- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

Inside the halls of the State Department, career members of the Foreign Service have been buzzing about a prospect that excites them very much: President John Kerry. Never mind that their current boss is President George W. Bush.

To what extent this impacts day-to-day job performance or leaks to the press is unclear, but it is clear that Mr. Bush presides not over an administration divided on philosophy, but over an administration whose foreign policy team is dominated by those who desperately want him to lose come November.

And if Mr. Bush doesn’t act soon, their wish might be granted.

For proof, look at the “scandal” surrounding Iraqi Governing Council member and longtime U.S. ally Ahmed Chalabi. His Baghdad home was raided recently, and the media coverage has been clogged with quotes from anonymous “intelligence officials” claiming that there is “rock solid” evidence that Mr. Chalabi gave the Iranian mullahs “highly classified” intelligence.

It didn’t take a particularly astute observer to notice an awful lot of hostility being vented. For Mr. Chalabi, it was a comeuppance of sorts. He has been hated by State and the CIA, for different reasons, for years.

State Department diplomats dislike the Iraqi democrat because he is committed to a secular, pluralistic society. The Foreign Service doesn’t necessarily oppose such values, but it does — fiercely — when it comes to lands where they have never existed. Why? Because it would threaten the most important of all State Department objectives: stability.

Mr. Chalabi is seen as a threat to the Arab world order. State has long supported whichever tyrant can bring “stability” to a given Arab nation, as the diplomats believe that that region of the world is incapable of fostering or supporting democracy or even anything resembling a free society.

Even if State now grudgingly has to support Iraqi democracy — and even that’s an open question — its bureaucrats long ago developed an unshakable hatred of Mr. Chalabi, and they will do anything in their power to undermine him.

Although the CIA largely shares State’s worldview, its contempt for Mr. Chalabi is much more visceral. In the mid-1990s, the CIA organized a ham-handed coup attempt against Saddam. Mr. Chalabi warned them it wouldn’t work. He was right — and said so publicly. The CIA fumed. Bad blood has existed ever since.

Given the history of acrimony, the smear campaign against Mr. Chalabi was almost inevitable. His enemies at State and CIA are still bitter not just that Mr. Chalabi won the support of the White House — he was seated behind Laura Bush at the State of the Union — but that his decades-long push to oust Saddam finally succeeded.

In striking Mr. Chalabi, State and CIA are not simply attacking him, but his allies inside the administration and the decision to go to war in the first place.

And that’s not unintentional.

State Department diplomats and “intelligence officials” from State and CIA hate the hawks inside the Pentagon — the so-called “neocons” — almost as much as they do Mr. Chalabi. Luckily for them, they can kill two birds with one smear campaign.

After all, it was the administration hawks — primarily based in the Pentagon, though there are others, such as Vice President Dick Cheney and a handful at the State Department — that championed Mr. Chalabi from the very beginning of this administration.

“Intelligence officials” leaked to the New York Times last week that there was an investigation centered on “a handful” of officials, most of whom “are at the Pentagon.”

The dividing line is very clear: On one side are the president’s political appointees; and on the other are careerists who have no loyalty to the commander-in-chief.

To fully appreciate the mutinous sentiment at State, consider that it is a place where its employees feel free to display on desks and doors political cartoons lampooning President Bush. Anecdotally, several State Department officials know of many Foreign Service colleagues who joined antiwar rallies last spring.

The undermining is not merely symbolic, either.

Last spring, State Department officials learned from Pyongyang representatives in New York that North Korea was admitting, for the first time, that it was reprocessing plutonium. And it kept that bombshell a secret, even from the White House, because it didn’t want to give administration hawks a reason to cancel upcoming talks — something for which State had lobbied very hard.

The insubordination continues to this day. Bureaucrats at State and CIA — despite CIA Director George Tenet being the one claiming the case for WMD was a “slam dunk” — largely did not support the war. They can no longer win the fight on the decision to go to war, but taking out Mr. Chalabi is the next best thing. It calls into question the motives and justification for the war, and in the process, defends the institutional integrity of both State and CIA.

So far, the White House has not refereed the open revolt in its ranks. This has only emboldened the president’s enemies at State and CIA. If there is evidence against Mr. Chalabi, it should be put on the table.

But if not, if this smear campaign is merely a bluff to carry out character assassination, then Mr. Chalabi might not be the only one who unfairly falls from grace.

Joel Mowbray writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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