Debate and Chalabi
I wonder if more could not have been made about Bush’s constant zigzags on Iraq policy. First he was going to send Jay Garner. Then he suddenly switched off and sent Paul Bremer. First Bremer was going to be proconsul for years. Then he suddenly was going to hand off power to a new government elected through caucases in May 2004. Then Sistani asked for open and free elections, and they were postponed until January 2005 and power was handed to an appointed caretaker government.
Moreover, some of this zigzagging reflected very poorly on Bush’s judgment. I have it from insiders that in April, 2003, Jay Garner let it slip to some of his staff that his charge was to turn Iraq over to Ahmad Chalabi within six months. The staffers were shocked and some contacted the State Department to see if this was known there. It was not. So they blew the whistle on Bush with Colin Powell. I was told that Powell then made a coalition with Tony Blair and that the two of them went to Bush and got him to change his mind.
The plan to put Chalabi in charge of Iraq was frankly idiotic. Chalabi had no grass roots. He was the one who had the bright idea to throw thousands of ex-Baathists into unemployment (which encouraged them to join the guerrilla resistance). It later came out that some of the Neoconservatives in the Pentagon had let it slip to him that the US had broken the Iranian diplomatic codes. Chalabi is chummy with Tehran and let his friends among the Ayatollahs know this tidbit. As a result, the US can no longer closely track the Iranian nuclear program.
This is the man to whom Bush– and I underline Bush– was planning originally just to hand Iraq over. An Iranian asset. This was why, as Kerry noted on Thursday night, Bush had done no real planning for the period after the war. He thought he had everything sewn up because Chalabi would handle it.
You judge a president in part by the people he chooses for the tasks before him. Bush has consistently chosen very poorly. In the first campaign, he sometimes came close to admitting that he wasn’t knowledgeable or competent, but said he would surround himself by capable people.
The problem is that if you begin by not being knowledgeable, you surround yourself with people like Ahmad Chalabi.