Defending Chalabi

Christopher Hitchens offers an interesting rebuttal of some of the arguments made in the previous post and, astonishingly, defends Ahmad Chalabi, who has become the token whipping boy for all sides. After a few paragraphs explaining why he was personally impressed with Chalabi after a long-ago meeting and pointing out what courage it took for Chalabi to so actively lead and opposition to the brutal Saddam, he refutes several allegations that have been propounded by his critics.

It has now been replaced with a whole new indictment: that Chalabi tricked the United States into war, possibly on Iran’s behalf, and that he has given national security secrets to Iran. The first half of this is grotesque on its face. Even if you assume the worst to be true—that the INC’s “defectors” were either mistaken or were conscious, coached fabricators—the fact remains that the crucial presentation of the administration’s case on WMD and terrorism was made at the United Nations by Secretary of State Colin Powell, with CIA Director George Tenet sitting right behind him, after those two men most hostile to Chalabi had been closeted together. Nor does the accusation about an alternative “stove pipe” of disinformation, bypassing the usual channels, hold much water (or air, or smoke). Woodward’s book Plan of Attack makes it plain that the president was not very impressed with Tenet’s ostensible evidence. The plain and overlooked truth is that the administration acted upon the worst assumption about Saddam Hussein and that he himself strongly confirmed the presumption of guilt by, among many other things, refusing to comply with the U.N. resolution. This was a rational decision on the part of the coalition. After all, German intelligence had reported to Chancellor Schröder that Saddam was secretly at work on a nuke again: The French government publicly said that it believed Iraq had WMD, and even Hans Blix has stated in his book that at that point, he thought the Baathist concealment apparatus was still at work. Whoever and whatever convinced all of these discrepant forces, it was not Chalabi’s INC or Judith Miller’s work in the New York Times.

This point is certainly correct. I don’t doubt that Chalabi lied and distorted the truth often in order to get what he so desperately wanted, help in getting Saddam out of power. But whether he lied about WMDs is really irrelevant; pretty much everyone thought they were there.

It is clearer every day that Iraq under Saddam was becoming a failed state as well as a rogue state. The immiseration and humiliation of its people, the looting and degradation of the economy and society, the resort to jihadist rhetoric and measures by the Baath Party and the opening given to clerical demagogues were all even worse than we thought. If this vindicates anybody, it vindicates those who urged a swifter and earlier international rescue expedition. Those who would have left Iraq to rot were only postponing an evil day that would have become steadily more ghastly and costly.

It is, of course, this argument on which the war now rest: regardless of whether Saddam had a huge WMD stockpile or a serious nuclear weapons program, the prevention of massive slaughter down the line may well make the sacrifice of a few hundred lives now worthwhile. For the Leftist hawks like Hitchens, it was the primary motivation for the war. For most on the Right, the justification is admittedly largely post hoc. (The neo-cons, of course, made both arguments to varying degrees.) It’s also true that, since Saddam was removed from power, the counterfactual will never occur and we’ll never know precisely what the alternative world would have looked like.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Hal says:

    Again James, you’re mischaracterizing the past. Regardless of that minor rewriting of history, there is still the very nasty issue with what flowed from the US to the Iranians. You may cast aside Iran playing us for fools with bogus WMD information, but it seems quite a bit harder to swat away the apparently rock solid evidence that our national security was damaged by this little love affair with Chalabi.

    Now if you’re going to tell me that

    It involves a piece or pieces of signals intelligence. Intelligence involving how the US listens to Iranian communications, who it taps, bugging, etc.

    isn’t a very big deal, then I’m simply flabbergasted. Granted, we have to wait to find out if these things are true, but all the signs point to a big stinky pile of dung.

    And even if that doesn’t get your blood boiling at the whole Chalabi affair, there’s still the undeniable fact that this fraud was our sole plan for the occupation. An Iranian stooge.

    So, while perhaps one can swat away the WMD issue with a tangled argument about semantics, this still leaves the incredibly nasty issue of damaging our national security. And beyond that, there’s the badly botched occupation.

    Hitchens is apologizing for treason. Wow, how low he has sunk. I thought apologizing for torture was low. I thought apologizing for a botched occupation was unthinkable. But this takes the cake.

    What’s next?

  2. Boyd says:

    Hal, you erroneously perpetuate the same canard: Chalabi was not the only source of information that indicated the continued presence of of WMD in Iraq. Just because you keep repeating a falsehood doesn’t make it true. Why won’t you admit that multiple intelligence agencies believed that Hussein continue to possess WMD.

    You can keep repeating statements that are not true, but that effort doesn’t eventually make them true.

  3. Hal says:

    Boyd, check your own facts

    An internal e-mail by Judith Miller, the paper’s top reporter on bioterrorism, acknowledges that her main source for such articles has been Ahmad Chalabi, a controversial exile leader who is close to top Pentagon officials.I’ve got plenty more where that came from. Do you have any thing at all that shows I’m wrong?

  4. Hal says:

    Ah, re-read your comment. Clever. Not the only source. Pray, tell. Where’s the other sources? All the other foreign governments that were saying Saddam had WMDs were also getting spoon fed by Chalabi and his band of merry men. There was no other evidence. Only speculation, and speculation based on the ancient past.

    Hardly a “source” of information.

  5. Boyd says:

    That’s not my fact, Hal, it’s a non sequitur. A NYT reporter’s source has absolutely nothing to do with this discussion.

    Focus, pardner, focus.