Some of you might remember a column I wrote awhile back about Valerie Plame Wilson, the Iraqi intelligence asset CURVEBALL, and the Nigerian yellowcake controversy, pieces of a larger puzzle, the much-disputed evidence for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Here's something of a postscript.
Any man's death diminishes us, as Donne says, although we all harbor an occasional hidden glee when some particularly pernicious bastard falls off his perch. Are there graves I'd piss on? Without even thinking twice. And as luck would have it, Achmed Chalabi died this past week. I wouldn't call him the blackest of villains. A shameless opportunist, a con man, an embezzler, a fabricator, a scoundrel, even a patriot - all things to all men, it might be said.
This is the guy who sold the Iraq war. CIA didn't trust him worth a hoot, but he had the ear of Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary and Rumsfeld's point man on WMD. Wolfowitz set up a spook shop in the Pentagon basement called the Office of Special Plans, and handed it off to one of his house attack dogs, Doug Feith. OSP's brief was to reassess the raw intelligence product regarding Iraq, since it was obvious to the administration war hawks that CIA and the rest of those goldbricks hadn't gotten the God damn memo. In other words, somebody had to come up with the smoking gun, and in their hour of need, a champion did indeed appear.
Chalabi's legend starts to unravel, afterwards. I'm using the term legend advisedly. In the secret world, it means a false biography or back-story, that supports a deception. If we start from the premise that Chalabi wanted to liberate Iraq, well and good, but then we begin to wonder, at what cost, and to whom? Couple of examples. Chalabi encouraged the Kurdish resistance, in the mid-1990's. It was brutally suppressed, he escaped. He was back, with U.S. forces, in 2003. He was unrepentant. Nor was he apologetic for feeding us bogus information. (It's been remarked, however, that intelligence he provided about his personal or political enemies turned out to be entirely accurate.) A more damaging suspicion is that Chalabi sold out early, and the high bidder was Iran. Supposing it to be true, and there's reason to believe it, everything turns inside out. We've got the accepted narrative backwards.
Sake of argument, let's just imagine one of OSP's chief resources was in fact an Iranian agent. How would it affect our Iraq policy - what would the desired result be, from Iran's perspective? A humiliating American failure, sure, but that's collateral damage. The big draw is a weak or compromised Iraq, fractured by tribalism and religious faction, near collapse. Low-hanging fruit. You could make the case that this is exactly what's come to pass, and the long game has worked in Iran's favor. They've got good position. And it shouldn't come as any surprise that they're ready to climb in bed with the Russians, either. The self-cultivated image of the mullahs as fanatics is a lot more bark than bite. They're a pragmatic bunch, by and large, and it may simply be that we've been played like a violin. It wouldn't be the first time we were undone by better technique or tradecraft.
This is total speculation, of course. I'm not saying any of it's true.