In a piece published Monday, David Frum, former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush, recounted meeting Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi for the first time at the apartment of late polemicist Christopher Hitchens.
Frum’s article in The Daily Beast is a rumination on his role in the lead-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. He details his encounters with Chalabi, who provided woefully inaccurate intelligence to the Bush administration before the war.
The first time I met Ahmed Chalabi was a year or two before the war, in Christopher Hitchens’s apartment. Chalabi was seated regally at one end of Hitchens’s living room. A crowd of nervous, shuffling Iraqis crowded together at the opposite end. One by one, they humbly stepped forward to ask him questions or favors in Arabic, then respectfully stepped backward again. After the Iraqis departed, Chalabi rose from his chair and joined an engaged, open discussion of Iraq’s future democratic possibilities.
The last time I saw Chalabi was in his London apartment, on the very eve of war. My little group arrived past midnight. Chalabi was listening to the evocative strains of Sufi music. He showed me a black-and-white photograph of seven men, wearing the clothes of the 1940s. They were the board of directors of a company his father had founded: a mixed group of Sunni, Shiite, and Christian, and even a Jew. Chalabi remarked that this picture was taken while Europe was tearing itself apart in genocidal violence. He didn’t add that it was taken shortly after British forces defeated a pro-Axis coup in Baghdad—but failed to prevent a murderous pogrom against Baghdad’s Jewish population.
I was less impressed by Chalabi than were some others in the Bush administration. However, since one of those “others” was Vice President Cheney, it didn’t matter what I thought. In 2002, Chalabi joined the annual summer retreat of the American Enterprise Institute near Vail, Colorado. He and Cheney spent long hours together, contemplating the possibilities of a Western-oriented Iraq: an additional source of oil, an alternative to U.S. dependency on an unstable-looking Saudi Arabia.