Charlie Wilson's War II

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One of the most interesting stories I covered in Washington three decades ago, while working for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, was Texas congressman Charlie Wilson’s effort to help the mujahedeen drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. It was a heck of a tale, one Hollywood turned into Charlie Wilson’s War, starring Tom Hanks, three years ago.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Lufkin/AP

The good news this week is that Mike Vickers, who worked closely with the Democratic lawmaker to force the Russians back home with their tanks between their legs (Vickers was the chess-player in the film), just won an important promotion. President Obama has nominated him to the post of under secretary of defense for intelligence.

Vickers is currently serving, according to his official Pentagon web page, as the “Asst Sec of Defense for Spec Ops/Low-Intensity Conflict & Interdependent Capabilities.” He spent nearly 15 years in Army special forces and the CIA. “His operational experience spans covert action and espionage, unconventional warfare, counter-terrorism (including hostage rescue operations), counterinsurgency, and foreign internal defense,” his bio reads. “During the mid-1980s, Mr. Vickers was the principal strategist for the largest covert action program in the CIA’s history: the paramilitary operation that drove the Soviet army out of Afghanistan.”

Mike Vickers/DoD

But the good news concerning Vickers’ ascent won’t blunt the short-changing Congress is doing to Iraq. “You can argue about the war all day long, but the fact is, we’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars on this war,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted Tuesday. “We’re now in the endgame. We are leaving. We are making a transition to a civilian-dominated process of development, of helping build institutions and so on.” Gates complained that Congress has taken a “huge whack” out of the State Department’s request for civilian development in Iraq, with one committee cutting a $2 billion effort in half.

“It is one of these cases where, having invested an enormous amount of money, we are now arguing about a tiny amount of money in terms of bringing this to a successful conclusion,” Gates said. “It reminds me for all the world of the last scene in Charlie Wilson’s War, where, having forced the Soviets out of Afghanistan and having spent billions to do it, Charlie Wilson can’t get a million dollars for schools.” It’s a good thing Charlie died in February at 76, so he won’t have to watch the sequel.