Daily Archives: February 15, 2004

Henry Gondorff Rides Again: Ahmad Chalabi Suckers the Bushies

Finally, a mainstream pundit, Maureen Dowd, has nailed Ahmad Chalabi as the source of all the phony intel Feith’s OSP and Cheney’s All-Stars used to get us into Iraq. In a somewhat less snarky column than usual (parts of it approach her older, straight[er] style), Dowd says it flat out, no punches pulled or cute evasions to soften the blow.

Back when Dick Cheney was fiddling with salt shakers, Ahmad Chalabi, a smooth-talking and wealthy young Iraqi M.I.T. graduate, was founding the Petra Bank in Jordan.

As Mr. Cheney moved up in the capital, Mr. Chalabi was tripped up in Jordan by a small matter of embezzlement from his own bank. Jordanian officials have said that the crime rocked their economy and that they paid $300 million to depositors to cover the bank’s losses. By the time Mr. Chalabi was convicted and received a sentence of 22 years of hard labor, he was a fugitive in London.

During the early 90’s, when Mr. Cheney was a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Chalabi was in a full courtship press with Washington’s conservative and journalistic elites. He saw them as a springboard for his triumphant return to Iraq.

After 9/11, his passionate desire to take out Saddam coincided with that of conservatives. All they needed for their belli was a casus, so Mr. Chalabi obligingly conned the neocons.

He hoodwinked his pals Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle into believing Iraq would be a flowery cakewalk to democracy.

A wily expert in the politics of the bazaar, he knew he had to sell his scheme on what was good for Americans and their security. He was happy to funnel information to the vice president that painted a picture of Saddam hunkered on a hair-raising stockpile of W.M.D. His group, the Iraqi National Congress, tried to spin our government and media through its “information collection program.” Intelligence officials now say that the prewar information provided to Washington by this group was suspect and useless, even disinformation.

But here’s the wild thing: the propaganda program was underwritten by U.S. government funds. So Americans paid Ahmad Chalabi to gull them into a war that is costing them a billion a week — and a precious human cost. Cops dealing with their snitches check out the information better than the Bush administration did.

When you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into a belief, you don’t usually think that information fitting neatly into that belief needs checking. Henry Gondorff, the legendary artist of the Big Con, understood that better than anyone but even he never dreamed that there could be a room full of powerful suckers in our govt so gullible that he could con them out of a whole country. Wherever he is now, he must be laughing his ass off.

The C.I.A. was stung to find out its analysts had mistakenly thought that Iraq weapons information had been confirmed by multiple sources, when it came from only a single source; that analysts had relied on a fabricating Iraqi defector and spin material from Iraqi exiles; and that this blather made its way into documents and speeches used by the Bush administration to justify war. George Tenet ordered a major change in procedure last week, removing barricades so that analysts can know more about the identities of clandestine agents’ sources, and their possible motives.

But even incestuous amplification could not have drowned out reality if Bush officials had not glommed onto the Chalabi flummery for their own reasons — to feed their fantasies about refashioning America’s power, psyche and military, and making over the Middle East in our image.

Swept up in big dreams, the foreign policy dream team became dupes in Ahmad Chalabi’s big con

Suckers, marks, targets, sheep, whatever. Chalabi wrapped them around his little finger with a few choice fantasies and damn near got crowned King of Iraq by our own forces. It was a bold con, maybe the boldest since Lola Montez came within inches of conning Leopold into making her Queen of Austria. I hate what he did, but I have to admire the style, the smoothness, the sheer audacity of Chalabi’s game. Skinning a mark (it means taking everything he has) depends almost entirely on a con’s ability to accurately read the sucker’s dreams, desires, and weaknesses, and then play him like a bull fiddle. With ace gulls like Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, and Feith to play, Chalabi was Segovia.

If they had been rich, rapacious robber barons instead – Malone, Murdoch, and Kenny-Boy Lay, for instance – I would have enjoyed Chalabi’s mastery and the symmetry of the sting. But they weren’t. They were people responsible for the lives of thousands, people with years of experience in govt, business, and finance, and they were suckered like greenhorns still wet behind the ears, rubes with hay sticking out of their hair.

And these are the guys our C-average Prez relies on to make his decisions for him? No wonder the country’s going to hell. Alfred E Neuman would be a significant improvement. Jeesh. If thousands of Iraqis and over 500 of our own soldiers hadn’t died because of their ineptitude, it would be funny.

But they did and it isn’t.

Ducking Viet Nam, Bush-Style

I don’t know if you’ve been following the ins-and-outs of the debate over Junior’s service–or lack of it–in the National Guard, but most of it is swirling around whether or not Bush lied about showing up and ignored orders to report for duty, why he missed his flight exam (Press Office Director Dan Bartlett says it was because “he had moved temporarily to Alabama and was going to perform his duty in nonflying status” which is pretty much beside the point–an annual flight physical was required for Bush to fulfill his TANG obligations), and why he was given an honorable discharge despite not having completed his service. According to some of the documents in the Friday-night dump, the ANG has a point system that determines what constututes a “satisfactory year” (56 pts) and Bush had only 40 pts for the year in question.

Now, that’s all well and good, even important because it cuts to the heart of the ludicrous image Karl has built up around him that he was “a hero”, a major girder in the construction of the COP. But I think it’s time to put the reasons behind his NG service on the table and call a spade a spade: he joined TANG to avoid having to fight in Nam, and he insisted on being a pilot because it would look good on his resume when he ran for political office later on.

What we have here, in microcosm, is the heart of George W Bush’s real personality, the one they’ve been trying to hide under all the smoke-and-mirrors of the folksy country-boy who always calls his mansion in Texas a “ranch” even though it’s no such thing. This is George W Bush revealed for what he is, a spoiled son of privilege who used his family’s connections to duck out of a war and bragged about how much he could get away with because he was somehow…special.

Those who encountered Bush in Alabama remember him as an affable social drinker who acted younger than his 26 years. Referred to as George Bush, Jr. by newspapers in those days, sources say he also tended to show up late every day, around noon or one, at Blount’s campaign headquarters in Montgomery. They say Bush would prop his cowboy boots on a desk and brag about how much he drank the night before. They also remember Bush’s stories about how the New Haven, Connecticut police always let him go, after he told them his name, when they stopped him “all the time” for driving drunk as a student at Yale in the late 1960s. Bush told this story to others working in the campaign “what seemed like a hundred times,” says Red Blount’s nephew C. Murphy Archibald, now an attorney in Charlotte, N.C., who also worked on the Blount campaign and said he had “vivid memories” of that time.

“He would laugh uproariously as though there was something funny about this. To me, that was pretty memorable, because here he is, a number of years out of college, talking about this to people he doesn’t know,” Archibald said. “He just struck me as a guy who really had an idea of himself as very much a child of privilege, that he wasn’t operating by the same rules.”

This little vignette (which comes by way of Body and Soul) is enormously telling. It describes a rich, connected, arrogant frat-boy who knew he could get away with almost anything because of who his family was and bragged about it to anyone who would listen and some who didn’t care. He wanted people to know just how special he was and how much influence he represented and how unafraid he was to use it. Precisely the sort of guy who wouldn’t have a hard time believing that God had singled him out or that he was meant to rule over lesser men. IOW, the pesident we have come to know over the past three years hasn’t changed all that much; his “conversion” seems to have been little more than an excuse for more arrogance–on top of his wealth, position, and influence, he is also one of the Elect.

I wouldn’t blame him for using whatever tools he had available to him to keep from going to Nam if he had ever shown the slightest understanding or compassion for other, less privileged men who had done the same by leaving their families behind forever and fleeing to Canada, or going to jail to avoid fighting in a war that should never and likely would never have been fought at all were it not for Johnson’s fear of harming “America’s credibility.” But he hasn’t. I wouldn’t condemn what he did if he had been against the war on philosophiocal, political or ethical grounds, but he wasn’t. He got out of serving in Nam for no more glorious reason than to save his own skin and let other, less privileged, men die in a war he supported from the safety of his stateside NG base.

I may need to remind some of you who are not old enough to remember it that in those days, there was a draft–the NG were never rotated to Nam, never required to serve in combat of any kind. As a result, the Guard was often used as a place of refuge for the sons of the rich and influential–what Junior did was far from unusual; it was, in fact, common. It’s ironic (what isn’t in BushAmerica?) that Junior started a war under rules that would have required him to serve in combat if they had been in force 40 years ago.

But make no bones about it: whatever the specifics of whether or not Junior had so little respect for his NG sinecure that he deliberately blew off his duties to it, the only reason he was in the Guard in the first place was to avoid fighting in a war he claims to have supported. Like the other sons of rich and influential men, he protected himself and let the sons of less rich and influential men do his fighting for him. If he’s proud of this, he doesn’t deserve to be president of the PTA, let alone president of the US.