Charlie Wilson’s War is a rollicking true tale of the most successful
covert war in history — taking down the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
With one or two side effects.
** ALL TIED UP IN NEW HAMPSHIRE — IN BOTH PARTIES. The new Boston Globe poll of the New Hampshire presidential primary, released Sunday morning shows dead heats between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side and Mitt Romney and John McCain on the Republican side.
On the Democratic side, it’s Obama 30%, Clinton 28%, and John Edwards 14%.
On the Republican side, it’s Romney 28%, McCain 25%, and Rudy Giuliani 14%.
These amount to statistical dead heats.
Obama has taken his sliver of a lead by hollowing out Hillary’s support in the Manchester area of the state, especially among blue collar workers. She once led him there by nearly three to one. Now he has a tiny edge.
** CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR. Terrific movie. Perfect? No. Fun and mostly accurate? Yep.
Tom Hanks, not perfectly cast but making a more than game stab at it, plays the roguish Texas Democrat hawk (but social and economic liberal) congressman who helped bring down the Soviet Union by proving to be the necessary lynchpin to fund the covert war against it in Afghanistan. Charlie Wilson’s War, written by West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin (disclosure: I did some consulting for the show, after he left it) and directed by Mike Nichols, is based on a terrific best-selling book by the late 60 Minutes producer George Crile.
Some on the right, naturally, are attacking the movie because it doesn’t give all credit to St. Ronald Reagan, and because Wilson is a Democrat. Well, the truth is that covert operations in Afghanistan — invaded by the Soviets in the late ’70s — were authorized by Democratic President Jimmy Carter (upon the advice of his staunchly anti-Soviet National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, an Eastern European immigrant now advising one Barack Obama) — and that those covert operations were then adopted by Reagan and his CIA Director Bill Casey.
But the operations languished. Until Wilson, a former naval officer and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, became convinced that they needed to be ramped up. Dramatically. And no matter how you spin it, without the massive funding that Wilson arranged through his utterly key role as a keeper of the Congressional appropriations keys, there’s no successful covert war in Afghanistan.
The film is also attacked from the left, as by a witless film critic in the LA Times, on grounds that it was a bad idea to make Afghanistan Russia’s Vietnam and take down the Soviet Union. Because, um, they won’t say all of the “because,” because that sounds a bit too nostalgic for the good old Soviet days. But they will say that it was a bad idea because it built up Al Qaeda.
Reality check. Al Qaeda had next to nothing to do with the Afghan War. That’s a myth. Osama bin Laden barely made it into the country while any actual fighting was going on. It did give the Islamic jihadists of today the idea that if one superpower could be defeated, so could another. But if America had paid attention to Afghanistan after the Soviets were ousted — which it most assuredly did not, as all the books make clear — the Taliban would never have risen and Al Qaeda would never had found its safe haven there. As it was, Al Qaeda only ended up there because its preferred hidey holes wouldn’t have them.
Now for the movie. Hanks isn’t perfectly cast, but the All-American icon clearly has fun playing against type as the playboy congressman. Julia Roberts plays a camp version of herself as the very right-wing, very rich Texas socialite Joanne Herring who helps seduce Wilson into championing the mujahedeen and Pakistani dictator General Zia. (Who later died in a plane crash. Watch out for that, General Musharraf.) Philip Seymour Hoffman is perfect as the the unkempt, un-clubbable CIA officer Gust Avrakotos who spearheaded the covert op.
It’s a fun political movie, with a happy and yet ironic ending. Kind of like the world we live in. Well, except maybe for the fun part.
** FIELD POLL: CALIFORNIANS DOWN ON BUSH, IRAQ, DIRECTION OF AMERICA. The latest Field Poll continues to dribble out and contains no surprises. California voters are very down on President Bush, his Iraq policy, and the direction of America. Bush has just a 28% job approval rating in the Golden State. The Iraq War, on which voters are permanently soured no matter what short-term progress is achieved by the surge, is favored by only 24%. A whopping 67% see America on the wrong track, the highest level of displeasure since 1992, when George Bush I was in the White House.
** NOTE: NWN is on a reduced holiday publishing schedule. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some columns and updates and videos; just not nearly so many. The Forum will of course be open. The relative break is coming sooner rather than later because of the frankly insane presidential campaign schedule, which sees Iowa and New Hampshire within a week of New Year’s Day. For some perspective, when I did first-in-the-nation Iowa for Gary Hart, it was on February 20th.
Two days after Christmas, NWN throttles back up full bore through the February 5th presidential primaries in California and elsewhere.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM RUSSIA TODAY. Russia has re-emerged as one of the world’s great powers. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer, bringing you English-language, jargon-free, fast-paced coverage of global and Russian news from the new Russia Today channel.
You probably already know about CNN International, BBC World, and Al Jazeera. Russia Today, which also features culture, entertainment, and sports, is based in Moscow and is owned and operated by the TV Novosti division of Russia’s state news agency, RIA Novosti.
While it’s quite foolish to expect to see, say, criticism of Vladimir Putin on Russia Today, the channel is very interesting nonetheless. The NWN live link to RT does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** TRACK GLOBAL AND U.S. ENERGY PRICES IN NEAR REAL TIME VIA BLOOMBERG ENERGY MARKET WATCH. Crude oil closed back up at $93.31 per barrel. Energy markets are closed on the weekend.
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