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Context of '1985: Neoconservatives Meet Iraqi Exile Chalabi'

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Albert Wohlstetter in 1969.Albert Wohlstetter in 1969. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Albert Wohlstetter, a professor at the University of Chicago, gathers a cadre of fiery young intellectuals around him, many of whom are working and associating with the magazine publisher Irving Kristol (see 1965). Wohlstetter’s group includes Richard Perle, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Paul Wolfowitz. Wohlstetter, himself a protege of the Machiavellian academic Leo Strauss, is often considered the “intellectual godfather” of modern neoconservatism. Formerly an analyst at the RAND Corporation, Wohlstetter wielded a powerful influence on the US’s foreign policy during the heyday of the Cold War. Wohlstetter, who is believed to be one of several analysts who became a model for director Stanley Kubrick’s title character in the 1968 film Dr. Strangelove, added dramatic phrases like “fail-safe” and “second strike” capability to the US nuclear lexicon, and pushed to increase the US’s military might over what he saw as the imminent and lethal threat of Soviet nuclear strikes and the Soviet Union’s plans for global hegemony. He was such a powerful figure in his hundreds of briefings that he projected far more certainty than his facts actually supported. Though his facts and statistics were often completely wrong, he was so relentless and strident that his ideas gained more credence than they may have warranted. By 1965, he is known in some circles as a “mad genius” who is now collecting and molding young minds to follow in his footsteps. Author Craig Unger writes in 2007, “To join Team Wohlstetter, apparently, one had to embrace unquestioningly his worldviews, which eschewed old-fashioned intelligence as a basis for assessing the enemy’s intentions and military capabilities in favor of elaborate statistical models, probabilities, reasoning, systems analysis, and game theory developed at RAND.” An analyst with the Federation of Atomic Scientists will write in November 2003: “This methodology exploited to the hilt the iron law of zero margin for error.… Even a small probability of vulnerability, or a potential future vulnerability, could be presented as a virtual state of emergency.” Or as one-time Wohlstetter acolyte Jude Wanninski will later put it, “[I]f you look down the road and see a war with, say, China, twenty years off, go to war now.” Unger will observe, “It was a principle his acolytes would pursue for decades to come—with disastrous results.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 42-46]

Entity Tags: University of Chicago, Stanley Kubrick, Richard Perle, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, RAND Corporation, Leo Strauss, Albert Wohlstetter, Paul Wolfowitz, Irving Kristol, Federation of Atomic Scientists, Craig Unger, Jude Wanninski

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Eminent academic, foreign policy analyst, and neoconservative Albert Wohlstetter (see 1965) introduces his proteges Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz to Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996), who is already plotting to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Wolfowitz and Perle will become key players in the run-up to the US’s 2003 invasion of Iraq (see Late December 2000 and Early January 2001). [Unger, 2007, pp. 44]

Entity Tags: Albert Wohlstetter, Ahmed Chalabi, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi exile fleeing charges of embezzlement from his former bank in Jordan (see August 2, 1989 and April 9, 1992), continues forging ties with American neoconservatives (see January 30, 2001 and 1985). Chalabi forms a friendship with neoconservative academic Bernard Lewis, who asks his colleagues inside the Bush administration, including Pentagon aide Zalmay Khalilzad, to help boost Chalabi’s profile inside the administration. Chalabi also meets neoconservative General Wayne Downing while Downing is in command of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Chalabi, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Wayne Downing, Bernard Lewis

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Iraqi National Congress logo.Iraqi National Congress logo. [Source: Iraqi National Congress]Over a period of four years, the CIA’s Iraq Operation Group provides the Iraqi National Congress (INC) with $100 million, which the organization uses to set up training camps and propaganda operations in Northern Iraq. [Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004; Ritter, 2005, pp. 128] During this time span, INC leader Ahmed Chalabi allegedly misuses a lot of the funds. “There was a lot of hanky-panky with the accounting: triple billing, things that weren’t mentioned, things inflated.… It was a nightmare,” a US intelligence official who works with Chalabi will say in 2004. [Newsweek, 4/5/2004] Chalabi refuses to share the organization’s books with other members of the INC, and even with the US government itself. According to a former CIA officer, “[T]hey argued that it would breach the secrecy of the operation.” One night, government investigators break into the INC’s offices to do an audit. They find that although the books are in order, many of the group’s expenditures are wasteful. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] Chalabi spends much of his time in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Robert Baer, a CIA officer who is also working in Iraq, later recalls: “He was like the American Ambassador to Iraq. He could get to the White House and the CIA. He would move around Iraq with five or six Land Cruisers.” Hundreds of thousands of dollars flow “to this shadowy operator—in cars, salaries—and it was just a Potemkin village. He was reporting no intel; it was total trash. The INC’s intelligence was so bad, we weren’t even sending it in.” Chalabi tries to portray Saddam Hussein’s regime as “a leaking warehouse of gas, and all we had to do was light a match,” Baer says. Chalabi, at certain points, claims to know about Iraqi troop movements and palace plans. But “there was no detail, no sourcing—you couldn’t see it on a satellite.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] In her 2007 book Fair Game, former CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, an expert on Iraq’s WMD programs, describes Chalabi as “Machiavellian,” and blames him for sending “dozens of tantalizing but ultimately false leads into the CIA net.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 106-107]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Ahmed Chalabi, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Baer, Iraqi National Congress

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The Bush team moves into Washington. Neoconservative Zalmay Khalilzad heads the Pentagon transition team, and he ensures that plenty of his friends and colleagues move into the civilian offices of the Defense Department. Four of the most influential advocates for the US overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein—Elliott Abrams, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, and Abram Shulsky—are waiting to learn where they will serve in the department. But Vice President Cheney is still concerned with ensuring the placement of his own colleagues and cronies who will help him build what many will call the “imperial presidency.” Secretary of State Colin Powell, Cheney’s ideological rival, is working to install his friend and colleague Richard Armitage as deputy secretary of defense. For Cheney, Armitage would be a calamity—although Armitage is sufficiently hardline and in line with conservative foreign policy aims, he is far too centrist for Cheney and the neoconservatives. The neoconservative magazine the Weekly Standard alerts the faithful to the potential problem with an article entitled “The Long Arm of Colin Powell: Will the Next Secretary of State Also Run the Pentagon?” Powell does not get his wish; Armitage eventually becomes deputy secretary of state. Abrams will join the National Security Council; Khalilzad, Feith, and Shulksy will join the Defense Department; and Perle will head the Defense Policy Board, an independent group that advises the Pentagon. [Weekly Standard, 12/25/2000 pdf file; Unger, 2007, pp. 115, 191-192, 204, 249]

Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), Abram Shulsky, Douglas Feith, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Armitage, US Department of Defense, Richard Perle, Weekly Standard, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Patrick Lang writes that, in his opinion, a “small group of people who think they are the ‘bearers’ of a uniquely correct view of the world… sought to dominate the foreign policy of the United States in the Bush 43 administration, and succeeded in doing so through a practice of excluding all who disagreed with them. Those they could not drive from government they bullied and undermined until they, too, had drunk from the vat.” (Lang correlates the phrase “drunk from the vat” with the common metaphor of “drinking the Kool-Aid,” a particularly nasty turn of phrase sourced from the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana. The phrase now means, Lang explains, “that the person in question has given up personal integrity and has succumbed to the prevailing group-think that typifies policymaking today.”) The result is the war in Iraq, Lang argues, with steadily rising body counts and no clear end in sight.
'Walking Dead' Waiting for Retirement - Lang notes that senior military officers have said that the war’s senior strategist, General Tommy Franks, “had drunk the Kool-Aid,” and many intelligence officers have told Lang that “they too drank the Kool-Aid and as a result consider themselves to be among the ‘walking dead,’ waiting only for retirement and praying for an early release that will allow them to go away and try to forget their dishonor and the damage they have done to the intelligence services and therefore to the republic.” Lang writes that the US intelligence community has been deeply corrupted, bent on serving “specific group goals, ends, and beliefs held to the point of religious faith” and no longer fulfilling its core mission of “describing reality. The policy staffs and politicals in the government have the task of creating a new reality, more to their taste.… Without objective facts, decisions are based on subjective drivel. Wars result from such drivel. We are in the midst of one at present.”
Shutting out Regional Experts - There is little place in Bush administration policy discussions for real experts on the Middle East, Lang writes: “The Pentagon civilian bureaucracy of the Bush administration, dominated by an inner circle of think-tankers, lawyers, and former Senate staffers, virtually hung out a sign, ‘Arabic Speakers Need Not Apply.’ They effectively purged the process of Americans who might have inadvertently developed sympathies for the people of the region. Instead of including such veterans in the planning process, the Bush team opted for amateurs brought in from outside the executive branch who tended to share the views of many of President Bush’s earliest foreign policy advisors and mentors. Because of this hiring bias, the American people got a Middle East planning process dominated by ‘insider’ discourse among longtime colleagues and old friends who ate, drank, talked, worked, and planned only with each other. Most of these people already shared attitudes and concepts of how the Middle East should be handled. Their continued association only reinforced their common beliefs.” The Bush administration does not countenance dissent or open exchange and discussion of opposing beliefs. The Bush policymakers behave, Lang writes, as if they have seized power in a ‘silent coup,’ treating outsiders as political enemies and refusing to hear anything except discussion of their own narrow, mutually shared beliefs.
Using INC Information - Beginning in January 2001, the Bush administration began relying heavily on dubious intelligence provided by Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC—see January 30, 2001). The INC began receiving State Department funds in what some White House officials called the “Information Collection Program.” While the US intelligence community had little use for Chalabi, considering him an unreliable fabricator (see 1992-1996), he had close ties with many in the administration, particularly in the office of the vice president and in the senior civilian leadership of the Pentagon (see 1960s, 1985, and 1990-1991). Lang writes that while the INC excelled in providing Iraqi defectors with lurid, usually false tales, “what the program really did was to provide a steady stream of raw information useful in challenging the collective wisdom of the intelligence community where the ‘War with Iraq’ enthusiasts disagreed with the intelligence agencies.” The office of the vice president created what Lang calls “its own intelligence office, buried in the recesses of the Pentagon, to ‘stovepipe’ raw data to the White House, to make the case for war on the basis of the testimony of self-interested emigres and exiles” (see August 2002). From working as the DIA’s senior officer for the Middle East during the 1991 Gulf War and after, Lang knows from personal experience that many neoconservative White House officials believe, as does Vice President Cheney, that it was a mistake for the US to have refrained from occupying Baghdad and toppling Saddam Hussein in 1991 (see August 1992). Lang calls some of these officials “deeply embittered” and ready to rectify what they perceive as a grave error. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Defense Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress, Thomas Franks, Office of the Vice President, US Department of State, Patrick Lang

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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