I've often written about Chalabi. He was a character who seemed to embody the madness of the first stage of the Bush era - the second stage, in which we live, is characterized by opoid addiction and suicide, which is another story.
Anyway, he tires me. So I'm reprinting a post I wrote when the NYT Magazine did their postmortem on Chalabi after his party was wiped out in the first Iraqi election.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
The horrendous Dexter Filkins is at it again. The NYT Magazine profile of Chalabi is an indulgence verging on an impudence – after all, why not devote that space to a basically meaningless story about Filkins fave guy? Here’s one of our favorite passages in this extended exercise in bosculating Chalabi’s golden fanny:
“When the election came, Chalabi was wiped out. His Iraqi National Congress received slightly more than 30,000 votes, only one-quarter of 1 percent of the 12 million votes cast — not enough to put even one of them, not even Chalabi, in the new Iraqi Parliament. There was grumbling in the Chalabi camp. One of his associates said of the Shiite alliance: “We know they cheated. You know how we know? Because in one area we had 5,000 forged ballots, and when they were counted, we didn’t even get that many.” He shrugged.
But the truth seemed clear enough: Chalabi was finished. Chalabi, who could plausibly claim that he, more than any other Iraqi, had made the election possible, had been shunned by the very people he had worked so hard to set free.”
To set them free! Doesn’t it make you feel all Country and Western?
Having cast my lot with the black magicians, I've been trying to come up with a spell to launch a meme from this tiny blog. The meme would be about the failure of the MSM, from the beginning, to comprehend Iraq. The evidence for that failure would be the incredibly exaggerated role assumed by Chalabi in reports about Iraq after the invasion that kept appearing in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other major media. At the same time, the way Chalabi himself was perceived in Iraq didn't even figure in those reports. For instance: for years, LI has maintained that the legitimacy of the supposed American project of bringing 'democracy' to Iraq, still hailed by the belligeranti, was undermined from the beginning by trying to set up a notorious thief as our proxy in Iraq. Filkins remarks, sort of as an afterthought in one place, that he was amazed at how the Iraqis all seemed to know that Chalabi was convicted in Jordan of stealing up to 40 million dollars from the bank he founded. Now, this isn't a small and insignificant piece of information - even though Filkins treats it as such, devoting a total of four sentences to it. This is a huge piece of information. It is about how the Iraqis were seeing things. If the MSM were really curious about the supposed American project, this kind of information was vital feedback for Americans.
In fact, however, the MSM is simply an adjunct of the conventional wisdom of whatever court faction wants to bamboozle us this time. And so in all those stories about Chalabi, none of them were about the perception current in Iraq from the beginning that he was a huge thief. It is also true that he is a huge thief, but the perception was more important. You can't conduct an occupation that is legitimated on helping the occupied and then try to elevate a thief to the position of ruler.
Well, we were reminded by the sorry ass stroy of this post, filed after the Iraqi election, 1/26/06. I totally regret the severe underestimate of Iraqi casualties:
the shame of the press
Imagine that the entertainment sections of the NYT, the Washington Post, and the LA Times had all devoted most of their coverage to the choice of Jessica Simpson as best actress in the run up to the Oscars. Suppose that they did this in spite of the fact that there was abundant evidence that Jessica Simpson was not considered even an outlying candidate for best actress by insiders. Suppose that she got not a single vote.
If this had happened, it would be a major media scandal. There would be questions about the honesty of the critics involved, and whether there had been some kind of quid pro quo with Simpson’s PR people, or some studio. Certainly there would be, at least, some comment to explain the bizarre behavior of the critics.
Now consider the Iraqi elections. Again. The results are now, semi-officially, in. In the run up to the election, did we have American papers running big profiles of, say, Abdul Aziz Hakim? He is the head of SCIRI. Or how about Ibrahim Jaafari? The head of Dawa. No. As has been the case for three years, the overwhelming amount of media in this country went to … Ahmed Chalabi. A man whose party did not earn enough votes to even give him a seat in the Iraqi parliament. Enter Chalabi’s name in the Factiva database, and you get 27, 925 entries. Enter Hakim’s name in the database, you get 1232 entries. The 27 to 1 disproportion between the man who couldn’t even gain a seat with the votes of the exiles and the man who the Washington Post calls “the most powerful Shiite politician” is an accurate reflection of the delusiveness of the media, which not only bought the Bush administration’s illusions and lies at the beginning of the war but has added to it their own so that Americans trying to understand what is happening in Iraq have as much chance of getting good information from, say, the U.S. Defense department – which is, remember, run by the worst and most mendacious Secretary of Defense in our history, and staffed with his appointees -- as from the NYT.
Let’s take a look, for comedy’s sake, at Dexter Filkins, the NYT’s Iraq reporter who is bad enough to surely merit some kindly nickname by our prez. Here, before the elections, is a typical Filkins lede. On December 12, 2005, under the headline, Boys of Baghdad College Vie for Prime Minister, Filkins wrote:
“The three Iraqi political leaders considered most likely to end up as prime minister after nationwide elections this week -- Ayad Allawi, Ahmad Chalabi and Adel Abdul Mahdi -- were schoolmates at the all-boys English-language school in the late 1950's, fortunate members of the Baghdad elite that governed Iraq until successive waves of revolution and terror swept it away.”
Imagine someone including, in a story about the three most likely Democratic presidential candidates, the name Dennis Kucenich. You get the picture. Filkins is the clown prince of the Iraqi reporting team for the NYT. Edward Wong is a better reporter – one doesn’t feel like he takes massive doses of acid before he files his stories. But his story before the election, with the headline Iraq’s Powerful Shiite Coalition shows Signs of Stress before the Election (9 December) goes on for ten grafs before we get the inevitable:
“This time, though, the rivalries have grown more heated and the potential for an irreparable split is greater, Iraqi and Western officials say. Many coalition members have broken away and started their own parties, and there has been a palpable drop in support among moderate voters and the leading ayatollahs, who are disenchanted with the performance of the current Shiite government.
“A fracturing of the conservative coalition could set the conditions for a realignment of Iraq's political spectrum, creating an opening for a more secular Shiite candidate like the former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, or even Ahmad Chalabi, the former Pentagon favorite, to assemble enough allies to claim the top spot in the new government.”
On November 30, 2005, ABC’s Nightline did its duty to inform its audience of the impending election in Iraq by doing a whole show entitled: “THE POWER BROKER A LOOK AT AHMED CHALABI.” Of course, the advantage of this is you don’t have to hire a translator – translating is so boring on TV, and it might give the viewing audience the idea that Iraqis don’t normally speak English.
Here is a typical snippet from that show:
“CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (ABC NEWS)
(OC) Terry, you've been spending lots of time with one of the more controversial and powerful figures in Iraq. And you have his story tonight.
TERRY MORAN (ABC NEWS)
(OC) Ahmed Chalabi, Cynthia. He is quite a character. He was in exile from this country for more than 40 years. Saddam Hussein's archenemy. He's now a candidate. It is election season here. You sense it in the air. People talk about it in cafes. There's posters and banners. And Chalabi wants to run the country he left for 40 years. No matter what you think of him, he's a man to be reckoned with.
TERRY MORAN (ABC NEWS)
(VO) There is no one else in Iraq like him. And that may be a good thing. Ahmed Chalabi is the canniest, wiliest, most effective, most elusive political player in the new Iraq. And he just might be the man best-positioned to help the US achieve its goal of a stable, secular, democratic government here. Or maybe not. You never know what Ahmed Chalabi could do next.”
Actually, to give a little credit where credit is due, John Burns, the pro-war NYT correspondent, did appear and say reasonable things on the Charlie Rose show – things that were entirely unreflected in the coverage of the election by his paper:
“CHARLIE ROSE: How does the election look today, and how do you measure that this new parliament or assembly, whatever they`re going to call it, might elect Chalabi?
JOHN BURNS: No, I don`t think. Personally, I don`t think that there`s the remotest chance of that. Mr. Chalabi`s party, I would think, would be lucky to get two seats.
What he will do with those two seats and with his own good self after that I don`t know. He envisages himself as a compromise candidate for prime minister. I think that`s probably beyond the reach of even so canny a politician as Mr. Chalabi.
I think that this election is likely to produce an unsurprising result. I think we`ve seen it before.”
The Washington Post, meanwhile, focused on an unlikely pro-Israel candidate running in Basra (wow, how about that for giving us a feeling about the country) and unleashed their no. 1 Iraqi expert and all around Middle Eastern savant – I am talking, of course, about the ever repugnant Sally Quinn – to do a 2000+ word profile of Chalabi on November 17, 2005. Quinn famously did a profile of Chalabi in 2003 in which he the varieties of his silky genius were highlighted, and contrasted, comically, with the boobish Iraqi pols that he brought with them – many didn’t speak English or possess table manners! And the grease in their hair! My how we laughed. 30-50, 000 Iraqi deaths later, we return to this always risible subject.
This is Quinn, speaking with the collective wisdom of D.C.:
“Spending time with Ahmed Chalabi is like disappearing down the rabbit hole. People are either throwing him tea parties or crying "off with his head."
Normally in Washington, people ask not to be identified when they have something negative to say about a person in the news. With Chalabi, it's the opposite. On the heels of his week-long visit to the United States, few want to be quoted by name saying anything positive. Yet suddenly many have positive things to say.
It was only a year and a half ago that his Baghdad office and home were raided and trashed by U.S. and Iraqi forces. He had gone from being the darling of the neo-cons to a pariah. Many thought he was dead politically.
But today he is a strong contender for prime minister in next month's elections, and highly placed sources say he has become the choice of many U.S. officials to lead the country. He has managed to resurrect himself because he is seen as the one person who can get U.S. troops out of Iraq, and Washington is pragmatic enough to recognize that.”
Can one love enough that last sentence? I don’t think so. Quinn is a rare human being: she is the local genius of the Washington Post, the very distillation of its editorial and journalistic attitude. Shameless, hubristic, triumphantly bigoted, privileged, and convinced that insider knowledge = real knowledge. Of course, insider knowledge is really a pack of the delusions and panics that make the governing class at this particular point in time a thing for the angels to both weep and laugh over.
Now, here’s LI’s bet. Our bet is that not once, not once in the next week or month will there be any discussion whatsoever of the curiously distorted coverage of the Iraqi election going into it, and the more than curious inflation of stories about a man whose main achievement seems to be to have gotten to know American journalists. Nobody will ask, why is it that there are not 2,000 word portraits of Hakim in the WP style section? Why isn’t there a series in the NYT, the men who run Iraq? The obvious answer is that the American public can’t bear too much reality – at least, that is what our guardians think. So much better to make up the country of Iraq lock stock and barrel and present it, a steaming pile of horseshit, to the American citizenry – just so we don’t get too worried about what we are sending Americans to die for, or to be head injured for, or to be legless for, or to have their spines broken for, or to be permanently traumatized for.