State vs. Defense

This post originally appeared on May 6, 2004. In light of recent discussions about the CIA, and Chalabi's continuing prominence in the news, I think it's as timely now as anything I could write today.

When you first read the article linked at my post “Chalabi Aiding Iranian Mullahs?”, didn’t you think it was just a tiny bit curious that “intelligence agencies” (meaning the CIA) were suddenly concerned about about those Iranian insurgents in Iraq? Especially when the Agency has never said peep about them? I know, it sounded odd to me too. But, according to the Newsweek piece, “the State Department and the CIA are using the intelligence about his Iran ties to persuade the president to cut him loose once and for all” [my emphasis – aa]. While “Chalabi still has loyal defenders among some neoconservatives in the Pentagon,” according to the article. (Those pesky neoconservatives! That damn Pentagon!)

In an April 30 article, Barbara Lerner addresses criticisms of what has been termed “Rumsfeld’s occupation” of Iraq. “First,” she says, “it’s not Rumsfeld’s occupation; it’s Colin Powell’s and George Tenet’s.” And second, that’s the problem. And one more thing: now there’s talk of handing Iraq over to the United Nations and Lakhdar Brahimi.

There are two factions at work in Washington: one, led by the White House and the Defense Department, and the other, led by the CIA and the State Department. According to Lerner, “Rumsfeld’s plan was to equip – and then transport to Iraq – some 10,000 Shia and Sunni freedom fighters led by Shia exile leader Ahmed Chalabi” to join Kurdish freedom fighters led by Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani. General Garner would have then handed power over to these three, and six others, in “a matter of weeks – not months or years” thus greatly enhancing the legitimacy of the new Iraqi government.

But State and the CIA had other ideas. Garner was replaced with State man Paul Bremer. The Iraqi exile force was slashed to a few hundred, while Rumsfeld’s trio was inflated to a total of 25, with the result that “Bremer’s face [was] the only one most Iraqis saw.”

In Bemer’s GC, many Iraqis “saw a foreign occupation occupation of potentially endless length” led by untrustworthy Americans, while Syria and Iran set about trying to carve up the newly liberated Iraq.

Now check out David Frum’s new piece (May 6). Money quote: “Those inside the government pushing the line that Mr. Chalabi has divulged secrets to the Iranians come from the same bureaucracies, the State Department and CIA, that have also advocated for the inclusion of Iraqi parties with more open links to Tehran in the Iraqi Governing Council, such as the Dawa Party.” Attention, Department of Pots and Kettles.

And speaking of Foggy Bottom and Tehran, read this from Frum’s May 5 post: “And those intrepid foes of Iranian imperialism at the State Department? What have they done? In March 2004, Colin Powell agreed with the European allies to drop US demands for Security Council action against Iran. US policy is now one of “engagement” with Iran – even as Iran hosts al Qaeda on its territory and supports terrorism inside Iraq.” For Frum’s devastating analysis, read the whole post at the link.

But I digress. Back to the original question: Is the Iraq occupation Powell’s or Rumsfeld’s? With the horrifying revelations [i.e., the Abu Ghraib scandal] that have come to light since Barbara Lerner’s article was published, Rumsfeld’s reputation is now badly tarnished. But in any event, Lerner is adamant that the occupation must not be Brahimi’s. “The UN as a whole is bad; Lakhdar Brahimi is worse,” she writes. “Men like Chalabi, Talabani, and Barzani have nothing but contempt for Mr. Brahimi, the UN, and the Old Europe.” These are the ones we must support – regardless of where Rumsfeld’s career may take him.

Here's the take-away for this post. (1) Contrary to what the Left like to think, Washington is not monolithic and the CIA are not minions of the White House; in fact, many neoconservatives are convinced that the CIA is working to undermine the Bush Administration. Why? Because the CIA never bought in to the whole "democracy in the Middle East" concept. They like stability, and they see dictatorships as being "stable". (2) The mainstream press doesn't like Chalabi any better now than it did last spring. But this recent article by Michael Rubin gives a good overview of the politics: "Disdain for Chalabi runs deep in the State Department, Central Intelligence Agency, and U.S. Central Command. As an advocate of both regime change and democratization, he became a lightning rod for criticism among proponents of the status quo." Read the whole article at the link.