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Revolving Door Poses Danger to Defense
Published on Tuesday, August 7, 2001 in the Baltimore Sun
Revolving Door Poses Danger to Defense
by James J. Zogby
 
WASHINGTON - The Senate's confirmation of Douglas J. Feith as undersecretary of defense for policy is a classic illustration of the dangerous abuses inherent in the revolving door that operates between government and private industry.

Mr. Feith is a political appointee who has used his time in government to build relations that can be used for business purposes, and then returns to government.

As the Pentagon's policy chief, his responsibilities include:

  • Developing policy on the conduct of alliances and defense relationships with foreign governments and their military establishments.

  • Coordinating and overseeing the implementation of international security strategy and policy on issues that relate to foreign governments and their defense establishments.

  • Providing oversight of all Pentagon efforts related to international technology transfer.

    This is a powerful position and holds great potential for conflicts of interest. With previous Pentagon experience under President Ronald Reagan and as special counsel to Richard Perle, who was an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, Mr. Feith accumulated friends in and out of government who have U.S. defense contracts and relationships.

    Most recently, Mr. Feith was an attorney with the Washington firm of Feith and Zell.

    His biography says that he specializes in "technology transfer, joint ventures and foreign investment in the defense and aerospace industries."

    His firm has one international affiliate, in Israel. More than two-thirds of all of its reported casework involves representing Israeli or other foreign interests.

    In light of Mr. Feith's new appointment, one of these cases deserves some attention. As described on the firm's Web site, Mr. Feith "represented a leading Israeli armaments manufacturer in establishing joint ventures with leading U.S. aerospace manufacturers for manufacture and sale of missile systems, to the U.S. Department of Defense and worldwide."

    Mr. Feith has also been a registered foreign agent for Turkey, seeking to "promote the objective of U.S.-Turkish defense industrial cooperation" through a company called IAI.

    At the time, Mr. Perle, Mr. Feith's former boss, disavowed IAI's efforts, claiming that "I find very distasteful this business where people leave the government and, the next thing you know, they're on the other side of the table negotiating with the U.S." This did not stop Mr. Perle from being IAI's highest-paid consultant.

    More recently, Mr. Feith and Mr. Perle teamed to represent the Bosnian government. According to Richard Holbrooke, the principal U.S. negotiator at the 1995 Dayton peace talks, Mr. Perle and Mr. Feith worked for and advised the Bosnians during the talks. This time, however, they did not register with the Justice Department, as foreign agents are required to do.

    Mr. Feith also represented the Loral Corp., which the Pentagon accused of selling sensitive technology to China. Mr. Feith argued Loral's case before the Senate.

    On the political front, Mr. Feith sees the world in ideological dualistic terms - the forces of absolute good confronting the forces of absolute evil. He is especially adept at fitting the Middle East into this paradigm.

    A prolific writer, Mr. Feith has left a long paper trail of vehemently anti-Arab tracts and diatribes against those who challenge or seek to question Israeli policy or as he says, Israel's "moral superiority" over the Arabs.

    At his initial Senate hearing, several senators raised their concerns with Mr. Feith's previous statements about the Middle East, his support for scrapping existing arms control agreements and his support for unilateral development of a missile defense shield.

    Now that the Senate has confirmed Mr. Feith's nomination, his work and the policies he creates must be closely scrutinized. His pattern of behavior and obvious conflicts of interest should have disqualified him from such a sensitive post; the issues raised at his confirmation hearing demonstrated that.

    He is now shaping policy at the Pentagon.

    Unfortunately, he is the wrong person to do so.

    James J. Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute.

    Copyright © 2001 by The Baltimore Sun.

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