Tuesday, May 04, 2004
Okay, Mr. Frum, let's take it item by item.
Frum: ITEM: Up until now we were supposed to believe that the INC produced no useful intelligence – that it dealt only in fantasies and lies. Now suddenly the INC is accused of being in possession of accurate and valuable sensitive information. How did Chalabi go from know-nothing to valuable intelligence asset overnight?
Me: Um, the old accusation is that Chalabi provided us with lousy or fabricated intelligence to advance his agenda. The new accusation is that Chalabi is feeding the Iranians intelligence about us. Provided to him by, well, us. So, he went from being a useless intelligence asset to us to being a valuable intelligence asset to our enemies because we gave him access to valuable intelligence. Is that so hard to follow?
Frum: ITEM: Chalabi has been caught talking on the phone to the Iranians. But wait – hasn’t the State Department been arguing for months that the US should talk to the Iranians about Iraq? In testimony to Congress in October 2003, State number 2 Richard Armitage explicitly disavowed regime change in Iran and called for discussions with Iran on “appropriate” issues. In January 2004, Secretary of State Powell openly called for “dialogue” – and the Bush administration offered to send Elizabeth Dole and a member of the president’s own family to deliver earthquake aid to Iran. (The British sent Prince Charles.) Since then, the hinting and suggesting have grown ever more explicit. What, pray, is the difference between the policy Chalabi is pursuing and that which his State Department critics want the US to pursue?
Me: Guess what: the State Department and other departments of the American Executive branch had discussions with the Soviet Union all through the Cold War. We had an embassy there and everything. Does that mean that any soldier of fortune claiming to be a friend of America wouldn't be under suspicion if he had regular contacts with the Kremlin? He would? But why? What's he doing that's different from what we're doing? Maybe - just maybe - the difference is that he isn't an officer of the U.S. government, charged with protecting and advancing American interests, and entitled to the presumption that he is acting in good faith until proven otherwise?
Frum: ITEM: Chalabi is now accused of playing a “double game” in Iraqi politics, an offense for which he must forfeit all rights to a role in Iraq’s future. This “no double game” rule is a new and impressive standard for judging our allies in the Arab Middle East. Question: Will that same standard apply to those former Republican Guard generals whom the State Department is now so assiduously promoting? Will it apply to the former Baathists that Lakhdar Brahimi wishes to include in the provisional Iraqi government? Will it apply to Lakhdar Brahimi himself? Will it apply to the Saudi royal family? Will it apply to the Iranians? Or is it only Ahmed Chalabi who must swear undeviating loyalty to the US policy-of-the-day in Iraq?
Me: Ahmad Chalabi is a 100% creation of the American taxpayer. He has no local support, no independent source of funds, and no power base other than the United States Armed Forces. He may or may not be a good guy at heart, but he's not an ally; he's a client. It is one thing for us to deal with countries in the region that have interests that differ from ours, and - guess what? - sometimes rank those other interests higher than keeping America happy. Even the Kurds can plausibly claim that they helped us get rid of Saddam, so they don't just owe us, we owe them. Chalabi has no right to independent interests.
Frum: ITEM: Salon magazine last night published a lengthy attack on Chalabi by John Dizard. In it, former Chalabi business partner Marc Zell calls Chalabi a “treacherous, spineless turncoat,” for failing to deliver on Chalabi’s alleged promises to open Iraq to trade with Israel. I don’t know that these promises were ever made – and if made, I wonder whether Chalabi ever suggested that they would rank first on a new Iraqi government’s list of priorities. But never mind that: Chalabi has not exercised executive power in Iraq for even a single day. How exactly was it ever possible that he would carry out any promise about anything to anyone?
Me: Hey, don't breeze by the fact that key Chalabi promoters picked their man because he promised to normalize relations between Iraq and Israel. A legitimate case can be made for that goal as a foreign policy priority, but it seems to me the neo-cons have been spilling a lot of ink denying that Israel had anything to do with the case for war against Iraq. But even letting that breeze by: is Frum claiming that Dizard made the line up? Or is he saying that Dizard was a fool for taking Chalabi's promises at face value? Or what, precisely, does he mean by "How exactly was it ever possible that he would carry out any promise about anything to anyone?" Is he seriously suggesting that the problem with our war effort so far is that we haven't installed Chalabi as dictator yet, so that he'd be able to fulfill his promises to guys like Zell?
Frum says that Chalabi is "one of the very few genuine liberal democrats to be found at the head of any substantial political organization anywhere in the Arab world" and "compared to just about every other political leader in the Arab world - the imperfect Ahmed Chalabi is nontheless a James bleeping Madison." Note what he doesn't say: that if Ahmad Chalabi - James bleeping Madison though he be - were on a ballot today in Iraq, he would not have a prayer of getting elected. I suppose Frum would say that the people of Iraq have not yet learned to appreciate the James bleeping Madison in their midst, but with time and tutelage they'll no doubt see the error of their ways.
This has gotten beyond embarrassing. It's become dangerous.