When the history of our misbegotten adventure in Iraq gets written, one of the key supporting actors will be Ahmed Chalabi, the urbane, intelligent, charming and wholly untrustworthy mathematician, banker, convicted felon and scion of one-time Iraqi aristocracy. He assiduously courted the Neoconservatives who came to power in the Bush administration, fed their dreams of redrawing the political map of the Middle East by sowing democracy regionwide, and now, they're somewhat tardily beginning to realize, has betrayed them.
What is truly remarkable about this story is that any informed adult could actually believe that an Iraqi who left his country in the 1950s could abruptly return home, set up a stable pro-American government, resume trade with Israel (which most Iraqis loathe) and even pump Iraqi oil to Haifa. Needless to say, it isn't happening and won't.
Yet that is exactly what Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, his No. 1 assistant, Douglas Feith, and Richard Perle, who used to chair the influential Defense Policy Board until self-dealing and scandal drove him out, did believe. The depth of the gullibility of this crowd, who were among the chief architects of the war, is illuminated at Salon by John Dizard's profile of Chalabi and his manipulation of the neocons and some U.S. government institutions, including for a time the CIA, for his own ends.
Joshua Marshall notes caustically in his blog that, "In the popular political imagination we're familiar with the neocons as conniving militarists, masters of intrigue and cabals, graspers for the oil supplies of the world, and all the rest. But here we have them in what I suspect is the truest light: as college kid rubes who head out for a weekend in Vegas, get scammed out of their money by a two-bit hustler on the first night and then get played for fools by a couple hookers who leave them naked and handcuffed to their hotel beds."
They really do look like fools.
Chalabi has been cozying up to Iran's ruling mullahs, with whom he has had close contact since they overthrew the Shah of Iran. The mullahs certainly do not have America's best interests at heart. Nor, it seems, does Chalabi. Newsweek reports 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. … 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.')"
As their absurd vision of a Middle East in which Israel is surrounded by a sea of happy – or at least not hostile – Muslims fades, some neocons are getting a bit testy, as Dizard reports:
"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."
Yet this was always the way Chalabi operated, as Dizard makes clear. And this truth was readily available before the war for anyone who took the time to look.
So now Chalabi's U.S. boosters are going to pay the price. Dizard reports that Feith is expected to resign by mid-May and that Wolfowitz will go well before the election. (Incredibly, though, there apparently is some loose talk about bringing Wolfowitz back in a second Bush administration as CIA director. I guess they want to ensure that we have even more inaccurate intelligence so we can blunder into ever more excellent adventures abroad.)
Meanwhile, U.S. taxpayers continue to pay Chalabi $340,000 a month for his so-called intelligence (his Iraqi National Congress was the source of some of the most egregiously inaccurate prewar information about Saddam's weapons and connections to terror).
Also, in case you missed it, a relative of Chalabi has been put in charge of the kangaroo court – er, tribunal – that is supposed to try Saddam Hussein. There's no way, I'm sure, that Chalabi could manipulate this process to his own ends rather than ours. Couldn't happen.
Dizard's piece magazine-length piece is my must-read of the day because it so clearly sets out the cost of believing your own daydreams. Unfortunately, we all get to pay the price. To read it all you'll have to get a Salon "daypass," then click through a three-frame ad. But it's worth the effort. Here's the link.