Of all the expressions of anti-Americanism reported since the beginning of the Iraq war, none drips with more contempt for the red-white-and-blue than the recent remarks of Ahmed Chalabi, the neocons’ man in Iraq. In regard to the complete absence of any “weapons of mass destruction,” which Chalabi and Co. insisted were in Saddam’s possession, the British Telegraph quotes him as saying:
“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. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We’re ready to fall on our swords if he wants.”
So we lied. So shoot us. Who cares what the Americans say, anyway: they’re stuck in Iraq, and there’s no backing out of it now.
Fall on his sword? Somebody in Washington should tell Chalabi to sit on it.
But, guess what? Although he avers that the American government is persecuting him, they are still paying him, as the Seattle Times reports:
“The Pentagon has set aside between $3 million and $4 million this year for the Information Collection Program of the Iraqi National Congress, or INC, led by Ahmad Chalabi, said two senior U.S. officials and a U.S. defense official. They spoke on condition of anonymity because intelligence programs are classified.”
Not that you have the right to know, but you’re still subsidizing this hypocrite, even as he spits in your face. Far from telling this crook who is still wanted in Jordan for embezzling millions from Petra Bank where to get off, the U.S. government is footing the bill for his lies.
That just about says it all when it comes to the principle of bureaucratic immortality, well-known to libertarians: no government program, no matter how ill-advised and even frankly disastrous ever truly dies, because there is always a small-but-vocal constituency that will fight to keep the sacred cause of filling their own pocketbooks alive.
To Chalabi, “what was said before is not important.” But it is a matter of political life and death to George W. Bush, who is being made to look not only foolish but also beatable in November: at least half the American people feel deceived by pre-invasion pronouncements positively identifying Iraq’s WMD, and a near majority believes the war wasn’t worth it. Campaigning as a “war president,” candidate Bush is being forced, by Iraq war revisionism, to defend his most important asset as an incumbent in the White House: not only his credibility, but, along with it, the very gravitas of the office of President.
He is forced to explain how he fell for the lies manufactured by Chalabi & Co., who funneled phony “intelligence” on Saddam’s alleged WMD to U.S. government officials, who then repeated it as gospel truth in an effort to sell the war at home and abroad. Chalabi’s INC was particularly insistent that Iraq was quickly moving to develop nuclear weapons. The Knight-Ridder story quoted above cites a letter from the INC to the Senate Appropriations Committee alleging:
“Saddam was rebuilding his nuclear-weapons program, which was destroyed by U.N. inspectors after the 1991 Gulf War, and was stockpiling banned chemical and biological weapons, according to the letter. The letter, a copy of which was obtained by Knight Ridder, said the information went directly to ‘U.S. government recipients’ who included William Luti, a senior official in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s office, and John Hannah, a top national-security aide to Cheney. The letter appeared to contradict denials made last year by top Pentagon officials that they were receiving intelligence on Iraq that bypassed established channels and vetting procedures.”
Hannah, according to UPI’s Richard Sales, is one of the prime suspects in the “outing” of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame, which is now being investigated by a Washington D.C. grand jury. Luti, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Special Plans and Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, supervised the Office of Special Plans (OSP), which acted as a transmission belt for Chalabi’s fabrications.
But an even more lethal time-bomb ticking beneath Chalabi and his neoconservative patrons is yet another grand jury currently deliberating in Washington, charged with investigating the forged documents that somehow made their way into the American intelligence stream and into the President’s 2003 State of the Union speech.
The infamous “16 words” in that otherwise eminently forgettable address are returning to haunt him on the campaign trail. The Iraqis, said Bush, sought to procure uranium from “an African nation” in an active and ongoing effort to build nuclear weapons. If Chalabi and his fellow confidence men in the INC had anything to do with the crude forgeries that served as the unspoken footnote to Bush’s assertion, then no wonder Ashcroft was persuaded to step aside and let Patrick J. “Bulldog” Fitzgerald have a go at them.
As Jim Lobe pointed out last July, Chalabi was at the heart of the dispute that split the State Department, the CIA, and the military professionals from the neoconservative ideologues in the administration:
“When the professionals argued in the administration’s inner councils that U.S. troops would face as much apprehension and hostility as gratitude from key sectors of the Iraqi population, the hawks replied that they underestimated the attraction and political skills of a man like Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Pentagon-backed Iraqi National Congress (INC), who told them of his far-reaching secret network of informants and supporters inside Iraq.
“Indeed, it was ‘defectors’ who were ‘recruited’ by the INC who provided the information that made the ideologues so confident about the existence of WMD, the ties between Baghdad and al Qaeda, and the rapturous greeting U.S. soldiers would get in Baghdad and on the way there.”
If Halliburton, the single biggest U.S. military contractor in Iraq, is now being forced to repay for overcharging American taxpayers, will Chalabi, too, be compelled to pay back the millions squandered in collecting “intelligence” of dubious provenance and less-than-zero value? Now that his lies are rebounding on us with a vengeance, I trust I am not the only one raising this question.
L’Affaire Chalabi puts me in mind of a passage from “Ex America,” Garet Garrett’s classic excoriation of the folly of American internationalism:
“The winds that blow our billions away return burdened with themes of scorn and dispraise. There is a little brat wind that keeps saying: ‘But you are absurd, you Americans, like the rich, fat boy from the big house who is tolerated while he spends his money at the drugstore and then gets chased home with mud on his clothes. He is bewildered and hurt, and yet he wants so much to be liked that he does it again the next day. But this is parable and you are probably too stupid to get it. If you do you won’t believe it, and so no harm is done. You will come again tomorrow.'”
Writing in 1952, Garrett had in mind the Ugly American of the Cold War era, universally despised not only for his faults but especially for his virtues. Earnestly seeking to export the spirit of Jefferson to lands where the soil of liberty is thin to nonexistent, the rich fat American is ripped off by ungrateful demanding foreigners, who turn around and blame us for all their problems.
Have the lights gone out again! in Baghdad? It’s the fault of the Americans, they did it on purpose!
Do Iraqi children lack schoolbooks? Why aren’t the Americans shipping them over faster?
Emergency! Iraq’s healthcare system is in a state of utter collapse! Hey, why aren’t the Americans on the job fixing it those brutal heartless thugs!
As Charley Reese said on the occasion of Bush’s proclamation of “victory” in Iraq:
“Congratulations to me and congratulations to you. All of us Americans are about to become the proud mamas and papas of 22 million Iraqis less, of course, the several thousand our forces kill.”
This is what it means to have an empire, as the ostensibly “conservative” proponents of neo-imperialism hardly ever bother explaining to their deluded and brain-dead rank-and-file followers in the GOP. The Democrats, even more than the Republicans, are in thrall to this idea of the U.S. as the deep pockets of the world. Whatever criticism of the American occupation comes up in the course of this election season will have to come from a third party contender.
Ralph Nader’s announcement that he’s running has the Anybody But Bush (ABB) Left apoplectic with rage. The Nation, which editorialized against a Nader run almost begging him not to be a “spoiler” represents the view of the ABB crowd: we have to get rid of Bush, even if we have to use Kerry to do it. Or so the argument goes.
But the “spoiler” argument raises the question of just what is being spoiled. With the likely nomination of Kerry or, worse, Edwards the possibility that there will be any real debate on the foreign policy question is completely closed off. Kerry not only voted for the war he also voted for the so-called Iraq Liberation Act, sponsored by the Clinton administration, which launched the campaign for “regime change” in Iraq and funded Chalabi and his cohorts with millions (most of which promptly disappeared).
What is being spoiled, here, is the usual pattern in American politics: when it comes to foreign policy, no real debate is permitted during a presidential election year. The rest of the time, Americans can argue about it to their heart’s content: in saloons, on the editorial pages of the nation’s newspapers, in barbershops and beauty salons from coast to coast. But every four years, when it’s time to elect a president, the unofficial moratorium is enforced by the complete absence of candidates who challenge the bipartisan conventional wisdom. In confronting what he calls the “two-party duopoly” by calling for an end to the occupation, and a major downsizing of the military-industrial complex what Nader is spoiling is the illusion of a grand foreign policy consensus. At least half of Americans now think the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. A third believe the President lied us into war, while roughly another third think he “exaggerated” the evidence to get us into war. Who will speak for them this election season? So far, the answer is: Ralph Nader.
But if I were the Democrats, I wouldn’t worry too much. For some reason, Nader has refused to run on the Green Party ticket, like the last two times: instead, he’s launching an “independent” campaign, which means he has to petition to get on the ballot in all 50 states. This decision seems inexplicable, except when you really examine it .
In his interview with Tim Russert on “Meet the Press,” Nader made it clear that he understands the huge obstacles put in front of insurgent candidates who challenge the bipartisan monopoly on the American electoral process. Surely he understands that he won’t get on the ballot in more than 15 states at the most.
The ABB-ers point to Florida, where, they aver, Nader made the crucial difference: but the draconian ballot access laws in that state require 93,000 valid signatures on a petition to get an independent or third party candidate on the ballot. California, a Nader stronghold, requires a similarly formidable effort.
It is more than likely that Nader won’t even be on the ballot in those two key states, and will be similarly absent from many others and, while he can be counted on to make a big issue of this on the campaign hustings, it could be that this was the plan all along.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I have a review of Gore Vidal‘s latest book, Inventing a Nation, in the current [March 1] issue of The American Conservative, and it’s online.