OPINION | Chalabi : The Conman's Legacy

OPINION | Chalabi : The Conman's Legacy


There’s no doubt that Ahmad Chalabi earned that title of “Conman”, at least insofar as he manipulated the world’s most powerful nation into a disastrous war. Whether he did so on behalf of Iran or, more likely, simply to further his own very large ambitions will presumably be a very interesting focus of debate among historians and his biographers for decades. While most in the media played it straight, noting Chalabi’s role in selling the Iraq War but putting in the proper context, a significant number of journalists and pundits did something very odd: They turned his death into an opportunity to lay the blame for the Iraq War at his feet.


OPINION | Chalabi : The Conman's Legacy

Image Attribute: Ahmad Chalabi / Source: Wikimedia Commons


Chalabi led Iraqi National Congress's principal tactic was to deluge the U.S. intelligence community -- and the mainstream media -- with "defectors" who provided lurid accounts of the Iraqi government hiding WMD caches and concealing its ties to al-Qaeda terrorists. Because of the welcoming climate for these lies -which were trumpeted by neo-conservatives and other influential Washington operatives --there was little or no push-back.

Only after the U.S. invasion and the failure to discover the alleged WMD stockpiles did the U.S. intelligence community reconstruct how the INC's deceptions had worked. As the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee belatedly discovered, some "defectors" had been coached by the INC, which was fabricating a casus belli against Iraq.

In 2006, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a well documented study on the role of phony "defectors." The report revealed not only specific cases of coached Iraqi "defectors" lying to intelligence analysts but a stunning failure of the U.S. political/media system to challenge the lies. The intimidated U.S. intelligence process often worked like a reverse filter, letting the dross of disinformation pass through.

The Iraqi "defectors" and their stories also played into a sophisticated propaganda campaign by neocon pundits and pro-war officials who acted as intellectual shock troops to bully the few U.S. voices of skepticism. With President George W. Bush eager for war with Iraq -- and Democrats in Congress fearful of being labeled "soft on terror" -- the enforced "group think" led the United States to invade Iraq on March 19, 2003.
With Ahmad Chalabi’s Death, Passing of an Age of Lies - Juan Cole

According to the Senate report, the official U.S. relationship with these Iraqi exiles dated back to 1991 after President George H.W. Bush had routed Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait and wanted to help Hussein's domestic opponents.

So not only is Chalabi responsible for the crime of the Iraq War, but also, albeit indirectly and on the word of an anonymous CIA official, for ISIS? A generous reading here is that because Roston wrote a book on Chalabi, he has an incentive to overplay his significance, but this claim is an extraordinary one. The assumption that the Bush administration—populated by PNAC alums who had been calling for the removal of Saddam since 1998—would not have been able to find some other pretext or marshal the political will without Chalabi is dubious to say the least.

After the invasion Chalabi was placed in charge of "de-Baathification"—the removal of senior office holders judged to have been close supporters of the deposed Saddam Hussein. The role fell into disuse, but in early 2010 Chalabi was accused of reviving this dormant post to eliminate his political enemies, especially Sunnis. The banning of some 500 candidates prior to the general election of 7 March 2010 at the initiative of Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress was reported to have badly damaged previously improving relations between Shias and  Sunnis.  Chalabi also held the rotating presidency of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council after the invasion, served as deputy prime minister and also temporarily held the key oil portfolio, but he never reached the political heights to which he aspired.

But there it is, just asserted. We live in a world where, in the court of public opinion, responsibility-cum-accountability is a zero sum affair. The guiltier Chalabi is of something, the less Bush & Co. are. This is why terms like “architect” and “convince,” as they relate to the US government in the build-up to war, are so consequential in how they affect public perceptions.

AIDN: 001-11-2015-0399
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