DALLAS – Charlie Wilson, the fun-loving Texas congressman whose backroom dealmaking funneled millions of dollars in weapons to Afghanistan, allowing the country’s underdog mujahedeen rebels to beat back the mighty Soviet Red Army, died Wednesday. He was 76.
Wilson died at Memorial Medical Center-Lufkin after having difficulty breathing after attending a meeting in the eastern Texas town where he lived, said hospital spokeswoman Yana Ogletree. Wilson was pronounced dead on arrival, and the preliminary cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest, she said.
Wilson represented Texas’ 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House from 1973 to 1996 and was known in Washington as “Good Time Charlie” for his reputation as a hard-drinking womanizer. He once called former congresswoman Pat Schroeder “Babycakes,” and tried to take a beauty queen with him on a government trip to Afghanistan.
Wilson, a Democrat, was considered both a progressive and a defense hawk. While his efforts to arm the mujahedeen in the 1980s were a success – spurring a victory that helped speed the downfall of the Soviet Union – he was unable to keep the money flowing after the Soviets left. Afghanistan plunged into chaos, creating an opening eventually filled by the Taliban, which harbored al-Qaida terrorists.
After the Sept. 11 attacks – carried out by al-Qaida terrorists trained in Afghanistan – the U.S. ended up invading the country it had once helped liberate.
“People like me didn’t fulfill our responsibilities once the war was over,” Wilson said in a September 2001 interview with the Associated Press.
“We allowed this vacuum to occur in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which enraged a lot of people. That was as much my fault as it was a lot of others.”
His efforts to help the Afghan rebels – as well as his partying ways – were portrayed in the movie and book “Charlie Wilson’s War.” In an interview with the Associated Press after the book was published in 2003, he said he wasn’t worried about details of his wild side being portrayed.
“I would remind you that I was not married at the time. I’m in a different place than I was in at the time and I don’t apologize about that,” Wilson said.