Charlie Wilson Still Wants to Fix Afghanistan Former Sen. Charles Wilson's efforts to help the Afghans defeat the Soviets in the 1980s are featured in the new film Charlie Wilson's War. Charlie Wilson is still agitated about the situation in Afghanistan and shares his thoughts on how to improve it.
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Charlie Wilson Still Wants to Fix Afghanistan

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Charlie Wilson Still Wants to Fix Afghanistan

Charlie Wilson Still Wants to Fix Afghanistan

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ALEX COHEN, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY.

In the new film "Charlie Wilson's War," Tom Hanks plays a Texas congressman, fond of booze and blondes. Charlie Wilson helped fund the largest covert war in our nation's history - the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. In this scene, Tom Hanks as Charlie Wilson talks with a CIA agent played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

(Soundbite of movie, "Charlie Wilson's War")

Mr. TOM HANKS (Actor): (As Charlie Wilson) You mean to tell me that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is that the Afghans keep walking into the machinegun fire 'til the Russians run out of bullets?

Mr. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN (Actor): (As Gust Avrakotos) That's your whole strategy; it's not U.S. strategy.

Mr. HANKS: (As Charlie Wilson) What is U.S. strategy?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Gust Avrakotos) Now, strictly speaking, we don't have one, but we're working hard on that.

Mr. HANKS: (As Charlie Wilson) Who is we?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Gust Avrakotos) Me and three other guys.

COHEN: We are joined now by the real Charlie Wilson who joins us from Houston, Texas. Welcome to the program.

Mr. CHARLIE WILSON (Former Texas Representative, Democrat): Hello, Alex.

COHEN: Hi…

Mr. WILSON: Nice to be here.

COHEN: The film shows how you doubled the amount of money that the U.S. gave to support Afghanistan and enable them to have the weapons that eventually let them defeat the Soviets. Congress was all behind giving the money for the good fight. But when it came to maybe the less dramatic side of things - rebuilding schools, putting in infrastructure into the country - there was less concern or less of an appetite. Was that how it went?

Mr. WILSON: You're exactly right. Americans are great at some things and we were great at being able to do the logistics to supply these vast amounts of weapons that we put in. Once the war was over, Americans basically have a pretty short attention span. If we'd stayed and spent a fraction of what we spent on the war just on rebuilding infrastructure, stocking sheep herds, stringing electrical wire, building roads, there would have been an entirely different story because the people would have had some hope. And there wouldn't have been that great vacuum for the Taliban to step into.

COHEN: Throughout this film, there is a lot of it that shows your involvement in Afghanistan. And then there's a lot of it that shows a kind of this cowboy congressman that you were. You're drinking a lot. Sometimes there's a full glass of whiskey at 10 o'clock in the morning. You're living pretty hard. In real life, you had a heart transplant three months ago. And I'm wondering if your life is a little bit different now. Can you describe an average day in Charlie Wilson's life now?

Mr. WILSON: Well, in Charlie Wilson's life now, an average day is recovering from a heart transplant. When I first got out of the hospital, the doctor told me that my recovery period would be a year. And I thought he said a week. And so, I conducted myself rather recklessly and paid a pretty terrible price for it. So I'm trying to be a good boy now and follow the doctor's orders and take it easy, which is what I'm doing. So that makes my life a lot different.

COHEN: When you watch this film and you see Tom Hanks portraying you at an earlier part of your life, what do you recall most fondly about that stage in your career?

Mr. WILSON: Oh, that was the most exciting part of my life, really, particularly after 1986 when we began to win the war after we had the Stingers. So I recall all of it with a great sense of accomplishment on - not only my part, but other members of Congress's part. But most of all, on the part of the brave mountain men who looked down the barrels of the Soviet tanks and whipped them.

COHEN: Those Stingers you mentioned, those were the weapons that the Afghanistan soldiers used to shoot down the Soviet helicopters, and eventually win in that conflict. They gave you one of those stingers. Do you still have it?

Mr. WILSON: You bet. It's my most prized possession. And you're right; the Stingers were the turning point of the war. We never really won a battle. We stayed in the mountains and fought off the Soviets. But we never really won a battle until the Stingers.

COHEN: Where do you keep the Stinger? Are they in your home?

Mr. WILSON: At home. It's in a very, very honored spot in my home - yes.

COHEN: Charlie Wilson, former U.S. congressman and inspiration for the new film "Charlie Wilson's War." He spoke to us from Houston, Texas. Thank you so much, Charlie.

Mr. WILSON: Thank you.

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