State’s Actions Undercut Powell’s Tough Talk

Joel Mowbray
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Posted: Sep 22, 2003 12:00 AM

 On his recent swing through Switzerland and Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s actions undercut his otherwise fine rhetoric and his department’s insistence that it supports the cause of freedom for the Iraqi people.

  In his remarks in Baghdad last week, Powell struck a welcome tone with his force and passion.  Particularly welcome was his call for handing over authority in a reasonable time frame to an Iraqi government that is “committed to democratic principles”

  Too bad his actions rendered his words meaningless.

  Before heading to Baghdad, Powell was in Geneva, where he met with Adnan Pachachi, the octogenarian former foreign minister.  Not only is Pachachi an Arabist who only recently recognized the right of either Kuwait or Israel to exist, but he is very close to the House of Saud.  But more importantly, Pachachi is a favorite of the State Department.

  Although a member of the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, Pachachi has had surprisingly little interaction with his colleagues after State pushed extremely hard for his inclusion on the transitional authority.  Yet his unwillingness to act as a team player has not soured State on him.  In fact, State essentially rewarded his behavior with a chance to meet with Powell separate from the governing council, a privilege extended to only a select few on the council.

  Although Powell soon after met with the entire Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad, he only met with two other members of the panel on an individual basis apart from the group.  One was the foreign minister—meaning Powell’s counterpart—but the other was far less understandable.  According to an administration official, Powell also met separately with Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, an Islamist and former spokesman for the Dawa Party.  (The State Department’s press office denies that Powell met with al-Rubaie separate from the Secretary’s meeting with the entire council.)

  By affiliating with the Dawa Party, al-Rubaie chose to shill for an organization responsible for the 1983 bombing of the embassy in Kuwait that killed six and injured dozens.  Yet he was granted an audience with Powell.

  Left off Powell’s schedule for any sort of similar separate meeting was Ahmad Chalabi, the founder of the pro-democracy Iraqi National Congress and a member of the governing council.  But unfortunately for Chalabi, his insistence on sticking to his vision of a secular, democratic Iraq has cost him dearly with the professional diplomats at Foggy Bottom.  Quite simply, they hate him.

  Earlier this year, minutes of an internal State Department meeting from May 2002 surfaced in the Wall Street Journal, revealing that State was trying to destroy Chalabi and the INC.  State employee Yael Lempert was quoted in the minutes of a meeting with auditors—whom State had sicced on the INC for the second time in as many years—as telling the auditors that her division, the Near Eastern Affairs bureau, “would appreciate any assistance the OIG (Office of Inspector General) could provide with NEA’s desire to ‘shut down the INC.’” 

  Clearly Lempert was doing exactly as her superiors wanted: since the Journal story ran, she has been promoted and is now one of the point people in Iraq for establishing democracy.

  State’s top press flak Richard Boucher was cavalier about Powell’s failure to meet separately with Chalabi.  Boucher downplayed the snub, stating, “So I wouldn’t get too excited about this, frankly.”  In almost the same breath, he denied the Wall Street Journal story and further added that State has “never made an argument against Chalabi or members of the INC.”

  For several years, State Department bureaucrats, led for the past two years by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, have taken to trashing the INC and Chalabi in every outlet and venue they could find.  But Boucher’s denial was correct, in as much as the assaults were “off-the-record.” 

  The biggest complaints made against Chalabi and his counterparts at the INC were that they were exiles.  Ironically, though, so are both Pachachi and al-Rubaie, yet they are showered with affection by Foggy Bottom.  The primary difference is that they, unlike Chalabi, don’t support secular democracy.  Which also means that they don’t support what Powell has stated that he wants in Iraq.