Feith at war with State over Iraq policy

Thomas Ricks and Karen DeYoung:

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 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.


While I am not a fan of the State Departments conduct surrounding the war, I think it is a mistake to blame them for the bad conduct of "allies." At the time, France and Germany were run by leftist who were willing to support a genocidal despot in Iraq rather than lose some commercial benefits. Turkey had concerns about the Kurds that transcended their worry about Saddam. In retrospect those three countries were all wrong and made the war more difficult. Turkey's decision was particularly costly for the after major combat operation phase of the war because it prevented a confrontation with the Saddam fedayeen in Anbar and Mosul. These groups later became the heart of the insurgency and collaborated with al Qaeda.

Feith has a point on the planning issue. Historically war plans have to be constantly revised because when you are in contact with a thinking enemy he constantly adapts to your strategy and tactics which causes you to have to constantly adapt. It is surprising how many people writing about the war including Ricks ignore this fact of warfare. They are wrapped in this fantasy that you can have a plan that will anticipate the enemy's reaction to each event. If that were true war would be easy and their would be little friction in the effort to overwhelm the enemy.

War is about making the enemy understand that his cause is hopeless. We are very good at making enemies realize they cannot stand up to our overwhelming force but there are too many people in this country who want to give hope to an enemy fighting an insurgency against us which requires persistence and commitment.


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