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Frank Foer has a

Frank Foer has a very nice piece in the current issue of the New Republic. I've said many times that there's been at least as much self-deception as deception in the Bush administration's myriad endeavors in the Middle East. And Foer's article unpacks one part of this story: conservatives' romantic attachment to exile 'opposition leaders.' At the moment -- or, actually, more like six months ago -- Ahmed Chalabi is the example par excellence. As Foer makes clear, he's just the most recent in a long line going back to the anti-communist insurrectionists of the 1970s and 1980s.

But there is a difference with Chalabi.

Chalabi's supporters would often attack his critics in two ways. First, they'd claim that opposition to Chalabi meant opposition to Arab democracy. Second, they'd imply that Chalabi had been unjustly maligned or demonized by opponents with other agendas to pursue.

I won't deny that there was some small merit in these responses, or that they did not identify some roots of the opposition to Chalabi. What's most revealing about both, however, is how they serve to avoid what was always the paramount criticism of the guy: his general irrelevance to the situation inside Iraq.

There's no doubt that Chalabi would have been better than most of the potential leaders an unreconstructed Iraqi political system could have churned up. But once you cut your reasoning off from any practical sense of how a potential leader might sustain himself as leader of his country or what his basis of support might be, you can come up with an almost limitless number of fantasy candidates -- all of them equally irrelevant to the realities at hand.

Frank quotes Deputy Undersecretary of Defense William Luti calling Chalabi the "George Washington of Iraq." I'll do that one better. There's another neocon at DOD who, I'm told, has often called Chalabi the most important Muslim since the Prophet Mohammed.

As Foer ably notes, there were a lot of folks at the Pentagon who really thought Chalabi could rapidly bestride the Iraqi political scene and take care of many of the problems we're wrestling with today. Today of course there's really no one who imagines he'll be more than a bit player.

The old time right-wing heart-throbs like Jonas Savimbi really did have troops on the ground in their homelands. The problem was that they were often murderous thugs. The problem with the new right-wing-adored opposition leaders -- Chalabi perhaps becoming the archetype -- is not their bad behavior but their irrelevance.

Coming up later: the much-discussed David Kay report.

You heard it here

You heard it here first. Last week TPM reported on the travails of Iraqi nuclear scientist Mahdi Obeidi and why the CIA has him stashed away in Kuwait -- as opposed to letting him come to the US, as promised -- because he wouldn't say the right things about the aluminum tubes and chemical weapons and the rest of it.

Now Newsweek's Michael Hirsch has some more details.

The short and sweet

The short and sweet of it. UPI's Martin Walker on the troop strength issue ...

Quite apart from issues of Arab resentment, religion and the remaining bands of Saddam Hussein loyalists, there is one simple reason why the stabilization of Iraq is proving so frustratingly difficult. By comparison with other similar peace-keeping missions in recent years, the place is very seriously under-policed.

Consider the Balkans. In proportion to their populations, three times as many troops were deployed in Kosovo as in Iraq, and in Bosnia twice as many. By Kosovo standards, there ought to be more than half a million troops in Iraq. But maintaining 180,000 British and American troops in Iraq is putting intense strain on the military manpower of both countries. There is no serious prospect of their deploying any more. Reinforcement will have to come from other countries -- and in far greater numbers than the 70 Ukrainian soldiers who flew in Sunday.



On a related note, let's remember that the small omissions are often the most revealing.

In a new article in The Weekly Standard Reuel Marc Gerecht argues against the conventional wisdom that we need to bring in allied troops and assistance to help stabilize and reconstruct Iraq ("Help Not Wanted"). At the front of the article Gerecht rattles off several examples of establishment nay-sayers who argue that we can't or shouldn't accomplish the job alone. The first of those Gerecht mentions is "a recent post-conflict reconstruction report issued under the auspices of the Center for Strategic and International Studies."

Does that cover all the facts? Not exactly. That report did go out on CSIS letterhead. But it was requested by and completed at the behest of Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld. Somehow that seems like a significant detail.

The new information indicates

"The new information indicates a pattern in which President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their subordinates -- in public and behind the scenes -- made allegations depicting Iraq's nuclear weapons program as more active, more certain and more imminent in its threat than the data they had would support. On occasion administration advocates withheld evidence that did not conform to their views. The White House seldom corrected misstatements or acknowledged loss of confidence in information upon which it had previously relied ..."

That's one key graf from this morning's article ("Depiction of Threat Outgrew Supporting Evidence") in the Washington Post, which runs down numerous details in the Iraq-intel-manipulation story. But frankly it's filled with key grafs. Frankly, it's the best single newspaper piece I've seen on the subject to date. Take particular note of Cheney's role -- not so much his deceptiveness as his ingenuousness, his poor judgment.

In aftermath of the

In aftermath of the bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad we're already starting to see that pattern so familiar from before and after the war: the tendency to fit new data into ideologically familiar and politically convenient packages.

Specifically, we're already seeing suggestions that the bombing is the work of a) al Qaida, or b) Ansar al Islam, the al Qaida-linked Kurdish jihadist group in northern Iraq, or c) Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the alleged link between al Qaida and Saddam who worked out of the section of Iraqi Kurdistan controlled by Ansar, and is implicated in the assassination of US diplomat Lawrence Foley in Amman last October.

Now, any of these could be true. Indeed, all of them could be true, since they all fold together neatly, one on top of the other.

But there doesn't seem to be much evidence at the moment that any of them is true.

Bernard Kerik was Police Commissioner of New York City on 9/11 and now serves -- in a detail which would make the novel version of this story seem totally cheesy -- as the de facto police commissioner of Baghdad. Here's what he said yesterday, according to an article in the Times ...

No one has taken responsibility for the bombing, officials said. But Mr. Kerik expressed skepticism about reports today that the attack appeared to be the work of Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group formerly based in northern Iraq, or Al Qaeda.

"It's all a guessing game right now," he said. "Nothing is leading us in that direction."

The state of affairs in Baghdad is such at the moment that it might be easier to come up with a list of groups and personages who don't have some possible motive for bombing the Jordanian embassy, rather than those that do. And on the list of those that do, a convenient suspect like al Qaeda probably doesn't even figure at the top of the list. Indeed, there are other potential suspects at least equally high on that list who would be extremely inconvenient from the US perspective.

My only point is that we should not jump to the most convenient conclusions ahead of the evidence. This is especially so since our main problem in Iraq thus far has been our tendency to see the situation on the ground through the distorting prisms of ideology and wishful thinking.

A lot of attention

A lot of attention is being paid to late reports of meetings between Pentagon hawks and exiled Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar, a central figure in the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal. (The original reports have come from Newsday, which continues to amazingly outclass and outpace some of the papers of record on this whole tangled WMD-regime-change-Pentagon-hawks story.)

Ghorbanifar's involvement merits plenty of attention. But I strongly suspect that name is the sizzle, not the steak, as it were.

Look further down into the story. Particularly, at the name Harold Rhode, who has apparently been the point-man on the Ghorbanifar contacts. Rhode's name comes up again and again in these stories. He's also a leading Pentagon contact with Ahmed Chalabi. When Dick Cheney gave his speech at AEI a few weeks ago, sitting in the front row was Mr Chalabi. Sitting next to him, on one side and the other, were Lynne Cheney and ... Harold Rhode. Rhode also has a rep as a bit of a hot-head. As I recounted in an article last year in Salon, in early 2001 Rhode physically accosted the dimunitive Saudi diplomat Adel al Jubeir in a hallway at the Pentagon, after a meeting with Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz and Saudi officials.

At the time Rhode was styling himself Wolfowitz's "Islamic affairs advisor", and that little incident caused a small sandstorm in Saudi-American relations, as well as scotching Rhode from consideration for a marquee job in the Pentagon's office of Near East and South Asian Affairs. He eventually landed on his feet in Doug Feith's Office of Special Plans.

More on Rhode in subsequent posts. But he is at the center of all the grand-planning for America's new role in the Middle East. And he is very much a thread to pull.

(Special Note to Sen. Carl Levin: Why the delay in sending those document requests to the Pentagon? The clock is ticking!)

Pardon me but the

Pardon me, but the immutable laws of comedic science compel me to write the following post.

Once a week, on Wednesdays, I go on conservative talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt's radio program to argue about whatever Hugh wants to argue about.

Last week Hugh launched right into Republican charges that Democrats are blocking the judicial nomination of Alabama Attorney General William Pryor because of anti-Catholic bigotry. I told Hugh that was ridiculous. And we knocked it around for our normal single segment. Then late the next evening I wrote up some of my own opinions on this foolishness on TPM.

Here, for what it's worth is a pretty good run-down of what the Dems' actual position is, contained in two short-n-sweet grafs of a recent AP article ...

Pryor also is strongly anti-abortion and has criticized the Supreme Court's decision that a woman has a right to an abortion. But he has said he will follow the current law if confirmed for the regional courts, one step below the Supreme Court.

Democrats don't believe him. "Mr. Pryor's litigation position, public statements and his writings leave little doubt that he is committed to using the law, not simply to advance a conservative agenda, but a narrow and extremely ideological agenda," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Now after I wrote that post I started hearing from Hugh about how outrageous it was of me that I hadn't mentioned this column by the Archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput, who also accuses the Democrats of anti-Catholic bias. You see, Hugh had mentioned Chaput's column in our Wednesday interchange. And apparently my not mentioning the Archbishop's column showed that I was running scared from his logic or something like that. Hugh went on about my perfidy and intellectual dishonesty on his website too.

In any case, I'd been thinking through the Escher-like layers of ridiculousness of this argument Senate Republicans are making. And it really got my blood boiling. So I thought I'd do my best to refute the arguments in my weekly column in The Hill. To do a column like this you usually want to find a few choice quotes to show just how whacked the other side's arguments are. So needless to say I checked out Hugh's recent stuff to find a few choice nuggets.

I came up with this one ...

As with the Cavaliers who made Catholics publicly renounce the doctrine of transubstantiation, so now Senate Democrats insist that nominees renounce Church teaching on abortion.
Only I didn't identify the author of the quote. I just said that one "fulminating right-wing commentator" had made this comment. Now, I did this because I don't like to get into shouting matches with people, or at least on my better days I don't. And perhaps when someone says something that really makes no sense I don't want to hold them up to unbearable indignity in the eyes of various readers. But when I went on Hugh's show last night he wouldn't stop talking about how I'd violated the rules of blog etiquette by not linking to his column when I quoted him. I pointed out that my column is a newspaper column and not a blog. But to no avail. I'd linked to the column from TPM, he said. I'd linked on my blog to the newspaper column which didn't link to Hugh's blog, so ... Well, you can see where that goes.

Anyway, I told Hugh that it might strike some people as a touch vain that he was spending our entire segment harping on me for not linking to his website or quoting him by name or whatever rather than choosing instead to address my critique on the merits. That prompted another fusillade about how I was still ducking his challenge to name Archbishop Chaput by name as opposed to simply dismantling, or attempting to dismantle, the charges he and others have made about the Dems' alleged anti-Catholic bigotry. The whole hurlyburly gave new meaning to the phrase naming names, though what that meaning might be was entirely lost on me.

I managed to survive the storm. And hopefully this post, this florilegium of links and mentions, will calm the waters. But now various readers have sent me another whack from Hugh appearing in today's Weekly Standard online, which included this morsel ...

Joshua Micah Marshall was the most disingenuous of all, refusing to reference Chaput's statement in either his blog or his column in the Hill, even after we had specifically discussed it on air and off. Instead of attempting to respond to Chaput in an intellectually honest fashion, Marshall quotes me without naming me, describing me as a "fulminating right-wing commentator." Marshall's bad form is the best indicator yet that the hard-left senses that anti-Catholic bigotry is a disastrous tactic.
To quote the immortal Mr. T, I pity the fool who says such things. But, as per my wont, I won't identify that person by name.

I havent said much

I haven't said much about the California recall race so far because, frankly, I couldn't think of much to say. And that tends to be my standard. But now that things have totally gone out of control I guess I should wade in a bit. That's especially so since there's one bit of news today that seems unquestionably good. That's the news that Rep. Darrell Issa is out of the race. Issa, you'll remember, is the execrable opportunist who got this whole bit of ridiculousness underway, funding much of the effort on his own dime, figuring it was his only way of slipping into statewide office without having to bother with that majority of the vote peskiness. (The last we heard from Issa before the recall craziness was his demand that the Pentagon rewire (rewireless?) Iraq with the inferior cellphone technology (CDMA) owned by hometown company Qualcomm.)

According to press reports, Issa had to fight back tears when making his announcement today. Now at first I figured Issa was tearing up because he'd spent such a big chunk of change on what's turning out to be someone else's party. But then I realized that wasn't it at all. He was just thinking how much more money he's going to have to spend to replace that sheet set and mattress and that fancy duvet because of the mess from that decapitated horse head he found in his bed this morning.

I mean, where do you think the call that got Issa outta this race came from? Yeah, me too ...

Yesterday I said that

Yesterday I said that Mahdi Obeidi had told his CIA handlers about some on-going WMD programs.

Here's what I hear: Sometime in June 2003, after the fall of Saddam but prior to his leaving the country, Obeidi heard the following from a colleague in the Iraqi scientific community.

The colleague told Obeidi that there was another Iraqi scientist (someone involved in the nuclear program but not tied specifically to the uranium enrichment effort) who had done the following. At some point in 2001 or 2002 this scientist had brought together some junior people (other scientists, that is) to do work TPM World Exclusive!  You heard it hear first!  Must Credit.on the uranium enrichment front. This wasn't work actually enriching uranium, per se, in the sense of actual production, but theoretical R&D, discussing and hashing out ideas for how the job should be done once the word was given.

This would be in line with the CIA's 2000 report on the state of Iraq's program which said the Iraqis had "probably continued low-level theoretical R&D" after weapons inspectors had been expelled in 1998.

Again, Obeidi seems to have found out about this particular detail only after the fall of Baghdad, not before. This wasn't something he'd been involved with, but something he'd heard, and apparently believed.

That information jibes with other information both from Obeidi and other Iraqi scientists pointing to the conclusion that the Iraqi WMD programs were much closer to a state of dormancy than US intelligence had feared. However, there was clearly an attempt to keep the relevant scientists around and, at least on the chemical and biological front, to remain prepared to reconstitute the programs if and when the opportunity or need arose. (Bear that in mind when you think about the report coming from David Kay.)

And one other detail: It was widely believed in the US intelligence community that once inspectors left, the Iraqi WMD programs would really kick into high gear. That was a pretty solid assumption. And many of the estimates of the state of Iraqi WMD programs were based not simply or even primarily on positive evidence so much as this inference. What now seems clear, however, is that the sanctions regime may have been -- to the Iraqis -- a bigger deal than the inspectors. And it was the end of the sanctions that would have been the real green light for moving ahead.

Next up: what more evidence of biological and chemical weapons we might still find in Iraq and what it might mean.

Remember Mahdi Obeidi Hes

Remember Mahdi Obeidi? He's the Iraqi nuclear scientist who made headlines back in June when he turned over parts of a gas centrifuge for uranium enrichment and blueprints related to Iraq's pre-1991 nuclear weapons program. The parts of course were buried under a rosebush in his backyard.

More recently, Obeidi made more embarrassing headlines when the Associated Press revealed that he has consistently told CIA investigators that those much-discussed aluminum tubes had nothing to do with nuclear weapons development.

The AP reported that Obeidi was in Kuwait. But it turns out there's a bit more to the story. Given that Obeidi was so quick to come clean about the history of Iraq's nuclear weapons program and Saddam's plans to reconstitute the program once sanctions were lifted, you might think that we were helping him restart his life in the US, Iraq or perhaps some other Arab country.

Well, not exactly.

It turns out he's being held against his will in Kuwait apparently because he won't 'come clean' about the aluminum tubes, an on-going Iraqi nuclear weapons program and significant chemical and biological weapons stocks.

Obeidi is not in prison. He's in a residential setting with his family, under US government supervision, well-fed and so forth.

But he can't leave. He can't go back to Iraq -- for obvious reasons. He's only in Kuwait through a US agreement with the Kuwaiti government. He can't go anywhere else since he doesn't have a passport. American friends provided him with a satellite phone. But his CIA handlers have frowned on his using it.

The deal he made, or thought he'd made with the US, was that he would be given asylum and allowed along with his family to come to the United States. He has a job lined up in the US and even, believe it or not, a book contract (that's globalization for ya). But though he had a good-faith understanding with the CIA that he'd be allowed to come to the United States, he failed to secure a formal agreement.

That turned out to be a mistake. For two months they've been holding out on him, apparently because the answers he's giving them aren't the ones they want to hear.

Now, the CIA's nominal rationale is that they don't think Obeidi is being honest with them, that he hasn't come clean. They apparently point to examples of Obeidi's lying to inspectors about various issues during the 1990s --- an allegation I've independently confirmed with a knowledgeable source. But that, of course, was back when Saddam's regime was still in power. The fact that he would have lied to inspectors back then doesn't show he's some sort of congenital liar. It just shows that he didn't want himself or his family to end up with bullets in the backs of their heads.

In any case, the claim that Obeidi is deceiving his handlers seems pretty implausible on its face. As they say in hard-boiled detective novels, the guy's made his choice. He provided the US with various materials and equipment the Iraqi regime was prohibited from keeping. He's incurred the displeasure of fellow scientists, not to mention the fact that he's probably made himself a marked man to whichever Baathist loyalists continue to roam the country. Why would he make a deal with the US, expose himself to all the dangers and opprobrium that entails, and then hold out on all the significant evidence?

I don't deny that such a scenario is possible. It is. But logic and other confirmatory evidence points strongly to the conclusion that Obeidi has come clean already.

Now, as CNN reported back in June, former weapons inspector David Albright has acted as an intermediary between Obeidi and the CIA. "I find that there's a conflict of interest for the CIA," Albright told me on Wednesday. "The answer they're getting is that there were no significant stocks of chemical weapons or biological weapons, no significant on-going work on nuclear weapons. But they're not in a position to go to Bush and say, 'Hey, we were wrong.' So they're stalling."

It's difficult to ascertain people's motives in a situation like this. Albright figures the CIA is caught between their own integrity and their unwillingness or inability to deliver the White House news it really doesn't want to hear, i.e., that the WMD search is more or less a bust. "They're getting answers they can't cope with," says Albright.

The one thing that no one wants is for Obeidi to make it to the United States where he's liable to end up on Larry King Live telling a story that would, to put it mildly, be very unhelpful to the White House. That means it's in everyone's interest --- or at least in the White House's and CIA's interest --- to keep Obeidi on ice in Kuwait. Maybe he'll become more helpful. Maybe the search in Iraq will come up with other evidence that will make Obeidi's revelations less embarrassing. Whatever happens, it'll keep him out of reach of journalists and from telling the very off-message story he apparently has to tell. It kicks the can down the road, as they say. No one in the government has any interest in getting Obeidi out of his odd de-nationalized limbo. So it's best just to leave him in Kuwait.

This all sounds rather similar to the story David Ingatius told in the Washington Post on July 18th about Saddam Hussein's science adviser, Amir Saadi. And even if Obeidi were holding out on some information, considering that he's the only Iraqi scientist who's really come up with some real goods, wouldn't it still be in our interests not to so obviously jerk him around? If nothing else, aren't we dissuading other scientists from coming forward? He said he'd give us the centrifuge parts and the blueprints. And he did. But we won't come through for him.

According to Albright, "Obeidi remains hopeful" of getting asylum and being allowed to come to the United States. But his leverage is rather limited. And, according to TPM's sources, earlier attempts to get word out to the press have made his situation in Kuwait all the more difficult.

Coming up later, how Obeidi has told the US about some on-going WMD work by the Iraqis, but why that hasn't come out either.

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