms dealers' conventions to the Khyber Pass, Charlie Wilson's War presents an astonishing chapter of our recent past, and the key to understanding what helped trigger the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union and ultimately led to the emergence of a brand-new foe in the form of radical Islam.
- Very Detailed Account Of A National Embarrassment
George Crile has written a great book about a huge national failing. While I applaud Wilson for his staunch anti-communist principles, I found it utterly repugnant that a loose cannon congressman could (and would) use every form of political trickery and heavy-handedness to pursue his personal vendetta against the Russians in Afghanistan in contravention to established constitutional principles. Amazingly, I found the brilliant blue-collar CIA operative Gust Avrakotos much more likeable and professional (believe it or not) than Wilson by comparison.
Crile makes a point of telling the story from as many vantage points as possible, and always attempts to provide not only accounts of the actions of all the principals involved, but tries to analyze their motivations as well. The book is exceedingly well documented for a work of this nature, and Crile has certainly written the most important book on US involvement in the Afghan war. I came away from reading this much enlightened, but ultimately disillusioned that a single blowhard congressman could not only secretly commit the country to a war not being directed from the executive branch, but could repeatedly be re-elected by a largely conservative base when he repeatedly and routinely committed gross ethical, moral, and legal offences: I was singularly unamused by his chronic self-absorption, self-aggrandizement, and self-destruction. Wilson hijacked the foreign policy of the United States and inserted the country into a proxy war in Afghanistan, a decision that has had huge implications since. Amazingly, even in a post-9/11 world, Wilson refuses to take any responsibility for his part in the extraordinarily adverse geopolitical fallout of providing huge caches of weapons and training to extremists in Afghanistan.
I kept wanting to find redeeming or lovable qualities about Wilson, as so many others apparently do, but at every turn I found a national embarrassment, allied with an extremely unsavory group of individuals, contravening the intentions of US law and policy. No congressman should be able to appropriate, wheedle, extort such power, or enact such consequential policies on their own whim, no matter how noble his intentions. Charlie Wilson is the embodiment of political seediness, and George Crile has captured it all in "Charlie Wilson's War".
I endorse this book wholeheartedly as a cautionary tale....more info
- excellent account of charlie wilson political involvement
This is really one of the best books written about America's involvement in the war in AFGAHNISTAN against the Russians supplying them arms against the Russians and ultimately those same arms being turned against us....more info
- Charlie Did It
Whether or not you completely buy Zia-ul-Haq's assertion that Charlie Wilson was almost single-handedly responsible for the Mujahideen victory over the Soviet Union in the Afghan War, George Crile's fascinating book makes it clear that he played a decisive role in the eventual victory, and by extension, the collapse of Communism, which followed shortly thereafter. From his seat on the Defense appropriations subcommittee, this little-known Texas Congressman with a taste for the good life managed to build a bizarre coalition of allies, including a Texas socialite, a street-wise CIA agent, and the Governments of Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. These seeming blood enemies were united by two things their love and respect for Charlie, and their desire to kill Russians. Crile chronicles the way in which Charlie was able to greatly increase the CIA's budget to fight the war, using any means at his disposal, constantly blurring the line between illegal activities. After winning the funding, he was surprised to find that his toughest battle was yet to come. He had to fight against the agency's bureaucracy to get them to spend the money on weapons (many supplied by his contacts in foreign governments) which he thought would tip the balance in favor of the Afghans, eventually including the Stinger missile which proved to be the war's decisive weapon.
Crile's writing reads like an Ian Fleming novel at times, and he does a great job of exploring the inner forces which drove Wilson to pursue his personal crusade against communism while simultaneously battling his own inner demons. The author refrains from making value judgments throughout the book, ultimately letting the readers decide for themselves who Charlie Wilson is. Is he Good-Time-Charlie, the egotistical, power-hungry substance-abusing ladies man who often behaved as if the laws that he helped make didn't apply to him? Or is he a hero who vanquished the evil empire, championed the underdog, and used his power to help the powerless, while spreading freedom throughout the world? The truth lies somewhere in between. At the very least Charlie Wilson's War is a cautionary tale of how powerful one congressperson can be.
Some people have criticized Crile, saying that he failed to emphasize the way in which the events that Charlie helped set in motion may have led to the events of September 11th, 2001. In response I would say that this is merely one man's story, a small segment of a much larger war. Those interested in a more comprehensive picture of the CIA's operations in Afghanistan should read Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll.
My only criticism of the book was that the writing became repetitive whenever a character was re-introduced to the story after being absent from the narrative for a chapter or two. It seemed as if he repeated the same biographical details at least three times for some characters.
This is the first Kindle book I've read that used footnotes, and I'm pleased to report that they worked perfectly....more info
- Unbelievable but True
Any writer would be hard put to invent a story like this and make it believable. Sometimes, however reality surpasses fiction.A good example of the saying " biting the hand that feeds you". But then on the other hand there is the fact that giving with an ulterior motive can often "Backfire" (in this case literally)
Crile does an amazing bit of reporting and has gathered an enormous amount of info, which he delivers in a very agreeable non boring way.It is an easy and pleasant read and much better than most action or spy novels. Once you start you cannot put it down....more info
- Stranger than Fiction and Frightening
The events described in the book are so bizzare that, at first, I thought it was fiction. Then I was frightened. According to the book US foreign policy is ran by relatively low levels operatives, a congressman and a CIA agent who is not in good terms with his superiors. CIA comes through as rather inept without strong leadership. Indeed it was "Charlie Wilson's War" and nobody was minding the store, i.e. the true long term interests of the United States. By naive application of adage "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", these guys created a major threat for the country and nobody seems to be accountable.
My main criticism of the book is that it is far too detailed and, as result, too long. For example, we need not know all the specifics about the numerous girl friends of Mr. W. (but then, sex sells!) A book at a third of its size could convey the main issues equally well as the current detailed version....more info
- How things really work.
The movie prompted me to read the book. It's more entertaining than the movie, and 10 times as frightening. I like the book's Charlie Wilson. He comes off as the guy you'd most like to party with. Someone who you want on your side in a pinch. Similar to LBJ in that he knew how to twist arms and use the power he acquired in Washington. He acquired that power using personal contacts, charm, and an intelligence hidden behind an alcoholic facade. People who failed to take him seriously later regretted their misjudgement. What's frightening is the story of how things work in Washington, how the CIA operates and how things...serious things...really get accomplished in the highest levels of government, beyond public scrutiny or official oversight. Mr. Crile's portrayal of Charlie Wilson leaves no doubt that Mr. Wilson is a true patriot. Someone who dearly and passionately loves his country. The story of how money and power are both acquired and used, however, even by the likable patriotic and passionate Wilson is what is truly frightening. It brings into question the checks and balances in our democratic system. Yes, the outcome was mostly positive for the country in Charlie Wilson's War. But.... ...more info
- Charlie "Strangelove" Wilson's War
In his fascinating account of Congressman Charlie Wilson, George Crile evokes the images of a Stan Kubrick character: Slim Pickens as Major T. J. "King" Kong riding the bomb (and not only because of the Stetson he is wearing). You think that's far fetched? OK, Charlie is a most loveable character with his energy, dedication, propensity to fun and pleasure, and his weaknesses. Not like the unpleasant Dr. Strangelove. Yet the parallel is striking: a man on a mission to fight the evil empire, whatever the consequences.
The book is a most fascinating read with many insights in to how politics seem to work on the "Hill". It is giving more than one chilling cause for the rest of the world to seriously worry about how the "only remaining superpower" makes decisions that result in loss of lives and limbs and that interfere with sovereign nations.
Yet, the book has some serious flaws. It is a very one-sided account of people and events. The characters of the four main protagonists, Wilson, Avrakotos, Herring, Vickers are very well developed. But the book lacks depth (and misses an opportunity, I find) when it comes to describing their "counterparts" (arms traders, Pakistani leaders, Arab and Israeli officials). They are very stereotypical and often described in a manner that would behoove a second rate Hollywood star magazine.
Also disappointing is the portrayal of the Mujahideen. They are described as the "beaux sauvages" just as Wilson seems to have perceived them. Other than a simplistic "such are radical Muslims" it provides no explanation how these freedom fighters could become such fierce enemies of the US and the West in the last chapter of the book that attempts to analyze the unintended consequences of Wilson's war.
The story completely lacks any perspective of the other side. The Soviet soldiers are just there to be killed, by treading like morons into traps of the freedom fighters or appearing before the guns provided through the CIA and Wilson's appropriations. Implausible that Soviet intelligence would not have had some knowledge of CIA activities, implausible that they would not have had developed strategies and alternatives, other than scorching villages in a My Lai manner, implausible that they would not have pursued "behind-the-scene" diplomatic activities. This lack of a multi-dimensional perspective actually reduces the credibility of the main characters and their accomplishments.
The most puzzling question I have after finishing the book is not even raised: How is it possible that Wilson who the Afghan tribes' men praised as the savior of their cause, could not play a role in "cashing in the chits" and ask them to help finding Osama bin Laden etc., how is it possible that these former friends cannot be co-opted in the fight against a terrorism that Afghans had never pursued outside their country?
Lastly, in his chapter on "Source Notes", George Crile reveals - honestly - that some accounts are based on personal memories of the people he is writing about, there seems not to have been much fact checking on some parts of the story. Obviously, it is not a historical account, just a journalistic one. It should be read as that.
The movie is an intelligent screen adaptation of the book, but I wonder how Kubrick would have done it.
- Chalie Wilsons War
George Crile does a magnificent job at presenting the little known story of how the United States military grew bands of men into units able to defeat the larges military in the world. When compounded with The Bear Went Over the Mountain, readers are offered a full 360 degree understanding of one of the "smartest" wars the United states ever participated in. ...more info
- Very Interesting...just like a spy movie, but it's real.
A round of applause for this author for his research. A lot of these things that happenned I thought only happened in movies. I enjoyed the audio book, because the narrarator was exceptionally good. Anyone who is interested in Afghanistan I think must read this book as they will understand the country's politics more. Why four stars and not five? The final 2 discs were a bit long, but that should not be taken away from the rest of it....more info
- Book review
A very detailed account of how and why this extraordinary event unfolded with great descriptions of the characters involved.
I found it annoying that in telling separate incidents, the author recounted much of the same background data that he had offered in a previous incident.
Overall, well worth reading....more info
- Interesting, but way too long
This is a very interesting book filled with an insiders look into the CIA and covert operations. That said, it was hard for me - a book worm - to finish this book because it kept meandering all over the place with no clear, central storyline or continuity of direction. This will probably be one of the rare instances where the movie will probably be better than the book....more info
- Quite a revelation...
Charlie Wilson's War by George Crile is an incredible yet true story of perhaps the largest and the most expensive covert operation in our immediate history. The major protagonist, Charlie Wilson is a six-feet-four-inch Texas Congressman. He gets involved in serial affairs with beauty queens and belly dancers, appears liberal on most issues, keeps the most handsome, personal staff in Washington, and drinks excessively, or rather nearly to his death and destruction. But Charlie is also the man who believes in underdogs, in anti-communist policies, in support of Israel on one hand and on the other, to build 'a billion dollar a year' funding for covert operation in Afghanistan, for the US sponsored jihad against the Soviets. The importance of this story must be measured in terms of the consequences that Charlie Wilson's War brought upon the world. The defeat and dissolution of USSR in late nineties, rise of Taleban and Al Qaeda leading to the September 11 attacks and ongoing Afghan and Iraq war in their aftermath, the twenty years of (spin-off) terrorism in Kashmir, all are the consequences of the Charlie Wilson's War.
While Charlie is the politician, the man on the ground, is an equally improbable character. Enter a second generation Greek-American, street-smart CIA operative, Gust Avrakotos. His language is infested with slurs. He is an outcaste of sorts in the ivy league dominated detective agency. Crile introduces him in a chapter titled "A rogue elephant in the agency woods". Gust's character was brewed in small town bar-fights and brawls. Gust has had his share of adventures and misadventures before he got involved as the operative that masterminded the ground operation in Charlie Wilson's War. While Charlie would run through Congressional committees to get the money sanctioned, and find Israeli or Egyptian or European or American arm dealers (or politicians) to get insane amounts of ammunition, Gust worked out how, what, where, when of the mission they both loved. The mission of killing the communists. In that mission, the jihadists, the Afghans with all their tribes and peculiarities, seemed the perfect warriors for the agency as well as the key actors in the game.
The novel, like the movie based on it, moves through landscapes that tell you something about each character. Like the young Charlie transports as many voters as possible to the voting booth in Texas, to ensure that the guy who shot his dog loses the case. Gust grows up in a small town, Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, and then learns about the distastes and despair of men of different nationalities, basically when he just needs to figure out how to sell more cigarettes to bars frequented by Russians, Lebanese, Serbs, Poles, Greeks and so on. Charlie Wilson always gets into trouble, whether it is a case that made him famous as Cocaine Charlie (he got away due to lack of evidence), or a hit-and-run case, where he eventually was saved by his more than supportive staff. He has the gall to take a belly dancer to Egypt and have her perform for the minister there. He had one or the other pretty woman by his side, while he met 'the holy warriors who were destined to destroy the evil Russian empire'. Gust and other characters are developed in great detail, and if it were only a novel, I would perhaps say something about plot, writing style, sequence of events and so on. While this reads like a spy novel, with lots of sex bombs and lots of exploding bombs, Congressmen and Russian army, belly dancers and Mujahideen, billions of dollars and exotic locations, the mind-boggling thing is that Charlie Wilson's War is a line by line description of how our world was transformed. Not necessarily into a better place!
An old Indian adage says: "Behind every successful man, there is a woman". Charlie Wilson was seduced into the mission of fighting Russians and helping Afghans (termed as freedom fighters by Reagen) by the ever resourceful , glamorous, social lioness, Texas bombshell, Joanne Herring. Crile says, "In the pivotal first years of jihad, she became the matchmaker and muse to Pakistan's Muslim fundamentalist, military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq, as well as to the scandal prone Charlie Wilson". Joanne brought together the key players, Charlie, Zia, Saudi princes, and so on, who later fought and financed the war, and yes, all this was happening behind the scenes. The most interesting bits in the novel are where it gets into details of how much money was used to finance these missions, how weapons were acquired by fair and unfair means, even donkeys that carried weapons in Afghanistan were imported at exorbitant price, and how many nations were involved in this mission.
To quote from the book:
"No insurgency had ever enjoyed such a range of support: a country (Pakistan) completely dedicated to providing it with sanctuary, training and arms, even sending its own soldiers along as advisers on military operations; a banker (Saudi Arabia) that provided hundreds of millions in funds with no strings attached; governments (Egypt and China) that served as arms suppliers; and the full backing of a superpower (the United States through CIA). All of that plus various kinds of support from different Muslim movements and governments, as well as intelligence services of England, France, Canada, Germany, Singapore, and other countries."
It is true that this support inflicted heavy losses on the Russian army and air force. It is true that Charlie Wilson's War was the grand punch which bought down the Soviet Empire. It is true that the mission remained covert in spirit and achieved its goals by using some of greatest resources (brainpower, muscle, technology, espionage). The grand warriors of that time, the Afghan freedom fighters, were even transported to American hospitals for treatment. What is curious and interesting, for it is most apparent throughout the story, is the fact that the extreme fervor of jihadis, their hate for people outside their tribe and culture, was ever staring in the face of the key operatives. If ends satisfy means, then Charlie Wilson's War was a justified, for it met its initial aim. But, but... things must come a full circle, and the story just doesn't end with Wilson's script.
The Russians left, but the tribal mistrust that has existed for centuries did not. The warriors were not disarmed, were not resettled, and to top it, a whole system of planning, organizing and manning armed struggle was created. Soon these jihadis were up in arms against each other, and Afghanistan continued to bleed. Many warriors were now sent to other missions. Kashmir and Punjab in India became hot beds of militancy, and the weaponry and savagery procured for fighting Russians destroyed the peace and sub-cultures there. Since Zia was the man in charge of covert operation, he was kept in power (that he had hung Bhutto, democratically elected leader, was forgiven) and the amount of money poured into Pakistan then, was what financed their nuclear arsenal, their army and their propensity to support jihadis against chosen enemies. Later and before, US supported such dictators to meet their ends in Pakistan and elsewhere.
Only a decade after the grand exit of Russian army, American armies were to enter Afghanistan to hunt for Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda and Taleban... and fight against some of the very people US & CIA has trained and armed with their taxpayers money. It is said in India that whenever outsiders tried to rule the Afghans, they failed or they perished soon after, and this legend dates back up to the times of Alexander. The unsuspecting British army had a harsher experience in early nineteenth century. But of course, in this case, even the more immediate history is not discussed or remembered. It is not recalled that every exhibition of brutality by the jihadis that has hit headlines in the past decade was cheered when it was done against the Russians. Every tactic of using air force to bomb villages in Afghanistan was criticized by the US when the planes and pilots were Soviet. Sadly, only the characters have changed, the methods, motives and means have not, the telling effects on a country ravaged by war are very much there. Charlie Wilson's War is a reminder of not only how a war was won, but also of how the neo-enemy of United States was created out of a breed of men who wanted to fight and slaughter their enemies with bare hands.
In Mahabharata, unarguably the greatest epic poem ever written, it becomes clear that in wars, there are no real winners. There is no moral war, for in a war, men and armies use any means possible to win. Even though the valor is real, there are heroic fights, exhibitions of skill and martial superiority, the only outcome a war warrants is the destruction of both parties. Charlie Wilson's War ends with an epilogue titled: "Unintended consequences". Since we live in a world terrified of these unintended consequences, since we wish to understand how it all began, and how is it all carried out, we all must take time to read the Charlie Wilson's War. While the movie gives a sampler of what the book portrays, the movie is not full of as many details or rather, it is impossible for anyone to assimilate this information so easily. Yet, if it were not for the unintended consequences, and if it were not all real, Charlie Wilson's War makes for a 'fun' reading. Once you start thinking about it, which you will, it turns into a horror. Since it is better to face the facts and fight our ghosts, I recommend this book to every thinker, politician, historian, American and human being living in our times.
- Two Remarkable Men
Charlie Wilson's War provides the reader with a Washington insiders view of the complex power structure and activities of the various senate and house appropriations committees entrusted with the defense budget. The book also examines the CIA's technological transformation of the Afghan guerilla forces that would ultimately turn the tables in the mujahideen's favor against the Soviets. The most remarkable part of this book, however, regards the story of a secret alliance between a congressman and a CIA officer hatched in order to dodge bureaucratic interference using the most unconventional methods to escalate the Jihad in Afghanistan.
Crile does a fine job with character development throughout the book, providing an all-inclusive list of the players involved in Wilson's modern `great game.' To say the two main players in this book were uncharacteristic of a typical bureaucrat is a vast understatement. Charlie Wilson was a boozehound and a playboy who, in modern times, would have drawn the attention of the Starr Commission the day he stepped foot in Washington. By chance, Wilson would meet a key ally in Gust Avrakotos, a character equally as unique as Wilson. Avrakotos, a brutally honest man, has a very humorous habit of inserting sexual references and analogies into many of the statements in which he is quoted. Though they didn't possess the background and moral standards of the typical bureaucrat, they managed to make history by delivering Communism its final blow.
It is highly unlikely these 2 men could have accomplished this great feat in the modern political atmosphere. To overcome the assumption that checks and balances should have defeated Wilson, Crile provides a comprehensive presentation of the 1980s political setting. A landscape in which the powerful sway of lobbyists went unchecked, and congressmen considered it a right of passage to run up the taxpayers tab for personal expenses. Most importantly Crile provides an analysis of the fraternal structure of congressional power. As Crile makes clear, Charlie Wilson was able to gain immense power in appropriating funds to defense by earning memberships on the most important congressional "fraternities." Crile also adds to the political setting by factoring into the picture a CIA placed in the handcuffs of bureaucracy following the political fallout from the agency's controversial role in its support of the Contras, and later the Iran-Contra scandal. However, Crile argues convincingly that these ongoing scandals provided a "silver lining" because they distracted the press and other bureaucrats from criticizing a controversial, covert war.
The highlight of Charlie Wilson's War is Crile's Clancyesque portrayal of the overall strategy adopted by the CIA to transform mujahideen fighters into "technoguerillas." For this purpose, Crile introduces a Jack Ryan in Mike Vickers, a young CIA strategist who single-handedly changed the guerilla war by introducing a mix of weapons, and methodically overcame the challenges of coordinating supply lines, and logistics in a covert war.
The book concludes with a marvelous epilogue that correlates the United States troubled relationship with the Muslim world in the post 9/11 era, to Wilson's covert war. This book should be read just for this particular reason. Everyone who reads Charlie Wilson's War will discover a significant piece of the puzzle while having a hell of a good time along the journey. ...more info
- Wilson & the CIA
This book contains all kinds of information that I did not know - about the Vietnam War, the ongoing Afghan offensive, Congress, the CIA - rabid lovers and haters of all kinds.
I'm not a very political person, and generally avoid this kind of book (the nightly news is plenty!) but, this is a really human story about real people and their passion for a place and a people.
Charlie Wilson is an amazing person, whose center of gravity was changed forever by his trip to the refugee camps in Pakistan. This scene of so much human suffering made him want to punish the Russians...and he simply went back to Washington to devote his congressional life to finding ways to defeat the Soviet army.
What a guy!
And what characters - the book is full of simply amazing weird, strange, wonderful, stupid and ridiculous characters in the government, the CIA, the armies and enemies. It's rich. Really rich.
Overall a fun, enlightening book for anyone, whether you're interested in foreign affairs, warfare or not. Reads like a novel - only more unbelievable....more info
- A great read!
At first I thought this was a book about the 2002 invasion of Afghanistan by the US forces. I've wanted to read a book about the US-Taliban war. I have a habit of never reading book reviews before actually reading the book, or even to read the back cover of a book at a bookstore, so as not to give me expectations of the book or ruin the storyline. I usually pick out books based on their titles, recommendations, or reviews I might have skimped through while reading magazines. And I confess I sometimes pick books based on their cover (my ultimate sin)!
So I was surprised to find this book to be about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that took place in 1979 and ended in 1989. The Soviet Union had as a grand plan to control the oil in the region, and probably had plans to continue its conquest towards Pakistan and the Middle East. However, not only did its grand scheme fail, but in the process, the whole Soviet empire collapsed, ending the cold war. Hitler did the same mistake during World War II. Germany was a superpower then, what the US is today. However, their empire collapsed due to their plans to conquer and control the world. The Soviets thought they could control the world by controlling countries rich in oil. They failed. Will the same fate befall the US? Many think Bush's wars are to control oil rich countries, and there are already signs of total failure towards this aim. Iraq is a disaster, and in the long term, might prove a detriment to US politics and its economy. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are regrouping and offering resistance to US forces. Many countries, once friendly to the US, do not see the US in the same light anymore. Worldwide the respect for the US has diminished.
After reading this book, the only question I had was, is the US making the same mistake the Soviets did back in 1979?
This book reads like a spy novel. I really enjoyed it and was captivated at `almost' every page. True, at times it is slow and repetitious, but overall, a great fast-paced read filled with political intrigue, and...well, a hot tub in Las Vegas with beautiful showgirls. For some reason, the author was obsessed with the hot tub story, and this did give it a James Bond kind of twist.
This book is the real life story of Charlie Wilson, born June 1, 1933. He was a United States naval officer and a Democratic United States Congressman from the district in Texas. He has become known for leading Congress into supporting the largest ever CIA covert operation to supply the Afghan Mujahedeen with weapons during the Soviet-Afghan War. His efforts contributed to the fall of the Soviet empire.
Charlie Wilson is a real non-fictionalized James Bond. He was a heavy drinker, and though an alcoholic, he denied it. His liver eventually failed from his heavy drinking, and he almost died. His doctors gave him a few months to live. But so determined was he to live to aid the Mujahedeen that he proved all his doctors wrong. Wilson was also a womanizer, enjoying the company of younger women. The hot-tub story infamously turned him into a real-world James Bond. Charlie Wilson was also surrounded by scandals, and on one too many occasion almost found himself in jail.
At one point Charlie Wilson was a strong supporter of Israel. But a trip to Lebanon in 1982 changed his mind. The Sabra and Shatila massacre was an attack carried out in September 1982 by a Lebanese Forces militia group against Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut. In an area under Israeli army control, Christian militiamen were permitted to enter two undefended Palestinian refugee camps leading to a massacre of hundreds to thousands of civilians. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Defence Minister at the time and major protagonist of the invasion, was found by an Israeli investigation to be personally responsible and forced to resign. The number of victims of the massacre varies according to sources: the lowest confirmed estimate is 700; the highest is placed at 3,500 according to Wikipedia. Wilson was shocked when he saw the dead bodies of young children and women. It was a scene he would never forget, and one that would distance him from Israel.
The Soviets were no less brutal with the Afghanis. Scores of villages with poor innocent people were wiped out, with all killed, even babies and children. The Soviets also produced bombs in the shape of toys. When children found them, they would explode, either killing the child or maiming him for life. Any village that supported the Mujahedeen was wiped out! During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, there was no humanity shown towards defenseless villagers living deep in the mountains of Afghanistan.
The Soviet Mil Mi-24 helicopters, known as the Hinds, caused heavy damage to the Afghan Mujahedeen. They were defenseless against them. The helicopters would hover over the Afghanis and kill scores of them as if they were ants.
The US decided to support the Mujahedeen not because they liked the Mujahedeen or out of compassion for them, but because they saw an opportunity to weaken the Soviet empire and possibly to destroy it. Not wanting to publicly aid the Mujahedeen, and thus cause further US-Soviet strain, the US decided to aid them secretly. Weapons were shipped to the Mujahedeen via Pakistan, and none of the weaponry could be traced back to the US. In fact, many of the weaponry given to the Mujahedeen was Soviet and Chinese in origin. The CIA also had a program of converting old weaponries into new and functional weapons to be used in Afghanistan against the Soviet armies.
Charlie Wilson was instrumental in convincing the Pakistani government in allowing shipments of weapons to the Mujahedeen to go through Pakistan. Pakistan at the time did not have good relations with the US; but fearing a possible attack from the Soviets should the Mujahedeen fail to fight off the Soviets, Pakistan agreed to help. Again, Pakistan did not help because of its compassion for the Mujahedeen, but for its own security. Is this how we want our children to grow up, to help others only if there is a benefit to them?
With the new weapons shipped by mules to Afghanistan, the Mujahedeen were soon able to offer strong resistance to the Soviet armies. The Mil Mi-24 helicopters could now be destroyed. With the new shoulder mounted missiles, the capital city, Kabul, could be hit. Heavy damage was made when these missiles hit weapons warehouses and oil depots. The new weapons supplied by the US to the Mujahedeen were really turning the tide of war...to the benefit of the US. It is the US that gained from this war. The Soviet Union collapsed, opening the stage for the US to lead the world with no opposition. The Afghans, though defeating the Soviets, were left with a country ravaged by war, and an almost non-existent economy. Millions of Afghanis died as a direct result of the war or from disease due to a lack of medicine and a sanitary lifestyle.
After the war, the world did not stand by the Afghanis to rebuild their country. The US got its victory, and wanted nothing else to do with the Afghanis. Soon, the US would wage its on war against the Afghanis, leading to its conquest after the events of September 11, 2001. Will this war, together with its war in Iraq, bring it to its knees? The Soviets are still here, gaining power lately. The Chinese are rising. The European Union is getting stronger. And the US, well, is no longer respected by many countries around the world, and the strains are already starting to show.
There were a few memorable passages in this book, apart from, of course, the Las Vegas hot tub! According to the author, mules were used to transport the weapons to the Mujahedeen. When the Soviets realized this, they started killing all the mules they could find. Soon enough, there were no more mules in Afghanistan. The US had to export mules from Texas all the way to Afghanistan, via Pakistan. The Afghanis were very happy to have mules again, not only to transport their weapons, but according to the author, to have sex with them as well. According to the author, it was acceptable to have sex with mules as long as the man is on top, and not the other way around. It is really hard for me to believe this. Did the author just through in this passage about bestiality to give his book an aura of a novel? The Mujahedeen are fundamental Muslims, and God forbids bestiality.
There was also a passage about the role of Israel in the Soviet-Afghan war that I found very interesting. It is true that your enemy's enemy is your friend.
The story of Gust Avrakotos, the CIA's blue-collar James Bond, was also very interesting. It was Charlie Wilson's war but it never would have happened without Gust Avrakotos. The story of Carol Shannon, Charlie Wilson's personal belly dancer, was also entertaining.
I also liked the chapter where Wilson joins the Mujahedeen and witnesses firsthand the war against the Soviets using the weapons he helped supply to the Mujahedeen.
Most importantly of all, I found it very strange that there was no mention of Osama Bin Laden, except in the very last few pages of the book. The author did not give Osama Bin Laden any role at all in defeating the Soviets, or as his role as a warrior. To most Muslims around the world, Bin Laden played a major role in defeating the Soviets. Why the omission? Or did Bin Laden play no major role in the Mujahedeen war, and was only glorified by the US media for political end?
Another strange thing is that you can find a reference to Charlie Wilson online on Wikipedia, but strangely, you will find no mention of him on Encyclopedia Britannica (as of the 2007 DVD of Encyclopedia Britannica). This is indeed strange, given that Wilson is the architect of the CIA's victory in the last campaign of the Cold War.
In the 2007 film version of the book, Congressman Wilson is played by Tom Hanks. I recommend you read the book before watching the movie....more info
- Charlie Wilson's War
Charlie Wilson's War was very insightful into the inner workings of the CIA, Congress, and the power sturcture within the U.S. House of Representatives and how much influence one Represenative can wield. If you want to know about how we helped to fight the old Soviet Union in Afghanistan read this book. Fascinating!!
- Charlie Wilsons War
Great book on CIA & covert war in Afghanistan. Reality book with graphic language but real life government heroes and villains....more info
- Charlie Wilson's War
I have already reviewed this once. But I'll do it again. Excellent book, fun to read, good service. It came on time and was in good condition....more info
- spies, lies, hedonism, and best of all, it's all true!
I have to admit that I am still reading this book. I also have to admit that I am not a big fan of non-fiction or spy novels. My reading lists tend to be more along the fantasy and fiction genres. Having said that, I absolutely have to give this book monster kudos.
Although the writing is a bit on the dry side (mostly because the writer is actually a journalist) the material he covers and the inside information he got from both Charlie and Gust makes this one of the best views inside the secret workings of the CIA and government durring the late 80s and early 90s.
A few people I know have already read this book (one of the reasons I picked it up) and all they have is praise for it. One person says it's hard for him to keep in mind that this is a true story. IT's hard for him to realize that one man could and did all that.
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in history, how we got where we are today with the Islamic fundementalists, or any of the back room goings on in politics....more info
- Ok, ok, we get the point, they played outside the rules...
Loved reading a book about the appropriations process. There aren't enough of them. However, the descriptions of Charlie and Gus are so repetitive. Do we need to be reminded in every chapter of their past histories and motivations? We got the point, move on already!...more info
George Crile's triumph is undiminished by the fact that he got really, really lucky. On one of the biggest stories of the late 20th century - the Soviet army's defeat at the hands of Afghan rebels backed by the CIA -- he found two crucial, colorful insiders who were willing to tell him everything and who were fascinating stories in themselves: Charlie Wilson, a boozehound, skirt-chasing congressman with an almost childlike devotion to backing the underdog and a zealot's hatred of Soviet communism; and his unlikely bureaucratic ally, Gust Avrakotos, a street-fighting CIA outsider who oversaw the agency's Afghan program during the crucial years in the 1980s. Crile deserves credit for nurturing these sources - and a background cast of hundreds - over more than a decade; for learning an astonishing number of government secrets; for managing to produce an coherent, fun-to-read manuscript from a bounty of fascinating stories that might have overwhelmed a lesser scribe; for managing to be fair and sympathetic to just about everyone involved; and for unveiling the whole thing just when it mattered again - after the 9/11 attacks forced America to rethink what had seemed to be our morally unambiguous support for the mujahedin in the `80s and `90s. This book is a treasure trove: details on the bureaucratic backbiting and caution that often make the CIA so ineffective; a peak into the lunatic world of fanatically anti-communist Texas millionaires; Wilson's hilarious antics, including his clandestine trips into the Muslim world in the company of a belly dancer and other beauties (one of whom decides it is appropriate to meet Afghan fundamentalist thug Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in a pink jumpsuit); a harrowing look at how political power works in the real world. (It is terrifying, for example, to learn that someone as small-minded and vain as U.S. Rep. Clarence "Doc'' Long had so much power over national security policy.)...more info
- Charlie Wilson's War, part 1?
Charlie Wilson's War should be considered part 1 of a CIA trilogy, to be followed by Steve Coll's Ghost Wars and George Tenet's At the Center of the Storm ...more info
- Remember 9/11?
Charlie a hero? Let see. CIA helps Taliban gain military power... Taliban expels Russia... Taliban host Binladen... 9/11... US invades Taliban...
Who is the hero?...more info
- Charlie is my Hero...
...and I say that as a middle-of-the-road Republican who has voted in every election since Nixon. This is a GREAT story, and a FANTASTIC read for anyone. The fact that it's "history" as well is just icing on the cake. Read the book, see the movie, LEARN something! ;)
Handing the Red Army - and Russia itself - a signal defeat (I use the term advisedly...the Red Army didn't "LOSE" it's war anymore than the US soldiers didn't "LOSE" their war in Viet Nam...politics and economics decided the outcome of both) at that point in time definitely made a significant contribution to the end of the Cold War. That's the "upside".
Having religious fanatics believe (because the logistics for arms and supplies were so carefully hidden/scrubbed) that they can 'prevail' against a major world power because 'their faith is strong' is the (continuing) downside.
Cap'n Bob...more info
- The best!
This book has it all: Fun, Sex, High Stakes Gambles, a hero who could be your next door neighbor...and the best part: It's All True. One of the best reads I've ever had and couldn't put it down start to finish. Charlie Wilson should get a medal for setting in motion the fall of the Soviet Empire. ...more info