What's up with Chalabi?


You may have been puzzled as I was about the raid on the home of Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, on friendly terms with the US, and once seen as a prime candidate to lead the new Iraq. Chalabi has been accused of involvement with Iranian intelligence, and his apparent fall from grace is being applauded loudly by anti-war voices on both the left and the right. These same voices are claiming that the Bush administration and the "neocons" in the Defense Department (that's code -- what they seem to mean but won't say out loud is "the Jews who are subverting American interests for Israel's interests") were duped by Chalabi, who used bad intelligence to persuade America to go to war with Saddam, to the ultimate benefit of the regime in Iran.

On closer examination, these events in Iraq, and the corresponding debates among American talking heads, appear to be mere proxies for power struggles back in Washington. William Safire wrote last week:

The three factions controlling Iraq - long suspicious of one another - are now on the brink of open tribal warfare. Not Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds - I mean the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA.

Reporter Joel Mowbray, who has kept a close eye on the State Department's game of footsie with uncooperative Arab regimes, writes that the State Department's careerists opposed the war and want to see the President fall from power -- discrediting Chalabi helps the overall goal of discrediting the war. Meanwhile, the CIA was embarassed by Chalabi a few years back.

Chalabi, you see, has been hated by State and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), for different reasons, for years.

State’s diplomats have long resented the Iraqi’s promotion of a war against Saddam that none of them wanted. And Chalabi’s push for a strong, secular democracy in the heart of the Arab world would threaten the most cherished of all State Department objectives: stability.

Although the CIA largely shares State’s worldview, its contempt for Chalabi is personal. In the mid-1990’s, the CIA organized a ham-handed coup attempt against Saddam. Chalabi warned them it wouldn’t work. He was right—and said so publicly. The CIA fumed. Bad blood has existed ever since.

In striking Chalabi, State and CIA are not simply attacking him, but his allies inside the administration, the decision to go to war in the first place, and most significantly, President Bush himself.

And that’s not unintentional.

Mowbray goes on to illustrate how career bureaucrats at State are working to undermine the President's foreign policy objectives:

To fully appreciate the mutinous sentiment at State, consider that it is a place where its employees feel free to display on desks and doors political cartoons lampooning President Bush. Anecdotally, many Foreign Service members joined anti-war rallies last spring, according to several State Department officials.

The undermining is not merely symbolic, either.

Last spring, State Department officials learned from Pyongyang representatives in New York that North Korea was admitting, for the first time, that it was reprocessing plutonium. It kept that bombshell a secret, even from the White House, because it knew administration hawks would cancel upcoming talks—something for which State had lobbied very hard.

Because of Civil Service protections, the President's problem is similar to that faced by our own Mayor here in Tulsa and by Frank Keating during his time as governor of Oklahoma -- powerless to ensure that people who are responsible to carry out his policies are fully committed to his vision. In the President's case, the stakes are far higher. Bush needs to clean house at the State Department, even if it means getting rid of every political appointee who is unwilling or unable to get the career Foreign Service staff into line.

In Slate, Christopher Hitchens debunks the notion that Chalabi duped the Bush administration into war:

Even if you assume the worst to be true—that the INC's "defectors" were either mistaken or were conscious, coached fabricators—the fact remains that the crucial presentation of the administration's case on WMD and terrorism was made at the United Nations by Secretary of State Colin Powell, with CIA Director George Tenet sitting right behind him, after those two men most hostile to Chalabi had been closeted together.... The plain and overlooked truth is that the administration acted upon the worst assumption about Saddam Hussein and that he himself strongly confirmed the presumption of guilt by, among many other things, refusing to comply with the U.N. resolution. This was a rational decision on the part of the coalition. After all, German intelligence had reported to Chancellor Schröder that Saddam was secretly at work on a nuke again: The French government publicly said that it believed Iraq had WMD, and even Hans Blix has stated in his book that at that point, he thought the Baathist concealment apparatus was still at work.

It's one thing for a liberal press corps to take pot shots at the President's policy in Iraq, it's another for his unelected bureaucrats to be undermining the policies established by elected officials.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 5, 2004 12:14 AM.

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