Surely those who keep the institutional memory going in the Company are having a rush right now. The controversy around Chalabi is looking increasingly like a controversy that swirled around another Arab figure who briefly convinced an American government to back him, with the help of a story woven by entrenched D.C. honchos. This earlier character was named Nasser.
That Nasser met with the CIA and received CIA support for overthrowing pro-British King Farouk is a story that has been told by Miles Copeland, his CIA handler, in The Game of Nations and his autobiography (which LI has only read bits of, on the web. Like here). Perhaps the operative word isn’t really told – like a donut, a spook story is impossible to separate from its central hole. But Copeland has broadly hinted that the CIA was convinced that the American problem in the Middle East – the perennial tension between supporting Israel and acquiring the necessary amount of petroleum – could be alleviated by Nasser, who would quietly adopt an Israel friendly, or less unfriendly, policy.
Copeland should know, since he spread the story himself. It turned out to be not so. So much American cleverness in the Middle East turns out to be not so.
This isn’t to say that Chalabi has anything like Nasser’s weight as an important figure. Nasser’s constituency was, at the beginning, pretty much the whole Arab world; Chalabi’s, from the beginning to the end, has consisted of a demimonde of family and sleazy family retainers, and a vociferous neo-con lobbying group. As far as the Iraqis are concerned, Chalabi ranks, in popularity, below al-Sad’r, Saddam Hussein, and Darth Vader.
The interesting thing here is that the strategic agenda being pursued, in 1956 and in 2003, is the same. The public side of that agenda was about modernizing the Middle East –democratizing, globalizing, etc., etc. The essence of it, though, was to recreate Nixon’s tripartite structure in the Middle East, with Iraq taking the place of the Shah’s Iran.
Even this is quietly being abandoned. In 2004, as David Ignatius has pointed out in a recent column, the Sauds, far from being slightly shaken from their key position, have seen that position reinforced. In one sense, one wonders: did the Pentagon strategist seriously think they could shake the Saudis with… nothing? They were trying to send a message to Saudi Arabia, but a threat that is couched in terms of an irreality so gross and obvious is less a threat than a sign of weakness. One of the lessons of 9/11 is that the Saudi elite got away with it. Not that they planned it, but they certainly nurtured the ideology that created the hijackers, certainly conveyed the money to the people who paid them, and certainly put the safety of their own hegemony over any other consideration. In all of these things, they have been vindicated. I can’t remember where I ran across the description of Bush, in the week after 9/11, giving Pakistan “an offer it couldn’t refuse.” It made me laugh. Pakistan, after playing bagman for the Saudis, after constructing the Taliban, after mismanaging foreign loans to the extent that they were on the verge of serious IMF action, were given this offer: “here’s three billion dollars in aid, no questions asked.” Wow, I am sure they were all suitably awed by the display of American strength. So the “war on terrorism” that was, in part, a war of terrorists on the U.S., is being played out in two asymmetric parts. The terrorists are doing rather well, considering that they attacked the most powerful nation on earth. They continue to stage attacks, they repel the army of the nation in which they are encamped, and they can even afford to help their old patrons, the Taliban, in the Afghan guerilla war. Their collaborators, the Pakistani secret service and military, have once more managed to get the money flowing from America. And then there are the Saudis. Once again, we are depending on the Saud family to increase the supply of oil. Once again, we are scrambling around to make the Sauds happy.
Yes, but on the other side of the war on terrorism, Bush, having chosen not to fight the war on terrorism, is entangled in a war in Iraq that has everything to do with occupation and a strategy that should have been decorously strangled in the pages of Foreign Policy, rather than enacted in the deserts and the cities.
Kaus, a Republican who has to continually claim he’s a Democrat – it is part of his cred – has been harping for months that the Dem elders will replace Kerry. Kerry is, admittedly, a suck candidate. However, isn’t it about time for the GOP elders to look at Bush? He is not only a bad candidate, but a clear and present danger to some basic American interests that GOP elders should care about.