Fourteen months ago, after the 3rd Infantry Division and Marines swept into Baghdad, Washington was at the feet of the neoconservatives who had been plotting and propagandizing for an invasion for years.
A celebratory breakfast was held at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, where William Kristol, Richard Perle and Michael Ledeen held forth in a spirit of joyous anticipation of wars and victories to come. At a dinner party at the vice president’s mansion, Kenneth (“Cakewalk”) Adelman, Lewis I. “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff, and Paul Wolfowitz toasted one another and the president. As the ’60s song went, “Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end.”
Now, enmeshed in a guerrilla war, Americans are demanding to know who told us we would be welcomed with garlands of flowers. Who said our troops would come home in a year? Who said democracy would flourish across the Arab world? Who misled us about the weapons of mass destruction? Who lied us into war?
But the neocons may be facing problems more serious than entering the history books alongside the Whiz Kids of the McNamara era who got it wrong in Vietnam and left 58,000 behind. Some War Party leaders may see careers cashiered and reputations ruined.
According to The New York Times, U.S. intelligence officials claim that Ahmad Chalabi informed the top Iranian agent in Baghdad that the Americans had broken their top secret code and were reading their messages to Tehran. Chalabi reportedly told his Iranian contact he got this intel from a high American official who was drunk.
According to writer Sidney Blumenthal, the FBI is now visiting AEI to interrogate scholars in residence to learn who leaked word we had broken the Iranian code to Chalabi, who is emerging as the Alger Hiss of the neoconservatives.
Another question is whether Chalabi was being used all along by Tehran to goad the United States into invading Iraq, thus opening the door to a Shi’ite regime in Baghdad, which, with Shi’ite Iran, might control the Persian Gulf and its oil treasures in perpetuity.
If so, this Iranian coup would rank with Bismarck’s doctoring of the Ems telegram to goad Napoleon III into a war that cost him his throne and Alsace-Lorraine, and united Germany behind a Prussian king whom Bismarck would have crowned Kaiser in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
The White House dumping of Chalabi represents a rout for the neocons, who had all their chips on this pony. For Chalabi had promised them that, once installed in power, he would recognize Israel and resurrect the old Mosul-to-Haifa pipeline.
Another scandal on the back burner that could explode and spill over before November is the Justice Department’s investigation into the White House leak of the CIA identity of the wife of former Ambassador Joe Wilson. That leak was a retaliatory strike on Wilson for an op-ed in The New York Times that undermined Bush’s claim in his 2003 State of the Union Address that Iraq was seeking uranium for nuclear weapons in the African nation of Niger.
Apparently, Justice is not only seeking to identify the leakers, but looking at the possibility that FBI investigators were misled or lied to. President Bush has himself hired outside counsel. As ever, it is not the offense, but the cover-up that ensnares them.
Then there is the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. This appears to be working its way up the chain of command toward the E-Ring of the Pentagon and even the West Wing of the White House. If orders went out to ignore the Geneva Convention, and prisoners who had nothing to do with terrorism were abused or tortured, or died in captivity, famous heads could roll.
Later this summer, the 9-11 commission reports. It seems certain to single out Wolfowitz and administration neoconservatives along the line of argument of Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies for an obsession with Iraq that blinded the White House to the real and present danger of bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
Beyond this, the national press, cable TV and the Internet are still flush with stories of how, in a secret Pentagon intel shop, neocons “cherry-picked” the prewar intelligence and “stove-piped” it up to Cheney’s office, where it was inserted into the addresses of President Bush.
The Night of the Long Knives has begun. The military and CIA are stabbing the neocons front, back and center, laying responsibility on them for the mess in Iraq. Meanwhile, the Balkan wars of the American Right have reignited, with even the normally quiescent Beltway conservatives scrambling to get clear of the neocon encampment before the tomahawking begins.
But a larger matter looms than the cashiering of ideologues and apparatchiks whose time has come and gone. If Bush’s “world democratic revolution” and “Pax Americana” are out, what is in?
What is our post-Iraq foreign policy to be? After we come home from Iraq, how far does retrenchment go? If the neocons are being stuffed into the Hefty bags of history, who moves up next?