Washington And Baghdad
By Jim Lobe
03 June, 2004
The Inter Press Service
- Fourteen months after reaching the zenith of their influence on U.S.
foreign policy with the invasion of Iraq, neo-conservatives appear to
have fallen entirely out of favor, both within the administration of
President George W Bush and in Baghdad itself.
The signs of their
defeat at the hands of both reality and the so-called ''realists'',
who are headed within the administration by Secretary of State Colin
Powell, are virtually everywhere but were probably best marked by the
cover of 'Newsweek' magazine last week, which depicted the framed photograph
of the neo-cons' favourite Iraqi, Ahmad Chalabi, which had been shattered
during a joint police-U.S. military raid on his headquarters in Baghdad.
'Bush's Mr. Wrong' was the title of the feature article.
The victory of the
realists, who also include the uniformed military and the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA), appeared complete Monday with the unveiling of the interim
Iraqi government to which an as-yet undefined sovereignty is to be transferred
from the U.S.-led occupation authorities Jun. 30.
Not only was Chalabi's
arch-rival-in-exile, Iyad Allawi, approved by the Iraqi Governing Council
(IGC) as prime minister, but neither Chalabi nor any of his closest
IGC associates, especially Finance Minister Kamel al-Gailani -- who
is accused of handing over much of Iraq's banking system to Chalabi
during his tenure -- made it into the final line-up.
''It looks like
Chalabi is the big loser'', said one congressional aide who follows
Iraq closely. ''And neo-con has become a dirty word up here'', he added,
referring to the Congress, where Republicans have become increasingly
restive as a result of recent debacles in Iraq, including the scandal
over the abuse by U.S. soldiers of Iraqi detainees and leaks that Chalabi
had been passing sensitive intelligence to Iran, and may have done so
''We need to restrain
what are growing U.S. messianic instincts -- a sort of global social
engineering where the United States feels it is both entitled and obligated
to promote democracy -- by force if necessary'', said Senator Pat Roberts,
a conservative Kansas member of Bush's Republican Party and chairman
of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a speech last week that was
understood here as a direct shot at the neo-cons.
a key part of the coalition of hawks that dominated Bush's post-9/11
foreign policy, were the first to publicly call for Saddam Hussein's
ouster, which they saw as a way to transform the Arab world to make
it more hospitable to western values, U.S. interests and Israel's territorial
Since the latter
part of the 1990s, when they led the charge in Congress for the 1998
Iraq Liberation Act (ILA), Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC)
was their chosen instrument to achieve that transformation.
While no neo-cons
were appointed to cabinet-level positions under Bush, they obtained
top posts in the offices of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- where
Paul Wolfowitz was named deputy Defense secretary and Douglas Feith
under secretary for policy -- and Vice President Dick Cheney, whose
chief of staff and national security adviser was I Lewis ''Scooter''
On the White House
National Security Council staff, they were able to place former Iran-contra
figure Elliott Abrams and Robert Joseph in key positions dealing with
the Middle East and arms proliferation, respectively.
Policy Board (DPB) was dominated by neo-cons, notably its former chairman,
Richard Perle, former CIA chief James Woolsey, former arms-control negotiator
Kenneth Adelman and military historian Eliot Cohen.
Neo-cons, more than
any other group, pushed hardest for war in Iraq after 9/11 and predicted,
backed up by Chalabi's assurances, that the conflict would be, among
other things, a ''cakewalk'' and that U.S. troops would be greeted with
''flowers and sweets''.
Within the administration,
the neo-cons, again relying heavily on Chalabi's INC, developed their
own intelligence analyses to bolster the notion of a link between former
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist group, and
exaggerated Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to provide
a more credible pretext for war.
Their friends on
the DPB and in the media then stoked the public's fears about these
threats through frequent appearances on television and a barrage of
newspaper columns and magazine articles.
While analysts and
regional experts at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the State
Department, which had dropped Chalabi as a fraud and a con-man in the
mid-1990s, tried to resist the juggernaut, they were consistently outflanked
by the neo-cons, whose influence and ability to circumvent the professionals
was greatly enhanced by their access to Rumsfeld and Cheney, who served
as their champions in the White House and with Bush personally.
reached its zenith in early April when Chalabi and 700 of his paid INC
troops were airlifted by the Pentagon to the southern city of Nasariyeh
on Cheney's authority against Bush's stated policy that Washington would
not favor one Iraqi faction over another. Bush's own national security
adviser, Condoleezza Rice, professed surprise when informed of the move
While they were
still riding high as U.S. troops consolidated their control of Iraq,
the neo-cons' star began to wane already last August when it became
clear that their and Chalabi's predictions about a grateful Iraqi populace
were about as well-founded as their certainties about Hussein's ties
to al-Qaeda and his WMD stockpiles.
ahead, Rice asked former ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, to return
to the White House, where he had been her boss during the presidency
of George HW Bush, the current leader's father (1989-93). By October,
she and he had formed an inter-agency Iraq Stabilization Group (ISG)
that gradually wrested control of Iraq policy from the Pentagon.
It was a process
in which Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) chief Paul Bremer, who
had come to detest Chalabi and his neo-con backers in Baghdad and Washington,
was an enthusiastic participant and which was effectively completed
with the announcement late last month that the State Department was
taking over the 14 billion dollars in reconstruction money for Iraq
that the Pentagon has not yet spent.
In the last month,
the neo-con retreat has turned into a rout, particularly as reports
of Chalabi's cosiness with Iran gained currency and, just as important,
senior military officers indicated that a military victory over the
Iraqi insurgency was not possible.
The public attention
given to a blistering attack on the neo-cons by the former chief of
the U.S. Central Command, Gen Anthony Zinni, on the popular television
program, '60 Minutes', also demonstrated that the media, ever cautious
about taking on powerful figures, now saw them as fair game.
When Perle, Woolsey
and several other neo-cons visited Rice at the White House on May 1
to protest the shoddy treatment Chalabi was receiving at the hands of
the CIA, Bremer and the State Department, participants said she thanked
them for their views and offered nothing more. Neither Rumsfeld nor
Cheney nor any of their neo-con aides attended.
2004 Inter Press Service