A great American died today. Representative Charlie Wilson (D-TX) was one of the chief architects of the American support of the Mujahadeen resistance in Afghanistan, during the Soviet Union's war there.

A Cold War Democrat, Wilson was a committed liberal on social issues, and a hawk on defense. He was 1956 graduate of the United States Naval Academy who, quite illegally, ran for the Texas State Legislature in 1960 while still an active duty naval officer.

This set a theme for the rest of his political career. He was elected to Congress in 1972, and showed little desire to make speeches. However, he managed to anger Representative Pat Schroeder (D-CO) by calling her "Babycakes," and filled his office with attractive young women, dubbed "Charlie's Angels." As Wilson later said, "I can teach them to type but I can't teach them to grow tits."

Wilson was also a strong supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.

In his personal life, Wilson showed a strong attraction to strong drink as well as beautiful women, both in mass quantities, and earned the nickname "Good Time Charlie." Eventually, he survived a cocaine scandal was well, a drunken hit and run car accident, and developed alcohol-related cardiac problems that necessitated a heart transplant in 2007.

Wilson's moment to shine came with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As a habitual defender of the underdog from adolescence, he was moved by the plight of the Afghans as they resisted the invasion of a stronger, more technological, aggressive superpower. Along with CIA agent Gust Avrokotos — a fellow maverick who once had a Greek witch in his hometown of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania put a curse on his boss — Wilson turned a relative sideshow of the Cold War into the largest operation in CIA history.

Furthermore, Wilson pushed for the introduction of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles into the Mujahadeen arsenal, largely negating the crushing Soviet advantage in attack helicopters. The efforts of Wilson and Avrokotos were instrumental in helping the Afghans drive the Soviets from their country in 1989.

Wilson probably would have escaped the attention of history, leaving Congress in 1996 as little more than hard-drinking, womanizing member who did little legislative work, but who endeared himself to his constituents. However, 60 Minutes producer George Crile told his story in the 2003 book Charlie Wilson's War. In turn Crile's book was turned into a movie in 2007, with Tom Hanks playing Wilson and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Avrokotos.

Mike Vickers, now Assistant Secretary of State for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict & Interdependent Capabilities, was a former US Army Special Forces officer and CIA paramilitary official with a key role on Avrokotos' team. Quoted in a Yahoo News story, Vickers called Wilson a "great American patriot who played a pivotal role in a world-changing event — the defeat of the Red Army in Afghanistan, which led to the collapse of Communism and the Soviet Empire."

Ultimately, that has to be the real legacy of the late Charlie Wilson.

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Comment by Jim Werbaneth on February 14, 2010 at 3:04pm
Oh yes. It demonstrates that in politics there aren't friends so much as converging interests.
Comment by Jon Compton on February 12, 2010 at 8:27am
It strikes me how one must make deals with the devil in order to do the right thing.
Comment by Jim Werbaneth on February 11, 2010 at 1:52pm
Would anyone in Congress actually demand a quid pro quo to save a hopelessly corrupt Member?
Comment by Smitty on February 11, 2010 at 12:07pm
Horse trading at its best?
Comment by Jim Werbaneth on February 11, 2010 at 1:38am
As depicted in both the book and film Charlie Wilson's War, there was a connection between Murtha and Wilson. Murtha was implicated in the ABSCAM scandal, and was indeed listed as an unindicted coconspirator. Tip O'Neil knew that Murtha was in trouble, and therefore asked his friend Charlie to take a spot on the House Ethics Committee in order to protect him. Famously, Wilson said that he wasn't the one for the Ethics Committee, and that he was on the other side of that issue.

Wilson did his job and helped save Murtha's career. In return O'Neil, though generally ill-disposed to either covert wars or the CIA, did not stand in Wilson's way when he pushed for more money for the Agency and its Mujahadeen clients.
Comment by Chris Gammon on February 11, 2010 at 1:18am
RIP indeed. Also of note, it turned out Murtha died of an infection following a surgical mishap. What a shame.

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