Thursday, May 12

Roses for the matadors and a recipe for lemonade

Pundita doesn't mind certain kinds of rascals but I admit that I don't like Ahmed Chalabi even though I've never met him. In fact, the one thing I have against Paul Wolfowitz is that he allowed Chalabi to parlay their mutual love of math into a garden path, down which Wolfy blindly walked.

I agree with the Iraqi who call Chalabi a drum--makes a big noise but hollow inside. I think he's a phony on top of being a rascal. I grudgingly admit this makes him, as another Chalabi observer remarked, a great politician. So it is with great effort that I heave aside my personal dislike and attempt to plumb King Abdullah's decision to let bygones be bygones about the matter of $300m in bank fraud.

Incidentally, Americans can study Mr Chalabi's career as a banker if they want to feel their way toward understanding why peoples in the developing world don't trust banks. In America when lazy crooks want to scare up quick cash, they rob a bank. In the developing world, the same types start a bank.

But Chalabi will sue anyone who calls him a crook. If the Jordanian government hadn't instituted the silly rule that banks in Jordan must put 30% of their foreign exchange into the central bank, nobody would have gotten upset that there was no money in Jordan's second biggest bank. However, as the (UK) Independent online edition notes with a straight face, "Unbowed, Mr Chalabi went into politics."

There it seems he found his calling. Chalabi's methods of quickly raising large amounts of cash must be weighed against more positive factors: his political skills, his obsessive determination that Iraq will become a great modern country, and his close ties with Iranian royalists and moderate factions inside Iran. By promising everything to everyone in Iraq, Iran and Jordan, Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress party are part of the reason that Iraq has not fallen into civil war.

Another part is Bush's decision to yank Paul Bremer and put Iyad Allawi in charge of things until an Iraqi government was formed. The decision extended the first hope to Iraqi Sunnis that they would not to be purged from post-Saddam Iraq. The hope, shored by recent appointments of Sunnis to posts in the new Iraqi government, is making the Coalition military's job easier in Iraq.

The relative unimportance of the posts, and their small number, might not sound like much to us but they are a huge deal to the Sunnis--a sign that pragmatism, rather than revenge for the Saddam era, will rule the thinking of the Shia majority government.

Meanwhile, the US military command in Iraq continues their methodical draining of the swamp via Operation Matador. The news that Bill Roggio marshals in his Bringing it On essay might come as a shock due to paltry and highly distorted media coverage of Coalition activities. But the news is evidence that the military's grinding force and careful planning, which makes good use of the heroism and professionalism of the US solider, is paying off.

It's paying off to the extent that King Abdullah of Jordan and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia have finally come to trust the US military command, which under Bremer's CPA rule were made to look like idiots. That is why the mullahs who report to Prince Abdullah are now encouraging remaining al Qaeda sympathizers in Saudi Arabia to march over there to Iraq and show the Marines what real men are made of.

Oddly, some American observers are reading snowballing success in Iraq as failure. Why they should be doing this, Pundita doesn't know, yet. Of one thing I'm certain: Chalabi's bullish forecast for Iraq is catching. Iraqis as a whole are waking up to the possibilities for their country, if it remains unified, and the chance to write a glorious chapter in the Middle East's history. If Western powers handed them a lemon by glomming together disparate tribes into a nation, they can make lemonade.

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