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Charlie Wilson's CIA Strategist is in Charge Again

The Washington Post describes Michael Vickers' plan to build a global counterterrorist network. The plan is focused on a list of 20 "high-priority" countries. According to the Post, "Vickers hints that some European countries could be on it."

The plan deploys a variety of elite troops around the world, including about 80 to 90 12-man teams of Army Special Forces soldiers who are skilled in foreign languages and at working with indigenous forces.

Vickers is Assistant Secretary of Defense and used to be the principal CIA strategist for the paramilitary operation that drove the Soviet army out of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The movie "Charlie Wilson's War" portrays Vickers in that role.

Blake Hounshell asks in Foreign Policy Passport: "Charlie Wilson's brain runs the war on terror?"

He points out that "many people blame U.S. policy-in which Vickers played such a key role-for fanning the flames of Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan and Pakistan that later came back to bite the United States on 9/11." Great irony of history. Well, Charlie Wilson won the war. It's "just" the aftermath that was lost.

Vickers joined the Pentagon in July to oversee the 54,000-strong Special Operations Command (Socom), based in Tampa, which is growing faster than any other part of the U.S. military. Socom's budget has doubled in recent years, to $6 billion for 2008, and the command is to add 13,000 troops to its ranks by 2011. Senior Pentagon and military officials regard Vickers as a rarity -- a skilled strategist who is both creative and pragmatic. "He tends to think like a gangster," said Jim Thomas, a former senior defense planner who worked with Vickers.

Vickers's outlook was shaped in the CIA and Special Forces. His training including a scenario for him "to parachute into enemy territory with a small nuclear weapon strapped to his leg, and then position it to halt the Red Army." Now I am beginning to believe the reviewer, who wrote that the movie "Charlie Wilson's War" is less sureal/absurd and "more realistic" than what actually happened in the 80s.

Truth can be stranger than fiction.


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mbast on :

Well, finally someone in the administration seems to have woken up to what "war on terror" really means. Although, truth be told, I think what Mr. Vickers proposes has already been going on for a few years. It's just not as high-profile as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so the public hasn't taken notice until now.

quo vadis on :

Why do I get the feeling that it's September 10, 2001 again. This approach means that we will have to have the cooperation of many regimes that we might not find that appealing and they're going to want something in return for their cooperation. It's one thing when you are a Germany or France, but when you are the sole global superpower, many people will view those regimes as clients of the superpower and every illiberal thing those regimes do becomes yet another atrocity perpetrated by the global colonial power against the oppressed. Regime change in Iraq was an attempt to try something else. It has failed. We are back at square one.

Don S on :

I was trying to work out who Vickers was in the film - at first I confused him with Gust Avrakotos, the Greek-American who was the major sidekick, but Avrakotos died in 2005. No, I think Vickers was the young weapons expert whom Wilson and Avrakotos consulted early in the film when Wilson was trying to work out what weaponry could knock down aircraft and helicopters.

Pat Patterson on :

Here's a acronym laced interview Mike Vickers gave to Free Republic which is only enlightning if you have a little 3x5 card with all the initials spelled out as to what office they represent. [url][/url] There is also an interview that Vickers gave to PBS on the McNeil/Lehrer Newshour after the collpase of the Taliban concerning the hunt for Osama ben Ladin and the reconstruction of the Afghan state. My computer is not cooperating today but I found the clip by typing "Mike Vickers PBS interview."

John in Michigan, USA on :

"Well, Charlie Wilson won the war. It's "just" the aftermath that was lost." This is the absurd utopianism and lack of balance that I so detest on the left. Charlie Wilson's war helped end the era in which Communism was seen as a viable system of government, thus massively improving the lives of over a billion people. The end of the USSR eliminated the possibility of global thermonuclear war, for the foreseeable future. Even if the "blowback" since then is attributed 100% to operations like Wilson's, which is absurd, we still come out miles and miles ahead. And by "we" I mean the entire planet, not just the West.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

"Charlie Wilson's war helped end the era in which Communism" Yea, CW helped. Nothing more, nothing less. The Soviets might very well have lost in Afghanistan without US help for the muhjahedeen. It just would have taken a bit longer. That was the thinking in State Department at the time. So without Charlie Wilson the Soviet Union would have fallen a few years later. Besides, the internal corruption and mismanagement was much more important for the fall of communism than the loss in Afghanistan. I mean, US defeat in Iraq would not lead to the end of the United States... NATO is currently having a hard time with Taliban even though Russia is not sending hi-tech arms to the Taliban as far as I know. The Taliban are using simple improvised devices. Those devices might have been sufficient to kick out the Soviets. "The end of the USSR eliminated the possibility of global thermonuclear war, for the foreseeable future." I disagree. Well, perhaps your understanding of "thermonuclear war" and includes more nukes than mine does. I could imagine an exchange of a handful of nukes by 2050. Well, what do you mean by "foreseeable" future? My personal foreseeable future lasts until dinner tonight.

John in Michigan, USA on :

My objection was because I thought I detected a variation on the "chickens coming home to roost" or "the US created/supported al-Qaeda in order to fight the USSR" narratives. Maybe my detector was wrong? "The Soviets might very well have lost in Afghanistan without US help for the muhjahedeen. It just would have taken a bit longer." Agreed. By the same reasoning, the aftermath (a global Islamist movement flush with victory over one superpower and hungry to take on the other superpower), would probably have happened anyway, even if we had kept our noses clean in Afghanistan. The Saudis needed no prodding from us to get involved there, in fact I think they got involved before we did and it would have been difficult for us to prevent them from being involved, even if we wanted to. thermonuclear = H-bomb/fusion bomb global = much more than a handful war = traditional, kinetic nuclear war, not nuclear terrorism foreseeable = I hope you can at least foresee a bed after dinner?

Don S on :

"The Soviets might very well have lost in Afghanistan without US help for the muhjahedeen. It just would have taken a bit longer." Hmmmm. I wouldn't have said a 'bit' longer. Without the more advanced weapons I suspect the war would have lasted a much longer time at far greater human cost to the Afghans. Think Chechnya. Have the Russians 'lost' Chechnya? I don't think so. They may do eventually. The difference between the Russia and the US is the free press. In Russia it really doesn't exis, so propoganda offensives like Tet or what has been attempted in Iraq cannot succeed. The insurgents have to win in the field or at least drive Russian costs in men and material up so high that it creates fissures in Russian society. I find it unlikely that would have happened anytime soon without Charlie Wilson's War. It's unfortunate but a Charlie Wilson war is almost impossible without secrecy or at least inattention. How likely is that today? Oxfam and the media would get the word out nearly instantly and the Activist West would demonstrate in their millions against the 'Fascist' US. It's only Russia and China who can and do get away with it these days!

John in Michigan, USA on :

Also, even if Charlie Wilson's part in the war only made the USSR collapse a year sooner than it otherwise would have, it was worth it, no?

Pat Patterson on :

Joerg-I wouldn't normally challenge an opinion piece but both the CIA and the State Department were caught with their pants down if not still in the closet when the Soviet Union collapsed. The CIA was pumping out reports that showed the GDP of the Soviet Union was rising and comparable to the US and the State Department generally resented the Reagan Doctrine because they were still convinced that the USSR was a legitimate state and that it would last for decades if not centuries. When the Soviet Union collpased there were Harvard and Yale graduates setting up offices in St. Petersburg and Moscow while the State Department was still trying to figure out what to do with all that stationary already addressed to the old regime.

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