Chalabi Departs Further From The Neo-Con Line

Don’t call the Wall Street Journal’s neo-conservative editorial board unfair or unbalanced.

Just yesterday (Friday), it ran an op-ed by Sen. Joseph Lieberman restating his thesis that the “fanatical government” of Iran is engaged in a “proxy war” against the United States, and is the “common denominator that links” all U.S. adversaries, from Sunni to Shi’a, throughout the Middle East together. Today, it is running a glowing profile/interview of former neo-con heartthrob Ahmad Chalabi that does nothing to disabuse anyone of the theory that Chalabi, if not an agent of the Islamic Republic as some have charged, is certainly sympathetic to it.

Much of the interview, which was conducted by “freelance writer” Melik Kaylan (his second about Chalabi published in the Journal in the past month), is a paean to Chalabi’s courage, commitment, and political skills — despite the author’s note that he failed to win a single seat for himself or his party in the last parliamentary elections; his familiar complaints about the Bremer-led occupation’ and his leadership of both the De-Baathication program and the “Committee for the Public Support of the ‘surge,’” which is described as an effort to reconcile Sunni and Shiite communities. (“Wearing his trademark suit and tie, Mr. Chalabi was continuously mobbed by crowds of women and children, astonished and delighted that a famous official should appear in public and lend an ear to their complaints.”)

The interview becomes more interesting when he comments on the current political situation, the “surge,” and Iran. While he appears to support the administration’s (and the neo-cons’) notion that enhanced security promoted by the surge could bolster chances for political reconciliation, he appears to go off the reservation – and well into Democratic territory – as he warms to the subject …and suggests that a U.S. withdrawal may be a very good thing.

“Doesn’t he think, as most outside commentators do [writes Kaylan], that a U.S. withdrawal will create an all-out regional conflict, sucking in nearby countries? ‘I’d say it’s possible but not probable. Look at everyone who works for me, from all sides of Iraqi society. People want peace. They want to go back to their homes. If the U.S. leaves, the present government will fall and there will be elections quickly.’ To Mr. Chalabi’s thinking, this will improve things because Iraqis will choose their real leaders, and they will be accountable to the electorate for delivering peace and practical benefits such as electricity and water.”

Unlike the neo-cons or the administration, Chalabi, according to Kaylan’s account, sees the principal danger to what he calls the “real Iraq” – something Kaylan interprets as meaning a “majority, Shiite-dominated Iraq” – as coming from neighboring Arab states, which he blames for inciting the Sunni resistance.

“Being constructive in preventing conflict is the surest way for the U.S. to exercise positive influence in the region,” Chalabi is quoted as saying, a phrase which Kaylan interprets as meaning “reining in Arab support of Sunni Baathists and al Qaeda in Iraq.” Of the two, Chalabi appears far more concerned about the Baathists than al Qaeda, the administration’s most-recent rhetoric notwithstanding.

As for Iran, Chalabi predictably dismisses allegations that he informed the Iranians that the U.S. had broken its secret communication codes, allegations that reportedly led to the May, 2004, raid on INC offices in Baghdad and the distancing of the administration — albeit not the American Enterprise Institute – from its former ally (or Lothario?). And he goes on to argue that all problems with Tehran – at least with respect to Iraq — “can be worked out.”

“The influence of Iran on Iraq is inevitable. It’s been there for centuries. They supported the anti-Saddam resistance for years. They were the first to accept trade agreements, transit rights, electricity linkups and the like with the new Iraqi government. Some 90% of Iraq‘s population lives within 100 miles of Iran. We have an enormous land border in common and it’s the only country that ships goods to us unhindered.”

“I understand the U.S. has worries about Iranian power so here’s a solution. Let us quantify and monitor the amount of Iranian influence: Let’s make an agreement on how much trade, how much electricity, how many trucks and so on can come through. Iraq needs as many friends as possible and nobody wants to be dependent on one source of help. Everything can be worked out. We will have to in the end anyway. What choice is there?”

Of course, Kaylan may be misinterpreting or misrepresenting the views expressed by Chalabi. But, if his account and interpretation of Chalabi’s words are accurate, then the former Iraqi National Congress leader currently appears much closer to the Democratic leadership and the Baker-Hamilton “realists” in his assessment of what the U.S. should be doing in Iraq and the region than to the administration, Lieberman, AEI, or to the Journal’s editorial board. In fact, his views on a U.S. withdrawal, Arab support for the Sunni insurgency and engagement with Iran are not so distant from those suggested by pro-engagement forces in Iran itself.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.