Jim Lobe

Fourteen months after reaching the zenith of their influence on US foreign policy with the invasion of Iraq, neo-conservatives appear to have fallen entirely out of favour, both within the administration of President Bush and in Baghdad itself. The signs of their defeat at the hands of both reality and the so-called “realists”, who are headed within the administration by Secretary of State Colin Powell, are virtually everywhere but were probably best marked by the cover of ‘Newsweek’ magazine last week, which depicted the photograph of the neo-cons’ favourite Iraqi, Ahmad Chalabi, which had been shattered during a joint police-US military raid on his headquarters in Baghdad.

The victory of the realists appeared complete with the unveiling of the interim Iraqi government to which an as-yet undefined sovereignty is to be transferred from the US-led occupation authorities Jun. 30. Not only was Chalabi’s arch-rival-in-exile, Iyad Allawi, approved by the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) as prime minister, but neither Chalabi nor any of his closest IGC associates made it into the final line-up.

The neo-cons were the first to publicly call for Saddam Hussein’s ouster. Since the latter part of the 1990s, Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC) was their chosen instrument to achieve that transformation. While no neo-cons were appointed to cabinet-level positions under Bush, they obtained top posts in the offices of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. Rumsfeld’s Defence Policy Board (DPB) was dominated by neo-cons.

Within the administration, the neo-cons developed their own intelligence analyses to bolster the notion of a link between Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist group, and exaggerated Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to provide a more credible pretext for war. Their friends on the DPB and in the media then stoked the public’s fears about these threats through frequent appearances on television and a barrage of newspaper columns and magazine articles. While analysts and regional experts at the CIA and the State Department tried to resist the juggernaut, they were consistently outflanked by the neo-cons, whose influence and ability to circumvent the professionals was greatly enhanced by their access to Rumsfeld and Cheney. Their influence reached its zenith in early April when Chalabi and 700 of his paid INC troops were airlifted by the Pentagon to the southern city of Nasariyeh on Cheney’s authority against Bush’s stated policy that Washington would not favour one Iraqi faction over another.

While they were still riding high as US troops consolidated their control of Iraq, the neo-cons’ star began to wane already last August when it became clear that their and Chalabi’s predictions about a grateful Iraqi populace were about as well-founded as their certainties about Hussein’s ties to al-Qaeda and his WMD stockpiles. By October, the inter-agency Iraq Stabilisation Group (ISG) gradually wrested control of Iraq policy from the Pentagon. It was a process in which Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) chief Paul Bremer, who had come to detest Chalabi and his neo-con backers in Baghdad and Washington, was an enthusiastic participant. — IPS