Charlie Wilson, who died this week at 76, was a colorful Texas congressman who will be remembered, rightly, for his role in procuring covert funds to arm Afghan mujahideen groups fighting the Soviet occupation of their country. As chronicled in the book and movie “Charlie Wilson’s War,’’ Wilson was motivated by indignation at the suffering he witnessed at Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. To his credit, Wilson acknowledged that “we messed up the endgame’’ (his language was saltier) by abandoning the Afghans after the Red Army withdrew. Wilson was right on both counts. The Afghans deserved support not only against the Soviets but also in rebuilding their country when that war ended in 1989.
It was not Wilson’s fault that Afghanistan was subsequently condemned to the horrors of civil war, Taliban rule, and an infestation of Al Qaeda. The administrations of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were afflicted with a lethal combination of tunnel vision and hubris. Cold-war obsessions prevented them from seeing the jihadist demons they had loosed in Afghanistan. It was Wilson’s misfortune to have been associated with the blinding illusion that America can shape and reshape the rest of the world to its liking.