Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Chalabi

This morning, the Journal has an editorial welcoming Ahmed Chalabi to America. Chalabi is one of the more sinister figures from the campaign for war with Iraq, running as he did an organization honeycombed with Iranian spies and feeding a constant stream of disinformation to the American government about the threat supposedly posed by Saddam Hussein. But Chalabi's spectacular mendacity and double-dealing (the Journal proudly points to his electoral allies of the moment, but is there any group in Iraqi politics Chalabi has not pretended to ally himself to at some point in the last few years?) at least has a kind of dignity. He was seeking power for himself and the end of a vicious government and disastrous isolation for his country, and he has succeeded far more impressively than any reasonable person might have imagined was possible five years ago. So, a year ago, he told a British newspaper that "we are heroes in error. As far as we're concerned we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important." For an Iraqi, the view that deceiving Americans is a matter of trivial significance is understandable. After all, their principal concern is Iraq. What's the Journal's excuse?

It's the Journal's country whose secrets were handed over to Iranian intelligence by Chalabi and his organization. The Journal places great faith in the judgment of Iraqi criminal justice that Chalabi was innocent of the counterfeiting charges lodged against him at the same time. Readers can decide for themselves if they are prepared to subcontract American counter-intelligence to Iraqi judges, and if it is plausible that Chalabi (indicted for counterfeiting in Iraq, convicted of bank fraud in Jordan, accused of espionage in America) is constantly the innocent victim of misunderstandings. But there is no question that Chalabi's principal deputy was an Iranian spy. He has now taken up residence in Teheran.

It's the Journal's country that was induced to start a war by "intelligence" gleaned from "defectors" presented to the CIA and, when it tired of the lies, to the more credulous members of the war party. The Journal dismisses this with a reference to their favorite investigation of Iraq and the intelligence community, the Silberman-Robb report. As per usual, the unambiguous statements about narrow issues in the report find their way into the Journal shorn of any reference to the issues they address. It is true that the Silberman-Robb report found that Chalabi's INC had "minimal impact" on CIA assessments of Iraqi weapons capacity. What else would the editors expect, considering that the CIA had lost faith in Chalabi and his organization years earlier? After the CIA concluded that Chalabi had betrayed to Saddam a covert CIA operation to foment a coup in Iraq because he was afraid that he would be left out of the action, they paid little attention to anything he or his people had to say. Silberman-Robb, investigating the CIA's evaluations, concluded that Chalabi had little impact on their assessment.

But the CIA was not the only organization evaluating intelligence about Iraq in the Bush Administration. A coalition of war enthusiasts centered around the Office of the Vice President were also looking at and evaluating the "evidence" provided by Chalabi. Eager to believe what he told them, this group was responsible for promoting information provided by INC-sponsored defectors like the infamously unreliable "Curveball." The Vice President and his allies put the information into Presidential speeches, including the State of the Union, and into Colin Powell's presentation of the case against Saddam before the UN Security Council. Powell later said of these claims that "the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading."

Last year, Chalabi fell out of favor with the administration after his role in the exposure of classified information to Iran became known, and he allied himself for a time with Moqtada al-Sadr (you may remember him from our brief war against him in the spring of 2004) and Iranian intelligence. None of this shakes the faith of the Journal and other true believers, though. Even more than George W. Bush, perhaps even more than endless tax cuts, faith in Chalabi and the fantasy that this slippery swindler is the George Washington of Iraq is Journal theology.

Someday, even the Journal will have to wake up from this dream. We can only hope that not too much more damage will be done to American interests while we wait.

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