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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

For years the backdrop to the Chalabi question <$NoAd$> was his 1992 conviction in absentia on charges of embezzlement in Jordan. To his American critics this was the crux of who Chalabi was: a crook. To his American partisans it was a political conviction, a slur, a price Chalabi had paid for earlier opposition to Saddam. (The Jordanians had, so the story went, turned on Chalabi at Saddam's behest.)

Now read this: a few grafs at the end of Post's piece on the Chalabi raid ...

For several months, U.S. officials have been investigating people affiliated with the INC for possible ties to a scheme to defraud the Iraqi government during the transition to a new currency that took place from Oct. 15 last year to Jan. 15, according to a U.S. occupation authority official familiar with the case. The official said the raids were partly related to that investigation.

At the center of the inquiry is Nouri, whom Chalabi picked as the top anti-corruption official in the new Iraqi Finance Ministry. Chalabi heads the Governing Council's finance committee, and has major influence in its staffing and operation.

When auditors early this year began counting the old Iraqi dinars brought in and the new Iraqi dinars given out in return, they discovered a shortfall of more than $22 million. Nouri, a German national, was arrested in April and faces 17 charges including extortion, fraud, embezzlement, theft of government property and abuse of authority. He is being held in a maximum security facility, according to three sources close to the investigation.


Speaks for itself.

Ahhh nothing like money well spent ...

According to a new GAO report, from March 2000 to September 2003, the State Department doled out some $33 million to Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.

You can see the highlights of the report here and the whole deal here.

Of course, by a rather more expansive, though not unjust, measure, we dropped around $300 billion on our association with the Chalabi crew.

In Slate this afternoon, Chris Suellentrop, has a short profile of Doug Feith, the man who put the FU in the FUBAR that is the American adventure in Iraq. The subheading of the piece pretty much says it all: "What has the Pentagon's third man done wrong? Everything."

Feith has become the living, breathing, employed example of the fact that epochal screw-ups are the best source of job security within the Bush administration.

If anything, I'd say Chris lets Feith off a bit easy on several counts. But then, consider the source (i.e., me).

In any case, take a look.

In the category of articles you should not miss: Take a look at Wes Clark's new piece in The Washington Monthly on democracy, the Middle East and the how the Bush administration failed to understand how either works.

A tad tentative?

On CNN's new Chalabi story, the caption under Chalabi's picture reads: "Ahmed Chalabi is thought to have been a source of intelligence about Iraq's alleged WMD."

Like alleged Ba'athist Saddam Hussein.

A follow-up on this morning's post: Juan Cole says Chalabi has been suspended from the IGC. Maybe now he'll head north and found the Salo Republic -- that's a little Italian history shout-out. Another thought: why doesn't someone ask the Jordanians about the telephone intercept they shared with the Americans last fall showing that Chalabi had foreknowledge of the bombing of their embassy in Baghdad on August 7th.

Of course, the heart is a fickle, fickle thing. Here's the pre-Sharia-Chalabi (in the back on the left in the picture) as the guest of the First Lady at the 2004 State of the Union, a mere four months ago.

Talk about a not-so-fun meeting.

President Bush was up on the Hill this morning meeting with Congressional Republicans to quell their growing anxiety that their job security may be only marginally greater than that of the Iraq Interim Governing Council.

The tenor of the event can probably be judged by the fact that the 'rallying cry' coming out of the meeting seems to have been that things are really bad and almost certain to get worse.

Rah! Rah!

According to several participants, President Bush told Republicans that the Iraqis are ready to "take the training wheels off" by assuming power.

That's a bit of a condescending thing to say about a country which encompasses what is generally considered to be the cradle of civilization. But the thought that an extra set of training wheels may now be available prompts the question of whether the Iraqis might be willing to hand their pair off to the White House.

As it happens, I was up on the Hill myself this morning for an early meeting and managed to get caught in the security sweep that preceded the president's visit -- something complicated by the fact that I wasn't carrying a press credential on me.

After parting company with my host, I went to one exit and was told I couldn't leave that way. And then, amid a thickening crowd of capitol police and secret service, I went to another exit.

"Where are you trying to go?"

"I'm just trying to leave."

"Lemme see some ID?"

"Why are you here?"

Etc. etc. etc. ...

Eventually one of the security team said I had just been seen walking down the hall with a member of congress. That seemed to stand me in semi-good-stead. And after being escorted to the Senate side of the Capitol I was cut loose in true catch-n-release fashion, none the worse for wear.

I've had a slew of readers writing in and asking -- or insisting -- that the raid on the Baghdad home of Ahmed Chalabi and INC headquarters was, if not staged, then conducted with the intent of boosting Chalabi's popularity by appearing to place him at odds with the American occupiers. (The idea, you might say, would be to Sadr-ize him.) Indeed, one of those notes came from someone who I'd describe as loosely affiliated with the United States military establishment and quite knowledgable about Iraq and the Middle East at large.

So could this be true?

I have no direct knowledge. I just got back from a few meetings. And I've had no time to make any calls yet. But I'm very skeptical of this interpretation.

I don't doubt that some of Chalabi's Washington supporters have encouraged him to take a more oppositional stand toward the occupation authorities to bolster his own popularity. But there are many US government players in Iraq right now. And many of them really are hostile to Chalabi.

Something quite that orchestrated would, I suspect, be far too difficult to pull-off. And are we dealing here with smooth operators? Answers itself, doesn't it?

One other point: You only have to look next door to see what happens to American puppets after they have their fallings-out with the Americans. Clue: They don't get embraced by the other side. In fact, that guy from nextdoor was lucky to get out of the country in one piece.

Another theory -- or at least a portion of one -- is contained in an article appearing this morning in Salon by Andrew Cockburn. The article points to US government suspicions that Chalabi may be plotting against the soon to be announced caretaker government, chosen by American officials and UN representative Lakhdar Brahimi.

Cockburn notes Chalabi's continued efforts to ally himself with Shia sectarian groups in Iraq, particularly the new umbrella group he's created, variously translated as the Shiite Political Council or the Supreme Shia Council (I'm assuming these titles I've seen referred to are in fact the same group).

Cockburn mentions that Chalabi's new Shia sectarian faction includes members of Iraqi Hezbollah. And though he doesn't mention him by name, I believe he is referring in particular to a man named Karim Mahoud al-Mohammedawi, a key member of Iraqi Hezbollah.

Chalabi's dwindling number of Washington supporters have awkwardly claimed that his efforts to ally himself with Shia Islamist groups in Iraq is an evidence of their man's 'pragmatism', recognizing the political realities of the country and adjusting accordingly. This is an echo of their pre-invasion efforts to explain the copious funding Chalabi received from the government of Iran, which, in case you hadn't noticed, is not supposed to be a great friend of ours.

If you're looking for any entertainment, any silver lining to this mess, watch the faces of the hardest core Chalabistas and watch the less and less subtle ripples of chagrin on their faces as their man more and more publicly shows how much he played them for fools.

It's an obvious question really, but worth asking, worth considering: How long do we think the administration, the CPA, the UN and whoever else now has a finger in the pie will wait to announce what government, even what sort of government we'll be handing 'sovereignty' over to at the end of June?

What's the absolute latest you can imagine? A month? A week? Could it be like one of Bill Clinton's state of the union addresses where they're fiddling with the small print until a couple hours before showtime?

I'd be surprised if they came up with a plan by the end of this month and I cannot imagine they'd leave it until less than a week before June 30th.

But just step back and look at how crazy this is: we've run Iraq for more than a year, spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the whole effort, lost many of our own sons and daughters as well as many Iraqis. And here you have what is arguably the big issue: who you hand the place off to and how you hand it off to them. And it's left to the last minute, with the powers that be having to ditch almost everything that has come up until this point and start from scratch.

The market in examples for how badly the Bush team has bungled this situation is admittedly glutted. But even if they're now going for a dime a dozen this is really one to marvel at.

Now, another related point: the increasing velocity and ferocity of war-hawks trying to shift the blame for their own goofs by inventing a new stab-in-the-back theory (nicely patterned on the original one from Weimar Germany) to cushion their consciences from the brunt of recognizing the dire pass to which their own foolishness and reckless zeal have brought their country.

The chief example I've seen -- though there must be many others -- is John Podhoretz's column in The New York Post from last Friday, May 14th.

The column is a string of accusations. The first is against The New York Times for, according to Podhoretz, blaming the United States, rather than his murderers, for Nick Berg's death. "The Times," writes Podhoretz, in concluding this section of his piece, "is leading the mainstream media in turning the United States into the bad guys in Iraq."

Podhoretz's evidence is an article in the Times which reports the Berg family's claims that the Bush administration somehow bears some of the blame for their son's death.

Now, just as Berg's death shouldn't have been cynically exploited by Bush partisans, what his family says shouldn't be exploited in the other direction. But simply reporting what the family says in a news article hardly seems to merit anything Podhoretz says. What he wants is a black-out on anything the family says -- and that in the context of the saturation coverage of the murder itself -- because it is politically off-message.

Then there's the Time magazine cover with an Abu Ghraib image which reads "Iraq: How Did It Come to This?"

After blowing some smoke about the war's aim of "liberat[ing] 25 million people and rout[ing] Islamic extremists, terrorists and those who thirst for the mass murder of Americans" Podhoretz calls the Time cover "a vile and grotesque slander against every American in uniform in Iraq."

At length, the column concludes with these four grafs ...

So let's be clear what's going on here. As we speak, 138,000 Americans are serving under dangerous conditions in Iraq. And our forces in Karbala are fighting against the goons and thugs of Muqtada al-Sadr with some success. They're risking their lives for freedom and honor and duty and love of country.

And conventional liberal opinion wants them to lose.

Conventional liberal opinion believes that the Abu Ghraib photos are the true meaning of the war, and that Nick Berg is just another victim of callous U.S. policy.

Conventional liberal opinion is actively seeking the humiliation and defeat of the United States in Iraq.


Let's be a little more clear about what's going on here. Having led the country perilously close to humiliation and defeat, the architects of the war want to shift the blame for what's happened to their opponents who either said the whole thing was a mistake in the first place or criticized the incompetence of its execution as it unfolded. They take the blame, the moral accountability, by 'wishing' for a bad result. That at least is Podhoretz's reasoning.

If ever there was an example of moral up-is-downism, this is it. And claiming that their political opponents -- liberal, in Podhoretz's usage here, is just a catch-all -- want defeat and humiliation for their country is certainly the most gutterish sort of slander there is.

There's something almost uncomfortable about watching the mix of desperation, panicked zeal and projection evidenced in Podhoretz's column. It's like the pornography of watching someone beg for his life or shift the blame onto someone else when they've been caught in the act -- with the added twist of spasms of aggression mixed in. But on a broader level, it's in character. Not for Podhoretz -- this isn't at all directed at him as a person -- but for the movement, the crew, he's part of and is trying to defend.

How'd we get into this? After 50 years of pretty consistently prudential foreign policy, managed mostly on a consensus of bipartisan agreement (yes, there are exceptions, but by and large, true), they decided to bet the national ranch on an idea. Actually it was a series of ideas, wrapped together in an odd tangle that could look like an odd jumble when viewed from outside. The key, however, was betting the national ranch on steep odds.

Only, they weren't confident the country would get behind such a riverboat gamble. So they lied about what they were doing. They didn't trust the people -- which might be an epitaph we should return to.

Now, what do we expect of people who make reckless gambles with other people's money? Of people who can't discipline themselves enough to distinguish between their hopes and reality? What do you expect of that ne'er-do-well relative who's always hitting you up for a loan because he's come up with a sure thing?

Do you expect those sorts of folks to take responsibility when things go bad? Or do you expect them to blame others?

Character, alas, really does count.

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