Chalabi’s Nigerian Letter

“Hello, my name is Ahmed Chalabi. I am unable to access my funds in the oil-rich nation of Iraq. I am writing to you because I know that you are an honest and well-intended person. If you can forward me eighty-seven billion dollars I assure you that you will be richly rewarded for your generosity….”

I still don’t know what’s going on in Iraq. Josh Micah Marshall doesn’t either, and he’s really been working on the story. (Just page down for the last couple of weeks, and watch him trying).

Apparently the Iraqi Governing Council, which was supposed to be frozen out of the new government, has hijacked the process, making the UN completely irrelevant, and the US has ratified what happened (but apparently only after the fact).

The new Prime Minister, Allawi, is a cousin or something of Chalabi, whose home and office were just raided, apparently with American approval, and who is being accused of sending American secrets to Iran (which remains a member of the Axis of Evil, as far as anyone knows).

So is Allawi a rival of Chalabi’s or his stooge? Does anyone know? Are the Americans who support Allawi different people than the Americans who are trying to bust Chalabi and his American friends? My reading is that nobody is on charge either in Iraq or in Washington D.C., and that anything might happen. (Sort of like a bloody situation comedy, I guess.)

One theory is that the Chalabi raids were fake, meant to give Chalabi street cred with the Iraqis. That seems unlikely to me, however — there would have been less messy ways to do that, which would have had fewer damaging domestic (US) repercussions.

Americans, including the best and brightest, have a strong tendency to underestimate the political skills of third-worlders. Economically, technically, and militarily the third world is weak, but many of their leaders have learned how to play their weak hands very skillfully. And in fact, many of them have thousands of years of experience at playing political games.

Chalabi is an MIT-Chicago math PhD, which suggests that he’s not too dumb. Iraq also has a continuous 5,000-year history of bureaucracy, which means that Iraqi skills at bureaucratic infighting, (deception, manipulation, conniving, double-crossing, etc.) are going to be highly sophisticated.

By contrast, our own representives are mere political science PhD’s (also from Chicago). It’s no wonder they were snookered. One of the beauties of American life is the degree to which it is actually possible to be successful while remaining straightforward and honest, but this doesn’t translate well in diplomacy.

Many versions of the “Nigerian letter” scam depend on convincing previously-honest citizens that they, personally, have finally been awarded a chance to get in on some of the crime action. Maybe that’s what happened in Iraq. For many, Chalabi’s criminal past was actually part of his appeal.