It was dinnertime at the Vice President's house on Massachusetts Avenue eleven months before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The discussion centered on the need to get rid of Saddam Hussein's Sunni dictatorship in Iraq and replace it with a democratic government. This, in turn, would trigger democratic changes in Israel's last hostile neighbor -- Syria.
On March 26, 1979, Egypt's Anwar Sadat and President Jimmy Carter signed the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab nation. And on Oct 26, 1994, the late King Hussein of Jordan became the 2nd Arab leader to sign peace with Israel, putting behind them 46 years of hostility.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction never came up once at VP Cheney's dinner. An invasion, the participants agreed, would be designed to trigger a democratic process in Iraq, thus completing a peaceful Arab circle around Israel.
This, in turn, would guarantee Israel peace for a generation.
These were noble motives but they had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Switch forward to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and suddenly this was justified by Saddam's alleged arsenal of WMDs.
The evidence for Saddam's nuclear arsenal came from an Iraqi military defector who made his way to Germany and declined to continue his journey to the U.S. "Curveball" was his code name for the CIA and German intelligence.
Senior CIA officials flew to Germany to question him. And the Bush Administration swallowed his very detailed story.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair flew to Washington to address a joint session of Congress in which he proclaimed that Western civilization was itself under threat and tipped the balance in favor of a major military undertaking. The U.S., with some military input from Britain, agreed to invade Iraq with the stated purpose of destroying Saddam's nuclear arsenal.
The only problem with this save-the-civilized-world scenario: there was no such arsenal. Curveball later admitted he had made the whole story up to be reunited with his girlfriend in Germany.
America's top officials, led by Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, and George Tenet ("It's a slam dunk, Mr. President"), then the head of the CIA, told the U.N. Security Council that the U.S. had proof beyond the shadow of a doubt that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that were a direct threat to Western civilization.
All this was pure fabrication by a phony defector from Saddam's military establishment.
The cost of the lies we chose to believe was over $1.9 trillion (CBO estimate of total cost to U.S, taxpayer), 4,486 U.S. military killed in action and 32,222 wounded. Three million Iraqis were displaced by the war and 601,027 were listed in "violent deaths."
The Center for Public Integrity alleged that the Bush Administration made a total of 935 false statements about Iraq's alleged threats to the U.S. between 2001 and when the U.S. invasion got underway in 2003.
Negative Middle Eastern views about the U.S. invasion of Iraq ranged from 96 percent in Jordan to 68 percent in Saudi Arabia.
Perhaps the most embarrassing intelligence failure was the case of Ahmed Chalabi who became the darling of conservative think tanks in Washington and kept pushing for a U.S. invasion in response to Saddam Hussein's alleged nuclear arsenal and dire threats to the U.S.
Chalabi's crooked Petra bank in Jordan had gone bankrupt. This reporter went to Jordan to investigate his financial collapse: Chalabi escaped in the trunk of a royal palace limousine that took him to Damascus, whence he flew to London. From there, he bankrolled an anti-Saddam Hussein movement to the tune of $200 million, presumably funds he had moved out of his own bank.
This, in turn, led him to Washington where he became the hero of a conservative think tank that arranged his many television appearances. His endless stream of lies about Saddam's nuclear arsenal went a long way in mobilizing public opinion in favor of an invasion of Iraq to neutralize this dire threat to Western civilization.
The Pentagon arranged for him to go into Iraq with the first wave of U.S. troops in 2003. By then he was on the U.S. government payroll and maneuvering to become the first President of a "liberated" Iraq.
Chalabi made frequent trips to Tehran to consult with the top mullahs about the future of the region. And he maneuvered -- financial inducements helped -- his way up to deputy Prime Minister till May 2006.
A backlash against his suspected role on behalf of Tehran, and no longer the darling of the right in the U.S., Chalabi failed to win a seat in the 2005 parliamentary elections.
In 2008, he was the subject of a biography by investigative reporter Aram Roston, titled The Man Who Pushed America to War: The Extraordinary Life, Adventures, and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi.
Chalabi also supplied hundreds of phony documents about Saddam Hussein's secret nuclear arsenal and his ties to Al Qaeda (which also turned out to be clever disinformation) on which the case for a U.S. invasion was made. Chalabi was an ace fabricator. And after his downfall, he bragged in an interview with Britain's Sunday Telegraph about the impact of his sleight of hand on U.S. government policies.
French intelligence long concluded that Chalabi was an Iranian agent of influence whose assignment was to lead the United States into a geopolitical trap. If this is true, he deserves Iran's equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Some of America's most famous media columnists hailed him "as a notable force for democracy in Iraq."
Chalabi was by all accounts brilliant. A cryptographer student at MIT, he graduated with a science degree in mathematics, and went on to get his PhD in mathematics from the University of Chicago.
Chalabi then took up a chair in mathematics at the American University of Beirut. His papers dealt with abstract algebra.
He was also brilliant as the founder of the Petra Bank in Jordan. In 1989, the Governor of the Central Bank of Jordan, Mohammed Nabulsi, decreed that all banks in Jordan must deposit 35 percent of their reserves with the Central Bank. Bingo!
Hopefully, our leaders will be a tad more perspicacious before ordering air strikes against Sunni Muslim guerrilla extremists in Iraq. Do we know who the real culprits are? Yes, we do. They are the Maliki government that we support and that gradually excluded all Sunni Muslims from playing any part in government.