Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 4, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE FALL OF AHMED CHALABI?....Via (who else?) Josh Marshall, John Dizard has a long article in Salon today about the redoubtable Ahmed Chalabi. The CIA and the State Department gave up on Chalabi nearly a decade ago for excellent reasons, and now it seems that even his neocon supporters are finally starting to see through him:

"Ahmed Chalabi is a treacherous, spineless turncoat," says L. Marc Zell, a former law partner of Douglas Feith, now the undersecretary of defense for policy, and a former friend and supporter of Chalabi and his aspirations to lead Iraq. "He had one set of friends before he was in power, and now he's got another." While Zell's disaffection with Chalabi has been a long time in the making, his remarks to Salon represent his first public break with the would-be Iraqi leader, and are likely to ripple throughout Washington in the days to come.

....Why did the neocons put such enormous faith in Ahmed Chalabi, an exile with a shady past and no standing with Iraqis? One word: Israel. They saw the invasion of Iraq as the precondition for a reorganization of the Middle East that would solve Israel's strategic problems, without the need for an accommodation with either the Palestinians or the existing Arab states. Chalabi assured them that the Iraqi democracy he would build would develop diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, and eschew Arab nationalism.

....Now some influential allies believe those assurances were part of an elaborate con...."Chalabi has no use for Israel. He knew all along that this was a nonstarter," says Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer who led covert U.S. operations inside Iraq in the mid-1990s aimed at toppling Saddam. "Chalabi knows exactly what Israel stands for in Iraq and in Iran, with or without Saddam. The idea of building the pipeline to Haifa, or rapprochement with Iran ... I'm sure he told [the neocons] these things could happen, that he played to their prejudices and said, 'This is the new Middle East,' but he didn't believe any of it. That's the way Chalabi operates."

....Chalabi's Arab admirers say they knew he'd never make good on his promises to ally with Israel. "I was worried that he was going to do business with the Zionists," confesses Moh'd Asad, the managing director of the Amman, Jordan-based International Investment Arabian Group, an industrial and agricultural exporter, who is one of Chalabi's Palestinian friends and business partners. "He told me not to worry, that he just needed the Jews in order to get what he wanted from Washington, and that he would turn on them after that."

Basically, here's the picture Dizard paints:

  1. Chalabi will say and do anything to gain power in Iraq. (No surprises there.)

  2. The neocons attached themselves to Chalabi mainly because he convinced them that he could head up an Israel-friendly Iraq.

  3. There was, needless to say, no chance of this ever happening, as anyone with a passing familiarity with the Middle East knows.

There's a lot more to it than just this, of course, so definitely read the whole article. (Yeah, I know the Salon Daypass is a pain. Do it anyway.) There's no way of really understanding what's gone wrong in Iraq without knowing the role Chalabi has played, and Dizard's piece is an eye opener.

Unfortunately, it's also probably too late to do anything about it. But even if nothing else, it's a potent eulogy to the power of wishful thinking among otherwise intelligent people.

Kevin Drum 12:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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