Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman have been traveling around the country together repeatedly charging that Sen. Barack Obama’s foreign-policy ideas are “naive” and even “reckless.” But what they hope their audiences will forget is that both of them were taken in by the most-successful foreign-policy con man — and apparently a close friend of Iranian intelligence — of his generation, Ahmad Chalabi.
A master manipulator, Chalabi, of course, was the “Man Who Pushed America to War”, the title of Aram Roston’s new biography, and, as such, is probably someone both McCain and Lieberman would like to forget, particularly in light of the latest reports in Time magazine and McClatchy newspapers regarding his close ties to none other than the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite Qods Force, Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the man whom Lieberman has accused of responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers. Those ties, as well as apparent complaints by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, have resulted in U.S. officials in Iraq once again cutting all contacts with Chalabi and what remains of his Iraqi National Congress (INC).
But it’s worth remembering that it was Lieberman, along with Trent Lott, who led the effort in the Senate to fund Chalabi and the INC through passage of the Iraqi Liberation Act in 1998, and it was Lieberman and McCain who served as the two “honorary co-chairmen” of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI), the elite group that was put together by the administration and Chalabi’s pals at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), to lobby for invading Iraq in the fall of 2002. And it was Randy Scheunemann, who now serves as McCain’s principal foreign-policy adviser and spokesman, who both authored the Iraq Liberation Act (when he was working on Lott’s staff) and subsequently served as CLI’s president.
Shortly after Bush memorably declared the end of major hostilities from the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, the CLI announced its own dissolution, declaring on its home page, “Following the successful liberation of Iraq, the Committee has ceased its operations. To contact Randy Scheunemann, President of CLI, please write to the following address: 918 Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E., Washington, DC 20003.” Thus, like the administration and its neo-con allies, Scheunemann and his two honorary co-chairs failed totally to anticipate the insurgency that was already building against the occupation.
Now, the close connections between CLI and the INC were always pretty clear; Scheunemann’s role, as well as the presence of Chalabi’s chief Washington sponsors since the mid-1990’s — Richard Perle and James Woolsey, among others — on its board certainly suggested a strong coincidence of interest, at the very least. But on April 8, 2003, I happened to type in the CLI website (http://liberationiraq.org/), and, to my great surprise, got the INC website instead. I was so surprised that I immediately printed out what appeared on my screen, a scanned copy of which you can see here. (Note the address on the bottom and the destination at the top.) I then phoned Scheunemann, who mumbled something about how both the CLI and the INC used the same server in London. But it seems that the two sites were being run by the same entity or, worse, that the INC, which, perhaps not coincidentally, was based in London, used U.S. taxpayer money to run CLI’s website as well as its own.
Given Lieberman’s and McCain’s sponsorship of the organization, even if only “honorary,” it seems frankly unseemly for the two of them to now charge Obama with being dangerously naive about foreign policy and what it takes to deal with crafty and malevolent Middle Eastern leaders, like Iran and its friends and allies. Not only were they completely taken in by Chalabi and the INC, but they were also, as Paul Wolfowitz now admits, completely “clueless” about what U.S. troops would face once they got to Iraq. And they obviously either failed to consult or disbelieved the Iraq experts in the State Department and the U.S. intelligence community, not to mention former Centcom commander Gen. Anthony Zinni, who had long before concluded that Chalabi was a con artist who could not be trusted.
With sophistication like that — in contrast to Obama’s naivete — a McCain administration would seem ripe for the picking by would-be Chalabis, if not by the master himself.
*For those too young to remember, this is a pun on the “Bobbsye twins,” two sets of twins whose fictional adventures made for some 74 volumes of juvenile fiction beginning in 1904.