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The importance of being Ahmad: what Chalabi means to Washington

06/02/2004

Sometime in the late 1990s in Washington, DC, long-time Iraqi exile and occasional coup plotter Ahmad Chalabi became a walking Rorschach blot. Whether you were for him or against him pretty much summed up your worldview. Any dispassionate assessment of his trustworthiness would have been besides the point. And there was a reason for this.

In America, we frequently prefer to debate major policy choices indirectly. Often, we substitute an issue of feasibility for the larger question of whether a proposed course of action is desirable in the first place. Call it a proxy argument.

As amazing as it might sound, Americans actually have an easier time wrangling over obscure and intricate details of law, science, or political economy -- even the mysteries of human character -- rather than address a question of values or priorities. For instance, experts seem to prefer grappling with the ability or inability of automated systems to differentiate between nuclear warheads and decoys in space over working out whether national missile defense would be a good idea or not. They'd rather niggle over the feasibility of seismic detection than arrive at a consensus about the merits of the comprehensive nuclear test ban. The effectiveness of sanctions stands in for the merits of containment. And the trustworthiness of Ahmad Chalabi stands in for the wisdom of regime change.

Whether by coup or by invasion, regime change in Iraq never made a much sense unless we could install a new government relatively painlessly. After all, it's regime change, not regime elimination. Our concerns about a civil war or a quagmire in Iraq were so significant that Saddam Hussein managed to exploit them for his own survival in power in 1991. And the officials then in charge -- Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell -- to varying degrees lived to regret it.

So along comes ol' Ahmad Chalabi, who explains to those of the abovementioned folks who thirst to believe it, that a new, stable central government in Iraq actually would be a snap -- after all this trouble, all they needed was (who else?) him!

That's what former Pentagon insider Richard Perle told European parliamentarian Daniel Cohn-Bendit in an exchange shortly before the invasion of Iraq: all they needed was Chalabi.

Cohn-Bendit: I do not question the value of democracy. On the contrary, I am asking how best to achieve democracy. First of all, remember former French General and later President Charles de Gaulle, who insisted to Dwight Eisenhower in 1944 that he, as a French leader, had to enter liberated Paris, however weak he was. The point was that only the French themselves-not an American general-could remake France after the shame of the country's collaboration with the Nazis....

Perle: You are imagining a U.S. general riding roughshod over Iraqis and confirming the worst fears of Muslims around the world that we are an aggressive, imperialist power. I have another view. We have Ahmed Chalabi, chief of the opposition Iraqi National Congress, to enter Baghdad. Ending the current Iraqi regime will liberate the Iraqis. We will leave both governance and oil in their hands. We will hand over power quickly-not in years, maybe not even in months-to give Iraqis a chance to shape their own destiny. The whole world will see this. And I expect the Iraqis to be at least as thankful as French President Jacques Chirac was for France's liberation.

Cohn-Bendit: Oh, come on. It's not true.

Perle: Nobody has to say, "Thank you." It is quite sufficient for us to know that people in Iraq will no longer live in abject fear.

The Chalabi-centric school of thought may explain why Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who claimed that he kept a long list of everything that might go wrong, saw no need for carefully planning the reconstruction of Iraq and transition to a new government. To embrace the policy of regime change in the first place, it was necessary to believe that no such plans were needed, that the problem did not exist.

No wonder that the remaining members of the Ahmad Chalabi fan club (Washington branch) have appealed to Condi Rice to restore their self-described "hero in error" to his pedestal. After all, who would want to admit that he'd been bamboozled by an opportunist and a confidence man at best, and by the Iranian intelligence service at worst?

Analyst

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000268.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 07:56 PM CST [Link]

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