The U.S. military's ongoing conflict in Afghanistan is a movie Charlie Wilson has seen before, and he isn't thrilled with where the plot of this one is going.
"I think they're looking at us more and more like occupiers," he said.
[...] Out of Congress since 1997, Mr. Wilson is now 76 and two years removed from a heart transplant. Because of that, he has significantly reduced his public speaking schedule.
"I actually committed to this one a long time ago. I don't make so many anymore," he said during a recent phone interview from his home in Texas.
Most of his talk will center on Afghanistan, from his covert dealings there in the '80s to its present situation. No doubt he'll be comparing and contrasting the Soviets' experience to what the American military is going through now in its fight against the Taliban.
"I want to make them understand the dilemmas the (Obama) administration is under," Mr. Wilson said. "It's a very tough situation."
Mr. Wilson was better known for his hard partying ways - his nickname was Good Time Charlie - than for his policy credentials when he became deeply interested in Afghanistan a couple of years after the Soviets' 1979 invasion.
"I decided the Afghans were really going to put up a fight," he said. "Basically, I just wanted to embarrass the Soviets as much as possible. Then I got into it big time."
Using his seat on the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, he was able secure enough funds for the CIA to arm the mujahideen freedom fighters with automatic weapons and Stinger missiles.
"It was harder than it sounds," Mr. Wilson said. "We had to buy Russian-made weapons. We had to deal with Poland and Romania. That was all pretty intricate."
The weapons paid off for the Islamic fighters, and the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Mr. Wilson's efforts were documented by author George Crile in the book "Charlie Wilson's War," which was adapted into the 2007 movie starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Wilson.
Of course, the story didn't end with the withdrawal. Mr. Wilson believes that the United States' failure to invest in Afghanistan's recovery following the war led in large part to the ascension of the Taliban, who provided a refuge for Osama bin Ladin, who had fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets, and Al Qaeda in the years leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"We (screwed) up the end game," Mr. Wilson said. "It would have been very easy and done for a minuscule amount of money. We should have done the basic things for a backward country that's trying to come out of (a war) and have a reasonable hope of economic success."
As President Obama considers whether to send tens of thousands of more troops to Afghanistan, Mr. Wilson worries that the war could become "another Vietnam."
"It's probably best to make a calculated withdrawal," he said. "If I were the president, I'm not sure what I'd do. I'd probably shut it down, rather than lose a lot of soldiers and treasure."
He says this as someone who knows as well as anyone just how fierce and tenacious the Afghan fighters are.
"I'd rather take on a chainsaw," Mr. Wilson said. "They're the world's best foot soldiers, best warriors. And they're fearless.
"They're fearless, and they've got nothing to lose. And they have a pretty serious hatred for those who try to occupy their country."