Monday, June 30, 2008

Douglas Feith: "War and Decision"

Douglas Feith is a former U.S. undersecretary of Defense for policy, and is author of: "War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism". Mr. Feith is donating 100% of his book income to military veterans' causes.

Link to five excellent video interview segments with NRO's Peter Robinson.

Feith has written a scrupulously documented and footnoted work of scholarship and history. Feith has set up a website which links to documentation cited in his book. Feith's book has been on Amazon's Top 10 List for several weeks. "War and Decision" has received almost no play in the MSM. Feith speculates on the reason: while the book is critical of the Bush Administration, it generally shows the Bush Administration trying to do the right thing. In an election year, this is inconvenient for the MSM. So far, neither the NYT nor WaPo have reviewed "War and Decision". That is unusual for a book on Amazon's Top 10 List.

I transcribed the following from a Feith interview with Glen Reynolds and Helen Smith.


Feith: I found that almost all the books that have been written on Iraq have had important points in them which were unsubstantiated and inaccurate. I was very interested, in my book, in relying on the record, so that people could see the actual memos. I tried to create a narrative based upon real documents, and upon my actual notes from meetings. I made the radical decision that I would put words in quotation marks only if they were actually spoken by people at the actual time and place I was describing.


Q: What is the biggest misconception about the decision to go to war in Iraq?

Feith: First, that the Pres. came to office intent on going to war; didn't consider options other than war; did not listen to or respect considerations other than war. All of those allegations are wrong.

Second misconception: that Pentagon officials did not plan for post-war Iraq. That is wrong. Pentagon officials did plan for post-war Iraq. My book reveals what the actual plan was for post war transition. That has not been discussed in any book previous to mine.

[Greg's note: Rumsfeld wanted to quickly install a U.S. friendly strongman, then get out. This was partly why Rumsfeld had so few troops on the ground when Baghdad fell. Rumsfeld did not want to expose large numbers of American troops to extended risk.]


Feith: Regarding Saddam: when the Bush Admin came to office, there had been criticism of the Clinton Admin policy . It was clear that the foundation of the Clinton Admin. policy - the set of U.N. Security Council Resolutions trying to contain the danger from the Saddam regime - it was clear that that containment strategy was disintegrated.

Saddam had already ended the weapons inspections. He had loosened and corrupted the economic sanctions. He was challenging the no fly zones by shooting at U.S. and British aircraft virtually every day. It was clear the containment strategy was not sustainable.

There were debates within the Bush Admin. for the first 8 months or so over what to do about this: could the containment strategy be repaired? Was something new needed?

There were no decisions made prior to 9/11.

After 9/11, Pres. Bush decided something which was a great departure from past U.S. practice: our goal after 9/11 must be to prevent the next attack; not merely to punish those who did the prior attack.

That focused the National Security officials on the broader terrorist network - including state supporters who might be involved in follow-on attack. That's when new National Security focus fell upon Iraq.


Feith: The administration made a terrible mistake in relying on bad intelligence which said we would find WMD stockpiles in Iraq. That severely damaged our country's credibility.

However, the general reporting on WMD has been misleading. The headlines around the world were: no WMD found in Iraq. People then concluded there was no WMD threat posed by Iraq. That was not correct.

What we found after Saddam was overthrown was that Saddam had maintained his programs. He had facilities. He had personnel. He had materiel. He had the intentions to have chemical and biological weapons - and of course he had them and he used them in the past. He had put himself in a position where he could've produced chemical and biological weapons in 3-5 weeks. What we found, after the war, was that he did pose a serious chemical and biological danger.

The administration would've done itself a service if it had countered a lot of the false statements its critics were making. The administration, beginning in fall of 2003, made the decision they were not going to talk about the past anymore. They were just going to focus on the future, and on the promotion of democracy.

I think that was a terrible mistake. It had three main consequences:

1. It looked like the Pres. was changing the rational for war in the middle of a war. That hurt the President's credibility.

2. By not debating his critics on the past, the Pres. ensured his critics would focus on almost nothing but the past. The critics found that whatever they said about the past would go uncontradicted by the White House. And so the critics wound up being extremely successful in completely revising the history, and with coming up with this "Bush lied, people died" argument.

3. We actually went to war to remove the various threats the Saddam regime posed. However, the President, by moving discussion away from that, and by defining success as the promotion of a successful democratic government in Iraq, the President actually moved the goalposts away from us. Instead of saying success is removing threats and having some kind of stable government, he said the goal is stable democracy. That's a much more difficult goal to achieve. I think many Americans then thought the President had set an unrealistic goal; and, as a consequence, those Americans gave up their support for the war effort.


[Greg's note regarding Pres. Bush setting a goal of having a successful democratic government:

To me, it seems obvious President Bush was shooting for more than a stable government run by a U.S. friendly strongman. Further, Pres. Bush' democracy objective is currently being realized. An amazing thing. Historic. Because his democracy strategy is succeeding: I expect history will revere George W. Bush for his vision and for his guts. I find it humorous that Pres. Bush is so reviled at a moment when we are so clearly succeeding in Iraq. A free Iraq might, over the next 50-100 years or so, wreck fundamentalist Islam in the Middle East - leaving fundamentalism a discredited shadow of what it is now.]

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