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Charlie Wilson has no regrets on war
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Hindsight may be 20/20, but Charlie Wilson still likes the view.

Never mind that many of the mujahedeen guerillas that the former U.S. representative from Texas helped arm in their fight against Soviet occupiers wound up as the very Taliban leaders who shaped the violent and radical Islamic fundamentalism that dominated Afghanistan for generations to come. Never mind the rise of the Taliban and al-Qaida.

As a movie chronicling his efforts to supply arms to the so-called freedom fighters - and foreshadowing the terror to come - was released on DVD Tuesday, Wilson made the rounds with reporters, arguing that "Charlie Wilson's War" shouldn't be classified as a tragedy.

"You're watching a triumphant defeat of a harsh, brutal, conquering invader being set back by an army of barefooted tribesman and shepherds," Wilson said of the film, which stars Tom Hanks as the sure-of-himself playboy politician.

But yes, Wilson said, there is "another part" to the film. "And that's the lack of attention on the part of the United States and the failure to follow through," he said. "There was a certain amount of Afghanistan fatigue with my fellow congressmen. I'd been bilking them out of money for 10 years and they were tired of it."

If only the U.S. had stuck it out - "been there to referee," as Wilson put it - things might have been different. "The reconstruction of that country would have given them a lot of hope."

And maybe then, he said, there wouldn't have been a Taliban.

Sound familiar? Wilson thinks so, too. Though U.S. forces are now fighting in the same mountains where he once rode horseback to cheer on mujahedeen fighters, he also sees a strong correlation to America's responsibilities a thousand miles to the west.

"I would favor doing everything we can to rebuild Iraq," he said. "After all, we're the ones who destroyed it."

He suggests that America's failure to make a more stalwart commitment in Afghanistan was in part to blame for the rise of the Taliban there. Wilson - a Democrat - said he doesn't approve of the open-ended policies currently governing the deployment of troops in Iraq. "I don't think it ought to require 160,000 troops," he said.

There's another reason Wilson insists he can "think of nothing I would have done differently."

Wilson said his support for Afghan fighters was a marriage made of a common enemy. And that enemy was once an ally, too.

But nobody says America shouldn't have supported the Russians during World War II, Wilson said. "Otherwise we'd all be speaking German now."

With Iranian-allied Shiite theocrats - some no less radically fundamentalist than the Sunni Taliban who once ruled Afghanistan - having claimed considerable power in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's ouster and execution, that may be another lesson of Wilson's story, albeit an unpalatable one.

When at war, after all, the enemy of your enemy is your friend.

"In wartime, you do what you have to do," Wilson said.

mlaplante@sltrib.com

A U.S. commitment in the region could have stopped the formation of the Taliban, he says
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