I remember thinking during the trailers for Charlie Wilson's War back in 2007: "who the hell is Charlie Wilson?" I fancied myself a foreign policy geek back in the '80s, and yet I can't remember having heard of the guy.
Raise your hands if you thought Ronald Reagan won the cold war. Well, you're all wrong. It was really Charlie Wilson; after all, the movie said so. And, oh yeah, Charlie Wilson was a liberal Democrat.
See how it works?
Reagan's name is mentioned exactly once in this movie. He was lucky. Not so lucky was Michael Pillsbury Reagan's Assistant Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Planning (in other words, a Republican political appointee). Pillsbury successfully advocated the real Afghan war game-changer: providing the Stinger anti-aircraft missile to the Mujahideen. Yet Pillsbury does not receive a single mention.
Faring better was Michael Vickers, a former "Green Beret" and paramilitary officer in the CIA's Special Activities Division. He was the key architect of the strategy, and the movie at least gives his character a speaking role. But . . . Vickers would go on to also serve as a Republican political appointee, so that role is reduced to that of weapons geek.
Raise your hands if you think that the U.S. operation, however necessary, created later difficulties by funneling its aid through Pakistan's Islamist-dominated ISI, who directed the bulk of the aid to their co-religionist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar, in turn, used much of that military assistance against other Mujahideen, and later support the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Was that a problem? Well . . . yes, but that's only because we denied Charlie Wilson's request for more money to fund Afghan school construction. After all, the movie said so.
See how it works?
But there is a lot to like about this movie. For one thing it is refreshingly anti-Soviet, and it makes a hero of Charlie Wilson, a man sufficiently anti-communist to support Anastasio Somoza, Nicaragua's right-wing dictator deposed by the Sandinistas. (This fact goes unmentioned in the movie.) Congressman Wilson admits frankly that his political career is beholden to Jewish donors outside his district. Alert observers will notice that many of the moral paradoxes in the movie are discussed. The operation required us to work with Islamic sh!tholes like Pakistan and nasty characters like General Zia. The Stingers missiles are given their due, and the movie doesn't actually lie about how they came to the Mujahideen, it just doesn't talk about it.
And I am totally a sucker for Aaron Sorkin's screenplays. Yeah, I know he's a liberal slimeball, but no writer I know can capture alpha-male verbal jousting with quite the same flair. The dialog is outstanding, particularly between the supporting cast members.