Opinion Blog: Charlie Wilson’s Second War

February 12, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Posted by Colin Hogan

More than $250 billion and thousands of lives have been spent on the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, but it should have ended 20 years ago.

The recent death of former Texas congressman Charlie Wilson has brought the long history of American involvement in Afghanistan back into focus. Beginning in the mid-1980s, while serving on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, the famous “Good time Charlie” led the charge to funnel money and weapons to the mujahedeen, who were rebelling against their Soviet occupiers. Although the Afghan rebels eventually secured their independence, thanks in part to Wilson’s efforts, their country was left in tatters. Once the war was over, the U.S. funding stopped, and former freedom fighters were left with no prospects, no opportunities, no livelihoods. They did have plenty of weapons.

It wasn’t long before the former militias regrouped as the Taliban, an extreme Islamist political movement that tyrannized the nation for more than a decade, until the American military interceded in 2001. Many of the same people that the Americans had helped liberate were now enemies, corrupted by their impoverished conditions following the Afghan war of independence.

Now the United States is engaged in a seemingly unwinnable war, while the economic and human costs continue to rise. Perhaps if America had continued to support the Afghans after the Soviets left, and helped to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, Afghanistan would be better off today, and a second American intervention would not have been necessary.

Why was the U.S. army willing to buy weapons for freedom fighters, but not food for Afghan citizens? The CIA and politicians like Wilson thought that they could choose to intervene in Afghan affairs just enough to defeat the Soviets, America’s archenemy at the time, and then withdraw completely. Instead of helping those who were desperately in need, U.S. support only complicated the problem. America should have both funded the mujahedeen and assisted in nation-building efforts following the war. Instead they escalated the war and left before picking up the pieces.

It is no small undertaking to rebuild a war-torn nation, but if America chooses to leave a country in ruins, that country becomes a security threat to all nations.