In The Future of Freedom, megawonk Fareed Zakaria’s hot new book,
much is made of the power that can be exercised by a vocal minority within a
democracy. To develop and illustrate his
claim, Zakaria cites the
Earlier, Zakaria had explained the logic of a similar instance of a powerful minority—in this case, wool subsidies—in terms of a sort of collective political calculus: “If a group of 100 farmers got together to petition the government to give them $10 million, the benefit to each farmer is $100,000. The cost to the rest of the country is about 4 cents per person. Who is more likely to form a lobby, them or us?” [Zakaria 178]. This logic could explain much of why the extremes seem to dominate many political debates, from PETA to Operation Rescue to Fox News.
Take this hypothetical: Imagine a group of wealthy yet dispossessed people such as the Cuban exiles. Only this hypothetical group already has its own private “security force” and deep connections to the elites of its region and the world. And what if questioning them or their motivations could be likened to supporting a dictator who makes Castro look like John F. Kennedy? It might be interesting to see if they, too, could game the American system in their favor.
Indeed, one need look no further than the US’ latest international junket in Iraq to see a brilliant example of just such a strong, self-interested political minority overcoming the odds to enlist the United States in the service of its goals: the Iraqi National Congress (INC), and more profoundly, its cofounder Ahmad Chalabi.
Chalabi set up the INC in 1992, though it was founded on
goals and connections going back much further.
The nascent coalition of smaller opposition groups received much public
Charlie Rose sat
down with Chalabi on Tuesday, June 11. Most of the conversation’s focus was on the
The INC’s primary constituents are Iraqi nationals who were
forced out by the Baath party in 1958. They want to have a stake in modern
similarity between the INC and the Cuban exiles that is worthy of note is the
tremendous extent to which they both benefited from the dominant isms of their day. Just as anticommunism precluded any
concession to the Soviet pet Castro, so too has the nascent War on Terrorism
raised the stakes on any military activity in the
After the first
Gulf War, the
The ties between
the INC and western intelligence agencies continued over the years between the
This was the
source of some conflict between the CIA and the Department of Defense, which
still saw a role for Chalabi’s INC in
These earlier investigations
into the INC’s connections had largely grown out of
an August, 2002 piece in the Guardian,
in which former CIA official Robert Baer was quoted as saying of Chalabi’s emerging relationship with Rumsfeld’s
Defense Intelligence Agency: “He talks their language. He knows how to make
himself clear and knows what they want to hear. He doesn't go round in circles
like every Arab you ever sat down with in the
Once Chalabi himself openly retracted his interest in nominal
post-war leadership, the heat died down.
The American people were mobilized behind a push to war that was more
timely, imminent, and focused than the need to remove a callous dictator: the
immediate threat posed by
It seems conceivable that, in its rush to uncover the specifics of the administration’s swindle, much of the media is overlooking the possibility that the hawks—and maybe even the press—were themselves swindled.
The New York
Times gains much from being the nation’s “paper of record.” Not only does the
Times have a large readership and significant impact on which issues are
digested by many American moderates, its articles were also cited as evidence
by President Bush in his State of the Union address. No reporter at the paper—or perhaps in the
nation—played as great a role in helping to make the case for the war in
In the aforementioned Charlie Rose interview, Chalabi insisted that he only arranged for Miller—a “very critical journalist with an eye for the truth,” in Chalabi’s words—to speak with one of the three defectors that he had previously connected with American intelligence services; he did not indicate whether he had provided her with information or a statement himself. For his part, Chalabi now denies having supplied any sources that could explicitly confirm or deny the presence of WMD, but it is still worth noting that over a year ago, agents of both the government and press most certainly came out of interactions with the intelligence branch of the INC wholly convinced of their presence. Indeed, Miller’s pronouncements were unequivocal; she referred to a datapoint in one of her articles as “the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons.”
This is not to
imply intentional malfeasance on Miller’s part—that can be left to others—but
rather to elucidate the precariousness of her position: an “embedded”
journalist at times, she was typically handed her “facts” and was apparently
set up with her sources by Defense. It
would appear as if Miller accepted intelligence at face value, assuming it had
been filtered by her minders in the
is one thing, a faulty national mindset is quite another. A break in our collective logic can create
vulnerabilities far more serious than any superweapon. It can allow a small group of self-interested
foreign exiles to drive the way the state and the public view and treat another
nation, be it
Bad policymaking, as with bad science and bad reporting, always flows from one central fallacy: only accepting that data which appears to confirm the hypothesis. In such a context, enormous influence can be wielded by someone telling you what you want to hear. For the CIA, DIA, and NYT, that someone was the Iraqi National Congress. Perhaps only Chalabi knows if he was simply a string, linking agenda with action, or to what extent he himself was the puppeteer.
Zakaria, Fareed. The
Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. WW Norton and Company.
“Is this man leading us
to war with
Backers Slam CIA.” The
with Ahmad Chalabi. Charlie Rose.
Saddam's Possible Successors. Justin Thompson. CBC