Will Byrnes's Reviews > Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of our Times

Charlie Wilson's War by George Crile
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Charlie Wilson's War is a chilling tale of how a few determined people can undermine all existing law, use their positions of power and influence to get unseen funds allocated, and pursue a major war without the approval of the American people. Crile was clearly enamored of Wilson, regarding him as a charismatic, larger-than-life figure, who performed a major service to the West by tipping the Soviet Union over the edge.

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Crile (foreground) with Wilson (suspenders) and an unnamed ISI agent (shades) in Afghanistan - from Wiki media

There is some consciousness here of some of the blowback that resulted from this work, the resources now used by Islamic extremists to attack the West, but I doubt that Wilson or any of his cohorts will ever accept any real responsibility for that. A must read for anyone interested in how foreign policy can be driven by committed individuals. The film that was based on the book is definitely worth a look.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Crile, a long-time producer and reporter for CBS news, a two-time winner of the Edward R Murrow Award for his outstanding foreign policy reporting, passed away at age 61 in 2006. There are many links to reports Crile made on this wiki page

Charlie Wilson passed away in 2010. Wikipedia has a bit more information on him.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
October 1, 2004 – Finished Reading
October 29, 2008 – Shelved
October 29, 2008 – Shelved as: nonfiction
November 1, 2008 – Shelved as: military-and-intelligence-non-fic
July 12, 2012 – Shelved as: afghanistan
July 12, 2012 – Shelved as: american-history
November 2, 2012 – Shelved as: brain-candy
June 9, 2018 – Shelved as: history

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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message 1: by Tom LA (new)

Tom LA http://youtu.be/9hU3r4q5CV8 Here you can find an interesting documentary about Afghanistan and Charlie Wilson. Also check out "Good hunting" by ex CIA Jack Devine, very matter of fact about that period of history. Today, depending on which one of the two stereotypical political angles you look at Charlie Wilson, you will see him either as a rogue politician who undermined the law and pursued a war without the approval of the American people (which had been approved by president Carter to start with, btw), or the guy who got things done, beat the Soviets in Afghanistan, and contributed to winning the Cold War. The truth is more complex than that, but to the lefties who like to blame Wilson for the Talibans issues I would say "get over it", it seems like there were more important problems to solve back then. Subsequent administrations might have invested more resources in staying in Afghanistan longer after '89, but that did not happen.


message 2: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne King This sounds a rather splendid book Will!


Will Byrnes It is indeed quite a good read


message 4: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny Tabasco wrote: "to the lefties who like to blame Wilson for the Talibans issues I would say "get over it", it seems like there were more important problems to solve back then."

This is an excellent point. 9/11 was really a very minor incident, and absolutely worth the advantage which the US gained in the Cold War by pursuing its strategy in Afghanistan.


message 5: by Tom LA (last edited Aug 17, 2015 11:22AM) (new)

Tom LA Quoting Michael Rubin, whose articles I've been reading for a while: "In hindsight, and especially after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, it is very easy to criticize Washington's shortsightedness. But US policymakers had a very stark choice in the 1980s: either the United States could support an Afghan opposition, or they could simply cede Afghanistan to Soviet domination". This would have brought on, as a domino effect, a strong Soviet influence on Pakistan. Or maybe someone in the '80s should have jumped up and yelled "Stop everyone! If we pursue this policy, in more than 20 years there will be a massive terrorist attack on US soil! Led by a rich Arab, by the way!". Sorry, I am not the only one to not buy that for one second. Also, if the game is to trace fictional dotted lines across history, then why not reach back to the times of British domination in the region, and the historic consequences of the geographic partition of those regions/provinces? We can go on forever really. We obviously would not change each other's political leaning of one inch. Which is actually what is much more interesting to me .... the fundamental forces that lead me or you or anyone else to lean towards a "left/liberal" or a "right/conservative" view of reality. It seems rationality has absolutely nothing to do with it.


message 6: by Jay (new)

Jay This is one of those modern "be careful what you wish for" tales. I have not read the book. I saw the film a couple of years ago, which seemed to me to romanticize the whole episode. [I would have cast Joe Don Baker as Charlie Wilson, instead of Tom "the Voice of Woody" Hanks]. The indifference of the "powers that were" to pursuing what Wilson believed needed to be done to maintain the gains within Afghanistan Mr. Wilson struggled to achieve, was meant to be prescient, I suppose. Given the way things are unraveling there now, after 14 years of American intervention, one wonders what what have been accomplished had Wilson's wish list been funded. We seem to have blowback down to a science. Some would say it's merely the cost of doing business.


message 7: by Tom LA (last edited Aug 22, 2015 10:59PM) (new)

Tom LA Yes I agree on the "be careful what you wish for" point. But I dont know of any war that was fought with crystal-ball foresight and 25-years-in-the-future long term strategic planning. To say that 9-11 was caused by Wilson and whomever else armed the mujahideen is to take an armchair Monday coach approach to the complexities of history. I'm now reading "Drift" by famous lefty Rachel Maddow. Its a good book, very well written, although, after promising objectivity, she launches into one of the most negative accounts I've ever read about the Reagan Presidency. She laughs at his world-view (listening to audiobook read by herself) and her tone is of constant mockery, shocked by the stupidity of President Reagan and his gang of warmongers. I'm not saying I dont find it interesting, and she makes a ton of good points, especially about the constitutional powers of waging a war. It's just that it's the book equivalent of hearing a prosecutor describing how the events unfolded. There is immense value in debate, but what I prefer is to start from a very deep and very detailed 360 degrees analysis of the facts, when it comes to history. Unfortunately when the historic topic is still politically sensitive today , it's very hard to find a really objective narrative, anywhere at all. So what you get is hundreds of books falling into one or the other of 2 completely separate narratives, like for example the ones we have today on Ronald Reagan, as if they were speaking of two different individuals in two different worlds. Same goes for the Charlie Wilson war : in the absence of a truly objective narrative, the most useful book about that period should be a well-informed and intelligent debate between two writers of opposed political leaning. If anyone knows of such a book, please let me know.


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