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sticking the enemy where it hurts:
Many years ago I read a great deal about a fellow named Bill Donavan, and as I was doing so it seemed like those writing about him had this desire to tease out amusing anecdotes over as many pages as they could while pumping out as many sorry efforts at taudry romance novel prose as possible - everyone being distinctly handsome or distinctly plain, but always more distinctly handsome or distinctly plain than the last. By the end of one 800 page history administrative assistants' eyes had become so piercingly blue or piercingly gray that they were punching holes in Cuban airliners with a mere glance.
Writing narrative non-fiction about spies in this fashion is more art than fact, and as an art form, Charlie Wilson's War may be a pinnacle of the genre. Rather than ever broader shoulders or eyes that start shooting lasers by page 300, the author hangs us upon anecdote after escalating anecdote between our competing protagonists, congressman Charlie Wilson (D-TX) and CIA operator Gust Avrakotos.
Charlie describes a royal baroness unexpectedly refering to Imelda Marcos as a "greedy cunt" and almost spitting soup out his nose. Gust more or less runs the Greek dictorship. Charlie's bellydancing girlfriend violates an esoteric Islamic law by pointing a sword at a General's genetalia while he's oggling her bare tits, sending bodyguards into a tizzy, and winning (once again) more support for the mujahideen. Gust tells the CIA European division chief to "fuck off". An aide quotes the Democratic chairman of the Appropriations Committee, 'Doc' Long, as saying "We must be wary about the reproductive rate of Muslims. It's much faster than the Jews." Charlie is driving "drunk as shit" and smashes into a car on a slick bridge in a hit and run so he can introduce that same Doc Long to the Pakistani dictator and a bunch of rapidly reproducing Muslim fanatics. Gust tells the CIA European division chief to "fuck off", again. Charlie cuts an arms deal between Israel and Pakistan, the eigth or ninth illegal act of a congressmen enacting US foreign policy in the book.
But here's my favorite so far, where Gust really upstages Charlie:
[Retired CIA station chief Gust Avrakotos was reading a] column in that day's Wall Street Journal. Entitled "The Afghan Who Won the Cold War," it was about an old friend of sorts, the legendary Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, and the writer claimed that "as much as Lech Walesa, Pope John Paul II, and Ronald Reagan, Mr. Massoud broke the back of Soviet imperialism."
Avrakotos knew something about the columnist, Robert Kaplan. He was one of the more gifted writers on Afghanistan. ...
[T]he author was not praising the Agency. In fact, he seemed to believe that most of the credit for defeating the Red Army was due to this one guerrilla leader, so great that he belonged in the historical company of Tito, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Tse-Tung, and Che Guevara. After conferring this recognition, Kaplan ended with a swipe at the CIA for having failed to recognize and adequately support this one true, independent Afghan commander.
Avrakotos smiled. He always smiled when he read these attacks. It was like recieving a medal. All the reporters had taken up this line about the CIA giving short shrift to the Lion of the Panjshir. Now that the war was over, they were all comparing about how the Agency had backed the wrong horses, giving the weapons and support to Khomeini-style Muslims instead of the noble Massoud.
What prompted Avrakotos to smile so broadly that day was his little secret. Massoud hadn't just come out of nowhere. It was he, Gust Lascararis Avrakotos of Aliquippa, and the CIA, who had made it possible for Ahmad Shah Massoud to realize
[...mediocre passage on setting up the arms channel to Massoud through M16: Gust prefers pubgrub to being manhandled by a British taylor, is the gist, and some undetailed talk of MI6's PR efforts on behalf the heroic Massoud...]
[A] young, blond SAS guerilla-warfare expert with the peculiar nickname Awk, a name said to vaguely resemble the grunting noise he would make on maneuvers. Awk had just returned from three months inside the war zone.
It was about a two-week journey in those days, walking north from the Pakistan border through Nuristan and the Hindu Kush to reach Massoud's valley. Awk had gone in with two other SAS commandos. Their report had astonished Avrakotos.
"There was one passage in there that really got me," remembers Avrakotos. "This guy was sleeping with a couple of his buddies and he said he awoke one night and heard horrible groans. He didn't get up but was able to put on his night-vision goggles and saw a group of Massoud's guys literally cornholing a Russian prisoner."
The Afghan presiding over the rape was one of Massoud's lieutenants.
That's really, I think, quite an achievement. If I knew more about M16 or England in general I might even recognize the great depth of irony laden meaning contained in one liason officer's statement to Gust, "Pubgrub it is then!"
But Gust isn't quite finished with this tale:
Awk described in his report how uncomfortable he and his two friends had felt, particularly because they were good-looking blonde boys and Massoud's man seemed to have developed a crush on one of them. For the last two weeks of their stay in the Panjshir, he said, they went to sleep with their weapons by their sides, always ready to fight it out if their Afghan friends approached in the dark. Then one day the three Englishmen and their Afghan escorts were lured into a Soviet ambush. The British were dressed as mujahideen, and Awk said that they absolutely would have been killed but for the lieutenant who had so terrorized their nights. Suddenly he bolted from them, running into the open field to draw the helicopter's Gatling guns away from the men he sought to protect.
At MI6 headquarters Awk told Avrakotos that watching that man die had made him finally understand the Afghan's ancient code: "Honor, hospitality, and revenge." Raping an infidel invader was not the atrocity it would be in the West; it was simply revenge. Above all, Awk had come away convinced that these were men of honor.
Perhaps it was this honorable behavior that George Bush was talking about.