Ex-Defense Official Assails Colleagues Over Run-Up to War

By Thomas E. Ricks and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 9, 2008

In the first insider account of Pentagon decision-making on Iraq, one of the key architects of the war blasts former secretary of state Colin Powell, the CIA, retired Gen. Tommy R. Franks and former Iraq occupation chief L. Paul Bremer for mishandling the run-up to the invasion and the subsequent occupation of the country.

Douglas J. Feith, in a massive score-settling work, portrays an intelligence community and a State Department that repeatedly undermined plans he developed as undersecretary of defense for policy and conspired to undercut President Bush's policies.

Among the disclosures made by Feith in "War and Decision," scheduled for release next month by HarperCollins, is Bush's declaration, at a Dec. 18, 2002, National Security Council meeting, that "war is inevitable." The statement came weeks before U.N. weapons inspectors reported their initial findings on Iraq and months before Bush delivered an ultimatum to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Feith, who says he took notes at the meeting, registered it as a "momentous comment."

Although he acknowledges "serious errors" in intelligence, policy and operational plans surrounding the invasion, Feith blames them on others outside the Pentagon and notes that "even the best planning" cannot avoid all problems in wartime. While he says the decision to invade was correct, he judges that the task of creating a viable and stable Iraqi government was poorly executed and remains "grimly incomplete."

Powell, Feith argues, allowed himself to be publicly portrayed as a dove, but while Powell "downplayed" the degree and urgency of Iraq's threat, he never expressed opposition to the invasion. Bremer, meanwhile, is said to have done more harm than good in Iraq. Feith also accuses Franks of being uninterested in postwar planning, and writes that Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser during most of Feith's time in office, failed in her primary task of coordinating policy on the war.

He describes Bush as having wrestled seriously with difficult problems but as being ill-served by subordinates including Powell and Rice. Feith depicts former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld with almost complete admiration, questioning only his rough handling of subordinates.

Feith left the administration in mid-2005 and is now on the Georgetown University faculty. He was the subject of an investigation early last year by the Pentagon's inspector general for his office's secret prewar intelligence assessments outlining strong ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. His reports, deemed "inconsistent" with those of the intelligence community, were judged "inappropriate" but not illegal.

In his book, Feith defends the intelligence activities on grounds that the CIA was "politicizing" intelligence by ignoring evidence in its own reports of ties between Hussein and international terrorists.

A copy of the nearly 900-page manuscript -- midway through the editing process -- was obtained by The Washington Post. Reached at his home yesterday evening, Feith declined to discuss its contents.

Despite its bulk, the book does not address some of the basic facts of the war, such as the widespread skepticism inside the top of the U.S. military about invading Iraq, with some generals arguing that doing so would distract attention from the war against global terrorists. Nor does Feith touch on the assertion of his fellow war architect, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz, that Iraq would be able to pay for its reconstruction with oil revenue.

Feith says surprisingly little new about the conduct of the war on the ground, instead focusing on the policy battles in Washington and asserting that most accounts thus far have been written from the point of view of the State Department and the CIA. He attacks those criticisms as "fear-mongering" that serves the interests of certain officials and journalists.

Powell and his deputy, Richard L. Armitage, are described as repeatedly working behind the scenes to undercut sound proposals by Feith and other Pentagon officials and to undermine decisions Bush had made. Feith criticizes Powell's failure to persuade France and Germany to support U.S. war policy at the United Nations, and to gain Turkey's approval for U.S. troop movements in its territory, as failures of effort and commitment. Feith also asks what would have happened if Powell had argued with Bush against overthrowing Hussein. Powell might have persuaded the president, Feith writes, or, if not, could have resigned.

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