The price of friendship

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Events from the past week indicate the US has lost its way in the war on terrorism.

On August 8, warrants for the arrest of Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi and his nephew, Salem Chalabi, who is overseeing the preparation of a war crimes tribunal against Saddam Hussein, were issued by a US-appointed Iraqi magistrate. Ahmed Chalabi, who headed the Iraqi Governing Council's finance committee, is charged with holding forged dinars. Yet Sinan Shabibi, the governor of Iraq's Central Bank, has denied he ever launched any charges against Chalabi and attests that the 3000 forged dinars found in Chalabi's office, valued at $2, were clearly stamped "Forgery" and that Chalabi held them by virtue of his official position.

 

Salem Chalabi is charged with the murder of the late director-general of the IGC's Finance Ministry. The only basis for the charge is that the two men argued some weeks before the murder. According to an editorial in The Wall Street Journal, "…even Ahmed's enemies say they find the [charges against Salem] incredible." The judge who filed the arrest warrants against the Chalabis, as well as against the spokesman and the head of security for the INC, is one Zuhair al-Maliky, a former translator for the Coalition Provisional Authority who was appointed to head the Iraqi Criminal Court by the then-US regent in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer.

Maliky received his appointment in spite of the fact that he had no prior experience as a jurist. It was also Maliky who signed the order to raid Chalabi's offices last May. That raid led to allegations that Chalabi was spying for Iran. Those charges have never been substantiated. Yet the raid served to discredit both Chalabi and Pentagon officials who for years have championed Chalabi and the INC against repeated attempts by the CIA and State Department to destroy the organization.

The timing of the arrest warrants was doubtless not coincidental. This week, Ahmed Chalabi was set to participate in meetings ahead of the convention of the Iraqi national assembly, the provisional parliament that is supposed to constitute a check on the power of the UN-appointed government led by the former Baathist and CIA informant Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. According to former CPA employee Michael Rubin, who reported the background of this story in National Review Online this week, Allawi is uninterested in the convention of a national assembly that could check his as-of-now seemingly limitless authority.

This week, Chalabi was also scheduled to meet with visiting members of the US House of Representatives, who are in Iraq on a fact-finding mission regarding the UN oil-for-food scandal in which UN officials and foreign governments allegedly earned millions of dollars in scurrilous oil giveaways by Saddam Hussein. Chalabi had been conducting the IGC's investigation of the scandal. His investigation was coming to a fore last spring as the Bush administration was seeking to mollify the UN in order to receive its imprimatur on the handover of governing authority to the Iraqi provisional government.

 

As a result, last May, Robert Blackwill, the National Security Council's point man for Iraq, had his aides put together an options memo on how to marginalize Chalabi. Shortly thereafter, Maliky ordered the raid on Chalabi's offices.

 

Chalabi's colleagues view him as the most effective coalition-builder in Iraq and one of the main forces capable of transforming Iraq into a pluralistic, law-abiding, secular, pro-American democracy. Yet, in return for its decision to abandon Chalabi and derail his investigation of the oil-for-food scandal, the US received the short-term payoff of UN Security Council approval of the handover of sovereignty this past June.

 

But what have been the other consequences of US abandonment of the most stalwart voice for Iraqi democracy? Allawi, who according to eyewitnesses shot dead six bound and blindfolded Iraqi prisoners three weeks after he was named interim Iraqi prime minister, is pushing Iraq down the path of reversion to an authoritarian dictatorship run by former Baathists. The Shi'ites are concerned. The Kurds, the US's most stalwart allies in Iraq, are contemplating a future need to win independence to preserve their hard-earned democracy by force of arms. For his part, Chalabi has taken a recent liking to the US's Shi'ite enemy Moqtada al-Sadr, whom Chalabi recently defended for his struggle against US occupation.

 

And the US's decision to placate the UN has not made the UN more willing to send peacekeepers to Iraq. Nor has the UN Security Council's recognition of Allawi's government signaled a change in the overall UN hostility toward the US's stated aim of democratizing Iraq.

 

 

The French recently blocked a US bid to have NATO forces train Iraqi security forces. By squashing the independent Iraqi oil-for-food investigation, the US lost an opportunity of watching Iraqis themselves discredit the governments that most vociferously opposed the US decision to liberate them from Saddam.

 

The US actions in Iraq should be disturbing to Israel. Not only has Chalabi, the US's staunchest Shi'ite ally, been discarded in favor of forces that oppose the Bush administration's aim to bring democracy to Iraq. In the administration's haste to win UN approval of the Allawi government, it agreed that the UN resolution on the transfer of governing authority would make no mention of the temporary constitution (negotiated by Chalabi) that gave the Kurds veto power to ensure their freedom.

 

The Kurds viewed this as a betrayal of their friendship by Washington. As one Kurdish fighter explained last month in The Los Angeles Times, "After the incident with the UN resolution, the [Kurds] became impatient because their concerns were not answered. Kurds took part effectively in the liberation war, but what we got back was not as much as we put in." We see here that in order to appease institutions like the UN as well as the French, and the now overtly hostile Turks, the US has sidelined and indeed harmed its best friends.

What this bodes for Israel was alluded to by a story published in the Sunday New York Times about US disenchantment with diplomatic attempts to stem the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The Times reported that given the failure of Western diplomacy aimed at thwarting Iran's nuclear weapons program, the US is now pushing for the issue to be transferred to the UN Security Council for management.

According to the Times, the Bush administration's increased urgency on the matter is driven in part "by increasingly strong private statements by Israeli officials that they will not tolerate the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon, and may be forced to consider military action if Tehran is judged to be on the verge of deploying a weapon."

 

 

So, at least in part, what is driving the US to action in Iran is the fear that Israel, the US's inconvenient yet staunchest and most loyal ally in the war on terror, may actually deal with the largest threat looming from the global terror nexus: Israel's physical destruction by a terrorist regime in possession of nuclear weapons.

One would think that if the US is truly reconciled to the evil of the Axis of Evil's most active member, the US would embrace an Israeli military plan to take out Teheran's nuclear facilities, and indeed cooperate with Israel from its bases in Iraq and Afghanistan to ensure the success of this crucial mission.

 

Yet what we see is that Israel is liable to be treated like a Chalabi. While the US is pushing Britain, France and Germany – whose attempts to negotiate with Teheran have utterly failed – to move the issue from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the UN Security Council, it is far from clear that any of these countries support such a move. And
it is even less clear whether, in the event that the US succeeds in moving the issue to the UN Security Council, these countries would sign on to any US resolution calling for effective (i.e., military) steps to destroy the Iranian nuclear program. Still less clear is whether the other two member of the UN Security Council – Russia, which built Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor, and China, which has supplied it with nuclear technology – could be swayed by the US.

 

More likely is a scenario in which Israel becomes a scapegoat in a US attempt to forge a coalition of states that share none of the US's interests vis-a-vis Iran. Iran this week demanded a guarantee of protection from Britain, France and Germany against an Israeli nuclear strike. IAEA chief ElBaradei's recent visit to Israel, where he pushed Israel to open its nuclear installations to international monitoring, could easily pave the way for a draft UN Security Council resolution calling for sanctions against Israel in the event that the government refuses to allow IAEA inspections of our nuclear installations. The US could well find itself in a position of being alone in demanding action against Iran and being either blackballed or forced to accept an equation of Israel with Iran in order to avert yet another head-on collision with its purported allies on the Security Council. And in the meantime, unless Israel acts on its own, months will have passed with no effective action against the Iranian nuclear program.

 

The situation is all the more distressing when we take into consideration the fact that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is even worse than the terribly confused Bush administration. Following the issuance of the spurious arrest warrants, Kerry called for an investigation into how the US ever had a relationship with Ahmed Chalabi to begin with. Last week, James Rubin, one of Kerry's senior foreign policy advisers, told Newsweek that a Kerry administration would seek to engage Iran and "call its bluff" by offering the fanatical theocracy nuclear fuel in exchange for a pledge not to develop nuclear weapons.

This means we are stuck with hoping for a Bush victory even as the administration itself has forgotten the fundamentals of statecraft and morality: In war and in peace, be good to your friends and bad to your enemies. We can only hope that it regains its bearings soon.

 

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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