Tuesday, May 04, 2004
The Chalabi Smear
Really, if the CIA and State Department fought this country’s enemies with even one-half the ferocity with which they have waged war on Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress, the United States would be a vastly safer place. Yesterday, the agencies launched their latest offensive against this leader they so detest: They leaked Mark Hosenball of Newsweek a story claiming that Chalabi has betrayed US interests to the Iranians.
“U.S. intelligence agencies have recently raised concerns that Chalabi has become too close to Iran's theocratic rulers. NEWSWEEK has learned that top Bush administration officials have been briefed on intelligence indicating that Chalabi and some of his top aides have supplied Iran with ‘sensitive’ information on the American occupation in Iraq. U.S. officials say that electronic intercepts of discussions between Iranian leaders indicate that Chalabi and his entourage told Iranian contacts about American political plans in Iraq. There are also indications that Chalabi has provided details of U.S. security operations. According to one U.S. government source, some of the information Chalabi turned over to Iran could ‘get people killed.’ (A Chalabi aide calls the allegations ‘absolutely false.’)”
You have to give credit where credit is due: This is an audacious accusation. Audacious because it demands that the State Department’s and CIA’s cheering sections in the media perform a cult-like reversal of belief in everything they were saying about Iraq, Iran, and Chalabi himself up until now.
But those of us with memories that extend back beyond the past 24 hours will have some questions for Newsweek and its sources:
ITEM: Up until now we were supposed to believe that the INC produced no useful intelligence – that it dealt only in fantasies and lies. Now suddenly the INC is accused of being in possession of accurate and valuable sensitive information. How did Chalabi go from know-nothing to valuable intelligence asset overnight?
ITEM: A government source says that the security information Chalabi may or may not have provided could “get people killed.” Get them killed by whom? Up until now, the CIA and State Department have resolutely refused to acknowledge that Iran might be supporting the insurgency in Iraq. Now they are willing to admit reality – but only in order to use it against what they perceive as the real threat: Chalabi.
ITEM: Chalabi has been caught talking on the phone to the Iranians. But wait – hasn’t the State Department been arguing for months that the US should talk to the Iranians about Iraq? In testimony to Congress in October 2003, State number 2 Richard Armitage explicitly disavowed regime change in Iran and called for discussions with Iran on “appropriate” issues. In January 2004, Secretary of State Powell openly called for “dialogue” – and the Bush administration offered to send Elizabeth Dole and a member of the president’s own family to deliver earthquake aid to Iran. (The British sent Prince Charles.) Since then, the hinting and suggesting have grown ever more explicit. What, pray, is the difference between the policy Chalabi is pursuing and that which his State Department critics want the US to pursue?
ITEM: Chalabi is now accused of playing a “double game” in Iraqi politics, an offense for which he must forfeit all rights to a role in Iraq’s future. This “no double game” rule is a new and impressive standard for judging our allies in the Arab Middle East. Question: Will that same standard apply to those former Republican Guard generals whom the State Department is now so assiduously promoting? Will it apply to the former Baathists that Lakhdar Brahimi wishes to include in the provisional Iraqi government? Will it apply to Lakhdar Brahimi himself? Will it apply to the Saudi royal family? Will it apply to the Iranians? Or is it only Ahmed Chalabi who must swear undeviating loyalty to the US policy-of-the-day in Iraq?
ITEM: Salon magazine last night published a lengthy attack on Chalabi by John Dizard. In it, former Chalabi business partner Marc Zell calls Chalabi a “treacherous, spineless turncoat,” for failing to deliver on Chalabi’s alleged promises to open Iraq to trade with Israel. I don’t know that these promises were ever made – and if made, I wonder whether Chalabi ever suggested that they would rank first on a new Iraqi government’s list of priorities. But never mind that: Chalabi has not exercised executive power in Iraq for even a single day. How exactly was it ever possible that he would carry out any promise about anything to anyone?
Ahmed Chalabi no doubt has many faults. I have never been easy in my mind about the collapse of the bank he ran in Jordan back in 1989. (Although the charges that Chalabi himself stole money from the bank are not very convincing either.) But I do know this: Chalabi is one of the very few genuine liberal democrats to be found at the head of any substantial political organization anywhere in the Arab world. He is not consumed by paranoid fantasies, he understands and admires the American system, and he is willing to work with the United States if the United States will work with him. He risked his life through the 1990s to topple Saddam Hussein, which is more than can be said about any of State's or CIA's preferred candidates for power in Iraq. Compared to anybody other possible leader of Iraq – compared to just about every other political leader in the Arab world – the imperfect Ahmed Chalabi is nonetheless a James bleeping Madison.
And maybe that’s exactly why he is so very unpopular with so many of the local thugs and tyrants who unfortunately command the attention of America’s spies and diplomats.
05/04 10:21 AM