Earlier this summer, Douglas J. Feith flew to Austin to help Texas Governor Rick Perry brush up on international affairs. Some reports have him working for his campaign in that capacity but I’ve not been able to confirm this as true. He is not a national figure and though he was, for a time, critically important to a rather huge decision, few people recall his name so when it’s reported that Feith is advising Perry, the public is left to conclude that, “Okay, Perry’s talking to some former Bush people so perhaps there’s some overlap, where’d I put my coffee cup…”
Left unreported is the utterly fair reminder that Douglas J. Feith was Undersecretary to Defense Policy who supervised the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, a since-disbanded office that has been under investigation for lying to Congress. The big lie being his hand in repeatedly inventing evidence that lead us into Iraq. Joining Feith on his trip to Texas was William Luti, who was Feith’s direct boss while both were in the Bush Administration.
A refresher seems in order.
As you’ll likely recall, the Bush Administration repeatedly claimed 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta met with a top Iraqi diplomat in Prague as evidence of a link between Al-Quaeda and the Iraqi government. This claim, along with others, came from an “Alternative Analysis on the Iraq-Al Qaeda Relationship” authored by the Office of Special Plans. This bit of evidence along with the rest ignored, as Robert Scheer succinctly put it in The Nation, “the consensus of the intelligence community that the two natural enemies–one a secular Arab government, the other a fundamentalist terror group bent on destruction of same–were not, nor ever had been, working together, despite a shared enmity for the United States.” (Scheer’s article relies heavily on a report issued after an investigation into the Office of Special Plans and headed by Sen. Carl Levin.)
The implication has always been that at the behest of Vice President Cheney, and possibly President Bush, Feith was tasked with cobbling together information from various CIA sources to create a justification for war. He did as asked, ignoring the fact that he was using information the CIA had already decided was unreliable.
In November of 2003, Cheney continued to cite reports produced by the Office of Special Plans. The most egregious example being his assertion on Meet the Press that an article in the Weekly Standard provided clear evidence of the existence of WMDs. The article cited a “top secret U.S. government memorandum” provided to the editors at the Weekly Standard who then ran it as the basis for an article called “Case Closed: The U.S. government’s secret memo detailing cooperation between Sadaam Hussein and Osama bin Laden“ thus citing an article created with evidence he’d ordered created for the purpose of giving it to news media and done so as a means of circumventing the FBI, CIA and everyone else who are tasked with the actual gathering and assessment of intelligence. Feith, as the article states, is the author of the memo which he sent to senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee (the article doesn’t mention how they got it).
The report was, in the words of one former CIA analyst, “total bullshit.” For an excellent expansion on the above tale of intrigue, see “Cheney’s Favorite Leak” by Eric Boehlert in Salon.
[Note: except when otherwise noted, much of what follows comes from “Fiasco: the American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks,” Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post. ]
Feith is a neocon but people who agreed with him ideologically still described him as a “gofer” for Rumsfeld and explain his views as heavily influenced by being a first-generation American and son to a Holocaust survivor (his father). He studied at Harvard and, in the grand spirit of anti-government conservatives, went to work for government shortly thereafter within the Reagan administration where, in the second term, he worked for Richard Perle. In Fiasco, those sympathetic to him describe him as someone who in having always seen himself in the minority, as an immigrant, he has greatest faith in the minority view on any subject — the fact that they are minority views convinces him he’s all the more correct.
As evidence of his stance on Iraq, others have often referenced him as one of the co-signers of a letter to then-President Bill Clinton calling for a war on Iraq to oust Sadaam Hussein. When he moved into the Bush Administration his D.C. law firm formed a partnership with an Israeli-based firm creating “Fandz International Law Group” which advertised itself (a private firm) as “assisting American companies in their relations with the United States government in connection with Iraqi reconstruction projects.” Washington Post columnist Al Kamen noted their web site advised interested parties contact them through their web site — a site for Feith & Zell, P.C., Feith head of reconstruction matters in Iraq (Sourcewatch).
Of Feith, Ricks writes in Fiasco:
Rumsfeld, who rarely seems to go out of his way to praise his subordinates, did so with Feith, later defending him as “without question one of the most brilliant individuals in government…just a rare talent. And from my standpoint, working with him is always interesting. He’s been one of the really intellectual leaders in the administration in defense policy aspects of our work here.”
Not everyone was so impressed. Senior military officers especially seemed to be rubbed the wrong way by him. Franks, the Central Command chief, called Feith “the dumbest fucking guy on the planet.” Jay Garner, the retired Army lieutenant general who reported to Feith for five months as the Bush administration’s first head of the postwar mission in Iraq, came to a similar conclusion.” “I think he’s incredibly dangerous,” Garner said later. “He’s a very smart guy whose electrons aren’t connected, so he arc lights all the time. He can’t organize anything.” Remarkably, Feith was the person in charge of day-to-day postwar Iraq policy in Washington–the official that Franks was told would handle the postwar end of things. A man who couldn’t run his own office very well, by many accounts, was going to oversee the rebuilding of an occupied nation on the other side of the planet.
Feith resigned in 2005 and has, in years since, written occasional articles for the standard GOP organs, been a fellow at the Hudson Institute, written a book on his version of events and for two years and was a “Professor and Distinguished Practitioner in National Security Policy” at Georgetown. (Go Hoyas!)
Which is a pretty impressive recovery for “the dumbest fucking guy on the planet.”
If Tommy Franks was right, we’d probably be better off. And while his incompetence as a manager is a persistent theme, Rick Perry (one hopes) hasn’t invited him onto his staff because he wants to discuss his “fussiness” over memos and how it was defended as a reflection of he and Rumsfeld’s desire for precision in writing rather than an ability to prioritize.
To put it in the most inevitable way possible, why would Rick Perry have faith in Feith?
This is not a question I can answer, but as this is the Internet and speculation is the name of the game and we are after all talking about someone who made stuff up to justify a policy he’d decided was defensible and necessary many years in advance, I hereby grant myself a little leeway.
So. The only explanations I can think of are:
1) Perry doesn’t know
2) Perry doesn’t care
3) Perry cares but thinks it was justified — he knows ol’ Doug made a mistake but he was just doing his best and he’s a good fellow and the right people say he’s smart and the “liberal” media has been critical of him so he must be okay.
I’m going with option three (shocking, I know). If correct, it’s similar thinking to that of the assumption that — as Feith himself was described as thinking — if one holds the minority view it must be accurate. This trap, and appeal, to counterintuitive thinking is something I understand. It makes a person feel original and smart, irrespective of reality. To add another level of speculation as to the thinking of people like Feith, I find it interesting that militaristic adventurism might be framed as a “minority view,” especially within an Republican administration. Or maybe the idea is if someone wants to feel like an original thinker, and the mindset within a particular group is already pretty far to the right (in this example) the only place to go is farther right if you want to stay within the group yet still feel like an independent thinker; knowing the idea is controversial becomes as appealing as the idea itself.
I think this might be a really bad way of making policy.