Sunday, May 23, 2004
May 22, 2004
BY WARREN P. STROBEL AND JOHN WALCOTT
FREE PRESS WASHINGTON STAFF
This article started on the front page, but below the fold. Buried deep in section A are the paragraphs;
[...]The two U.S. officials said Habib is suspected of giving classified U.S. intelligence to officials in Iran, with whom Chalabi has long had close ties. Habib is now a fugitive.
A U.S. intelligence official said the evidence of Habib's ties to Iran includes intercepts and some documentation. The official said Habib provided sensitive information, some of it classified above top secret, to the Iranians.
[...] The intelligence official said Habib also was the Iraqi National Congress official who handled most of the Iraqi defectors, including one code-named Curveball, who provided much of the fabricated, exaggerated and unconfirmed information about Iraqi weapons programs and links to terrorism that President George W. Bush used in making his case for invading Iraq.
"The bottom line here is that much of the information the administration had about Iraq may have come from an Iranian agent," said the intelligence official. "If that's true, this is a huge scandal."
Isn't it clever of the liberal media to make us actually turn the page and read the entire article to find the comment: "If that's true, this is a huge scandal"?
In this post, I review the news items and blogger posts quickly, boiling it all down to a few essential points. I conclude with a rant about the misguided US foreign policy, pointing out how incredibly -- and predictably -- foolish it was to think we could create a benevolent government by force.
In reviewing what has been written about the Chalabi affair (please, not "Chalabigate") key points appear to be: Chalabi was put in a position that one normally would fill with a trustworthy person. Apparently, much of the US Administration did trust him, although the CIA did not. Most commentators wonder if the US was duped, or whether they new all along that Chalabi had these connections to Iranian intelligence. Were we using him, or was he using us? Or both?
There is more than a hint of scandal here, but most people do not appear to think there will be huge repercussions. Most do not even mention the possibility of scandal that could reach the White House. My impression is that the US Administration was trying to use Chalabi to set up some kind of semi-stable government in order to meet the deadline for transfer of sovereignty. Unfortunately, this now seems unlikely to work. Good thing, too, since the situation easily could have given rise to an all-to-familiar scenario: The USA uses a foreign leader to impose some kind of short-term solution to a political problem, but unwittingly sets us up for bigger problems later on.
Conceptually, this reminds me of the now-discredited practice of Eugenics. One hundred years ago, scientists and politicians thought that they could improve mankind by enacting policies of selective breeding. There are many problems with this, both ethical and scientific. One of the main scientific problems, though, is that living organisms are highly complex, individually; and, they have to function within a network of other highly complex organisms. We simply are not smart enough to meddle with such a complex set of interacting systems. As tempting as it may be to think that we could tweak the human genome to improve it, the more likely outcome would be that we would just screw things up worse than they already are. If you are not already familiar with the history of the Eugenics movement in the US, please peruse the Eugenics Archive (link above.) It is shocking. And it could happen again.
To illustrate: imagine that we somehow defined a genetic composition that seemed ideal, and that we somehow managed to create a fairly homogenous genetic composition across the entire population. What would happen? The entire species probably would be wiped out. We know that, from time to time, a virus that previously had affected only animals, makes the leap into the human population. That appears to be what happened with SARS, and with AIDS. In both cases, the only thing that saved us was our genetic diversity. Without that diversity, basically, we're toast.
Like biological systems, political systems are pretty complicated. Yes, there have been some political success stories. But for every political movement that created something good, there probably have been hundreds that have been dismal failures. With this in mind, it is clear that going into Iraq was an enormous gamble. It may be that we will straighten things out eventually, but in my view, it is even more likely that we will end up with a bigger mess than what we started out with. One that the entire world will have to deal with for decade; perhaps centuries. The only safeguard is diversity of, not genetic material, but diversity of political ideas.
There is another conceptual reminder here. From time to time I have been involved in training students in psychology and social work. Most of them are pretty bright, if overly idealistic. Some seem to have the notion that if you are just nice enough to people, they will come around to your way of thinking. Usually, this idealism fades rather quickly, once confronted with the realities of polysubstance abuse, domestic violence, major mental illness, and a social service network that is in tatters after years of compassionate conservatism.
Sometimes I mutter the phrase to myself, "a thousand point of darkness."
Improving the life of a single person often takes years of study, combined with a team of professionals, working in close coordination, lots of resources, and a steady vision of what is possible versus what is a pipe dream. Improving the fate of an entire country is an undertaking of such overwhelming complexity, that meaningful success is doubtful under the best of circumstances.
In Iraq, we do not have the best of circumstances, nor do we seem to have a clear view of what is realistic, and what is foolishly idealistic.
Back to the point: if indeed Chalabi is connected with or sympathetic to the Iranian agenda, setting him up in power in Iraq could be step along the process of having Iran (90% of Iranians are Shia) become closely allied with Iraq (60% Shia). Such a development could seriously upset whatever balance of power there is in the Middle East. We went into Iraq with an idealistic, sophomoric misunderstanding of the complexities of alliances and divisions.
Of course, such an alliance would not have to be a bad thing. But if it came to be led by a single radical and militant faction, it could be very dangerous indeed. Without a diversity of political opinions, something very bad is inevitable.
By the way, this is true in the USA as well. Let one party get control of everything, and we are bound for destruction. I'm not kidding about this. It would be very bad indeed. Anyone who thinks otherwise is as naïve as a sophomore social work student. (Or medical student, or nursing student, etc.; I don't mean to pick on social workers.)
A couple of years ago, the political system in the United States of America was dangerously close to being monolithic. Fortunately, some people are wising up and it now is unlikely that we will see a single party wielding so much power. Let the problems we are having in Iraq remind us of the folly that awaits us if we allow this to happen.
If it turns out that Chalabi was a tool of the Iranian government, it will look very bad for the White House. But they will deserve of the repercussions thereof.
The blogger commentary that is enlightening is here:
War and Piece: May 22, 2004
Oliver WIllis: The Fall of Dick Cheney's Pal
American Assembler: Ahmad Chalabi’s Fall From Grace
Talking Points Memo: May 22, 2004
Command Post: Chalabi May Have Spied for Iran (Updated)
King of Zembla: Piss on Chalabi Before He Pisses on You
The Commons: Chalabi not CIA Friendly
Ilyka Damen: Oh My
The most enlightening news links that are pertinent are these:
WaPo: Chalabi Aides Suspected of Spying for Iran
Newsday: Chalabi aide is suspected spy
NY Newsday: Chalabi turning to politics for survival
(Note: The Rest of the Story/Corpus Callosum has moved. Visit the new site here.)
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