After several weeks of silence, the Wall Street Journal editorial page has apparently decided to stand by its man, Ahmed Chalabi, despite all the new charges by Gen. Ray Odierno regarding his collusion with Iran — charges, that, incidentally, were echoed as recently as this weekend by neo-con hero Gen. David Petraeus in his interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN’s ‘GPS’.
Thus, on Friday last week, the Journal permitted Chalabi himself to reassure his fans here in an op-ed that he is indeed working to achieve a “new strategic partnership” with the U.S. and complain yet again (as he and his supporters — like Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith — have since they left office) about the foolishness of Washington imposing an “occupation” on Iraq (instead of presumably handing him and his Iraqi National Congress outright control immediately after the 2003 invasion).
He offers a number of ideas about how this partnership could suit both U.S. and Iraqi interests, including”the creation of a regional alliance among Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran to bring together our geographic, economic, water and oil resources into a coherent framework.” Such an alliance also
would be of benefit to the entire Middle east and a strong bastion against Islamic extremism. Such a treaty would also address the failure of the Arab security structure that has required the U.S. to deploy massive force to protect states in the region.
It could be an effective vehicle in resolving the Iranian nuclear energy issue as well, opening a new phase in international politics that could profoundly change the mindset of Middle East decision makers, especially in Iran. It is in the interest of the U.S. to look favorably on such an alliance, despite the fears that some may have of such a structure.”
Now, I’m not saying that this proposal, if it were realized, would be a terrible idea. But, on the other hand, it would seem to be a major strategic boon to Iran, in particular. Of course, the inclusion of Syria — whom neo-cons like Elliott Abrams consider close to the the devil incarnate, if we are to believe his latest article on the subject — and an AKP-led Turkey — which gives the AEI Middle East staff, Daniel Pipes, and right-wing associates of the “Israel Lobby”, the willies — would drive the the Egyptians, the Saudis, and, most of all, the Israelis, up the wall.
After all, the original neo-con strategy, as laid out in the 1994 “Clean Break” paper and elsewhere, was to oust Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Baathists, install a friendly regime in Baghdad that would decisively shift the balance of power in the region in favour of the de facto alliance between Israel, Jordan and the then-secular-led (and military-dominated) Turkey, and set the stage for destabilizing Syria. Now, however, Chalabi is proposing an altogether different alignment and one that would shift the regional balance of power in quite a different direction highly unfavorable to Israel, in any event. Those neo-cons who served on the Clean Break task force — Richard Perle, Doug Feith, David and Meyrav Wurmser, among them — must now feel a tad bit torn between their instinct of never having to admit they made a mistake and what must be a deep sense of betrayal by their erstwhile hero.
The Journal followed Chalabi’s op-ed the next day in its weekend edition with another op-ed, entitled “Coming to Terms with Iraqi Democracy,” by Bartle Bull, described as a “founder of Northern Gulf Partners, an Iraq-focused investment bank,” and “former journalist (who) was embedded with the Sadrists for five weeks in 2005.” The essay, an extended defense of de-Baathification, revives the old neo-con trope about how the “Arabists” in the State Department, who are presumed to be supporting “former Baathist Ayad Allawi” and his secular alliance, are far too wedded to the Sunni-led autocracies of the Arab world. Washington, he argues, should instead support a coalition consisting of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s State of Law coalition and the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) which, in addition to including the Sadrists with whom Bull was once embedded, also comprises the Islamic Council of Iraq (ISCI) party (historically, the closest to Tehran), and, of course, Chalabi himself. The notion that the latter coalition “will drag their people into Persian serfdom,” according to Bull, is ridiculous.
“If Mr. Chalabi is indeed the ruthless opportunist of population imagination, his relationships with the U.S., Iran and other powers are pragmatic, not ideological. And his instincts indisputably lie in the secular liberal direction.”
So, if Maliki and Chalabi form a majority coalition, Americans (and presumably Israelis) should rest easy, according to Bull, who resurrects the pre-war neo-con theory that Iraqi Shiites are our natural allies in the region.
“Iraq’s Shiites know whom they have to thank for their freedom. Shiism itself, with its reverence of human saints and its roots in Aristotelian reason, has powerful affinities with Western humanism. A Shiite-dominated Iraq means a free Iraq, and it behooves Washington to start acting on the potential in this friendship.”
(Bull, this time described as “a journalist in Iraq from 2004 to 2008 [and] a founder of an Iraq-based investment firm,” elaborated on the theme of how much Iraqi Shiites detest Iran and love the United States in an op-ed, “For Iraqi Voters, A Dizzying Democracy,” published by the New York Times March 9. One would love to know what investments his firm makes in Iraq and with whom.)
Like any good neo-con, Bull blames the “State Department” and its “Arabist” inclinations for Washington’s uneasiness with Chalabi and Shiite sectarianism. But, of course, the latest attacks on Chalabi have originated not with the State Department, but with the Pentagon — specifically with the U.S. military commander in Baghdad, Odierno. As noted above, his predecessor in Baghdad, neo-con her, Gen. David Petraeus, also weighed in on what the military thinks of Chalabi’s recent activities in Iraq in
his interview with Zakaria last weekend:
Zakaria: Do you think Ahmed Chalabi is an agent of Iran or influenced by Iran or carrying out an Iranian agenda in Iraq?
Petraeus: Well, it — I think — again, this is less about what we think. This is about what Iraqi leaders think and Iraqi leaders have obviously not been overly pleased with some of the political high drama that has been fomented by the Accountability and Justice Committee, which has been orchestrated indeed by Dr. Chalabi. And, again —
Zakaria: Again, that he was — that committee was behind this renewed de-Baathification and this attempt to —
Petraeus: Yes, sure.
Zakaria: — to disbar a whole set of people from running.
(In contrast to the Journal’s continued defense of Chalabi, I am told by a reliable informant who attended AEI’s pre-election forum on Iraq last week that the panelists generally avoided questions about Chalabi. One of the presenters, however, Scott Carpenter, who worked for Liz Cheney in promoting “democracy” in the Near East at the State Department, described him as a “brilliant mathematician, chess player, [and] one of the smartest people I ever met. But he plays all sides. I tend to believe him when he says he’s an Iraqi patriot,” he went on, before admitting that his role has been “extremely difficult for us since 2003.”)