The Return of Ahmad Chalabi
It’s just like old times again
A recent New York Times account of the reemergence of Ahmad Chalabi as one of the leading candidates to replace Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki opined "everything old seems new again in Iraq" – as if to confirm the growing sense here in the US that Iraq is our recurring nightmare. It’s perfectly understandable that they did so without mentioning the paper’s past relationship with Chalabi as the source of Judith Miller’s front-page stories funneling phony "intelligence" on Iraq’s alleged "weapons of mass destruction." This is to be expected, but it’s the least interesting of the story’s omissions.
Back in 2004, US troops in Iraq raided Chalabi’s headquarters. The accusation: he had leaked classified US intelligence to the Iranians, letting them in on the secret that we had cracked Tehran’s interagency code. For years, Chalabi had been on the CIA payroll, but now it looked like he was in reality a double-agent acting on behalf of Iran. The real shocker, however, was that Chalabi had access to this kind of closely-guarded intelligence in the first place. The FBI wanted to know how the wily Iranian exile leader got his hands on the information.
The trail led directly to … AIPAC headquarters, nerve center of the Jewish state’s powerful Washington lobby. The FBI raided the building and carried away truckloads of evidence – twice. As the Washington Post reported:
"FBI counterintelligence agents are investigating whether several Pentagon officials leaked classified information to Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, according to a law enforcement official and other people familiar with the case."
While AIPAC’s apologists downplayed the investigation as having to do only with the leakage of unimportant policy papers, the Post revealed that
"The FBI probe is actually much broader, according to senior U.S. officials, and has been underway for at least two years. Several sources familiar with the case say the probe now extends to other Pentagon personnel who have a particular interest in assisting both Israel and Chalabi."
The feds suspected that the neoconservative operatives ensconced in the policy sector of the Pentagon had been leaking highly classified intelligence to both Chalabi and "a pro-Israel lobbying group," as the Post report put it.
A linchpin of the investigation was the Larry Franklin affair, in which Franklin, a top Pentagon analyst, was caught red-handed passing classified information to Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s powerhouse lobbyist, and Keith Weissman, another AIPAC employee, who then handed over the sensitive material to Israeli Embassy officials. Franklin was sentenced to 12 years in prison (later reduced to ten months of house arrest) and fined. Rosen and Weissman got off when their defense threatened to reveal US secrets and Obama’s Justice Department – under pressure from the Israel lobby – backed off.
Iraq war era undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith – who mysteriously resigned his office in January of 2005 – seems to have presided over a policy shop that harbored a nest of operatives whose first loyalty was to an entity other than the United States. The "intelligence" distributed by Feith’s office, including outright fabrications such as the Niger uranium forgeries, was a key factor in goading us into invading Iraq – but the "lie factory" presided over by Feith also had another function as a distributor of real US intelligence to both AIPAC and the Iranians.
As Joshua Micah Marshall and Laura Rozen pointed out in a fascinating 2004 piece in the Washington Monthly, a series of "back-channel" meetings took place in Paris and Rome, the first one occurring in December 2001, involving Franklin, now-retired Defense Department advisor Harold Rhode, Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar (yes, that Manucher Ghorbanifar!), and neocon nutjob Michael Ledeen.
The unauthorized meetings, which continued into the summer of 2003, "were both a conduit for intelligence about Iran and Iraq and part of a bitter administration power-struggle pitting officials at DoD who have been pushing for a hard-line policy of ‘regime change’ in Iran, against other officials at the State Department and the CIA who have been counseling a more cautious approach." Not to mention the occasion for a little espionage.
Rhode and Ledeen were part of the neoconservative faction within the administration that pushed Chalabi as the future leader of "liberated" Iraq. To this day the neocons insist that if only the US had imposed Chalabi as America’s Iraqi sock-puppet-in-chief the chaos we are now seeing in that unfortunate country could’ve been avoided. The irony is that Chalabi was and is the executor of Iraq’s bloody fate – and the irony is doubled by his rising prominence as Maliki’s possible successor.
What are we to make of this Graham Greene-ish tale of double agents, "rogue" Pentagon officials, and pro-Israel neocons sneaking around in the dark?
One has only to look at Iraq today to see that the goals sought by Chalabi and his neocon enablers have been achieved: if we take the FBI’s suspicions of Chalabi at face value – and I do – then it’s clear the war he and his exile group played a key role in starting succeeded in delivering what’s left of Iraq into Tehran’s hands. The Iranians got what they wanted – but how does the AIPAC-Israel factor play into all this?
Israel benefited from the war in three ways: first, it eliminated one of their biggest enemies – Saddam Hussein, who was actively backing Palestinian factions intent on attacking the Jewish state. Secondly, it empowered Israel’s most steadfast ally in the region – the Kurds – setting them on the road to an independent state. It’s not for nothing that the first delivery of oil from the seized Kirkuk fields went straight to Israel. Thirdly, the Iraq war atomized the region, spreading the resulting chaos into Syria – a longtime foe of Israel – and setting the stage for reverberating waves of turmoil across the Muslim world.
When ISIS destroyed the berms marking the Syria-Iraq border, effectively erasing the boundaries drawn by the European powers in the wake of World War I, they issued a video (and a Twitter hashtag campaign) entitled "The End of Sykes-Picot." "Here you see the borders" established in 1916 by the secret Franco-British treaty known as Sykes-Picot, says the ISIS spokesman in the video, "which we don’t recognize and will never recognize… This is not the first barrier that we will break," he vows, as he demonstratively steps on the sign marking the border, “God willing.”
It is a vow that could be heartily endorsed by Israeli policymakers, albeit never publicly. The nation-states, based on the Western model, established after the colonial powers had withdrawn from the Middle East and based on Sykes-Picot, represented a dire threat to the Jewish settler colony. Now they are in ruins.
The Israelis have what they always wanted: an Arab world prostrated by a vicious internecine religious war, and a region split up into warring state-lets, with Israel rapidly moving to annex the occupied territories and drive the remaining Palestinians into permanent exile.
Not so coincidentally, a very similar scenario was drawn up for the benefit of then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a 1996 position paper co-authored by prominent neocons, including Feith and Richard Perle, which envisioned Israel making a "Clean Break" with its supposedly passive policy of defensive actions and going on the offensive to break out of its demographic and geographical vulnerability. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and ultimately Iran – all would be targeted for regime change.
And so it came to pass, with one essential deviation from the original plan: instead of the Israelis acting on their own, they commandeered their closest ally, the United States, which in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was only too eager to act as their willing pawn, at least up to a certain point. And when that point was passed, the neocon-Chalabi-Iranian cabal engaged in certain extracurricular activities that can be fairly characterized as treason. They lied us into war – and now they’re proving that crime does pay.
The investigation into the neocon nest at DoD was never followed up – at least to our knowledge. The Senate Intelligence Committee also took up the trail of what Senator Jay Rockefeller called "the Chalabi factor," and then seemingly dropped it. No one in Washington wants to follow that trail all the way to the end – for fear of what they might find.
Fast forward to the present: although Chalabi’s party, the Iraqi National Congress, has only a single seat in the Iraqi parliament – his – it looks like he has a good chance of fulfilling what the neocons insisted was his destiny as leader of Iraq. That the Iraq he will lord over has been mostly destroyed, both physically and otherwise, matters little to him and his fan club over at the American Enterprise Institute. They got what they wanted – and the rest of us can buzz off.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.
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