The Man Who Pushed America to War: The Extraordinary Life, Adventures and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi

Read this. It’s sober, well written and ruthlessly forensic about Ahmad Chalabi’s business affairs and propaganda operations.

NBC correspondent Aram Roston has read everything about Chalabi on the public record, and he has spoken at length with many of Chalabi’s family and long-term supporters. His finest chapters describe how Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress supplied the big lies – three propaganda stories about Saddam’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and his links to al-Qaeda – that his American administration chums needed to feed the mainstream press to justify invasion.

These chapters alone are worth the price of the book. The title, however, is a misnomer.
Chalabi comes from a wealthy Baghdad family with a sense of entitlement and a belief that they were cruelly traduced by the 1958 revolution which overthrew the Iraqi monarchy and forced them into exile.

By  the mid  1970s, he was  living  comfortably in Lebanon. Charming, with perfect English and several American degrees (including one from MIT), he quickly began wheeling and dealing among the Iraqi exile community. However, he’s not one to whom I would feel comfortable entrusting my money. Many, even in his own family, found this out, when their deposits disappeared from his Jordanian-based Petra Bank.

Chalabi loyalists will tell you Ahmad’s not a crook. The problem with Petra Bank, they confide, is that he was  forced to make millions of dollars of unsecured loans to members of the Jordanian  royal family about which, of course, he can’t talk. Maybe, maybe not. Roston shows clearly that the Swiss authorities took a dim view of how Chalabi companies similarly failed to account for other people’s money managed by them in Geneva. Transparency is not one of Chalabi’s qualities. It didn’t need to be, not least for the American neo-cons to whom Chalabi was “our Iraqi.” To Richard Pearle and others bent on toppling Saddam during their doldrum years under Bill Clinton, Chalabi was willing to serve.

When George Bush reached the White House and invasion became possible, they needed Chalabi to come up with Iraqi defectors – no matter how bedraggled and suspect – to provide human meat to their wild claims about the threats of Saddam. Chalabi and his team obliged.

When Judith Miller of the New York Times and David Rose from the Observer finally met these heavily coached “witnesses,” they discovered that the more lurid their “exclusive” stories, the juicier the copy and the more space they scooped on the front pages. It’s now fashionable to portray Chalabi as a dangerous Iranian agent. Oddly, Roston seems to lapse into this sort of homeland security abuse. Chalabi was as useful and as influential as his American hawks wanted and needed him to be.

Sure, he always wanted an invasion to get rid of Saddam. Yet it is they, not him, who “Pushed America to War.” It’s churlish of them now to blame him for their failures.

Reviewer: Ed Harriman is an American documentary film maker and writer based in London.