Notice this snippet from Peter Bakers’s conventional wisdom recalibration in today’s WaPo:
In an interview last week, Perle said the administration’s big mistake was occupying the country rather than creating an interim Iraqi government led by a coalition of exile groups to take over after Hussein was toppled. “If I had known that the U.S. was going to essentially establish an occupation, then I’d say, ‘Let’s not do it,’ ” and instead find another way to target Hussein, Perle said. “It was a foolish thing to do.”
Arguing about Iraq often gets stuck on what exactly our original exit strategy was supposed to be. Rumsfeld clearly planned to get in and out rapidly, which can only mean that we intended to knock over the top tier of leadership and hand over the country to somebody. Who, exactly, is often the sticking point.
The top candidate was always Ahmad Chalabi. A serial fabricator, forger, convicted embezzler and the charismatic leader of a ragtag group of Iraqi exiles, Chalabi clearly owned the hearts and minds of neoconservatives. Now that we know the rest of his story (no support inside Iraq, a likely double agent for Iran) the appeal to incredulity fallacy seems so tempting that even I want to write off his candidacy on the grounds of a basic faith in humanity. Nobody can be that dumb, etc. Sadly one cannot deny that the Chalabi handover makes more sense than any other explanation for the Pentagon’s prewar behavior. Handing Iraq over to one of Saddam’s liutenants seems improbable in light of the dewy-eyed humanitarianism displayed by early war supporters. Saddam had killed off homegrown opposition leaders and Ali al-Sistani wasn’t offered the job (too close to Iran). The crown would pass to Chalabi, or…who?
Now we know. As much as it hurts to imagine such collossal stupidity at the top levels of our policy apparatus, the neocons,’ and by extension America’s postwar strategy really did amount to knocking over Saddam and replacing him with Ahmad Chalabi.