On the day when President Obama announced that all U.S. troops are finally coming home from Iraq, I called the man who helped put them there in the first place — the wily Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, who was the most effective lobbyist in favor of the 2003 U.S. invasion.
You will not be surprised that Chalabi offered no apologies for a war that cost many thousands of U.S. and Iraqi lives, and more than a trillion dollars. Quite the contrary, he lauded the U.S. for its role in overthrowing Saddam Hussein and said the 2003 war in Iraq was a precursor to the “Arab Spring.”
“What the U.S. did in Iraq was something to be proud of,” Chalabi said in a telephone interview from his residence in Baghdad. “They overthrew Saddam Hussein. This was the precursor of all the movements that took place in the Arab world this year.”
Chalabi argued that America’s problems in Iraq were a result of its occupation, which he says was unnecessary, since Iraqi forces would have been able to create a transition government, as is happening now in Libya. He said that beyond America’s overthrow of Saddam and its help in reducing 80 percent of Iraq’s external debt, “almost everything else was a mistake.” America’s efforts in Iraq, he said, displayed “a sort of hubris — they thought they could do it all.”
Chalabi, though he was famous for his links with Republicans such as President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, had flattering words for President Obama. “I think Obama’s foreign policy has been good,” he said. “I think his approach to Libya was wise and careful.”
I asked Chalabi about arguments made often these days, in America and the Arab world alike, that he has become an overly enthusiastic supporter of Iran. He said he favored good relations with Iran — and that he wanted Iraq and Iran to be “a meeting ground rather than a battle ground,” as it was in the 1980s. As for his close links with the Iranian mullahs, he said the State Department had knowingly given him money to establish an office in Iran in 2001, in a early effort to jump-start the exile opposition.
Chalabi offered some mild criticism of the lack of human rights in Iran and some similarly cautious support of democratic protest in Tehran. As for the Arab Spring, he was emphatic in his support. “Iraq was the first country to go through the process,” he said. “The Arab people will long remember that.”
“We thank U.S. troops for liberating Iraq, and we say goodbye to them, and good luck,” Chalabi concluded.
So that’s how it ends — not with a bang or a whimper, either, but with a smooth valedictory from the man whom history will record as the secret instigator of the Iraq war, for which he has no apologies and, seemingly, no regrets.