Commentary Magazine


They Don’t Make ’em Like Charlie Wilson Anymore

The death yesterday of former Texas Congressman “Good Time Charlie” Wilson will, no doubt, revive the discussion of what went wrong with American policy in the aftermath of the eviction of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. Wilson played a key role in helping to fund Afghan resistance fighters in the 1980s and subsequently received a good deal of credit for the Soviet defeat, which was a factor in the eventual fall of the “evil empire.”

Recriminations about the way an Islamic resistance eventually morphed into the Taliban have served to tarnish that Cold War triumph in some eyes. But as much as we may second-guess the way the first President George Bush and his foreign-policy team helped muff the aftermath of the fall of Communism — as Wilson did of Congress’s post–Cold War interest in Afghanistan — there is no reason for anyone to question the rightness of Wilson’s war to defeat a brutal Communist tyranny in that country. It is a tragedy that the strange political culture of Afghanistan, combined with Western indifference, led to an Islamist tyranny that played host to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 murderers. But as is the case today as American and other allied troops struggle to give that country a chance for freedom, allowing the Soviets’ misrule of Afghanistan to stand without a fight was wrong. Charlie Wilson knew that — and for that alone his memory deserves to be honored.

Immortalized by George Crile’s book Charlie Wilson’s War and the movie of the same name, in which he was played by Tom Hanks, Wilson’s singular dedication to the cause of freeing Afghanistan, as well as a wild personal life in which alcohol, drugs, and loose women were staples, made him anything but your run-of-the-mill politician. No one could assert, at least not with a straight face, that womanizers like Wilson are a thing of the past in Congress. But it is doubtful that any today would dare be as open about their shenanigans as Wilson was.

However, Wilson was also a last vestige of a vanishing breed: a liberal Democrat who was also a hawk on national-defense issues. Like Joe Lieberman, who was chased out of his party in 2006 by a leftist anti-war primary majority, Wilson, a former naval officer, wedded liberal stands on domestic issues to a robust belief in national defense, as well as a loathing of Communists and other foes of his country. Even in the South, they just don’t make ’em like Charlie Wilson anymore. At a time when our nation remains at war against brutal Islamist enemies, pro-defense Democrats are harder and harder to find. Our nation is the poorer for the absence of patriots like Wilson, on both sides of the political aisle.