By Dana Milbank
Friday, April 25, 2008
Mistakes were made. But not by him.
Doug Feith, the No. 3 man at the Pentagon before, during and after the invasion of Iraq, has come in for his share of blame for the failures there -- in large part because he led the Pentagon policy shop that badly misstated the case for war and bungled the planning for the aftermath. Gen. Tommy Franks called him "the dumbest [bad word] guy on the planet." George Tenet of the CIA called his work on Iraq "total crap." And Jay Garner, once the American administrator in Iraq, deduced that Feith is "incredibly dangerous" and, "He's a smart guy whose electrons aren't connected."
Now Feith, whatever the state of his electrons, is showing just how dangerous he can be. He's written a book designed to settle the score with his many opponents in the administration, and in a book-launch event last night at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he pointed his finger every which way but inward.
He argued that former secretary of state Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, were the ones who failed to challenge the logic of going to war -- not him. He suggested that Powell, Armitage, Franks, former Iraq viceroy Jerry Bremer and even Feith's old boss, Donald Rumsfeld, should be blamed for the postwar chaos in Iraq -- not him. He blamed then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice for the way she operated ("fundamental differences were essentially papered over rather than resolved"). He accused the CIA of "improper" and unprofessional behavior. And he implicitly blamed President Bush for not cracking down on insubordinate behavior at the State Department.
Yet at the same time, Feith told the CSIS crowd that he disapproved of the "snide and shallow self-justification typical in memoirs of former officials," or what Feith cleverly called the " 'I-was-surrounded-by-idiots' school of memoir writing." Feith pointed out that he supported his account with 140 pages of notes and documents. And yet, in his hour-long panel discussion, Feith seemed to be of the impression that he had, in fact, been surrounded by idiots.
There was, for example, the question of the campaign waged by Feith and his section of the Pentagon against the CIA when the agency argued that there was no evidence of al-Qaeda having ties to Saddam Hussein. "The CIA and the intelligence community should not be shading intelligence," Feith lectured. But the self-justification missed the obvious point: The CIA was correct.
As he has promoted his book this month, Feith has continued to say things that suggest an ongoing electron disconnect. On "60 Minutes," he made the straight-faced claim that "I don't think we needed to" make weapons of mass destruction part of the case for war with Iraq.
And he assigns blame freely. Disbanding of the Iraqi army? He blames that on Bremer and Rumsfeld. "The first time I heard the idea, it came from Ambassador Bremer when he was on his way to Baghdad. I didn't sign off one way or the other."
His main regret, he told National Public Radio, was that Rumsfeld and Franks did not take seriously his wise and prescient memo warning about the need to preserve law and order in Iraq. He should have "pushed harder to get it onto General Franks's radar screen, to get it onto Secretary Rumsfeld's radar screen," he said.
Pointing so many fingers in so many directions, a man is bound to get confused -- as happened when Steve Kroft asked him on "60 Minutes" about his claim that the lack of troops contributed to looting in Baghdad. "I don't believe I raised the troop-level issue in that connection," Feith replied. Then Kroft presented him with the passage. "That's a fair point," Feith amended.
The title of Feith's book, "War and Decision," is printed across a blood-red cover. At last night's forum, moderator Ray DuBois of the CSIS pointed out that Feith, admirably, is donating all proceeds from the book to a foundation he's creating to help veterans and their families. Of course, money is not the object in this book; the 54-year-old son of a Holocaust survivor is eager to rebuild a reputation that continues to suffer for his role in starting the war. After his appointment to the Georgetown foreign-service school caused a ruckus among the faculty, the school decided not to renew his spot.
CSIS's Fred Ikle, one of the panelists, admired Feith's ability to point out, "honestly and delicately," that "this was not Rumsfeld's finest hour," and he praised the author's "subtle disclosure of the chronic insubordination in our government." But there was nothing subtle about Feith's blame-casting.
"The most serious analysis of the downside and risks of war was produced in the Pentagon by Rumsfeld and his top advisers, not by Colin Powell, Rich Armitage, George Tenet or other officials who are reputed to have been the voices of caution," Feith argued.
Then there was the "plan for political transition in post-Saddam Iraq" -- the lack of which caused the American occupation to unravel. "It was a plan that my office drafted, Powell and Armitage tried to delay, President Bush approved, Jay Garner began to implement and L. Paul Bremer buried."
It must have been very difficult being Doug Feith: correct all the time, and surrounded by idiots.
Washingtonpost.com producer Emily Freifeld contributed to this column.