Smear Without Substance

Posted: May 27, 2004 12:00 AM

To appreciate the alternate universe populated by our federal government, consider the supposed matter of national security involving an Iraqi leader and now suggestions of a possible role played by his supporters in the Bush administration.

Last week, longtime U.S. ally and Saddam enemy Ahmed Chalabi was splashed across news headlines all over the country, accused of being a spy for ?axis of evil? member Iran while serving on the Iraqi Governing Council.  The public line was that there was ?rock solid? evidence?as CBS News paraphrased ?government officials??that Chalabi had betrayed the U.S. in order to help the Iranian mullahs.

But much of what is being hurled at Chalabi can probably be explained away by old grudges, not just against him, but also against the strongest supporters for the Iraq war inside the administration.

Back in the mid-1990?s, Chalabi and his group, the Iraqi National Congress, were still on speaking terms with the Central Intelligence Agency.  When a coup attempt was being cooked up against Saddam, Chalabi warned the CIA that it would fail.  It did, and Chalabi was not bashful about defending his prediction-slash-warning. 

He has been deemed an enemy of the CIA ever since.

The administration hawks are just as hated, though for different reasons (explained below).  The New York Times on Monday ran a story, seemingly based solely on ?intelligence officials,? with the headline: ?U.S. Steps Up Hunt in Leaks to Iraqi Exile.? 

The ?news? in the Times piece was that ?intelligence officials? (read: CIA) are investigating ?a handful of officials in Washington and Iraq who dealt regularly with Mr. Chalabi.?  Who are these potential traitors?  Well, according to the Times, ?Most of them are at the Pentagon.?

Also being publicly assailed on Monday?this time by the Washington Post?was Richard Perle, the former head of the Defense Policy Board and a leading advocate of the Iraq war.  Buried in the hit piece was a brief mention that Perle had been cleared of ethics violations last fall.

Why all this animosity?

As many people with a passing knowledge of Washington affairs have noticed, there is a perceived schism between the positions of the Departments of State and Defense. 

If only it were that easy.

There are two main worldviews: one that worships at the altar of stability, and the other holds that the U.S. should use force when necessary, but more often should employ tough diplomacy in order to push countries into reforming toward freedom.

The stability side is embodied by State Department diplomats, but it is almost as deeply held by ?intelligence officials? (not just CIA, but also State), and even by many of the top brass in the uniformed military. 

It is a view that is ?safe,? inasmuch as it has been the American approach to foreign policy for decades and it remains the conventional wisdom among the ?experts.?

It is also the view that helped shape the world before 9/11.

The relatively small number of Bush political appointees among the foreign policy team inside the administration?the overwhelming majority of whom are careerists, particularly at State and CIA?are perceived as a grave threat because their worldview is such an anathema to the established stability-above-all-else orthodoxy.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has even led intimidation campaigns to scare his policy opponents into submission, threatening people with termination, among other tactics. 

Now the bullying continues.  With a well-orchestrated media campaign that most PR mavens could only hope to emulate, State and the CIA have already started sullying the good names of administration hawks with anonymous quotes.

Tellingly, though, none of the accusations leveled in the press against the administration hawks have been deemed important enough to bring to the attention of the White House.

The allegations against Chalabi have not been characterized even in the simplest terms, other than that he gave to Iran, in the words of the aforementioned New York Times article, a ?wide array? of ?highly classified? secrets.  Yet why is there smear without substance?  Why not even give the basics of his alleged wrongdoing?

But perhaps the most important question that must be asked is: why are ostensibly secretive ?intelligence officials? waging such a high-profile public smear campaign?