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February 11, 2010
Former Congressman Charlie Wilson dead at 76
Charlie Wilson, former Democratic Congressman from Texas and driving force behind the CIA's covert war against Soviet aggression in Afghanistan - later portrayed by Tom Hanks in 2007's "Charlie Wilson's War" - has died at the age of 76.
Wilson was considered both a progressive and a defense hawk. While his efforts to arm the mujahedeen in the 1980s were a success -- spurring a victory that helped speed the downfall of the Soviet Union -- he was unable to keep the money flowing after the Soviets left. Afghanistan plunged into chaos, creating an opening eventually filled by the Taliban, which harbored Al Qaeda terrorists.
After the Sept. 11 attacks -- carried out by Al Qaeda terrorists trained in Afghanistan -- the U.S. ended up invading the country it had once helped liberate.
"People like me didn't fulfill our responsibilities once the war was over," Wilson said in a September 2001 interview with The Associated Press. "We allowed this vacuum to occur in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which enraged a lot of people. That was as much my fault as it was a lot of others."
While America comes full circle in Afghanistan, Charlie Wilson's historical legacy may stand as a much needed example to his political successors. He realized that 21st century asymmetrical wars involved commitment well beyond an election cycle or "exit date."
His larger than life persona aside, Wilson was savvy enough to recognize the scourge of communism in the 1980s and maneuver through the bureaucratic red tape in arming the Afghans with Stinger missiles in their fight against the Red Army. He later came to recognize the grave threat of Islamic militancy and terrorism in the post-Cold war vacuum and knew that America could not abdicate her responsibility to herself or the world.
He was a bird of a different feather to say the least.