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Bad Feith
Published on Sunday, February 11, 2007 by the Progressive
Bad Feith
by Amitabh Pal
 
Feith is claiming vindication because the report doesn’t conclude that he did anything illegal. Talk about clutching at straws.

But so outsized was his influence during his years in power that according to the “The Assassin’s Gate” by George Packer, the person Colin Powell complained about to Bush in his farewell meeting with the President was Douglas Feith.

“The Defense Department had too much power in shaping foreign policy, he argued, and when Bush asked for an example, Powell offered not Rumsfeld, the secretary who had mastered him bureaucratically, not Wolfowitz, the point man on Iraq, but the department's number three official, Douglas Feith, whom Powell called a card-carrying member of the Likud Party,” writes George Packer.

What exactly did Feith do that made Powell single him out? For starters, in the run-up to the Iraq War, he headed at the Pentagon the Office of Special Plans, an outfit that distorted intelligence to hype the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection and to insinuate that Saddam had Weapons of Mass Destruction. “The ideologically driven network functioned like a shadow government, much of it off the official payroll and beyond congressional oversight,” reported the Guardian in a 2003 story. “But it proved powerful enough to prevail in a struggle with the State Department and the CIA by establishing a justification for war.”

It is this aspect of his tenure at the Pentagon that has made Feith the focus of attention in recent days.

A report released February 9 by the Pentagon’s Inspector General accuses Feith of providing “reporting of dubious quality or reliability" and states that his office “was predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.”

Feith is claiming vindication because the report doesn’t conclude that he did anything illegal. Talk about clutching at straws.

“The bottom line is that intelligence relating to the Iraq-al-Qaeda relationship was manipulated by high-ranking officials in the Department of Defense to support the administration's decision to invade Iraq,” Senator Carl Levin, an outspoken critic of the war, said in an apt summary of the report. “The inspector general's report is a devastating condemnation of inappropriate activities in the DOD policy office that helped take this nation to war.”

The one example from the report that stands out is the now-thoroughly discredited supposed Mohamed Atta meeting with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in 2001 that Feith and his office peddled as key evidence for a Saddam-9/11 link. Dick Cheney repeatedly used this piece of fabrication to make the case for attacking Iraq.

Feith’s stint at the Office of Special Plans was just one part of the toxic policy-making he engaged in during his government service.

Feith’s obsessions were such that he could be called the neocons’ neocon. He pushed for regime change in Iran, and set up meetings with shady Iran-Contra figures as Manucher Ghorbanifar, eliciting a howl of protest from Powell to Rumsfeld.

He also was involved in creating two other dubious organizations within the government, the Office of Strategic Intelligence, a blatantly propagandistic outfit that was disbanded after an outcry, and the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, yet another group instituted to hype the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, Feith was also caught in a spy scandal in which an underling of his, Lawrence Franklin, passed on secrets to AIPAC. (Franklin was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison.)

Even before he joined the Bush Administration, Feith had completely aligned himself with the most hawkish elements of the Israel lobby.

In 1996, he helped write “A Clean Break,” which urged then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to topple Saddam and attack Syria.

And in 1998, he was a signatory to a letter from the Project for the New American Century to Bill Clinton urging him to go after Saddam.

Ultimately, Feith became too irksome for his colleagues, and not just Powell. General Tommy Franks, the commander during the Iraq invasion, reportedly called him the “stupidest guy on the face of the earth.” And Condoleezza Rice is said to have once icily remarked to him: “Thanks Doug, but when we want the Israeli position we'll invite the ambassador.”

Few believed Feith when he cited personal reasons for his resignation in 2005.

“There seems little doubt that he operated in the Pentagon in such a way as to produce false and misleading ‘intelligence,’ that he created an entirely false impression of Iraqi weapons capabilities and ties to al-Qaeda, and that he is among the chief facilitators of the US war in Iraq,” wrote Middle Expert Professor Juan Cole on his invaluable blog, Informed Comment. “Feith is clearly resigning ahead of the possible breaking of major scandals concerning his tenure at the Department of Defense, which is among the more disgraceful cases of the misleading of the American people in American history.”

Feith then received a sinecure with a teaching gig at Georgetown, where, to their credit, several faculty and staff members signed a letter of protest against his appointment.

But Feith remains unrepentant, going by his reaction to the Pentagon Inspector General report or the comment he made to The New Yorker in 2005: “When history looks back, I want to be in the class of people who did the right thing, the sensible thing, and not necessarily the fashionable thing, the thing that met the aesthetic of the moment.”

A bit rich this, coming from a prime architect of the Iraq War.

Amitabh Pal is the Managing Editor of The Progressive magazine.

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© 2007 The Progressive

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