Books: Charlie Wilson’s War

Posted on June 16, 2006
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Books, Foreign Relations, People, Politics
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Adil Najam

In response to my post yesterday (‘Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts to feature in movie about Pakistan’) a few people who have not yet read the book wrote to ask that I tell them more about the book.

It really IS worth a read by anyone interested in politics or in a good thriller (this one happens to be real and not fiction)!

Instead of giving away all the surprises in the book (and the forthcoming movie), I am going to post links to and excerpts from two early reviews of the book, from some years ago.

First, from David Johnston’s review in The New York Times (May 25, 2003):

FOR most of his 24-year career in the House of Representatives, Charles Wilson was known for his abiding fondness for hot tubs, women and Scotch whiskey. His friends at the Central Intelligence Agency said, only partly in jest, that the Texas Democrat’s reputation as a roué provided a perfect cover for his great passion, the mujahedeen rebellion against the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan. During the 1980’s, Wilson used his seat on a military appropriations subcommittee to steer billions of dollars in secret funding to the C.I.A. to funnel arms to the mujahedeen.

So it was hardly a surprise after the Soviets’ humiliating withdrawal in 1989 that the C.I.A.’s spymasters invited Wilson out to celebrate at the agency’s headquarters at Langley, Va. On a large movie screen in an auditorium at the George Bush Center for Intelligence flashed a huge quotation from Pakistan’s president, Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, who had willingly allowed the C.I.A.’s arms pipeline to flow through his country. Zia credited Wilson with the defeat of the Russians in Afghanistan with the words, ”Charlie did it.”

A second, more detailed (and, in my view, too harshly critical), review is by Charles Taylor in (August 22, 2003):

George Crile’s Charlie Wilson’s War is a classic story of good intentions gone wrong, a comedy of can-do Americanism loose in a world it really doesn’t understand. Crile’s protagonist, the boozing, womanizing Texas congressman Charlie Wilson, and his roster of allies ranging from socialites to dictators to CIA operatives, are figures who might have stepped out of one of the late Ross Thomas’ comic thrillers of Americans up to their necks in Third World skullduggery…. Crile has written an extraordinarily entertaining piece of reportage that has much to tell us about how the U.S. armed a group of people who are now using the weapons we provided them to kill us. A fiction writer would be hard-pressed to come up with a comparable tale of American shortsightedness, or one with more hairpin reversals and rich, comic irony.

…A rangy 6-footer (his cowboy boots added a few inches) with a booming voice and the demeanor of the prototypical confident American, Wilson was more known for his shenanigans than his statesmanship. The ladies in his life included a Playmate, a former Miss World contestant, an east Texas divorcée who became his personal belly dancer, and a Houston socialite who so endeared herself to the Pakistan dictator Mohammed Zia ul-Haq that Pakistan’s then ambassador to the U.S. made her the country’s honorary consul… [Gus] Avrakatos is the book’s second major character, emphasis on character… Avrakatos’ anticommunist ideology was the same as Wilson’s. In Wilson he saw a great opportunity to bypass the bureaucracy of the CIA as well as potential congressional oversight…

…It also strikes you that, dedicated and maybe cracked as they were, Charlie Wilson and Gust Avrakatos were, in the midst of the Reagan administration, measurably less nuts than the people around them. One of the schemes devised by Richard “the Prince of Darkness” Perle, Oliver North and NSC staffer Walt Raymond was to encourage Soviet soldiers to defect to the mujahedin. The Afghan rebels were to use loudspeakers to tell the soldiers that deserting was their passage to the West and freedom. When Avrakatos went to the Reagan White House to brief them on the efficacy of the plan, he took several photographic blowups to show what Soviets who defected could expect. The photos showed the Soviet soldiers being raped, hanged and castrated by the mujahedin. Crile also recounts Avrakatos’ attempts to derail the Iran-Contra scheme (including denying Oliver North access to a CIA Swiss bank account), not only because he thought it was crazy but because he knew it was illegal.

2 responses to “Books: Charlie Wilson’s War”

  1. […] It turns out that it is going to happen. In fact, as ATP mentioned earlier, with the movie on the book ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts also in the works, there will be a lot of Pakistan on big screens (much of it, of course, not very complimentary). […]

  2. MSK says:

    Wow. This is amazing (also the full reviews from the links). But do we know if this was really true or was he making it colorful just to sell books? Could the stuff in the second full review really be true?

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