Commentary:Why Defense hawks cut Chalabi

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst   |   March 7, 2003 at 12:29 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 7 (UPI) -- Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress is no longer welcome among his former friends in the Pentagon.

True believers in the controversial Iraqi opposition leader have been filling the Internet and sympathetic media pulpits with their outrage about how he and, supposedly Iraqi democracy have been stabbed in the back by the

very Pentagon civilian planners in the Office of the Secretary of Defense who for years have been his staunchest supporters.

For in recent weeks, the Department of Defense civilian super-hawks who have eagerly advocated and new plan to prosecute the looming war with Iraq have unveiled an entirely new and far more limited and repressive conception

of Iraq's immediate political future once President Saddam Hussein -- as they still assume -- has been toppled, exiled or killed.

Iraq is to be effectively directly ruled for at least a year or two by a U.S. general overseeing reconstruction after the devastation caused by the war, according to widespread, well-sourced reports. These accounts have

outraged longtime Chalabi supporters both idealistic and naive who believe their hero has been the victim of a cynical sell-out.

This unexpected U-turn in policy only weeks before the United States is expected to be launched in a military drive to overthrow Saddam was a totally unanticipated and even humiliating U-turn for the Bush administration.

First, it provided a huge morale boost for Saddam and his 35-year-old Baath, or Arab Socialist regime in Baghdad.

Second, it was a devastating international humiliation for the Bush administration which was left looking as if it did not know what it was doing.

And third, it was a public diplomacy catastrophe for the United States in both Western Europe and the Arab World where it appeared to confirm widespread accusations that the self-proclaimed idealistic champions of democracy pushing the war had been cynical opportunists al along, using their high-minded talk only as a cover for seizing Iraq's vast reserves of oil.

The sudden policy reversal was widely - and correctly - seen as a belated victory for the skeptics of the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department under Secretary of State Colin Powell who had long been critical

and disbelieving of Chalabi's claims that Saddam was on his last legs and that the INC commanded vast sympathetic support and intelligence assets guaranteeing there would be widespread civilian uprisings and mass defections of Iraqi forces when war loomed, or as soon as it started.

But in the past, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz had always ridiculed and such assessments and bombarded them with contempt. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith had even set up their own in-house intelligence assessment operation at the Pentagon that rejected all CIA and other intelligence community assessments on Iraq. Instead, this group, nicknamed "the New Team B" after the famous conservative counter-assessment group on Soviet intentions in the mid-1970s swallowed whole the wildly optimistic intelligence assessments eagerly fed them by Chalabi and his INC.

Indeed in a development without precedent in the history of the United States Government, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz regularly introduced unvarnished INC intelligence and assessments into the Principals' and Deputies' Committees that coordinate the highest level decision-making on Iraq of the Federal Government. None of it was scrutinized or independently assessed by the CIA, State or any other government agency before being introduced and eagerly adopted.

So why dump Chalabi now? Pentagon insiders say there was one, simple but overwhelming reason: Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith and their supporters had finally woken up -- catastrophically late in the day -- to the realization that they, who so prided themselves on their intellectual brilliance and who so openly despite the supposedly bureaucratic, cautious, liberal and inept CIA and State analysts - had been had. Chalabi's intelligence was worthless.

For the Iraqi Army and totalitarian civilian regime shows no sign of cracking and coming apart. Not even close. There has been so far a handful of defectors to the United States or to other countries, especially Jordan and Turkey. But they have been numbered in their dozens, not their hundreds and thousands as the Office of the Secretary of Defense civilian war hawks had confidently predicted and expected.

Yet, as noted military analyst William Lind of Washington's conservative Free Congress Foundation has tellingly observed, "The entire U.S. war plan against Iraq was designed and based on the assumption that the Iraqis would

not fight and that the Iraqi Army would fall apart." And this assumption itself was entirely based on the flood of supposedly priceless inside information that Chalabi had provided to his eager audience in OSD.

Only within the last month, the Pentagon insiders say, has the penny finally dropped for Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and their supporters that Chalabi did not after all know what he was talking about. The man his admirers regularly called "The George Washington of Iraq" led the civilian masters of the largest, most powerful and expensive military organization in the world -- the U.S. Armed Forces -- up the garden path. No wonder, therefore that they have now dropped him like a hot potato and factored him out of their plans for a post-war Iraq in which he was previously groomed to take center stage.

But it is now too late to significantly change the force deployments -- repeatedly criticized privately by serving officers within the Pentagon as being far too under-powered compared with the massive conventional military juggernaut that smashed Saddam's forces in the first Gulf War 12 years ago.

For the current war plan was crafted when its planners were still under Chalabi's spell, and assumed that the war would be a walk in the -- desert -- park to Baghdad with minimal resistance to be concluded in a maximum of three weeks and probably even less.

It does not look like that now.

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