Le Carre Crossed With Borges

|

It's obviously too early for firmly confident comments about the Chalabi affair. But here's a start:

If the worst allegations are true, this is a scandal that could bring down the Bush administration. (I say this as someone who was predicting reelection until just two days ago.) And even if they aren't true, it's clear that the divisions within Washington's military and intelligence community are now gaping chasms—the sort of splits that could paralyze U.S. foreign policy.

A cynic might call that an improvement.

NEXT: Doug Pappas, RIP

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Um, what’s the “Chalabi affair”?

  2. My thoughts exactly. After reading this stuff, it is quite fascinating. I have no particular comment on the matter, this was something that had slipped beneath my radar…

  3. Even if it does turn out that Chalabi was spying for Iran while enjoying considerable access and trust from the top levels of the Bush administration, a good conservative need only remember 3 things:

    1) Saddam was much worse.
    2) A Kerry administration would also be bad for national security.
    3) The only reason the media is reporting this is because of liberal bias.

    There, problem solved! 🙂

  4. Considering that the general public doesn’t know Chalabi from a chihuahua, and that this entire topic seems quite complex and confusing and insiderish, I’m not sure it’s exactly a threat to “bring down the Bush administration.”

    Sorry, but when most average Americans see a news story with a litany of acronyms and exotic multisyllabic names — INC, Ahmad Chalabi, CIA, Kanan Makiya, MOF, Aras Kareem… droning, droning, droning — their eyes begin glazing over and they quickly decide not to give a shit. This isn’t a knock on average Americans. Most of us weren’t raised with the idea that we’d someday have to concern ourselves with a bunch of stupid Mideast turmoil. So I think it’s fine and dandy that we tend to quit reading these stories by the second paragraph.

  5. “bring down the Bush administration” I can’t imagine what you’re thinking. Somebody they trusted wasn’t trustworthy. Is this unusual? “This is the Middle East,” as the old punch line goes. What else is new?

    He is nevertheless transforming it.

  6. …it’s clear that the divisions within Washington’s military and intelligence community are now gaping chasms…

    Not so clear to me as DIA is military.

  7. There’s a kind of news junkie, chiefly the retired, who watch CNN until something bad happens and then tell everybody. Being the bearer of bad tidings is the peak of their year. Alas, some of them can’t judge bad tidings! The discovery of the bad news junkie genre can be found at http://home.att.net/~rhhardin1/johnkencut.capitol.ra (72kb)

    So anyway this strikes me mostly as a news junkie misanalysis case.

  8. That’s why the CIA is trying to “simplify” it as much as possible with the ridiculous charge that he sold “secrets” to the Iranians. This battle is old, and it’s best to read Makiya’s comments on the CIA-Chalabi dealings here.

    The CIA almost brought Bush down once before, and this nonsense they’re doing right now while it might not hurt Bush’s reelection, it definitely isn’t helping the state of affairs in Iraq.

  9. If true, why didn’t they figure this out before? Like, several years ago? If true, it wouldn’t be as big a problem for Bush as the agencies involved.

  10. If true, why didn’t they figure this out before?

    Figure out what?! What is this all about, and why does any of it matter?

    Could somebody please present a nutshell rundown, in an easy-to-follow format? E.g.:

    (1) Chalabi was a blah-blah-blah
    (2) In 19whatever, Chalabi did blah-blah-blah
    (3) Etc. …

    I thought blogs were like the new journalism. Come on, toss a brother an information bone.

  11. Is anyone surprised? Geeze, what a bunch of virginal boyscouts everyone is acting like all of a sudden. We knew we were getting into a den of vipers the moment we finally opened our eyes on Sept 12th and said to our selves, “Oh, yeah, someone declared war on us.”

    I distinctly recall New York based liberal journalists on the TV demanding that we stop respecting the 4th, 5th, and 8th amendment rights of terrorist suspects we captured (resulting in the present prisoner abuse “scandal”) and I also recall the media admitting that our intelligence services needed to stop submitting bad boy informants to ACLU litmus tests.

    This was the post-9/11 world, baby, and ain’t nuthin was gonna stand in the way of us putting those uppity middle eastern fanatics where they belonged. Why again, are people acting so surprised?

  12. Not so clear to me as DIA is military.

    Not sure I follow you. I didn’t say “between Washington’s intelligence and military communities,” I said “within Washington’s military and intelligence community.”

    “bring down the Bush administration” I can’t imagine what you’re thinking. Somebody they trusted wasn’t trustworthy. Is this unusual?

    No, and it’s not a surprise either. But the claim made in the Newsday piece (click on “worst allegations”) is:

    The Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that a U.S.-funded arm of Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress has been used for years by Iranian intelligence to pass disinformation to the United States and to collect highly sensitive American secrets, according to intelligence sources.

    “Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program information to provoke the United States into getting rid of Saddam Hussein,” said an intelligence source Friday who was briefed on the Defense Intelligence Agency’s conclusions, which were based on a review of thousands of internal documents.

    If that pans out, then the White House is filled with people in serious trouble. And if it doesn’t, then we still face the paralyzing effects of the factional warfare that tosses up such allegations.

  13. Jesse Walker,

    Surely somebody with close connections with Halliburton is paying a group of retired farts to jump on these threads like a duck on a june bug.

    The first half dozen or so posts always seem to affirm Bush is still able to walk on water.

  14. No, it’s that Iraq is the best shot at a secular democracy in the region that will impress Arabs; which Bush is determined to make work. That’s why Iraq and not a thousand other nutball countries instead. You take the best shot.

    Iran is distinctly interested in it not working out. Is this news?

    Bush’s determination might have impressed Iran by now. An unpleasant surprise for them. Did they get the secret “We mean it” I wonder.

  15. Suggesting that being duped by the Iranians into sacrificing American troops, on a lark, might be a threat to the Bush Administration in an election year is controversial?

  16. Mine was the ninth comment, so I guess I should keep waiting for that sweet sweet Halliburton moolah.

    “Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program information to provoke the United States into getting rid of Saddam Hussein,”

    Could Bush be an agent of the mad mullahs? Was the Ayatolleh Khomeini a secret member of Skull & Bones? Stay tuned to Democratic Underground for more wacky theories to come…

    Even if Chalabi is an Iranian mole, it’s the intelligence agencies’ jobs to uncover that. If Bush knew he was a mole, would he have listened to him? I still don’t see how any of this could hurt Bush that much.

  17. If a double agent spy scandal brings down a US adminstration it will be a first, I think.

    A lot of US administrations have been fooled by spies. One reason is totalitarian closed societies are always going to have certain advantages in some aspects of spying and in the poker game aspects of war and peace.

    But they still lose in the long run. I am betting Bush in still president when the mullahs are locked up or hiding in a cave with Osama.

  18. I hate to echo the McLaughlin Group: really, I do. But this puts the question of competence right in the center of the election. Right now, the Bush Administration reeks of incompetence, and this just adds to the stink.

  19. I would be very interested in knowing whether the Iranian intelligence agents in question were answering to the Ayatollahs or to the elected reformists. Perhaps the elected reformists want us to be more aggressive.

    In any case, we’ll soon have no choice but to invade Iran. The elected reformists are for now fairly impotent, but eventually that will change. When the Ayatollahs see that their number is up, they’ll have no compunctions about nuking a US city to take some infidels with them on their way out.

    Deterrence only works against people in power. People on their way out have nothing to lose, and then fanaticism kicks in.

  20. Not sure I follow you. I didn’t say “between Washington’s intelligence and military communities,” I said “within Washington’s military and intelligence community.”

    The military and intelligence agencies are a single community in schism with the divisions becoming chasms? That’s an original take on things. We usually read of State and/or CIA having been at odds with the military and/or Rumsfeld & co.

  21. But they still lose in the long run. I am betting Bush in still president when the mullahs are locked up or hiding in a cave with Osama.

    Are you referring to the Iranian theocrats? Are you hinting that Bush is going to go after them?

  22. Let’s assume that your statement about deterrence is true, for the sake of argument. Help me with the justification for more dead troops: what were we trying to deter the Iranians, mullahs or otherwise, from doing?

  23. raymond-

    In an immediate and complete transfer of power your theory about Iranian theocrats taking some infidels with them might make sense. But a few points to ponder:

    1) If Iranian regime change is preceded by a gradual increase in the power of the reformists, followed by the surrender of the Ayatollahs, then the Ayatollahs may lack the clout to get a nuke transferred to terrorist control at the end. Even if their formal job title says they have that power, people in the military and intelligence services who want to remain employed after the transfer of power may be reluctant to follow the final crazy orders of somebody looking to go out with a bang.

    2) When tyrants leave power in disgrace, frequently the people that they’re most angry at are the people who deposed them. When the Ayatollahs finally lose all power to the elected reformists, if they decide to leave with a bang they’ll be much more likely to seek revenge against domestic foes. The US won’t be high on the target list, unless we get involved in Iran’s rapidly changing affairs.

    I see no reason to get involved with Iran’s affairs. The defeat of the Ayatollahs seems inevitable, and there is at least some reason to hope that it might be a (relatively) peaceful transfer of power. It might involve the people taking to the the streets and hanging a few Ayatollahs, but it won’t take a civil war or foreign invasion. Or it might even be more peaceful. Hard to say. Invasion seems unnecessary, and US support for reformists seems more likely to make them suspect in the eyes of Joe Schmoe Iranian.

    And what possible advantage do the reformists get from the US invading Iraq? The presence of a foreign enemy on the border has always been a boon to tyrants looking to justify their powers and ride a wave of nationalism.

  24. Let’s assume that your statement about deterrence is true, for the sake of argument. Help me with the justification for more dead troops: what were we trying to deter the Iranians, mullahs or otherwise, from doing?

  25. Ken,

    We won’t trying to deter them. We’ll be trying to stop them. We need to attack before they acquire nuclear weapons. Once they have a nuclear weapon invasion will be impossible. We need to attack ASAP, to prevent that scenario.

    Thoreau,

    The enmity between the Ayatollahs and the US is long-standing. They overthrew a US-backed regime. They’ll want one last chance at us on their way out. And the notion of cooler heads prevailing against the final orders of desperate men assumes that the nukes won’t be given to fanatical terrorists long before the final days of the regime.

  26. The military and intelligence agencies are a single community in schism with the divisions becoming chasms? That’s an original take on things. We usually read of State and/or CIA having been at odds with the military and/or Rumsfeld & co.

    So you’re in high dudgeon … because I wrote “community” instead of “communities”? Because I didn’t throw in the word “diplomatic” for good measure? Help me out here.

  27. How about the UN Oil/Food/Bribe scandal angle on this? See Belmont Club’s entry. What I’d like to know is WTF is Bush doing bringing in the UN to run this show? Hadn’t the UN demonstrated its malfeasance the last time it was running things in Iraq? Was part of the cost of the UN seal-of-approval (which apparently means a helluva lot more than I thought) that Kofi got to take out Chalabi, or at least get his info? Is State, supreme UN ass-kisser, in cahoots with this? If Bush did make such a bargain, he should be run out.

  28. Raymond,

    Could we at least agree that if we were to invade Iran for the reasons you stated, it’s fairly obvious that the current administration is not competent to do the job? I’m not implying that a Kerry administration would be more competent because I have no idea. But we’ve all observed the behavior of the current administration.

    Whether we’re talking tactics (lack of post-war planning and adequate troops despite multiple warnings) or character issues (no resignations and no terminations and no responsibility taken; that’s the part that musters the nausea for me), they are simply not the right people for the job.

    Regarding Iran, I think it’s likely that the reformers will succeed before the Ayatollahs get their mitts on the bomb (okay, maybe I just hope like hell they do). But in any event, by your reasoning we should have nuked Cuba in 1962. And I’m glad we didn’t.

    Or have I misread you? It wouldn’t be the first time.

  29. PapayaSF-

    Are you saying that Iran is trying to make it look like Chalabi was working at their behest in hopes that it will cause Bush to lose in November?

    Jack-

    See, if Bush gave Khamenei a blowjob, it’s part of the Big Plan. First Khamenei is sucked (literally 🙂 into the homosexual lifestyle. Second, we use footage of the blowjob to blackmail and/or discredit him. I’ll let our friend Raymond (who has frequently insisted that our leaders are 5 steps ahead of the Islamo-fascists) explain steps 3, 4, and 5 in “Operation Blow a Persian” 🙂

    Anyway, Huey Long might have been susceptible to defeat via footage of a dead girl or live boy, but Bush’s base won’t go that easily. And swing voters will hear talking heads explain that the dead girl is just being exploited for partisan gain, and we need to move on 🙂

  30. I’m saying that could be what’s going on, and that it strikes me as more likely than the idea that Iran tricked the US into war.

    Historical example: around the late ’20s/early ’30s, the Soviets secretly helped the German military in various ways, in violation of the Versailles treaty. By the late ’30s, Hitler was in power and wanted to screw over the Soviets. His intelligence services used the old military records to create new, fake records that implied that lots of Soviet officers were spying for Germany, and let known Soviet agents “discover” them. Stalin, always paranoid, obliged by purging and murdering a huge portion of his officer corps. Nothing like using a little clever forgery to cause more devastation to an enemy than a Panzer division. The Iranians are perfectly capable of similar actions (as are all competent intelligence services).

  31. PapayaSF:
    “most Iraqis are glad the Americans invaded?”

    No they don’t. Most Iraqis want the US to pack and go home.

  32. For essential background, Reason had the neocon’s plans for Ahmed Chalabi to govern Post-War Iraq pegged early:

    https://www.reason.com/links/links040703.shtml

    Don’t these new developments seem a little unlikely? Chalabi is suspected of passing intelligence, derived from American sources, on to Tehran. Is the US government torturing him as its done to hundreds of small fish, and innocent Iraqis? Or, are they at least holding him to try and find out just what losses might have been incurred and stop him from giving any further sensitive data to Iran?

    Why no! The neocon’s early favorite to rule Iraq is doing TV appearances. Speaking on CNN’s “Late Edition,” he pushed for a debate with CIA Director George Tenet in front of congress, no less!

    http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/meast/05/23/iraq.chalabi/

    Perhaps Chalabi learned some tricks from one of his biggest neocon supporters, Richard Pearl, about how to survive getting caught spying on the US, as Pearl did when he worked for Sen. Scoop Jackson and got caught on an NSA wiretap passing classified information to the Israeli embassy:

    http://www.amconmag.com/03_24_03/cover.html

    What’s going on? Raimondo has a really interesting article on the twists and turns of the whole Chalabi affair, and the possibilities therein:

    http://www.antiwar.com/justin/

    You know Raimondo. So many of his predictions concerning Iraq, that he made pre-invasion, have come true that the new age types are probably going to start claiming he’s clairvoyant.

  33. If true, we’ve finally got a scandal worth discussing, not something that war opponents have to blow up until it actually helps their case. That said, I have to admit the whole story (the worst case scenario, that is) doesn’t really make any sense.

  34. Most Iraqis are glad the US invaded. Sorry Anon, still true.

  35. For whatever it’s worth, Michael Ledeen, who knows Chalabi and the Middle East and alot about intelligence matters, doesn’t think this story makes sense, either:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/ledeen/ledeen200405240853.asp

  36. We need to realize that Iran already has the bomb. Kahn was selling the know-how to anybody and everybody, through a company in Malaysia. The only question is when and where will it happen. Leaving everyone alone over there won’t stop it, and letting the UN back in won’t do any good either. We can pay a few thousand troops now or pay five million dead New Yorkers later.

  37. It’s not just the DIA. The vast majority of the intelligence community resides within the Defense Department–in terms of the number of personnel, the number of agencies, and (one would presume) bugetary allocation.

  38. So you’re in high dudgeon … because I wrote “community” instead of “communities”?

    Not dudgeon but surprise. I don’t see any military-intelligence community as being fractured but agencies that have always been at odds, if not publicly. Powell and State see things one way while Tenet and CIA may see differently. The military, which must actually commit the troops, has its own concerns.

    A POV – JFK made formal and permanent the SF groups within the military and made them subject to CIA control, which is to say, his control. He somewhat bypassed the Pentagon and its plodding ways. In Vietnam and since the military brass has distrusted the SF groups when not in their control.

    Rumsfeld has favored the SF groups and Rumsfeld has been dissed by some generals of the regular military. Not surprising if the military dog is being led by an SF tail being wagged by other than the Pentagon.

    Maybe the chasms you see opening have been there but are just now coming to light.

  39. Run exercise –

    Go back through all the sycophantic dismissals of this affair’s important by Bush supporters above, and replace “Chalabi” with “Alger Hiss.”

  40. I just find it amusing that PapayaSF believes his baseless conjecture is somehow more believable than the referenced and footnoted comments by intelligence officials.

    It also seems many people on here have forgotten that no less a jihadi than OSAMA BIN LADEN himself wanted us in Iraq. To claim that it makes no sense for Iranian jihadi’s to want us there betrays an incredible naivete.

  41. From the article lined:
    “The links between the Iraqi National Congress and U.S. intelligence go back to at least 1992, when Karim was picked by Chalabi to run his security and military operations.

    Indications that Iran, which fought a bloody war against Iraq during the 1980s, was trying to lure the United States into action against Saddam Hussein appeared many years before the Bush administration decided in 2001 that ousting Hussein was a national priority.”

    Wow, this must be the same scandal that rocked the nation into voting Bill Clinton out of office in 1996.

  42. Fred:
    “Most Iraqis are glad the US invaded. Sorry Anon, still true.”

    Any evidence for this assertion? The latest Gallup poll contradicts your (and papayaSF’s) assertion
    http://www.cato.org/dailys/05-18-04.html

    But I guess Iraqis who don’t want the US forces to stay are foreigners, terrorists, extremists, radicals, ba’athists, … fill in your favorite adjective.

  43. Ray, Clinton didn’t get (soon to be) 1000 Americans killed by doing the INC’s (and Iran’s) bidding. That’s a pretty big difference.

  44. Maybe the chasms you see opening have been there but are just now coming to light.

    The splits themselves certainly aren’t new. But they’re affecting policy in ways they haven’t before. The raid on Chalabi’s headquarters certainly seems to indicate that the anti-Chalabi/anti-Rumsfeld faction has a lot more power than before (no surprise given all that’s happened recently) and — this is what widens chasms — isn’t afraid to exercise it.

  45. Fred:

    “Most Iraqis are glad the US invaded. Sorry Anon, still true.”

    Whatever, recent polling data suggests that they overwhelmingly want our government and its troops to depart their country right now. The Iraq poll was the subject of a blog thread here, a few days ago.

  46. The only news about this is that finally enough dirt about Chalabi has come out that Bush and company can no longer pretend the man has any credibility. The administration had been told from the beginning that they were pinning their hopes on someone who had zero street cred in the Arab world. It’s finally sinking in. Chalabi has to be discredited before June 30 to make the mock handover of power work.

  47. While I would like to think Jesse’s right, the fact of the matter is that you could have a video tape of George, Jr. giving Ayatollah Khameini a blowjob and the Republican loyalists would claim that it was all part of the plan, and if it wasn’t part of the plan, then it was all the fault of the liberal media for paying attention to it. My prediction is still for Bush to win reelection by better than 5%.

  48. Before everyone goes bonkers over this news item, let’s try applying some logic and common sense to it, shall we?

    True, the Iranians and Iraqis have long hated each other. True, it makes sense (in a narrow way) that Iran might want to use the US to knock off Saddam. But how did they think that was going to happen? That we were going to drop a JDAM on Saddam and go home? Surely the Iranians saw the Coalition buildup to the 2003 invasion. What sane person thinks the Iranians want 100,000+ U.S. troops next door for the next however many years? Is Iran happy that most Iraqis are glad the Americans invaded? Do the Iranians want a functioning democracy (however flawed) next door, visited by pilgrims from Iran who come home talking about how the Americans aren’t the devils the state-run media says they are?

    If we’re going to be conspiratorial, let’s take the obvious next step: Whether or not Iran could “trick” the US into invading Iraq, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to trick some gullible Westerners into thinking the US had been tricked? Why not try to create a “scandal” to try to get Bush to lose the election? He’s the biggest threat to the mullahs in years. They know Kerry or any other Democrat would be happy to leave them alone to keep building nukes and funding terrorist groups. So why wouldn’t they use some of their agents to muddy the waters and throw some fake red meat to the lefties and isolationist righties and libertarians who will be all too happy to swallow anything that fits their point of view?

  49. A War without disasters. A war without stupidity. A war without mistakes. A war without dead innocents. A war where both sides tell the whole truth. A war where one side tells the whole truth.

    In other words a war without war.

    Local elections are taking place. The Iraqis themselves (if you can trust their English language blogs) are mostly hopeful. Why shouldn’t things get better over time?

    So the Iraqis want us out right now? A fine sentiment and I fully support it. Now let us ask the question a different way. “If our leaving right now brought the Baathists back to power do you want America to leave right away? Suppose it allowed tthe theocrats to take over?” etc.

    It is not a valid question without alternatives. Given a choice of alternatives I’d bet the Iraqis might conclude that having the Americans stay a little longer might be the least bad of the choices.

  50. I find it incredible that American liberals attempt to demonize the President for dealing with unsavory individuals.

    The President’s *** JOB **** is to deal with unsavory individuals.

    It’s called politics folks. If your President WAS NOT dealing with unsavory folks — THAT should be an impeachable offense.

  51. joe wrote
    “Clinton didn’t get (soon to be) 1000 Americans killed by doing the INC’s (and Iran’s) bidding. That’s a pretty big difference.”

    I thought Bush invaded Iraq because he wanted to build a Holy Christian Empire/avenge his Daddy/show his loyalty to Big Oil within whose pocket he resides/provide billing opportunities for Halliburton.

    So you’re saying that none of that’s true, Bush invaded Iraq because Iran – described by Bush as part of the “Axis of Evil” – *wanted* to have 100K+ US troops next door?

    That’s a pretty big stretch.

  52. anon:
    ‘most Iraqis are glad the Americans invaded?’
    “No they don’t. Most Iraqis want the US to pack and go home. ”

    I don’t see why this is so hard to understand – both conditions are possible. You’re glad the Orkin man came into your house and took care of the roach problem, but you don’t want him to move into your guest room and start sleeping with your wife.

  53. (Do you want the Americans to leave) is not a valid question without alternatives.”

    Fair enough, Mr. Simon. But please note, “Would you prefer Saddam still be in power,” which the right seems to consider the big argument stopper, is also not a valid question without alternatives.

    Would you support regime change if Wahabbists seized power? Pro-Iranian Shiites? Extended civil war? Failed state/collection of fiefdoms like Afghanistan pre-Taliban?

    Or, worst of all (in the conservative mind): if Iraq became a UN protectorate?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.