The Death of a Charming Charlatan

Exclusive: The death of Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile who collaborated with U.S. neocons to bamboozle the American people into invading Iraq, merits a moment of reflection on how the ongoing chaos in the Middle East (and now Europe) got going, writes retired USAF Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski.

By Karen Kwiatkowski

Ahmed Chalabi, age 71, has died of a heart attack in Baghdad. As a close observer of his unique role in provoking the Iraq War a foreign policy and strategic military disaster 12 years ago I can’t help but look back on that time as an age of innocence. That may sound ironic, but I think it’s true given that many Americans now see that even elections don’t change much.

As painful as it was to watch the U.S. government plunge into the Iraq War based on false WMD warnings raised in part by Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress there was still a sense of hope back then that the truth could be told and the culprits could be held accountable. That seems now to have been a naive dream.

Ahmed Chalabi

Ahmed Chalabi

In 2003, Chalabi was on track to become the new leader of Iraq, just as soon as Paul Wolfowitz’s projected “cakewalk” was finished. Towards this end, he was using, and being used by, the neoconservative cabal of Bush/Cheney appointees in the Pentagon, the National Security Council and the State Department.

Yet, despite the fact that the “cakewalk” turned into a blood-soaked grind and has now spread disorder across the Middle East and into Europe many of the same men and a few women are still advising and influencing the Obama administration’s security policies toward Eastern Europe, the Mideast, Russia and China.

Now, as then, this group of neocons and their “liberal interventionist” pals lack the good sense that God gave a chicken. They still march off without a recognizable moral compass (even as they assert their moral superiority) and still without the slightest respect for either the Constitution or the soldiers and marines they gleefully send into harms’ way.

At least with Chalabi, in the early 2000s, the U.S. government had a dapper and hopeful spokesperson for what Iraq was supposed to become. Some saw Chalabi as smooth while others viewed him as oily a conman with his own checkered past but he was purported to be the kind of modern Iraqi who could make Iraq a better place.

Chalabi’s optimism, his delusions of grandeur, and his faith in the conspiracy of empire led him to the hubris of the neocons, those vainglorious sorcerers wielding the bureaucratic power of the Pentagon and the White House. Together, they were a perfect match. Chalabi’s fantasies for Iraq were the natural product of his fundamental criminality, but his delusions also were vital to the neocons as they spun their spell to entrance the American public.

Still, Chalabi could be understood as a character in a Edith Wharton novel, trapped in his own era, not overly complex, but certainly earnest. The same cannot be said for the American neoconservatives who used him. Even in his guile there was a sense of guilelessness. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq failed to turn up the promised WMD or confirm Saddam Hussein’s alleged links to Al Qaeda, Chalabi defended the falsehoods, calling himself “a hero in error.”

There was a time when I saw Chalabi as a big part of our foreign policy conundrum, but the past decade has shown us where the real evil lies. Today, I see Chalabi more as a victim of his bad assumptions about the neoconservatives, who privately celebrate the cost, chaos, destruction and decimation of whole countries and cultures, in the name of their twisted vision.

Unheeded Warnings

In 2003, the canaries in this dark coal mine were warning about the lies told by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and political appointees throughout Washington to justify an American satrapy in Iraq. While some of us could see a future far grimmer, far more dangerous, and far more destructive than the neocon promises of American soldiers being welcomed by children throwing flowers and candy many Americans could not. Chalabi was a useful part of why that was.

The warnings from government whistleblowers, knowledgeable observers around the world, and independent-minded journalists and historians were hushed, silenced and buried until Iraq was burning and a quarter of that country’s population had been made refugees by an unwinnable war and a hated occupation.

It took years for the fraud committed by the neoconservatives, their allies in mainstream media, and the Bush administration to sink in, though many Americans still appear confused as to how they should assess what happened. The bottom line is that what occurred was a crime against the American people, the Constitution, international law, the Iraqis and their neighbors. Yet, there has been a stunning lack of accountability for the culprits who perpetrated this crime.

A dozen years after the war began, Chalabi’s promised golden age for Iraq and the Middle East has turned to dross. Today, it is common knowledge that the “word” of the United States is rarely good. Today, the world understands the ambitions of the United States as reptilian rather than republican, driven by a kind of rabid hostility and covetousness that in 2003 most did not easily perceive.

Today, to seek a partnership with the Pentagon or State Department as you try to shape your own small country’s history means you are more gambler than statesman, more fool that patriot.

The actions of the United States in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia, Ukraine, Egypt, Libya and Syria alliances of greed and dependency that Washington has maintained throughout this era reveal an ugly truth. U.S. foreign policy is not about democracy and self-determination, it is not about hope. Rather, it is about crony capitalism, old-style imperialism, theft and tyranny, all wrapped up in a maelstrom of bureaucratic infighting and budget padding.

No one is trusted in the conduct of America’s never-ending “wars.” Today, when a Russian airliner crashes, the U.S. is as likely to be blamed as a terrorist group, and the terrorist groups themselves are differentiated by their degree of U.S. support and their use of U.S. weaponry with some Sunni jihadists in Syria now firing U.S.-supplied TOW missiles and being hailed by U.S. politicians as “our guys.”

We’ve come a long way since 9/11 when President Bush said aiding or harboring a terrorist made one as guilty as the terrorist.

Since 2003, many Americans have discovered that their political leadership is addicted to arrogant mayhem. What worked to create public support for foreign wars in 2003 is now laughed at, or ignored, by a cynical citizenry. We have learned to distrust our government, on issues both foreign and domestic.

Chalabi, though his passing has been little noticed and less mourned, reminds us of how U.S. foreign policy with its military adventurism was formed and still is formed. The world that made him a celebrity now faces the cold reality of the widening chaos that is the result of the past dozen years.

We may not see another charlatan like Chalabi soon. One surely can hope that Americans would quickly spot a new Chalabi today and discount the optimistic messaging that he or she is selling. In a troubling way, that is a good thing. These days, the U.S. President no longer even attempts to sell new wars, invasions, occupations and assassinations to the war-exhausted public. He just conducts them in the shadows.

Chalabi’s passing reminds us that we live in a post-heroic world, where the U.S. war machine rumbles along on borrowed money without a coherent strategy, vision, success or accountability and also without a soul and without heroes. That sad fact is certainly worth a moment of quiet reflection.

Karen Kwiatkowski is a retired USAF Lt Col, who publicized what she saw in the Pentagon at her final assignment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  She farms with her family in western Virginia, and writes occasionally for, and other outlets.


10 comments for “The Death of a Charming Charlatan

  1. Abe
    November 4, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    In October 2007, Chalabi was appointed by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to head the Iraqi services committee, a consortium of eight service ministries and two Baghdad municipal posts tasked with the “surge” plan’s next phase, restoring electricity, health, education and local security services to Baghdad neighborhoods. David Petraeus’ “Brownie”, Chalabi did a “heck of a job” supporting the good General’s efforts to ease the demand on services in Baghdad by reducing the number of living Iraqis.

    Chalabi had been placed in charge of “deBaathification”—the removal of senior office holders judged to have been close supporters of the deposed Saddam Hussein. The role fell into disuse, but in early 2010 Chalabi was accused of reviving this dormant post to eliminate his political enemies, especially Sunnis. The banning of some 500 candidates prior to the general election of 7 March 2010 at the initiative of Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress was reported to have badly damaged previously improving relations between Shias and Sunnis. Once again, Chalabi did a “heck of a job”.

    When Chalabi died in Baghdad, he was serving in the Iraqi Parliament as the chairperson of the Finance Committee. That’s why Iraq is such an economic powerhouse in the US-sculpted “New Middle East”. So ends the illustrious career of yet another American “asset”.

  2. Drew Hunkins
    November 4, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    Chalabi was the darling of the mainstream media during the 2002/2003 run-up to the war on Iraq. I remember it vividly, he was feted with an unctuous sycophancy by so many establishment media players that it was sickening and disgraceful.

    • Mortimer
      November 5, 2015 at 1:03 am

      unctuous sycophancy!
      — that’s Chalabi.
      CIA confused
      into a presidency
      subtrafused by
      infantile subjugation
      into myths of
      into World-Wide
      fielty as uncious

      Election results
      loom in distress
      of gang-members/
      o.j. simpsomism
      as catylyst of newt
      tear down contracts
      w/”america” as dream
      abstract landscrapes
      in dreams of Mars
      as their ultimate

      • Mortimer
        November 7, 2015 at 10:41 am

        See the above as Exclamation of utter frustration and high-pitched Scream at the active despoliation of Peace, Truth and Life on our planet.
        Read it as if a word-Totem to the evil-being of Deception, Destruction and Death.
        See it as lettered graffiti to be deciphered through the prism of abject anger at the fact that Lies became Truth forced upon us to the extent that those of us who rejected the gospel of war were deemed “anti-american” or “conspiracy theorists” – or ridiculed as were Scott Ritter, Dennis Kucinich, or Cindy Sheehan, for example.

        Concluding questions; can we really afford exorbitant war spending as we also invest Billions in rockets and robots to Mars in the face of a fast evaporation of the worlds’ middle class and proliferation of migrant refugees… ?
        Finally, is the speaker of the below a sane person?

        The Unknown

        As we know,
        There are known knowns.
        There are things we know we know.
        We also know
        There are known unknowns.
        That is to say
        We know there are some things
        We do not know.
        But there are also unknown unknowns,
        The ones we don’t know
        We don’t know.
        —Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing


        You’re going to be told lots of things.
        You get told things every day that don’t happen.

        It doesn’t seem to bother people, they don’t—
        It’s printed in the press.
        The world thinks all these things happen.
        They never happened.

        Everyone’s so eager to get the story
        Before in fact the story’s there
        That the world is constantly being fed
        Things that haven’t happened.

        All I can tell you is,
        It hasn’t happened.
        It’s going to happen.

        —Feb. 28, 2003, Department of Defense briefing.

        The Situation

        Things will not be necessarily continuous.
        The fact that they are something other than perfectly continuous
        Ought not to be characterized as a pause.
        There will be some things that people will see.
        There will be some things that people won’t see.
        And life goes on.

        —Oct. 12, 2001, Department of Defense news briefing


        I think what you’ll find,
        I think what you’ll find is,
        Whatever it is we do substantively,
        There will be near-perfect clarity
        As to what it is.

        And it will be known,
        And it will be known to the Congress,
        And it will be known to you,
        Probably before we decide it,
        But it will be known.
        —Feb. 28, 2003, Department of Defense briefing

  3. Ted Tripp
    November 4, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    Ms Kwiatkowski states that because of the neoconservative/liberal interventionists, “U.S. foreign policy is not about democracy and self-determination, it is not about hope. Rather, it is about crony capitalism, old-style imperialism…” Nothing good here, but I think there is something more, and more insidious. These guys are idealists, and we usually think idealism is a good thing. The problem here is that their ideas are twisted and deformed, topsy-turvy, illusions. They deeply believe in their ideas and move forth in the world wrecking havoc while believing they do good.
    I only ask, “Why are they still around?”

    • Joe Tedesky
      November 4, 2015 at 5:06 pm

      Ted, your question is without a doubt, the sixty four thousand dollar question, that many of us are always asking ourselves, and each other. After, reading your comment here, I just had to post this; how crafty of a person was Ahmed Chalabi, considering how no matter what, through thick and thin, over hell and high water, was this guy always able too land on his feet? If he hadn’t been so creepy, and wrong, he would have almost made himself into a lovable character, but there was no love in this man’s MO.

    • Abe
      November 4, 2015 at 5:47 pm

      Nah, these “idealists” are utterly cynical — their intention always was to “secure the realm” by f**king up Iraq and its neighbors forever.

      The punishment beatings continue:

  4. rosemerry
    November 5, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    Ms Kwiatkowski like so many Americans seems to think the disgusting behaviour of the leaders somehow only began after the hyped-up event of “9/11”.
    The warmaking, invasions, takeovers, overthrow of governments, listening to suave liars did not start this century.

    • Eric
      November 6, 2015 at 2:21 am

      No that’s not what she thinks

  5. Hank
    November 8, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    911 was a staged Pearl Harbor-type false flag event to “justify” the USA and its allies’ phony “war on terror”. All of the people who have implemented and aided this, including the “charming” Mr. Chalabi, are going to need all the help they can get NOT to go to HELL!

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