Friday, May 21, 2004

From the White House to the Dog House: The Saga of Ahmad Chalabi

This week, the US finally got tired of paying Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi National Congress leader known as the Man of Cats to Baghdad graffiti artists, to lie to it. A double bitch-slap ensued in which the US stopped giving Chalabi his $340,000 monthly allowance and raided his home and offices, seizing documents and computers.

Chalabi, a portly mathematician who didn't so much as set foot in Iraq between 1958 and 2003, immediately denounced the US as evil occupiers and began trying to cozy up to Shi'a militants.

But the Grand Ayatollah isn't going to pay you to hang out in posh hotel lobbies, Chalabi. We know that somewhere in Baghdad, Ahmad Chalabi is sitting in the dark, wiping away tears, and gently singing the Beatles' "Yesterday" to himself.

However, it wouldn't be a Massive Failure of US Policy if there weren't an attendant gleeful round of finger-pointing and recriminations. Chalabi was, until Wednesday, the favorite son of not only neoconservative "intellectuals" but also of the New York Times, which now bears the moniker "paper of record" like a bitterly ironic millstone about its neck.

As a public service, and to "facilitate the healing process," we have climbed into our most fantastic contraption, the Way, Way Back Machine, and brought back from those strange eons of 2002 and 2003 (and even all the way back to 1999!) these reports, detailing the faith that supposedly intelligent, well-informed people once had in this pathetic phoney. Enjoy.

In 1999, a Senate initiative spearheaded by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz. and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. recommended replacing Saddam Hussein's government with a state run by Ahmad Chalabi. At the time, Lieberman referred to Chalabi as "a person of strength, principal, and real national commitment." But the Congressional Chalabi Lobby didn't consist only of McCain and Lieberman: before this year, Chalabi's most enthusiastic backers including Sens. Joe Biden, Sam Brownback, John Kyl, and Rick Santorum, who famously opposed the Supreme Court decision striking down sodomy laws by saying it would lead to dog-fucking. If only he had as much foresight when it came to Chalabi!

On December 5, 2001, the House Republican leadership was trumpeting its upcoming meeting with Chalabi, a man it respectfully referred to as "Dr. Chalabi," calling the Man of Cats "a defender of human rights" and the leader of "Iraq's legislature in exile."

On Cctober 2, 2002, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., held a joint press conference with Chalabi at which they urged the President to go to war with Iraq as soon as possible. "A newly democratic Iraq will need strong, fair and conciliatory leaders," Brownback said then, beaming at Chalabi. "And this gentleman has dedicated his life toward seeing that dream become reality." If by "that dream" you mean a "theocratic Iranian puppet state with Chalabi as a hellish Shi'ite Quisling figure," you're absolutely correct, Senator!

In March 2003, David Frum, the former White House speechwriter who coined the boneheaded phrase "Axis of Evil," was praising Chalabi as "democratic, market-oriented, and pro-Western," and blasting his critics in the US government. What kind of awful things were those awful people in the CIA and State Department saying about our beloved Ahmad? "Chalabi, it's said, is corrupt, ineffective, and an Iranian spy," Frum reported. Can you imagine the very nerve!

In early April 2003, the Man of Cats was being praised by his friends in the Senate, including Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who won his election by slandering Paul Wellstone after the latter had died in a plane crash. Coleman, a former socialist who became a rabid right-winger when that seemed more popular, introduced a bill in Congress in the first week of April that would have given $100 million in aid to Chalabi.

April 5, 2003 was a big day for Chalabi, and the beginning of a very big month. On that day, he was airlifted into Iraq along with 700 INC "fighters" at the orders of Pentagon neocon Douglas Feith. It was just like De Gaulle returning to France, except the moment wouldn't last...

On April 9, 2003, Slate Magazine wondered if the reason that so many in the US government opposed any dealing with Chalabi whatsoever wasn't because he was an indicted embezzler, a Europeanized phoney with no support in Iraq, and a "military leader" whose principal campaign had led to the crushing of his party and the execution of hundreds of its members. "A more worrisome possibility is that some people inside the United States government don't like Chalabi because he's serious about trying to create an Iraqi democracy," the author wrote. You think?

On April 17, 2003, the editors of the National Review were saying that Chalabi was the man to set up a democratic, pro-Israel government in Iraq. Actually, this article is pretty hilarious from start to finish in its hubristic account of the then-box fresh US "victory" in Iraq. "Our coalition has suffered only 154 casualties," the editors wrote. "Dictators from Damascus to Pyongyang are newly fearful of American power and resolve. And we are confident that the dead regime’s weapons of mass destruction will soon be found and destroyed." Hey, and you know what? It all came true!

On May 26, 2003, the world learned that Chalabi's fans weren't merely Canadian speechwriters and Republican Senators. Chalabi's peanut gallery also included the New York Times, whose top reporter in Iraq, Judith Miller, was forced to reveal that her sole source for many of the "scoops" she reported on weapons of mass destruction came from Chalabi, who later admitted that he lied about it all, calling himself a "hero in error." To date, the Times has not printed a single correction about the fraudulent pieces.

Of course, not everybody is jumping on the Hater Bandwagon when it comes to Ahmad. Although the Chalabi Lobby has shrunk considerably since Wednesday, there's still room for neocon fanatic Richard Perle, who has been around the block a few times when it comes to resigning in disgrace himself.

"He has devoted his life to freeing his country," Perle told the Boston Globe. "He is a man of enormous intelligence, and I believe the effort to marginalize him will fail. They will end up looking ridiculous."

Well, at least Richard Perle still likes him. Chalabi to be spared no indignity?

-Consider Arms