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Charlie Wilson's War: When Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

Some times truth is stranger than fiction.

My guess is that a significant number of people who see the new movie, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” about the exploits of my former Congressional colleague from Texas, Charlie Wilson, will walk out of the theater shaking their heads thinking that Hollywood made all this up. It simply couldn’t be true.

Well, folks, it is true. All of it. Congressman Charlie Wilson, a member of the House Appropriations Committee for much of his 24 years in Congress representing a rural district in East Texas, single handedly convinced Congress during the 1980’s to appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars to finance a covert war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The money went to provide weapons for Afghan rebels who drove the Soviet Army out of their country, humiliating one of the two greatest armies in the world and contributing to the collapse of the Soviet Union a few years later.

What makes the story even more incredible is that Charlie Wilson was a rake — a fun-loving Congressman who liked whisky, beautiful women and, allegedly, an occasional dose of recreational drugs.

Tom Hanks plays Charlie and, if anything, portrays him in a somewhat subdued way. If Hanks had really come over as outrageous as the real Charlie Wilson, absolutely no one would have believed the story. Julia Roberts plays Charlie’s Houston socialite love interest — a born-again beauty who first interested Charlie in the cause of the rag-tag Afghan resistance force. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the rogue CIA agent who showed Charlie how to actually get the arms to the Muslim Afghans without causing an international incident. Would you believe that he devised a plan to use the Jewish state of Israel as the middleman?

Before Charlie took up the cause of the Afghan resistance, no one was providing them the sophisticated weaponry needed to shoot down Soviet helicopters and to blow up Russian tanks. Charlie basically traded every chit he had accumulated as a member of the Appropriations Committee over his Congressional career by doing favors for other Congressmen (many of whom were liberals from the North East) in exchange for his project of defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Thanks to Charlie and the courage of the Afghan rebels, Afghanistan became the Soviet Union’s Vietnam.

Several things make this a great movie: (1) it is true; (2) it does not try to hide the fact that Charlie Wilson had large faults that probably would have made it impossible for him to accomplish something like this today (20 years later); and (3) Hanks, Roberts and Hoffman have real star power and play their roles perfectly. Hoffman is simply brilliant in almost any role and this has to be the best performance of Julia Roberts’ career.

Charlie pulled this off in the era before 24-hour cable news. CNN was in its infancy. FOX and MSNBC didn’t even exist. Charlie’s foibles probably would have been exposed in great detail in the new media environment and he might have been driven from public office before he could ever have performed this great service to the country.

It is certainly possible that the Soviet Union ultimately would have collapsed even if it wasn’t humiliated in Afghanistan, but Charlie Wilson’s successful personal war may have accelerated the timetable.

The real tragedy of all of this was that the United States walked away from Afghanistan after the Soviets were driven out. We refused to provide vital educational and developmental aid to the new government which eventually was replaced by the extremist Taliban.

Charlie tried to persuade Congress to provide this economic aid after the military aid was successful, but even he couldn’t accomplish that. The movie shows this effort and concluded with a quote from Charlie about how we lost a golden opportunity to avoid Muslim extremism. He was right then just as he was right in helping drive the Soviets out of the country.

This is the type of movie that should be seen by people of all ages because it is truly an inspiring story. However, there is enough nudity and profane language that it couldn’t come close to a "G" rating. The nudity really wasn’t necessary to the story but you couldn’t eliminate the strong language. It wouldn’t have been credible in a sanitized version.

So here it is — warts and all. "Charlie Wilson’s War" is a wonderful story, well told. I loved the movie and I am one of the people who believe that Charlie Wilson is a great American.

Respond to the Writer

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Flanigan and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.