America went into Iraq because it had WMDs, right? Or was it because we wanted democracy for the Iraqi people? Hmmm.... Or could it be that America just was looking for a way to get oil cheaply and send OPEC a message that they’d better play ball, or the same thing might happen to them? Then again, maybe, just maybe, the United States started the war in Iraq largely due to the efforts of a disgruntled dreamer, a man who had been convicted of embezzling millions of dollars, as both a sort of revenge and a method to further enrich his and his family’s coffers. Nah, that sounds too implausible.
And yet, it happened. The former head of the INC (Iraqi National Congress), Ahmad Chalabi, is the Iraqi who both his supporters and critics claim is the main person behind why the United States began the Iraq War and is still bogged down there today. The Man Who Pushed America to War by Aram Roston tells all of the fascinating and revelatory details behind Ahmad Chalabi’s rise to power and influence in a gripping account everyone should read, whatever your political affiliation.
Just how did Chalabi do it? How did he convince politicians like Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, generals like Colin Powell and David Petraeus, and famous journalists like Charles Gibson and David Rose that Saddam Hussein presented a threat to America’s interests and needed to be deposed? It seems that it was by telling the neo-cons, hawkish Democrats, and journalists what they wanted to hear, whether it was a pack of lies or not.
Ahamd Chalabi used his considerable store of personal charisma and supposed insider knowledge about Iraq under Saddam Hussein to get a loose group of Iraqis together, which he labeled the Iraqi National Congress. It was not an actual congress, though, by any stretch of the imagination, was never voted upon, and was not formed in Iraq. He had headed up various banks, perhaps most notably Petrus Bank, and was involved in many questionable financial transactions between it and other banks he and his relatives had money in. He was eventually convicted in absentia by Jordan for embezzling millions of dollars.
He had to leave Jordan in the middle of the night or risk being captured and placed on trial there. In Lebanon, he damaged the economy so badly and was so reviled that rioters burned effigies of him. Reading about his financial mishandling of millions of dollars made me think no one should trust him to even run a lemonade stand, much less a bank - yet, because there were some people in the U.S. seemingly itching to go to war against Iraq and to finish what we started in the Gulf War, many people in governmental positions believed whatever Chalabi said, from the stories he told about WMDs to tales of mobile biological labs. These fictions originated with Chalabi and Iraqi “defectors” he and his cohorts coached to give the U.S. government reasons to go to war.
He even managed to get a law passed by Congress and enacted in 1998, the so-called Iraq Liberation Act, better known as “Ahmad Chalabi’s Law.” This law, according to the author, “was quite literally written to help Chalabi.” Under the law, Chalabi’s goal of “regime change” became official U.S. policy, and a key part of it was that “$97 million in aid was targeted as military aid - called ‘military drawdown’ - for the Iraqi opposition” - which meant, at least to Chalabi, for himself and his INC. The law read, in part, “It should be the policy of the United States to seek to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.”
If you’re interested at all in American history and what led the U.S. into going to war against Iraq, The Man Who Pushed America to War is necessary reading. I was struck over and over again about how gullible journalists and politicians appeared to be regarding the stories Chalabi kept making up, designed by him to ensure the constant flow of dollars into his and his family’s pockets. They generally did not seem to do any fact-checking whatsoever, believing that Ahmad Chalabi had to be telling the truth. Aram Roston’s book is a scary look into why we went to war and how much one man’s words and actions influenced our government’s policies. Highly recommended.