- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2008

Former Rep. Charles Wilson played no official role in the making of last year’s film “Charlie Wilson’s War,” which chronicled how he helped the Mujahedeen repel the invading Soviet army in the 1980s.

If the Texas Democrat had participated, it’s clear he would have cast an actor to portray a figure all but ignored in Mike Nichols’ production — President Reagan.

“He was absolutely essential to the victory,” over the Soviets in Afghanistan, Mr. Wilson says during a phone interview to promote “War,” out on DVD this week.

“War” follows Mr. Wilson’s efforts to arm Afghan fighters with the kind of firepower they needed to beat back the Soviet invasion. Julia Roberts plays Joanne Herring, a Christian socialite who brought the Afghans’ plight to Mr. Wilson’s attention, and Philip Seymour Hoffman snagged an Oscar nomination for his turn as a crusty CIA agent.

Mr. Wilson’s work, by all accounts, helped bring about the Soviet’s eventual retreat, hastening the end of the Cold War. But other players were just as important to the Soviet’s defeat, even if they weren’t seen in the Oscar-nominated film.

“If it hadn’t been for [Mr. Reagan], there wouldn’t have been any Stingers,” Mr. Wilson says of the missiles that helped turn the tide in Afghanistan’s favor.

Mr. Wilson may be displaying his political skills when he says the glaring omission was based on time considerations, not the ideology of the filmmakers. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is among the more prominent, and outspoken, liberals in Hollywood, as are Mr. Nichols and the film’s star, Tom Hanks.

Mr. Nichols wanted the film to come in at around 90 minutes, Mr. Wilson says (the finished product clocks in at one hour and 42 minutes).

“There just wasn’t time,” he says, adding former Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill deserved a film mention as well for his support of Mr. Wilson’s efforts.

Mr. Wilson goes further, insisting that Mr. Sorkin took the material “straight up” and didn’t inject his own views into the piece.

The colorful congressional veteran, who served from 1973 to 1997, says Hollywood’s “War” got about 90 percent of the story right.

“You can’t beat that,” he adds.

Mr. Hanks depicts Mr. Wilson in the film as a hard-drinking, skirt-chasing legislator on the verge of self-destruction.

Mr. Wilson didn’t blink an eye at the portrayal, nor did he ask the filmmakers to soften his over-the-top image.

“I don’t want to appear overly noble, because people know I’m not,” he says.

Mr. Wilson visited the set during the shoot, occasionally offering Mr. Nichols technical suggestions, like getting the names of specific pieces of legislation right.

“The director was very open and interested in what my views were,” he says.

Mr. Wilson has a similarly unofficial connection to today’s Democratic Party.

“I stay away unless I’m asked,” he says, sounding hearty despite an October heart transplant.

“Charlie Wilson’s War” ends with a cautionary note about the lack of follow-through that left a power vacuum in Afghanistan.

“The American people are a generous people, a creative people, a can-do people, but we have the world’s shortest attention span,” he says, a lesson he hopes will be applied to the current Iraq war.

“Learn from it. Finish the job,” he notes, adding that the United States owes it to Iraq to reconstruct the battered nation. “We must at least try.”

Mr. Wilson is less sanguine about the current impasse in the U.S. political system, which he says would have made his work arming the Mujahedeen impossible.

“We couldn’t ever fight this war again,” he says. “We did the whole thing without a serious leak to the press and without partisan games.”

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