'Charlie Wilson's War' was 'Bill Clark's War'
Last updated 1/10/2008 at Noon
An editorial provided by Visions and Values
Hitting theaters recently is “Charlie Wilson’s War,” starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman, developed by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin of the television drama “The West Wing.”
The movie is based on a George Crile book by the same title about former Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-TX), who helped fund the Afghanistan rebels who eventually defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
The movie credits Wilson for making the difference in ensuring that crucial weapons, including US Stinger missiles, were provided to the rebels to enable their victory over the USSR. This claim has drawn fire from conservatives who note that it was the Reagan administration that made possible that support.
A newly released book argues that another figure was even more central to aiding the Afghan resistance. In “The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand,” authors Paul Kengor and Patricia Clark Doerner point to the unacknowledged role of Bill Clark, the Reagan national security adviser who ran the President’s National Security Council and who was widely understood as Ronald Reagan’s closest and most influential adviser.
“Bill Clark is the secret story of the end of the Cold War, from his work on behalf of Afghan rebels to Polish rebels to Nicaraguan rebels and much, much more,” says Kengor. “No single individual did more behind the scenes to defeat the Soviet Union than Bill Clark.”
On the war in Afghanistan in particular, “The Judge” discloses how in early 1983 – long before the first Stinger missile arrived – Clark and Reagan quietly authorized the rebels to cross the Amu Dar’ya River that marked the border between Afghanistan and the Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, where the rebels fought the Soviet Union on its own territory.
Clark admitted he personally gave “authorization to Afghanistan forces and their supporters ‘to cross the river’ if they were so inclined and sufficiently supported.”
Specially trained rebel units operating inside the USSR, equipped with high-tech explosives from the CIA, sabotaged Soviet targets. They derailed trains, attacked border posts and laid mines.
On one occasion, 30 rebel fighters attacked two hydroelectric power stations in Soviet territory; in another, they orchestrated a rocket attack on a Soviet military airfield. There were dozens of ambushes.
Said Kengor: “These were strikingly bold, risky moves – some of the most dangerous action of the entire history of the 40-year Cold War – and Bill Clark and Ronald Reagan, often working alone, authorized them. They have eluded our knowledge of the period and were so understandably secret that they were not known by journalists at the time.”
Kengor says this was simply one of many things done by Clark and Reagan to win the Cold War.
The formal approval by the Reagan administration to support and sustain groups like the Afghan resistance was laid out in classified Reagan administration documents drafted under Clark’s direction in 1982 and 1983, including the super-sensitive directives NSDD-32, NSDD-66 and NSDD-75.
Among them, NSDD-32, approved by Reagan on May 20, 1982, stated this administration objective: “to contain and reverse the expansion of Soviet control and military presence throughout the world, and to increase the costs of Soviet support and use of proxy, terrorist, and subversive forces.”
‘Increasing the costs’ meant US support of counter-Soviet forces like the rebels in Afghanistan.
This “enormously significant language,” says Kengor, expressed the goal of not merely containing the USSR but going beyond containment to actually reverse or roll back positions and territory already controlled by the USSR, including Afghanistan.
Kengor concludes: “If Hollywood dealt with fact instead of fiction, this movie would be about Bill Clark, not Charlie Wilson. I don’t want to begrudge any due credit to Mr. Wilson, but it is really Bill Clark who is the untold story of the end of the Cold War.”
Finally, and most controversially, the movie suggests that the United States also supported Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, thereby causing the September 11 attacks.
This claim, says Kengor, is “utter nonsense.”
“That’s a Hollywood version of a drive-by shooting of Reagan policy. It’s ridiculous, and very unfair. That’s apparently the fictional part of the movie. Maybe Sorkin will get an Oscar for most creative screenplay. I hear Disney is planning the sequel.”
Adds Kengor: “It is quite a stretch to argue that Ronald Reagan didn’t end the Cold War but started the Islamist war on America.”
“The Judge” also includes heretofore unreported information on Bill Clark’s secret January 1986 one-on-one meeting with Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Clark makes clear that the Reagan administration likewise never armed Saddam Hussein. “We did not arm Saddam,” he says categorically, “and we most certainly never gave him anything like WMD or WMD technology.”