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.
Feith's disdain for Armitage, with whom he sparred at NSC deputies meetings, is palpable. Powell's deputy, he says, "reflexively opposed any idea originating at the Pentagon."
In an introduction to the manuscript, Feith writes that he has tried to avoid polemic and seeks only to contribute to the historical record. He argues, as have other Iraq hawks such as Richard Perle -- a former Reagan administration Pentagon official and outside Rumsfeld adviser -- that the administration's careful approach to Iraq, including a swift transition to Iraqi control, was prevented from succeeding by ill-informed or disloyal subordinates.
The idea to which Feith appears most attached, and to which he repeatedly returns in the book, is the formation of an Iraqi Interim Authority. Feith's office drew up a plan for the body -- to be made up of U.S.-appointed Iraqis who would share some decision-making with U.S. occupation forces -- in the months before the invasion. But while he says that Bush approved it, he charges that Bremer refused to implement it.
The key mistake that the United States made in Iraq, Feith asserts, was "the mishandling of the political transition." The good that Bremer did, he concludes, "was outweighed by the harm caused by the fact of occupation."
In an interview yesterday, Bremer disputed Feith's narrative, saying he believes that Bush gave up on the idea of a quick transition shortly after Baghdad fell and widespread looting broke out in April 2003.
"By the time I sat down with the president on May 3, it was clear that he wasn't thinking about a short occupation," Bremer said. After consulting his records, Bremer also said that at a White House meeting on May 8, Vice President Cheney said, "We are not yet at the point where people we want to emerge can yet emerge." He said that Feith omits that comment. On May 22, he added, the president wrote to him, saying that he knew "our work will take time."
Others have criticized Feith's plan as relying too heavily on Iraqi exile politicians, including Ahmed Chalabi. Feith says that he considered Chalabi one of the most astute and democratically minded Iraqis but that he had no special brief for him. Instead, he charges that the State Department, the CIA and the military's Central Command were pathologically opposed to the exiles and to Chalabi in particular.
Feith continually denounces the CIA, accusing it of producing poor intelligence, intruding on the formulation of policy, and then using leaks to the media to defend itself and attack its bureaucratic opponents. Most notably, he charges that intelligence officials ignored and refused to investigate possible links between al-Qaeda and Hussein's government.
He reports, as others have, that Franks, who commanded the U.S. invasion force, treated him disrespectfully, sometimes rolling his eyes when Feith asked a question. But he indicates that Franks's disregard grew partly out of the general's lack of interest in planning for the postwar period. When Feith tried to talk to him about one aspect of that, Franks walked around the table, leaned over and said, "Doug, I don't have time for this [expletive]." He concludes that Franks failed in part because of advice he received from his advisers at the CIA and the State Department.
In contrast with the reputation of Gen. Richard B. Myers, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for pliability, Feith reports that Myers grew irate at what he saw as administration attempts to get around the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners following the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Myers, he writes, threatened to bypass Rumsfeld and take his concerns directly to Bush, but calmed down after being told that the administration would distinguish between legitimate prisoners of war and al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees.
In summarizing his view of what went wrong in Iraq, Feith writes that it was a mistake for the administration to rely so heavily on intelligence reports of Hussein's alleged stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons and a nuclear weapons program, not only because they turned out to be wrong but also because secret information was not necessary to understand the threat Hussein posed.
Hussein's history of aggression and disregard of U.N. resolutions, his past use of weapons of mass destruction and the fact that he was "a bloodthirsty megalomaniac" were enough, Feith maintains.
He blames both the CIA and Powell, who outlined the weapons case in a February 2003 speech at the United Nations, for overemphasizing the threat. But Feith appears to ignore the crucial role that statements from Cheney and Rice, about the imminence of "mushroom clouds" emanating from Iraqi nuclear weapons, played in the case the administration made for war.