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Commentary: Neo-con icon takes con

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large

WASHINGTON, May 24 (UPI) -- The portrayals of Uncle Sam were not getting any better. The Financial Times' captioned its editorial page cartoon "Security and Stability." President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon sit in their tanks each atop separate piles of bombed out houses in Gaza and Iraq."

With neo-con idol Ahmad Chalabi now accusing Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and the CIA of smearing him and retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni blaming the neo-cons for the way they maneuvered President Bush into an unnecessary war, the 56-card "most wanted" deck of Iraqi villains was overdue for an American edition.

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The neo-cons -- led by the Pentagon's Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, the NSC's Eliot Abrams and Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff -- first conned themselves into believing the super-con man's disinformation about Saddam Hussein's Iraq. They were willing to believe any lie provided it lent credence and support to Bush's war effort, guided not by the war on terror, but by the need to promote democracy in the Middle East in order strengthen Israel's security needs. This is where war plans went awry. There was almost a desperate need to believe anything Chalabi's disinformation machine fabricated provided it concluded the invasion would be a "cakewalk."

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As the bearer of good "cakewalk" news, Chalabi collected almost $40 million from U.S. taxpayers before the plug was pulled on his ambitions to succeed Saddam. Even though the CIA and the State Department certified Chalabi as a super con man, the Defense Intelligence Agency decided he was on the level and went on paying him $340,000 a month until early May. Now everyone is running for cover.

Sens. Dick Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, two of the Senate's most knowledgeable Republican foreign policy voices, added their heft to growing discontent about President Bush's conduct of the war. The two senators complained the president had not consulted them for months. "He has isolated himself from anyone who does not toe the White House line on the Iraqi war," Hagel complained.

A number of retired army four-stars voiced strong opposition to the war while the neo-con ideologues were still using Chalabi and his minions to lend credence to Saddam Hussein as "a clear and present danger" to U.S. security. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the Gulf War commander, Gen. Wes Clark and Gen. Joe Ralston, both former NATO supreme commanders, Gen. Eric Shinseki, former Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser to Bush 41, and Zinni sounded two- and five-minute warnings right up to h-hour 14 months ago. After the invasion got rolling, they became circumspect, invoking the need to show the armed forces a united domestic front.

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All except Zinni, that is. A former commander-in-chief of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, Zinni was also appointed after his retirement special envoy to the Middle East by Secretary of State Colin Powell. His scathing attack on the prosecution of the war, delivered on "60 Minutes" last Sunday, called for the resignation of the Pentagon's top civilian leadership.

The course set in Iraq is headed over Niagara Falls, Zinni said as he blasted the wrong war at the wrong time with the wrong strategy. His criticism was precisely the opposite of the neo-cons' threadbare conventional wisdom: (1) Saddam Hussein was contained in his dirty little sandbox; (2) war on Iraq interfered with the war on terror in Afghanistan; (3) to take on another war in Iraq required some 300,000 troops, not 180,000, in order to patrol the streets of all major population centers and rebuild the country quickly.

Zinni also said there was no plan or viable strategy in place for governing post-Saddam Iraq. The neo-con leadership at the Pentagon -- what Zinni calls the political ideologues who have hijacked American policy in Iraq -- had convinced President Bush that some 24 million happy Iraqis would be putting the country back on its feet in no time flat. And it wouldn't cost the American taxpayer much as billions in oil revenues would pay for everything.

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Anticipating accusations of anti-Semitism, Zinni said there is no serious political or military leader or diplomat in Washington who doesn't know about the neo-con agenda and how it led America to war. The Iraqi strategy was sidetracked by 9/11 and the need to wipe out al-Qaida's bases in Afghanistan and topple Osama bin Laden's Taliban protectors. But it quickly got back on its original track.

Recovering from their initial shock at seeing Chalabi knocked off his neo-con-erected pedestal -- Newsweek's cover showed Chalabi through a broken glass frame as "Our Con Man In Iraq" -- one of their big literary guns came to the rescue.

"Our enemies -- religious fanatics and other advocates of tyranny -- have long dreaded the emergence of an Iraqi leader with unquestioned democratic convictions, someone at once deeply religious and yet committed to the separation of mosque and state," wrote Michael Ledeen in National Review Online. "Yet the State Department's and the CIA's Middle East gangs have hated him and fought him for more than a decade, because he is independent and while he is happy to work with them, he will not work for them."

For all our sakes, we can only hope that Arab press reports allegedly gleaned from recently released Iraqi prisoners -- increasingly persistent in recent days -- that Iraqi-born, Arabic-speaking Israelis were among their interrogators are no more than propaganda. The Israelis have had much experience with Palestinian prisoners. But their use in Iraq would be a psychological hara-kiri for the United States.

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