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.

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