This really is a story for Washington Babylon, and not No Comment, but as my counterpart is settling back in after a well-earned rest, I’ll give it a go-ahead. For the last three weeks, rumors have been swirling around a relatively depopulated Washington to the effect that the Bush Administration is very unhappy with Prime Minister al-Maliki. “They’re going to take him out,” one lobbyist told me, “and replace him with former interim Prime Minister Allawi.” Now Ayad Allawi is a fairly repulsive figure with a dark background. But he seemed to get along just swell with the Neocon clique, right from the beginning. Perhaps they shared a certain commonality of purpose. But when I pressed my friend to know who “they” were, and what he meant by “take him out,” I got nowhere. “Just a rumor,” he said. Was it the CIA? The Bush Administration? A faction in Baghdad? I was dismissive.
Then as time progressed, I grew less dismissive. I heard that the “town was flooded with Allawi money.” It was “being spread around everywhere and was drawing results.” How could that be? Where would Allawi get loads of money? And surely you don’t mean to tell me you can buy influence that crassly in Washington? (No strike that, I’m not that naïve.)
I started watching the media closely. Suddenly an Allawi op-ed showed up in the hallowed editorial pages of the Washington Post. And then a faint whisper against al-Maliki got louder and louder. Suddenly it was on CNN, Fox and other broadcast media. Then a story surfaced pointing to former RNC chair Hailey Barbour’s lobbying firm as the source of all of this. Barbour, of course, is now governor of Mississippi and no longer running this lobbying outfit (though his name is invoked in connection with it continuously). Carl Levin, Pete Hoekstra and a number of others made sudden and dramatic statements that seemed carefully jiggered to help the Allawi campaign.
Yesterday I found a column authored by Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com. The title says it all: “How our seedy, corrupt Washington establishment operates.” Greenwald has linked up many of the dots, essentially showing how Allawi’s money is buying coverage in the media, access to decision-makers and pressure on the Government, all with the aim of reinstalling Allawi as America’s Quisling in Baghdad. Is this material for a Hollywood movie? If not, then yes, it really does show the putrid internal workings of the Washington corruptocracy. It shows them at their most lurid and insidious. Greenwald writes:
Over the past several weeks, there has arisen a palpable and coordinated shift among the Washington establishment to blame Iraq’s problems on Prime Minister Maliki and to suggest that salvation lies in his replacement. The only real alternative ever identified is former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
Fred Hiatt turned his Op-Ed page over to Allawi two weeks ago to argue — in the most establishment-pleasing tones — that “Responsibility for the current mess in Iraq rests primarily with the Iraqi government” and that “Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has failed to take advantage of the Iraqi people’s desire for peaceful and productive lives and of the enormous commitment and sacrifices made by the United States and other nations.” In other words, our wise Washington Leaders have done the Right and Good thing in Iraq, but that scoundrel Maliki is the key impediment preventing Success.
I was puzzling over whether anyone in the mainstream media would ever pick up on this. And the answer is: yes. CNN did a piece. But ABC News, thanks to Justin Rood, found the story, and has even broken some new ground on it. Rood follows the right path: asking where is this money coming from? ABC reports:
Dr. Ayad Allawi, a Maliki rival with close ties to the CIA, was paying the GOP firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers (BGR) more than a quarter-million dollars to lobby on his behalf. The story was first reported on the Web site Iraqslogger.com, which obtained the documents.
It has been widely reported that Ayad Allawi and his political group, the Iraqi National Accord, received CIA funding from the early 1990s until as late as 2004 and consulted with CIA officials about setting up a domestic intelligence service for the Iraqi government. In 2004, Allawi was made the interim prime minister until elections could be held. Experts also believe he is supported by Gulf states wary of Iran’s influence in the Iraqi government.
There are a lot of very important questions hovering over this story right now. But if this whole bid for Allawi is indeed being funded with resources controlled by the CIA (for which at present we have no real evidence, though, if it were true, real evidence would be painfully hard to come by), that’s a very big deal that needs to be examined and exposed to the sanitizing effects of bright sunlight. This would be Praetorian politics at its most dangerous.
And in any event it could be a better demonstration of the points that Ken Silverstein made very forcefully in his article in the July Harper’s. In “Their Men in Washington,” Ken went undercover as a shadowy agent for arguably the world most viciously Stalinist dictatorship, Turkmenistan. He found Washington lobbying firms tripping over themselves offering access to power and influence in Washington at the highest levels. The “coups ‘r us” story surrounding Allawi shows how valid are the lessons that Silverstein teaches us, and how acute the risk to our democratic institutions.