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I had promised myself

I had promised myself: no more posts until tomorrow. But for this article ("How Ahmed Chalabi conned the neocons") out tonight in Salon I will make an exception.

This is one of those 'where to start' articles.

Let's start here. "Ahmed Chalabi is a treacherous, spineless turncoat. He had one set of friends before he was in power, and now he's got another ... He said he would end Iraq's boycott of trade with Israel, and would allow Israeli companies to do business there. He said [the new Iraqi government] would agree to rebuild the pipeline from Mosul [in the northern Iraqi oil fields] to Haifa [the Israeli port, and the location of a major refinery]."

Who said that?

That would be Marc Zell, frequent target of TPM barbs, former law partner of Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith, and the guy who went into business just after the war with Chalabi's nephew Salem "Sam" Chalabi.

So apparently all is not well at Regime Change Ranch.

The broad outlines of this story -- Chalabi ditching his neocon friends for the Iranian mullahs -- have been clear for some time. But here it is in all its lurid detail. And though one can dispute this or that point of author John Dizard's interpretations -- I would dispute a few of them -- he's got neocons on the record dumping on Chalabi and the members of the Chalabi clan dumping on them.

And those quotations just aren't open to interpretation.

The upshot of the piece is that Chalabi's neocon supporters are beginning to realize that he is every bit the huckster and fraud that his most unyielding enemies at State and CIA said he was. He lured them in with all manner of improbable claims about the pain-free peace he'd make with Israel, how he'd upend Arab nationalism and generally make all the intractable conundrums of the region disappear.

In the popular political imagination we're familiar with the neocons as conniving militarists, masters of intrigue and cabals, graspers for the oil supplies of the world, and all the rest. But here we have them in what I suspect is the truest light: as college kid rubes who head out for a weekend in Vegas, get scammed out of their money by a two-bit hustler on the first night and then get played for fools by a couple hookers who leave them naked and handcuffed to their hotel beds.

And just think, it's on your dime and with your nation's honor -- what an added benefit.

I don't mean to accuse the whole group that is sometimes classed under that label. Some are serious wrestlers with our nation's dilemmas and challenges. But for the most venal and gullible of them, which, truth be told, makes up the larger part, it's an apt description.

Read the article and you'll understand what I mean.

One of the things

One of the things I've found difficult about writing about Iraq in recent days is imputing some level of seriousness to the arguments of the president and his retainers who continue to press an optimistic view of what's happening in Iraq. From them, on any given day, you can still hear the argument that, notwithstanding some tough days, things are still getting better in Iraq and the key to success is sticking with it.

At the same time, I talk to, or have conversations related to me with, various foreign policy, intelligence and military experts, all of whom --- across the political spectrum --- seem to believe that things are about as bleak as they can be. On top of this, they seem uniform in the belief -- sometimes based on inference, other times based on direct knowledge -- that the White House is fresh out of ideas about what to do, and basically hasn't any idea how to proceed.

Either the president knows the situation is that bad or he (and perhaps his advisors too) is just too out of touch to have any idea what's happening. Increasingly, I think that the president is just too small-minded and vainglorious a man to come to grips with the situation.

A strong president, a good president, would put his country before his pride and throw himself into saving the situation even if it meant admitting previous mistakes and ditching past policies and advisors. But I don't think this president has the character to do that.

Making a clean sweep, firing some of his most compromised advisors, admitting some past mistakes -- not for effect, but so that those mistakes could be more thoroughly and rapidly overcome -- might well doom the president politically. But I doubt there's any question they'd be in the best interests of the country.

This president seems either disinclined to or unable to do more than preside over a drift into disaster while putting on a game face.

(Kevin Drum has an excellent post today on President Bush as the prototypical bad CEO -- Here's a snippet: "Bush styles himself a 'CEO president,' but the world is full to bursting with CEOs who have goals they would dearly love to attain but who lack either the skill or the fortitude to make them happen. They assign tasks to subordinates without making sure the subordinates are capable of doing them — but then consider the job done anyway because they've "delegated" it. They insist they want a realistic plan, but they're unwilling to do the hard work of creating one — all those market research reports are just a bunch of ivory tower nonsense anyway. They work hard — but only on subjects in their comfort zone.")

There's all this talk about what might be the best critique of the president's policies (politically and substantively), what the best alternative policies might be, and so forth. But all of that, I think, misses the point. This president is too compromised by his deceptions, his past lack of accountability and his acquiescence in failed policies, ever to correct the situation. Like C.S. Lewis's metaphor about the road to hell being easy to walk down, but the further walked, harder and harder to turn back upon, this president is just too far gone with misleading the public, covering up and indulging incompetence, and embracing venality ever to make a clean break and start retrieving the situation.

Lets return to the

Let's return to the scandal at the heart of the Iraqi oil-for-food program.

The heart of matter, again, is that Saddam Hussein allegedly used the program to engineer pay-offs to a long list political leaders and journalists around the world. The problem is that none of the documents which are said to support this claim have been seen, let alone authenticated by any neutral observers.

In its current issue The Economist states: "Nothing, so far, has been proved, certainly not as far as the UN is concerned. His evidence and nearly all the other allegations against the UN have so far been based on documents found in Iraqi government archives. But no one, other than he and the GC's 25 members, has seen or authenticated the documents."

That point about the twenty-five members of the Interim Governing Council probably overstates the matter. The documents are in the charge of the Finance Committee of the IGC. And the Finance Committee is controlled by Ahmed Chalabi. The Chalabi-controlled investigation is being headed up by a man named Claude Hankes-Drielsma. He's the 'he' referred to in the quotation above. The Economist calls him, "a British financial adviser who was appointed by his old friend, Mr Chalabi, who chairs the finance committee of the GC in Iraq, to advise it on its investigations into the affair."

At the moment, there is a tug-of-war between Hankes-Drielsma and Chalabi on the one hand and Paul Bremer and the CPA on the other. The CPA wants to run an investigation out of the hands of 'politicians' (read: Chalabi) whose involvement might taint the results. But thus far, Hankes-Drielsma and Chalabi have resisted turning over the relevant documents to either the investigators at the CPA or the Volcker Commission which was appointed by Kofi Annan to investigate the matter on behalf of the UN.

This issue of the custody of the documents came up in congressional testimony on April 21st.

Let me reprint a portion of it in which Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) was questioning Hankes-Drielsma ...

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Is that true that no papers documenting the allegations that you've made today have been given to the United Nations?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: No, that's true.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Right. Well, I want to get into that. Let me finish this and we'll get into that. And then you -- that the accounting firm KPMG was preparing a report the world body would receive. Now, that's true?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay. "In January an Iraqi newspaper published a list of 270 groups and individuals, many of them past and present government officials, charging they received vouchers for oil they can sell. Hankes-Drielsma calls the list only the tip of the iceberg." Is that true?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay. Is there anything -- and let me start from the back and go forward. Is there anything that you haven't testified so far today that would add to your comment that this is only the tip of the iceberg?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: So really most of what you've given us today is where you would stand, and you don't have any additional information that would help in the hard evidence to try to prove or disprove these allegations?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: At this stage we have to wait for the KPMG report.


MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: But the list is certainly only part of the problem. We 're talking about 10 percent added to invoices, so a complete list needs to be produced of all suppliers. KPMG are looking at all the illegal oil sales and what happened to that cash. KPMG have already secured a list of all the Iraqi accounts held in the name of individuals on behalf of Iraq. KPMG, with the Audit Bureau of Iraq, will be requesting the banks to provide five year records of all transactions on those accounts. So the work that needs to be done is very extensive and so that list that the media is focused on is only part of the big picture.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Who has retained KPMG or who is paying them right now?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Well, the appointment by KPMG being made by the Iraq Governing Council was done by the Finance Committee with the CPA present, but --

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: And who's chairman of the Finance Committee?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Is he in charge of that investigation on behalf of the Iraqi Governing Council now?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: He and his colleagues on the Finance Committee.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Yeah, but there's one chairman, just like we have a chairman here.

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: So the chair --

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: His duty is that he's in charge and he's the -- of conducting this investigation as it relates to what we've talked about here today, and right now the Iraqi Governing Council is paying KPMG to conduct this investigation?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: No. First of all, as I testified earlier, the Governing Council unanimously endorsed the decision to appoint KPMG. But at this stage, although initial indications -- assurances were given by Ambassador Bremer that the Iraq Development Fund would pay for the work, this has not been reconfirmed by the CPA. The Governing Council certainly doesn't have at this stage any resources to pay KPMG, because all the Iraqi money is in the Iraq Development Fund, over which Ambassador Bremer has sole signing authority.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: But basically the Iraqi Governing Council retained or --


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Retains KPMG to do the work they're doing to investigate the alleged corruption that has been put out here today?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Now, the only issue now is that the Iraqi Governing Council through Chalabi is trying to get Bremer to be able to pay for this. Is that correct?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: And Bremer is leaving now. Correct?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: In two months.

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: You will know more about that than --

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Do you know who's taking his place?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: I know who's going to be the ambassador.


MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: I understand from the media that it's Ambassador Negroponte.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Yeah, but is Negroponte also on the investigation committee appointed by Annan, which is Volcker and Annan?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: He's not? Okay. And by the way, I want to say about the appointment of Volcker on that committee, I am very impressed with the credibility of Volcker. He's a tough individual who will get to the bottom if he's given the resources and the ability to get that facts and data that are needed. Do you agree with that?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: I agree with that.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay. So I think we've cleared up as far as where KPMG is supposed -- Bremer will pay them. What's going to happen then?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Well, if the CPA refuses to pay for this I think it will be a very sad day for the Iraqi people.

REP. SHAYS: I would agree.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Yeah, and I would agree too. Okay. The final issue, I just want to ask you the question. You talk about K -- and maybe --

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: (Cross talk) -- KPMG.



REP. RUPPERSBERGER: That's it. I've been doing KM, it's KPMG. Okay, that's taken care of.

REP. SHAYS: I'll write it out for him.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay, I've got it. One plus one is two. Now, the issue with respect to the information that KPMG have developed right now. I'm very much concerned that we're waiting -- that the United Nations is waiting for something when in fact there could be crimes and cover-ups going on at this point. This is going to have a tremendous impact, in my opinion, in world media and I think this is something that we have to deal with right away and move as quickly as we can. What is the hold up with respect to KPMG or you or any information the Iraqi Governing Council has, to getting it to the authorities immediately, right now? And why wait or hold back when you yourself said today you're concerned about shredding of documents?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Because an investigation needs to be thoroughly done. The documents -- there needs to be forensic work done on them. And the information -- some of the transactions need to be traced, ultimate beneficiaries need to be identified. And if you produce a document that is half baked, you will end up being criticized for precisely the reasons that we want to try and avoid. That this needs to be done professionally and properly.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: But my point is that Volcker is out there investigating, you're going to communicate with him. It seems to me that KPMG and any information that they have or you have should be brought to the table with Volcker and move as quickly as possible. Why isn't that being done?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Well, you're prejudging what might happen. We haven't had a discussion with Mr. Volcker. We suggested the meeting with Mr. Volcker. It was not at a request at this stage of Mr. Volcker, although the U.N. has suggested it -- internal -- the IOS has. We suggested it. The first opportunity for us -- and Mr. Bates is flying over specially tonight from the U.K. to actually be present at that meeting so we can discuss --

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: So when is that meeting?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Tomorrow morning.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: That's very good. Tomorrow morning with Mr. Volcker and the other gentleman?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: I don't know who else Mr. Volcker will include.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay. And at that point you, representing the Iraqi Governing Council, are you willing to put forth any hard evidence, documents, whatever that you have, that will help Mr. Volcker in his investigation of this serious matter?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: As a former letter from the Governing Council has already stated to Mr. Kofi Annan, that we will cooperate and Iraq will cooperate fully with the U.N. and we hope that the U.N. will also make all the information that the Governing Council and the information that they've requested as part of my evidence, is made available to the Iraqis so they can see for themselves.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Good. Thank you.

As near as I can tell from news reports, that list and other related documents still haven't been turned over to the UN or any of the other investigating agencies. According to an AP story dated May 1st, when IGC member Jalal Talabani was asked whether the documents would be turned over to the Volcker Commission, he said: "Yes. If it will be necessary, it's ready."

In any case, the point is that these are very serious allegations. And various of the players involved in Iraq right now have motives not entirely consistent with having all the truth come out.

The motives of Chalabi's crew are obvious. A greater UN role in Iraq deals a further blow to his plans to run Iraq for fun and profit. At the same time, the US government -- paradox and irony -- is increasingly dependent on UN mediation to halt the rapid deterioration of the situation on the ground in the country. So the Bush administration and the CPA, whatever their more general animus toward the UN, at the moment needs the UN very much. Antagonizing the world body at the behest of our one-time Iraqi favorite, Chalabi, even if the underlying charges are valid, would be a further complication in an already complicated situation. All of these many contending interests cry out for an independent, credible and transparent investigation.

Let me be clear, I don't think any of this means that these allegations are not true. I figure that most of them are. But I say that mainly on the basis of the supposition that this hullabaloo wouldn't have gotten so far without there being something to it. And that's not a particularly good reason. And we're far enough down the line now where no great argument needs to be made that Mr. Chalabi lacks a certain credibility when it comes to the quality of information and the authenticity of documents.

Theres a column by

There's a column by Jackson Diehl in today's Washington Post pointing to the power Ralph Nader's candidacy has gained by his embrace of opposition to the Iraq war. The point of the piece is that Kerry's opposition both to President Bush's policy and equally to any abrupt withdrawal of American forces leave a good deal of political room for an out-and-out anti-war candidate like Nader.

In terms of political dynamics I suspect Diehl is on to something. And I also think Kerry has yet to adequately calibrate his rhetoric -- something we'll discuss later. On a larger level, though, this piece captures Washington's and, really, the Washington Post's tendency to polarize this debate to its weakest, most simplistic extremes. Nader is consistent; Bush is consistent; Kerry, by failing to be an imbecile, is in the wishy-washy middle, neither fish nor fowl, a flipflopper, waiting for the next flip from which to flop.

There is a slew

There is a slew of new news to discuss, from the still-emerging scandal over the torture of Iraqi prisoners to the withdrawal from Fallujah, to the lies of the president who, at root, made all of this possible. Lies, particularly Big Lies, the sort that the media is least equiped to confront, are corrosive in their effect, breeding smaller, more situational deceptions and abuses, which spread like a dye into porous fabric.

We'll be covering each of these matters in the coming hours and days. But first, a note about this article in Newsweek which discusses US suspicions that Ahmed Chalabi and his close aides have been feeding the Iranians highly sensitive information about US security operations within Iraq.

This should not come as a great surprise. Chalabi's ties to the Iranians are well-known and have long been awkwardly acquiesced in by his supporters in Washington. Moreover, there have been plenty of warning signs of his willingness to play both sides of the fence. Chalabi and his supporters regularly take credit for trying to warn the US that a planned coup attempt, run by the CIA from Jordan in 1996, had been compromised and would fail.

High-ranking CIA agents, however, believed it was Chalabi who had tipped off the Iraqis because he -- i.e., Chalabi -- was not part of it, and thus would have been left out in the cold had it succeeded.

On this point, it has never been clear to me what the nature of the evidence was that made people at CIA believe this. And thus I cannot speak to or vouch for the quality of that evidence. On that point I want to be clear. But I've spoken to enough folks to be quite clear that this was their consensus view of what happened.

Then there's the matter of the bombing of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad on August 7th, 2003. I'm told that the Jordanians have phone intercept intelligence, which they shared with the US government, showing that Chalabi had advance warning of the bombing, which he chose not to share with the Jordanians or the Americans.

Of course, we still fund Chalabi to the tune of some $340,000 a month. So don't think your tax dollars aren't being well-spent. And that does not include the various highly-lucrative contracts doled out to his family members, political associates and cronies.

An article out from

An article out from the Associated Press says that the half-dozen soldiers facing courts-martial for torturing prisoners in Iraq "did not receive in-depth training on the Geneva Conventions." That was the message from an Army spokeswoman in Iraq and it's apparently echoed by at least one of the accused's lawyer.

A question: Can this possibly matter? Perhaps as a fine point of law this would be relevant in court-martial proceeding. And the tolerance or intolerance of these soldiers' commanding officers for this behavior is relevant. But surely no formal training in the Geneva Convention guidelines should be needed to warn people off these sorts of outrages.

I'm not inclined to believe that these sorts of things are widespread. Put tens of thousands of young men and women in a hostile situation, give them near absolute control over people they learn to both fear and hate in equal measure, and awful things are bound to happen.

But looking at even the facts now on the table this doesn't sound like something entirely isolated. Nor does it seem like these folks felt they had a lot to fear from oversight from superiors. The fact that the Brits are now being accused of something similar points me further toward such suspicion.

Whatever the truth, these revelations deal the US a staggering blow to its credibity or, really, its authority. There are so many folks in the region inclined to believe the worst about our actions and intentions. And this challenges the assumptions of those inclined to believe the best.

No doubt youve heard

No doubt you've heard of the still-emerging scandal over the UN oil-for-food program for Iraq. The fact that the program was a hotbed of corruption is not news. What has only emerged quite recently is that the Iraqi regime was apparently using contracts from the program as bribes and pay-offs to various western politicians, journalists and other dignitaries.

You may not have heard a sidenote to this scandal -- the question of who will be in charge of the investigation and who controls the key documentary evidence upon which the investigation will be based.

We'll be following up on this in some detail over the next few days. And Shaun Waterman of UPI has a piece out today which is a good place to start to get a handle on what's going on in this case. The crux of the matter, however, is whether the investigation will be conducted through some transparent process or whether it will be conducted by a team under the control of ... well, can you guess? Ahmed Chalabi.

The authors of The

The authors of The New York Times article on Joe Wilson's new book note that he points a finger of blame at I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the Vice President's Chief of Staff.

The article then says: "But Mr. Wilson offers no firm evidence to support his assertion, and the White House has denied it." And then later: "The White House has denied that Mr. Libby, Mr. Abrams or Mr. Rove were involved in the disclosure."

With respect, that's not true.

It may seem that I'm being hyper-specific. But the White House has gone to great lengths not to deny that these men were involved in disclosing Plame's identity. In fact, they've refused to do so. Rather, they've clung to hyper-technical claims that none of the three were involved in the "leaking of classified information" in the hope that journalists will read this as a blanket denial, which is it not.

The 'classified information' dodge allows them to avoid the actual question and hang their hat on technical interpretations about what was a leak and what was classified when.

Given how aggressively the press 'parsed' the former administration's word, this is quite sloppy.

Perhaps it is a

Perhaps it is a sign of the more general <$NoAd$>desperation. But watch how the president now routinely accuses critics of his Iraq policy of being racists.

This is from a brief press availability the president gave this morning with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin ...

There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern.

There is so much that is wrong-headed and dishonorable in this repeated invocation -- an implicit, churlish claim that the only reason to oppose him is racism -- that it is hard to know where to start.

This constant refrain does suggest a certain hyper-awareness and focus on skin color and perhaps limpieza de sangre. And what's the deal with 'our' skin color being white? I'm white. The president is white. But 'our' skin color is not white.

Perhaps the principal problem here is the president's belief that saying he's for 'democracy' makes it so, that making the claim places him on the moral high ground even if he has no idea how to accomplish it, has already largely bungled the process, and has already lost the trust of those whose democratic aspirations he claims to defend and champion.

Sue Schmidt has the

Sue Schmidt has the article today in the Post covering the release of <$NoAd$>Joe Wilson's new book. The article is about as exculpatory of the administration as it could possibly be -- rather like if she were the defense attorney trying to order the evidence on the administration's behalf. She goes as far as she is able to actually revive the uranium claim.

Read the piece through to get a full sense of what I mean. But take for example her description of one key element of the Wilson story ...

Sahhaf's role casts more light on an aspect of Wilson's report to the CIA that was publicly disclosed last summer. On the heels of Wilson's public criticism that intelligence was exaggerated and his statement that his trip to Niger had turned up no uranium sales to Iraq, agency Director George J. Tenet took the blame for allowing President Bush to make assertions about the Iraqi quest for nuclear material in his 2003 State of the Union address. Tenet said the intelligence had been too "fragmentary" to merit inclusion in the speech.

Here Schmidt essentially buys into to the cover that no one who has looked into this story at all takes seriously -- namely, George Tenet's taking the fall for his agency's allowing itself to be bullied by the White House into letting this bogus story into the president's State of the Union address.

Now, I'm not in a position to get deeply into this question because I've been reporting on just these issues for several months. But from what's already been quite well reported in Schmidt's own paper, we know that Tenet's fault in this case was finally giving in to pressure from two top officials at the NSC who insisted repeatedly -- with regards to more than one speech -- that these bogus claims be placed in the president's speech.