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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Denial, Oscar-style”

    Sarah Devlin columnist
    Sarah Devlin

    The independent organization Transparency International recently published its annual corruption index for 2007. Out of the 163 nations listed, Iraq is now considered the third-most corrupt nation in the world, surpassed only by Myanmar and Somalia. Most of the increasing Iraq-related demoralization in America has been related to violence and troop deaths, but equally distressing is the increasing consensus that the American invasion of Iraq has thrown a nation in chaos, without any infrastructure to speak of, years after victory was declared.

    This fall has also brought us several introspective, penitent films about American involvement in the Middle East. “”Rendition,”” “”Lions For Lambs”” and “”The Kingdom”” have dealt with the aftermath of many spectacular foreign policy mishaps of recent years. American ambivalence toward our foreign policy has never been explored as doggedly as it has this year. However, just as some continue to deny the detrimental effects of the American presence in the Middle East, so too has Hollywood given a voice to those who believe Americans can make a positive difference in Iraq, in the form of the Tom Hanks vehicle “”Charlie Wilson’s War.”” The film is a drama about one congressman’s rogue effort to supply the Afghani mujahideen with weapons so they could fight the Soviet army in the 1980s.

    Disregarding the execution of the film itself, the story on which it is based is problematic. Here’s the trouble with Charlie Wilson: He acted with the same cavalier attitude as the current presidential administration in its invasion of Iraq. He just got lucky. George Crile wrote in the Financial Times in 2003 that Wilson was motivated to act by the sight of hundreds of thousands of refugees living in abysmal conditions in camps, and this altruism was the driving force for his campaign to supply the mujahideen with weapons. The trouble is that Charlie Wilson helped to fund a CIA-led covert war, much like the maligned and failed CIA programs in Latin America. And just like many other CIA interventions in foreign affairs, Wilson’s military aid to the Afghanis had serious consequences. By 1990 the situation in Afghanistan had devolved into an epidemic of clan wars, creating an unstable environment conducive to the Taliban’s rise to power during the ’90s. Moreover, these battles were being waged with weapons paid for by the United States government.

    We’ve never

    ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ is interesting fodder for an examination of the way we value heroism, and the figures we turn to in times of national
    disgrace to comfort us.

    been very good at trying to understand the Middle East, and the sectarian quarrels that seem insignificant to us often have very serious implications for the policies we attempt to enact abroad. Politicians like Charlie Wilson are frequently guilty of allowing their short-term military objectives to cloud their assessment of the repercussions, not to mention a studied effort to ignore the cultural context of the conflicts they enter, literally, with guns blazing. Charlie Wilson is a consummate American hero, with a rakish disregard for rules and a good-hearted commitment to aiding those harmed by war, but as we’ve seen, good intentions are no substitute for good policy. Too many times the American government has intervened in conflicts it doesn’t fully understand, leaving the people of those nations to bear the cost of our lack of foresight.

    “”Charlie Wilson’s War”” is interesting fodder for an examination of the way we value heroism, and the figures we turn to in times of national disgrace to comfort us. Wilson represents a time when at least one member of Congress was willing to stop pontificating and take some action. It’s also a portrayal of a leader who truly believed he was helping his fellow man, and Cold War nostalgia is hard to avoid during a season in which we are all urged to return to a simpler time.

    Undoubtedly, “”Charlie Wilson’s War”” will be a well-acted portrayal of a man whose work transformed him from philandering politico to hero, but it’s not an appropriate portrayal of the American government’s attitude toward the Middle East. Movies don’t always need to be bastions of political correctness, but it is worrisome that – at the end of a year in which our Middle East policy is widely regarded as failed – rather than becoming more committed to lobbying our government to make real efforts to change our strategy, we retreat to hazy memories of a time when we really did get it right.

    Rather than avoid “”Charlie Wilson’s War”” and its ilk this holiday season, we should make a point to see these films – but also make a commitment to use them to start a discussion about our our nation’s fallibility abroad. Too often, good intentions serve as an excuse for miserable results, and we should hold Hollywood to the same standards of honesty and introspection that we expect from our government. Movies may not be able to atone for our government’s actions overseas, but acknowledging our culpability through art is a good start. The year is almost over – let’s end it with reflection rather than nostalgia.

    Sarah Devlin is a sophomore majoring in English and political science. She can be reached at

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