A New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times bestseller.
Charlie Wilson’s penchant for cocktails and beauty-contest winners was well known, but in the early 1980s, the dilettante congressman quietly conducted one of the most successful covert operations in US history. Using his seat on the House Appropriations Committee, Wilson channeled hundreds of millions of dollars to support a ragged band of Afghan “freedom fighters” in their resistance against Soviet invaders.
Weapons were secretly procured and distributed with the help of an outcast CIA operative named Gust Avrakotos, who stretched the agency’s rules to the breaking point. Moving from the back rooms of Washington to secret chambers at Langley, and from arms-dealers’ conventions to the Khyber Pass, Wilson and Avrakotos helped the mujahideen win an unlikely victory against the Russians.
Adapted into a film starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War chronicles an overlooked chapter in the collapse of the Soviet Union—and the emergence of a brand-new foe in the form of radical Islam.
“Put the Tom Clancy clones back on the shelf; this covert-ops chronicle is practically impossible to put down. No thriller writer would dare invent Wilson.” —Publishers Weekly
“An engaging, well-written, newsworthy study of practical politics and its sometimes unlikely players, and one with plenty of implications.” —Kirkus Reviews
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A HOT TUB IN LAS VEGAS
When Congressman Charlie Wilson set off for a weekend in Las Vegas on June 27, 1980, there was no confusion in his mind about why he had chosen to stay at Caesars Palace. He was a man in search of pure decadent pleasure, and the moment he walked into the hotel and saw the way the receptionists were dressed, he knew he had come to the right place. No doubt there were other members of the Ninety-sixth Congress who fantasized about orgies and altered states. But had any of them chosen to take the kind of plunge that Charlie Wilson had in mind, you can be sure they would have gone to some trouble to maintain a low profile, if not don a disguise.
Instead Charlie strode into the lobby of Caesars almost as if he were trying to imitate his childhood hero, Douglas MacArthur, majestically stalking ashore to take back the Philippines. He looked in no way ashamed or uncertain about what he was doing in this center of gambling and entertainment.
In truth, it wouldn't have been easy for Wilson to fade into any background. Six foot seven in his cowboy boots, he was handsome, with one of those classic outdoor faces that tobacco companies bet millions on. And he just didn't have the heart or the temperament to operate in the shadows; he felt like a soldier out of uniform when he wasn't wearing his trademark bright suspenders and boldly striped shirts with their custom-designed military epaulets.
Moreover, Wilson had never been able to shake the politician's impulse to take center stage. He covered ground rapidly, shoulders back, square jaw jutting forward. There were no volume controls on his voice as he boomed out greetings with astonishing clarity — and people in the Caesars lobby turned to see who was making such a stir. He looked like a millionaire, but the truth was, after eight years in the Texas legislature and almost as many in the House, he had nothing to show for his efforts but debt and a $70,000-a-year government salary that didn't come near to supporting his lifestyle.
Along the way, however, Wilson had discovered that he didn't need money of his own to lead a big, glamorous life. The rules governing Congress were far looser in those days, and he'd become a master at getting others to pick up the tab: junkets to exotic foreign lands at government expense, campaign chests that could be tapped to underwrite all manner of entertainments, and, of course, the boundless generosity of friendly lobbyists, quick to provide the best seats at his favorite Broadway musicals, dinners at the finest Parisian restaurants, and romantic late-night boat parties on the Potomac.
All of which explains how the tall, charismatic congressman with the blazing eyes and the ever-present smile had grown accustomed to moving about the world with a certain flair. And so as he arrived in Las Vegas, he was observing his hard-and-fast rule that whenever he traveled, he went first class and tipped lavishly. The bellhops and receptionists at Caesars loved this, of course, and Wilson, in turn, appreciated their outfits: little white goddess robes showing lots of cleavage for the girls, and Roman togas and sandals for the bellhops.
In all of Vegas, there was no place like Caesars Palace in 1980. It was the first of the great hotel emporiums to be inspired by the fall of a civilization. Its promoters had had the genius to recognize that the sins of Rome could seem far more enticing than any contemporary offering; and as the young Roman in the toga whipped out the gleaming, two-inch-thick golden key to the Fantasy Suite, he opened a door designed to lead even the most pious of visitors straight to hell.
Charles Nesbitt Wilson comes from a part of the country very familiar with Satan. The Second Congressional District lies in the heart of the Bible Belt, and it may well be that Wilson's Baptist and Pentecostal constituents spend more time worrying about sin and wrestling with the Devil than just about any other group of Americans. JESUS IS THE LORD OF LUFKIN reads the huge sign in the center of the district's biggest city where Wilson maintained a house, on Crooked Creek Road.
The congressman did at least have one dim justification for being in Las Vegas that weekend. He could say he was there to help a constituent: the striking twenty-three-year-old Liz Wickersham, former Miss Georgia, fourth runner-up in the Miss America contest, soon-to-be Playboy cover girl, and, later, host of a CNN talk show that an admirer, Ted Turner, would create specifically for her. The free-spirited Wickersham was the daughter of one of Wilson's main fund-raisers, Charlie Wickersham, who owned the Ford-Lincoln dealership in Orange, Texas, where Wilson always got special deals on his huge secondhand Lincolns. When Liz moved to Washington, her father asked Wilson to show her around, which he did with great enthusiasm. He even took her to the White House, where he introduced her to Jimmy Carter, proudly informing him that Liz Wickersham had won the Miss Georgia beauty contest the very year Carter had been elected president. There was never any question that Wilson would go all out to promote the career of his friend and fund-raiser's attractive young daughter. Now, in Vegas, he was doing just that — orchestrating an introduction to a producer who was casting for a soap opera.
A few months earlier, a young hustler named Paul Brown had approached him about helping to develop a Dallas-type TV series based on the real political goings-on in the nation's capital. It wasn't long before Brown had convinced Wilson to invest most of his savings — $29,000 and to sign on as the show's consultant. The reason for the Las Vegas weekend was to meet a big-time Hollywood producer who, Brown claimed, was eager to back the project.
It was a giddy moment for Wilson and Liz as they sat in the Fantasy Suite talking about a deal that was all but iced. Brown had already persuaded Caesars to comp the congressman's stay, and now he was making Charlie and Liz feel like they were the toasts of the town. He had brought up some pretty showgirls, and before long the whole party was acting as if they were part of a big-time Hollywood mogul's entourage, knocking back champagne as they congratulated one another on the deal that was about to be signed and the role that Liz was about to land.
Two years later, teams of investigators and federal prosecutors would spend weeks trying to reconstruct exactly what the congressman did that night after Paul Brown and the other hangers-on left the Fantasy Suite. It almost landed Wilson in jail. And given the very high wire he later had to walk to avoid indictment, it's quite astonishing to hear the way he cheerfully describes those moments in the hot tub that the investigators were never quite able to document. No matter how much hellish trouble it later caused him, the congressman leaves the unmistakable impression that he relished every single moment of his outrageous escapade.
"It was an enormous Jacuzzi," he recalled. "I was in a robe at first because, after all, I was a congressman. And then everyone disappeared except for two beautiful, long-legged showgirls with high heels. They were a bit drunk and flirtatious and they walked right into the water with their high heels on. ... The girls had cocaine and the music was loud — Sinatra, 'My Kind of Town.' We all mellowed out, saying outrageous things to each other. It was total happiness. And both of them had ten long, red fingernails with an endless supply of beautiful white powder. It was just tremendous fun — better than anything you've ever seen in the movies."
As Wilson later framed the episode that almost brought him down, "the Feds spent a million bucks trying to figure out whether, when those fingernails passed under my nose, did I inhale or exhale — and I ain't telling."
Other middle-aged men have brought young women to the Fantasy Suite for activities not unlike Wilson's. But ordinarily there is something a bit desperate and tawdry about such aging pleasure seekers. It's unlikely that any of them would be able to talk about their debauchery in such a way that it would sound almost fresh and innocent. Charlie Wilson, however, had a genius for getting people to judge him not as a middle-aged scoundrel but instead as if he were a good-hearted adolescent, guilty of little more than youthful excess.
This survival skill permitted him to routinely do things that no one else in Congress could have gotten away with. One of the first to marvel at this unique capacity to openly flout the rules was the young Diane Sawyer, who met Wilson in 1980 when she was just beginning her career as a network correspondent. "He was just untamed," she recalled, "tall and gangly and wild — like a kid before they discovered Ritalin. He had this ungoverned enthusiasm, and it extended to women and the world."
The congressman was like no one Sawyer had met in Washington. He was simply outrageous. Sawyer recalled the experience of driving with Charlie in his big old Continental on one of their few dinner dates: "Going down Connecticut Avenue with him, I felt as if we could have been driving into any American Graffiti hamburger place."
When Wilson was first elected to Congress, he'd persuaded a distinguished college professor, Charles Simpson, to leave academia and sign on as his administrative assistant. Simpson says Wilson was the brightest person he's ever worked with: "He had an uncanny ability to take a complex issue, break it down, get all the bullshit out, and deliver the heart of it. There's no question he could have been anything he wanted to be. His goal was to become secretary of defense. Certainly he intended to run for the Senate."
But Simpson gradually came to believe that his boss had a fatal flaw. That failing was perfectly summed up in a fitness report written by Wilson's commanding officer in the navy in the late 1950s: "Charlie Wilson is the best officer who ever served under me at sea and undoubtedly the worst in port."
There was little question in Simpson's mind in those days that his boss had a drinking problem. As with many alcoholics, it was not immediately noticeable; Wilson had an uncanny ability to consume enormous quantities of Scotch and seem unaffected. Also, he was a happy drunk who told wonderful stories and made everyone laugh. On the occasions when drinking would get to him, Simpson says, "Wilson would simply lie down on the floor for an hour, wake up, and act as if he had just had twelve hours of sleep. It was the most unreal thing I'd ever seen. He'd do this at his own parties — just sleep for an hour with everything going on around him, then get up and start again."
Most of the 435 members of Congress lead surprisingly anonymous lives in Washington. They are, of course, celebrities of sorts in their own districts, but the reality of life in the capital is that all but a few will leave Washington without much of anyone knowing they had been there. Wilson, in contrast, had begun to attract a great deal of media attention by the early 1980s, albeit the kind that any other politician would have considered the kiss of death. The gossip columnists called him "Good-Time Charlie," and they had a good time themselves describing the parade of beauty queens he escorted to White House receptions and fancy embassy parties. One Texas newspaper called him "the biggest playboy in Congress." The Washington Post featured a picture of Wilson and House Majority Leader Jim Wright saddled up on white horses, riding down Pennsylvania Avenue to a nightclub Wilson had just invested in. The Dallas Morning News observed that there were more congressmen on the floor of Wilson's disco, Élan ("a club for the dashing" was its motto), than you were ever likely to find on the floors of Congress. When challenged about his lifestyle, Wilson replied good-naturedly, "Why should I go around looking like a constipated hound dog? I'm having the time of my life."
In truth, at age forty-seven, in his fourth term in office, Charlie Wilson was completely lost. Public officials are forever doing stupid things, but they don't step into hot tubs with naked women and cocaine unless they are driven to play Russian roulette with their careers. And it was hard not to conclude that this recently divorced congressman was a man in free fall, programmed for disaster.
Wilson himself would later say, "I was caught up in the longest midlife crisis in history. I wasn't hurting anybody, but I sure was aimless." If Charlie Wilson's midlife crisis had thrown him off course, it was nothing compared to the crisis America was going through. The night Wilson checked into Caesars Palace, Ted Koppel had opened his Nightline broadcast with a disturbing refrain: "Good evening. Tonight is the two hundred and thirty-seventh night of captivity for the hostages in Tehran." The United States, with its $200 billion annual defense budget, couldn't even force a taunting Third World nation to turn over fifty hostages. And then, when it finally screwed up its courage to mount a rescue mission, the whole world watched the humiliating spectacle of Desert One, as a U.S. helicopter pilot lost his vision in a blinding dust cloud and rammed into a parked plane, leaving eight soldiers dead and the rescue mission aborted.
Over and over again it was said that "Vietnam syndrome" had infected the spirit of America. And by the summer of 1980 a growing number of conservatives, led by Ronald Reagan, had begun to warn that the Soviet Union might have achieved nuclear superiority, that a "window of opportunity" had been opened in which the Soviets could launch and win a nuclear war. Other voices added to the unease, claiming that the KGB had infiltrated most Western intelligence services and that they were mounting devastatingly effective "disinformation" campaigns, which were blinding America to the danger it faced.
To the president at the time, Jimmy Carter, this kind of extreme worst-case thinking had created what he called "America's paranoid fear of Communism." A born-again Christian, a onetime peanut farmer and former governor of Georgia, Carter had almost no experience in foreign affairs when he ran for president, but he had won over an American public still traumatized by Vietnam and Watergate. The intelligence scandals in the late 1970s had only reinforced the widespread suspicion that the CIA was out of control — a virtual government within the government. Vowing "never to lie" to the American public and to introduce a new morality in Washington, Carter had all but promised an end to the CIA's dirty tricks.
Once in office, President Carter moved to discipline the Agency, coming close to suggesting that it was time to stop conducting covert operations altogether. His handpicked CIA chief, Admiral Stansfield Turner, went a step further and with great fanfare carried out a purge of the Agency's so-called rogue operatives. By the end of 1979, the new ground rules put down by the president and Congress had gone a long way toward altering the very culture of this embattled Agency. Even the CIA's most daring operatives had come to dread the prospect of having their careers destroyed for carrying out missions that Congress might later deem illegal. By Christmas 1979, the CIA's Directorate of Operations had voluntarily all but taken itself out of the dirty-tricks business.
What none of the CIA's leaders could have foreseen was that Jimmy Carter, the president who had gone to such lengths to tame them, was about to be reborn as a Cold War hawk. To say that Jimmy Carter was surprised by the Soviets' Christmas invasion of Afghanistan would be a gross understatement. It radicalized him. It made him suddenly believe that the Soviets might be truly evil and that the only way to deal with them was with force. "I don't know if fear is the right word to describe our reaction," recalls Carter's vice president, Walter Mondale. "But what unnerved everyone was the suspicion that [Soviet president] Brezhnev's inner circle might not be rational. They must have known the invasion would poison everything dealing with the West — from SALT to the deployment of nuclear weapons in western Europe."
Declaring Afghanistan "the greatest foreign policy crisis confronting the United States since World War II," Carter ordered a boycott of the Olympics scheduled for Moscow that summer. He embargoed grain sales to the Soviets and called for a massive defense buildup, including the creation of a Rapid Deployment Force. Reflecting fears about further Russian aggression, he unveiled the Carter Doctrine, committing America to war in the event of any threat to the strategic oil fields of the Middle East. His most radical departure, however, came when he signed a series of secret legal documents, known as Presidential Findings, authorizing the Central Intelligence Agency to go into action against the Red Army.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Charlie Wilson's War"
Copyright © 2003 George Crile.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: A Strange Award at Langley,
Chapter 1: A Hot Tub in Las Vegas,
Chapter 2: Defender of Trinity,
Chapter 3: A Rogue Elephant in the Agency Woods,
Chapter 4: A Texas Bombshell,
Chapter 5: The Secret Life of Charlie Wilson,
Chapter 6: The Curse of Aliquippa,
Chapter 7: How the Israelis Broke the Congressman's Heart and He Fell for the Muj,
Chapter 8: The Station Chief,
Chapter 9: Cocaine Charlie,
Chapter 10: The Congressman Takes His Belly Dancer to the Jihad,
Chapter 11: The Rebirth of Gust Avrakotos,
Chapter 12: The United States v. Charles Wilson,
Chapter 13: The Seduction of Doc Long,
Chapter 14: Gust's Secret,
Chapter 15: The Opening Salvo,
Chapter 16: Howard of Afghanistan,
Chapter 17: Cogan's Last Stand 233,
Chapter 18: The Birth of a Conspiracy,
Chapter 19: The Recruitment,
Chapter 20: No Wasps Need Apply,
Chapter 21: Man of Destiny,
Chapter 22: Mohammed's Arms Bazaar,
Chapter 23: The Senator and His Even Crazier Right-Wing Friends,
Chapter 24: Techno Holy Warriors,
Chapter 25: "The Noblest Smuggling Operation in History",
Chapter 26: Dr. Doom Declares Charlie Dead,
Chapter 27: Charlie's Irregulars,
Chapter 28: The Silver Bullet,
Chapter 29: The Other Silver Bullet,
Chapter 30: The Brown Bomber,
Chapter 31: "It's My War, Goddamn It",
Chapter 32: A Jihad to Remember,
Chapter 33: The Price of Glory,
Chapter 34: "Here's to You, You Motherfucker",
Epilogue — Unintended Consequences,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I would suggest reading 'Oliver North - Under Fire' before reading this to get a view of both sides of government. Charlie Wilson is the epitome of what scares me about politicians. I'd consider Charlie Wilson as more of a 'Sell-Out' than a hero for what he did in Afghanistan. Crile displays Charlie as this person who would go to no lengths to protect America. To me, I can't imagine any womanizing coke-head caring about anything but their own needs. Charlie goes off and defends Pakistan's right to build an Islamic bomb, which makes me view Oliver North as a saint compared to Charlie. Even though Oliver North sold arms to Iran in exchange to free the hostages and use the profits to send to Nicaragua, Charlie sold weapons, gave billions of dollars, and trained are eventual enemy. It's nice to know that coke-heads can run this country. It makes me think about the high gas prices and products and why they came about. It amazed me on how Israel played such a neutral position by providing Iran with weapons, by making special weapons for the Afghans, and by becoming involved in American politics so deeply. Israel makes me think that they care more about themselves than anyone else in the world even disregarding their own allies. There is no way that I can believe that the money to fund this Afghan program was handled properly. Charlies deep pashion for the Afghans were probably caused because of the money he was stealing from the program. The US was probably funding the Islamic bomb with this money as well. The only thing I can say bad about this book is how Crile would introduce each charcter in the same format. You will know what I'm talking about when you read the book. Also, I guess Tom Hanks is supposed to play Charile Wilson in the movie, which I find hard to believe because of Charlie's coke problem and also being 6'4 wher Hanks is only 5'10. Every paranoid idea that I ever thought about this government comes to reality in Crile's book, 'Charlie Wilson's War'.
This book contains an incredible story of Hedinism, Obsession, Politics, War, Good vs. Evil, and Intrigue. However, I have to wonder if the 'History' may be a bit dubious or slanted. The Author idolizes Congressman Charlie Wilson and takes effort to draw the reader into his congregation of Wilson Worshipers. But, from this 'tale', it is hard to decide if Wilson should be tried and shot, or should he be given the greatest of American and Afghan honors. Maybe, we should do both! Or, maybe he should be dismissed as an exaggerator and egotist. Either way, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves reading History and Historical Fiction. But, they should all need to keep in mind that this 'Story' may be just that, a story. I think the real fun of this book though will be in the years to come. As we watch the unfolding of the 'rest of the story' as declassification and 'deathbed testimony' reveals the Truths and Consequenses of this 'One-Man War'.
Fantastic, a must read. While reading this book I laughed out loud on numerous occasions. However, not only funny, this book is an insightful look into Middle East politics. Absolutely wonderful.
This is book tells a story that is rarely expressed elsewhere. The characters are so flamboyant it is hard to believe they are real people, and this is nonfiction. Late in the book Crile discusses the dilemma anyone writing about Charlie Wilson deals with. Wilson could easily be portrayed as a hero or a buffoon. This dichotomy dominates the narrative. Wilson the brilliant legislator, master of the smoke filled room, the true idealist is hampered by his drunken, womanizing, junket taking alter ego. Though this book is a tribute to Wilson¿s effort to arm the Mujadeen against the Soviets and their ultimate victory in that war, but the true revelation is how he did it. One man, Wilson pushed literally billions of dollars American money to arm Muslim extremists in a great jihad. That one congressman could so alter foreign policy, and the course of history is both amazing and frightening. The press and the rest of congress focused on the Contras and Charlie Wilson began a far bigger program virtually unnoticed. Even without the dangerous aftermath of the Taliban, of a young Osama Bin laden seeing a superpower fall, the fact billions of dollars can be spent by a handful of men with little oversight is chilling.It is clear much of the information comes from interviews with Wilson and other protagonists like CIA man Gust Avrakotos and socialite Joanne Herron. Though Crile pays lip service to the dreadful aftermath of 911, and Islamic extremism he identifies too closely with his subjects. He mentions Texas Billionaire Herron steadfastly defended murderers and brutal dictators because of favorable impressions she gained from brief meetings. But he is generally gentle in his portrayal of this naïve manipulator. It is staggeringly sad such people have such influence on government policy entirely because of their wealth. It is not hard to imagine how the private discussions at few select social clubs decide the fate of nations. It seems all you need is a billion dollars, or to impress somebody who has a billion dollars to enter the conversation.It is great story, an exciting story, but hardly a heroic one.
A riveting account of one of the most intriguing and peculiar chapters in Cold War history. For anyone who liked the movie, the book is a MUST for its additional details and anecdotes; such as the kerfuffle over the indecent liberties the Afghan Mujahideen took with the Tennessee mules we gave them.
Unbelievable but not.Crile presents an insider's view of the behind the scenes machinations and maneuvers which allow our government to operate.Obviously well-researched, Charlie Wilson's War is a fascinating tale of what's possible when rules are ignored and no isn't an option.Charlie Wilson was a playboy Congressman who was rarely taken seriously. A Democrat from Texas who was also fervently anti-Communist, Wilson made it his life's work to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan and in the course of doing so, set the stage for the collapse of the Soviet Union.While the book deals with events which took place 25 or so years ago, there's an awful lot of it which echoes today. I had an eerie familiarity with many of the names and locations such as Abdul Haq, Bagram and Jalalabad.Wilson and his cohorts were trying to make Afghanistan the Soviets' Vietnam but as I read, I just kept seeing disconcerting parallels between the Soviet experience in Afghanistan and our present day experiences in Iraq.I had an a-ha moment when Crile states that "Israel's most dangerous enemy was Saddam Hussein's Iraq."Crile's non-fiction book reads like a spy novel and provides an effortless education into an area of the world which continues to have a global impact.
This is the most interesting and exciting book I have read this year! Molly Ivins called it a ¿whale of a tale,¿ and it was that and more. This book reads more like a spy novel than the truth, but it is undoubtably non-fiction. I saw the recently released movie of the same name last night, and the movie is good, but you seriously don't want to miss this book. The movie would have been three days long to include all the interesting parts of this complex and compelling story. And this morning I read that Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated. Having finished this book just a few days ago, I can clearly see the machinations of unintended consequences at work in this tragedy. If you read only one book this year, this is the one I would recommend without reservation.
What amazes me is that one Congressman manipulates the system, spends that much money and gets those things done. And we are still spilling our blood and treasure there thirty years later. We go in and follow the Russians' folly. Oh, the price of empire!!! What a tale - better than any fiction.
The book opens a fascinating window on US involvement in the Soviet war in Afghanistan and how the Congress operates. Charlie Wilson is an American archetype - the boozing, loud-mouthed, brash Texan with the trophy woman on his arm. (The cocaine snorting maybe is not quite so much a part of the stereotype.) Wilson managed to stay barely a half step ahead of the law as he indulged his reckless self-destructive behavior. At the same time, he took full advantage of the arcane rules of the US House of Representatives to wield an out-sized influence in the US Afghanistan policy supporting the Afhgani resistance and pushing to provide them with high-tech weaponry. An entertaining character! And if he had confined himself to pork barrel projects for his East Texas district, you could say 'no harm, no foul'. Unfortunately, he appears to have had a sizeable amount of influence over policy. The Soviets left, the US lost interest and control of Afghanistan fell to the Islamist fundamentalists who now had modern military equipment to sell on the black market. In the end the Taliban ended up in power with the attendant dire consequences.
Slow and steady, says the old adage, wins the race. Half the battle, others say, is showing up. Whatever cliché you choose, none will explain how Texas Representative Charlie Wilson, an unknown Republican Congressman in a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives spear-headed the exponential increase in secret appropriations to support Afghan fighters against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.Simply saying "truth is stranger than fiction" still does not adequately explain the bizarre true story told by veteran "60 Minutes" producer George Crile in "Charlie Wilson's War." Undergirded by years of research, including what certainly must have been extensive interviews with several of the principle actors in the story, Crile carefully unravels the story of the clandestine American involvement with the Afghans, with its secret operations, money laundering, arms trafficking, and unofficial foreign relations negotiations.At the heart of this tale are the incorrigible Wilson and free-thinking CIA agent Gust Avrakotos. Each has a mixed reputation among his colleagues. Wilson is seen as an overt womanizer, who becomes a cocktail party joke when he becomes part of a public drug investigation. Avrakotos, who became disgruntled when passed over for a station chief assignment, is a loose cannon who speaks his mind.Neither should be in a position to control any major operation. Their outsider status, however, allows them to work without much oversight; their experience in how to get things done in Congress and the CIA means they can use their relative freedom to pursue their own goals. Beyond that, though, they also negotiate with other foreign governments in order to facilitate their plans.The story of their amazing success -- in that the Soviet Union retreated from Afghanistan in 1989 -- is an amazing tale. There is the sense, though, that the haphazard American involvement may have led to foreign policy problems in the years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. So for the giddiness of the story -- which is frequently filled with humor -- there's also a nagging sense of loss by the books end.In any event, Crile tells his fascinating story with a no-nonsense style, well aware of the irony and absurdity of many of the twists and turns. It is an enlightening, entertaining read.
Yes the book is overly long but the bigger problem is that I couldn¿t help but being put off by this cheerful celebration of American short-sightedness.
This is the incredible story of Charlie Wilson, the Congressman from Texas who used his position on the Defense Appropriations Committee to funnel millions of dollars to the CIA to fight the proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1980's. The Afghan warriors so romanticized by Charlie and indeed the whole of Congress later turned up as Islamic jihadists who used their CIA weapons and training against the United States. Crile, a seasoned journalist, doesn't try to explain this turn of events; rather he wants to tell the story of Charlie and how he helped cause the collapse of the USSR through his Afghan intervention. The details of how Charlie got the United States, the Pakistanis, the Saudis, Israelis, and of course the Afghans to bend to his obsession to arm the Mujahideen are nothing short of amazing.One of Charlie's "co-conspirators" featured prominently in the book is Gust Avrakotos, the agent in charge of Charlie's War at the CIA. Working with Wilson, Avrakotos eventually controlled more than 70 percent of the CIA's annual expenditures for covert operations. Another of Crile's heros, Gust is described as coarse, "brutally worldly wise," and undeservedly obscure. Unfortunately he had, as aptly put in his Washington Post obituary from 2005, a "thermonuclear approach to internal politics" in the CIA. His protest against Oliver North's arms-for-hostage scheme cost him his career.Particularly enlightening is the elucidation of the back-room politics - in both Congress and the CIA - that played such a large role in getting this covert war funded. It is one thing to know that trading of favors "goes on" but quite another to see it in action, and to realize with astonishment how many lives can be so glibly bartered. (per W. H. Auden: "When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, And when he cried the little children died in the streets.")Crile tries hard to hide his hero-worship for Charlie as well as for Charlie's CIA accomplices, but he can't do it, in spite of a brief reference at the end to the blowback from the operation. Although Crile talks about Charlie's boozing, womanizing, and lack of responsibility, in the end, it is Lawrence of Arabia the author evokes in his portrayal of the apparently very charismatic Charlie. Even Zia-ul-Haq, the Pakistani dictator, comes off as a good guy - "like a dad" to Charlie, after all. The dewy-eyed slant does not obscure the "extraordinary" nature of the story however; it is well-worth reading.(JAF)
As I watched this happen and enjoyed the hell of it all...
You don’t have to read between the lines to see how Charlie & and his friends conducted an undeclared war against the Cold War Soviet Union in Afghanistan. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend…” It worked both ways. Congress did not make a declaration of war to use “Afghan Mujahedeen” “freedom fighters to drive the infidel Soviets out; but they DID secretly fund it. We and Saudi Arabia, and Israel (to a degree) provided the funds, high technology weapons and training of the Mujahedeen warriors to focus on the Soviet invaders, rather than fight each other. Now that the Soviet Evil Empire is gone, years later, they have the wherewithal to destroy a new group of infidels: us-- the USA. And since we gave them everything they needed to attack us, they chose us rather than their thousands-of-years of self-slaughtering. All they needed was a new Superpower to attack. And now, we are “The enemy…” instead of their friend. All signs seem to point to the Russians as financing today’s Islamic Fundamentalists against us. Allahu Akbar!
FASCINATING READ. GREAT CHARACTERS.
A must read for everyone who lives in America. Excellent author, exposing truth on our spending of tax dollars. Very good book. I shudder at all of the other potential pet projects that the US is funding. All in all, I heartily recommend the book.
An interesting perspective on what started all our current problems in the middle east.
Good story, could of been better edited for a shorter story.