While I had become interested in War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism when I read reviews of this new book written by the Bush Administration’s former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy on Powerline (here and here), I didn’t resolve to buy it until I caught this Corner post where Rich Lowry observed:
I’m told that the Washington Post won’t be reviewing Doug Feith’s book. And the New York Times hasn’t reviewed it yet either. I know as conservatives we always complain about MSM outfits not reviewing our books, but this is truly outrageous. Apparently it’s OK to heap every failure in Iraq on Feith’s head, but then to turn around and pretend he’s a figure of no consequence when he writes a book.
If they wanted to criticize the decision to go to war and the execution of that decision, it would be helpful to hear what a chief figure in setting the Administration’s war policy had to say, particularly when that figure includes numerous documents related to that policy. But, I guess their interest wasn’t in presenting an honest portrayal of Administration policy-making. Â If the MSM was going to try to bury such a book, I would buy it to prevent them from doing so and to learn what this former official had to say.
Upon learning that Feith would speaking at the Santa Barbara Retreat of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, I bought my copy there so I could get his signature. So impressed was I when he spoke that evening,Â I asked if he would send me a copy of his remarks so I could excerpt them in a post promoting his book.
I wish more Administration officials had spoken as lucidly–and in fora more public than a gathering of conservative intellectuals and policy wonks.
Feith began by addressing the questions Horowitz had asked him:
Why did the President decide to go to war in Iraq â€”despite Saddam’s not having been a co-conspirator in the 9/11 attack? And the second is why did I write my book War and Decision?
He answered by pointing out that Bush “‘inherited the problem of Iraq and had two choices either “overthrow the regime” or “try to contain the danger.” Â Neither choice was free from peril.
What struck me the most about Feith’s remarks was not his thoughts about the choice the president would make, but a choice he made in writing about it, not to denigrate those with whom he disagreed:
While I was in the administration, I had many disagreements with other officials, but I generally thought that their arguments had important merits. When I disagreed, it was usually because I thought that an alternative strategy or policy had even more merit.
He concluded in a similar vein:
Too many former government officials write books that declare that their rivals were all foolish or lazy or dishonest. Such books do no good for the country and are worthless as history.
It’s too bad all too many in the MSM were too lazy to extend a similar courtesy to him–to read his book and address its points in a review available for public perusal, at least to let the public know what he had to say.
He observes that his book “tells a story that contradicts key parts of almost all the major books about the Iraq war,” refuting, for example, “the notion that President Bush came into office determined to go to war no matter what.” Discussing how the president’s team made the call to go to war, he quoted from his book:
Our main concern was not that Saddam would then attack the United States out of the blue. We worried rather that, in his effort to dominate the Persian Gulf and the broader Middle East, Saddam would aim to deter outside intervention by developing his conventional and WMD capabilities, along with the prohibited long-range missiles (or, possibly, terrorist alliances) to deliver them.
In some future clashâ€” over Kuwait or some other Iraqi targetâ€” Saddam might draw inspiration from 9/11, providing terrorists with anthrax, smallpox, or nerve gas to attack us.
What impressed me about Feith was his civility, his command of the issues and his good humor. I consider myself fortunate that I had the chance to talk with him, albeit briefly, about his experiences in the Administration and in dealing with a hostile press, interested in him not so much to learn his contribution to policy-making, but instead to ridicule him as a caricature of a gung-ho pro-war conservative.
Doug Feith was far from the caricature of the out-of-touch Republican official. Instead her offered a lucid explanation of the decision to go to war that makes one wonder why the Administration didn’t put him at the forefront of their efforts to explain its policies to the American people. The president would have been better served had it relied more on Feith’s counsel in setting policy in Iraq and his verbal gifts in communicating that policy to the American people.