WASHINGTON - Fourteen months after reaching the zenith of their influence on U.S.
foreign policy with the invasion of Iraq, neo-conservatives appear
to have fallen entirely out of favor, both within the administration
of President George W Bush and in Baghdad itself.
The signs of their defeat at the hands of both reality and the
so-called ''realists'', who are headed within the administration by
Secretary of State Colin Powell, are virtually everywhere but were
probably best marked by the cover of 'Newsweek' magazine last
week, which depicted the framed photograph of the neo-cons'
favourite Iraqi, Ahmad Chalabi, which had been shattered during a
joint police-U.S. military raid on his headquarters in Baghdad.
'Bush's Mr. Wrong' was the title of the feature article.
The victory of the realists, who also include the uniformed military
and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), appeared complete
Monday with the unveiling of the interim Iraqi government to which
an as-yet undefined sovereignty is to be transferred from the
U.S.-led occupation authorities Jun. 30.
Not only was Chalabi's arch-rival-in-exile, Iyad Allawi, approved by
the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) as prime minister, but neither
Chalabi nor any of his closest IGC associates, especially Finance
Minister Kamel al-Gailani -- who is accused of handing over much
of Iraq's banking system to Chalabi during his tenure -- made it into
the final line-up.
''It looks like Chalabi is the big loser'', said one congressional aide
who follows Iraq closely. ''And neo-con has become a dirty word up
here'', he added, referring to the Congress, where Republicans
have become increasingly restive as a result of recent debacles in
Iraq, including the scandal over the abuse by U.S. soldiers of Iraqi
detainees and leaks that Chalabi had been passing sensitive
intelligence to Iran, and may have done so for years.
''We need to restrain what are growing U.S. messianic instincts -- a
sort of global social engineering where the United States feels it is
both entitled and obligated to promote democracy -- by force if
necessary'', said Senator Pat Roberts, a conservative Kansas
member of Bush's Republican Party and chairman of the Senate
Intelligence Committee, in a speech last week that was understood
here as a direct shot at the neo-cons.
The neo-conservatives, a key part of the coalition of hawks that
dominated Bush's post-9/11 foreign policy, were the first to publicly
call for Saddam Hussein's ouster, which they saw as a way to
transform the Arab world to make it more hospitable to western
values, U.S. interests and Israel's territorial ambitions.
Since the latter part of the 1990s, when they led the charge in
Congress for the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act (ILA), Chalabi and his
Iraqi National Congress (INC) was their chosen instrument to
achieve that transformation.
While no neo-cons were appointed to cabinet-level positions
under Bush, they obtained top posts in the offices of Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- where Paul Wolfowitz was named
deputy Defense secretary and Douglas Feith under secretary for
policy -- and Vice President Dick Cheney, whose chief of staff and
national security adviser was I Lewis ''Scooter'' Libby.
On the White House National Security Council staff, they were
able to place former Iran-contra figure Elliott Abrams and Robert
Joseph in key positions dealing with the Middle East and arms
Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board (DPB) was dominated by
neo-cons, notably its former chairman, Richard Perle, former CIA
chief James Woolsey, former arms-control negotiator Kenneth
Adelman and military historian Eliot Cohen.
Neo-cons, more than any other group, pushed hardest for war in
Iraq after 9/11 and predicted, backed up by Chalabi's assurances,
that the conflict would be, among other things, a ''cakewalk'' and
that U.S. troops would be greeted with ''flowers and sweets''.
Within the administration, the neo-cons, again relying heavily on
Chalabi's INC, developed their own intelligence analyses to
bolster the notion of a link between former Iraqi President Saddam
Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist group, and exaggerated
Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to provide
a more credible pretext for war.
Their friends on the DPB and in the media then stoked the public's
fears about these threats through frequent appearances on
television and a barrage of newspaper columns and magazine
While analysts and regional experts at the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) and the State Department, which had dropped
Chalabi as a fraud and a con-man in the mid-1990s, tried to resist
the juggernaut, they were consistently outflanked by the neo-cons,
whose influence and ability to circumvent the professionals was
greatly enhanced by their access to Rumsfeld and Cheney, who
served as their champions in the White House and with Bush
Their influence reached its zenith in early April when Chalabi and
700 of his paid INC troops were airlifted by the Pentagon to the
southern city of Nasariyeh on Cheney's authority against Bush's
stated policy that Washington would not favor one Iraqi faction
over another. Bush's own national security adviser, Condoleezza
Rice, professed surprise when informed of the move by reporters.
While they were still riding high as U.S. troops consolidated their
control of Iraq, the neo-cons' star began to wane already last
August when it became clear that their and Chalabi's predictions
about a grateful Iraqi populace were about as well-founded as
their certainties about Hussein's ties to al-Qaeda and his WMD
Sensing trouble ahead, Rice asked former ambassador to India,
Robert Blackwill, to return to the White House, where he had been
her boss during the presidency of George HW Bush, the current
leader's father (1989-93). By October, she and he had formed an
inter-agency Iraq Stabilization Group (ISG) that gradually wrested
control of Iraq policy from the Pentagon.
It was a process in which Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)
chief Paul Bremer, who had come to detest Chalabi and his
neo-con backers in Baghdad and Washington, was an
enthusiastic participant and which was effectively completed with
the announcement late last month that the State Department was
taking over the 14 billion dollars in reconstruction money for Iraq
that the Pentagon has not yet spent.
In the last month, the neo-con retreat has turned into a rout,
particularly as reports of Chalabi's cosiness with Iran gained
currency and, just as important, senior military officers indicated
that a military victory over the Iraqi insurgency was not possible.
The public attention given to a blistering attack on the neo-cons by
the former chief of the U.S. Central Command, Gen Anthony Zinni,
on the popular television program, '60 Minutes', also
demonstrated that the media, ever cautious about taking on
powerful figures, now saw them as fair game.
When Perle, Woolsey and several other neo-cons visited Rice at
the White House on May 1 to protest the shoddy treatment Chalabi
was receiving at the hands of the CIA, Bremer and the State
Department, participants said she thanked them for their views and
offered nothing more. Neither Rumsfeld nor Cheney nor any of
their neo-con aides attended.
© Copyright 2004 Inter Press Service