My Conference Call with Undersecretary Douglas Feith

At a private home in Beverly Hills, I had the pleasure of participating in a conference call with former Defense Department official Undersecretary Douglas Feith.

Mr. Feith, along with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, are known in many circles as the “Neocons.”

This term should be worn as a badge of honor.

Mr. Feith has recently penned a book chronicling the events that occurred under President George W. Bush. The book is entitled “War and Decision.”

The conference call was set up as the conclusion to what was a monthly book club meeting. For those who have yet to meet Peter Bylsma, do so. His politics and taste in books is rarely matched.

I have yet to read the book, which runs 525 pages. Yet people I respect who have read the book have let me know that it is more of a thrill ride than a dry policy analysis.

After all, Mr. Feith was one of the architects of foreign policy that successfully defended America and the civilized world after the deadliest attack on the American mainland in our history.

While Mr. Feith was originally set to appear in person, accommodations were made for the teleconference. To get to talk with him at all was good, especially since it was his birthday. We sang happy birthday to him, which ended his evening.

Mr. Feith did not give a speech. He took serious questions, and gave equally intelligent and serious answers.

The first questioner wanted to know why President Bush did not articulate other reasons for the Iraq War. After all, the notion that we went to war for Weapons of Mass Destruction was a lie. Mr. Feith addressed this.

“So why didn’t President Bush articulate other reasons for the war? I raise that exact question in my book. The White House changed their approach to to discussing Iraq. In September or October of 2003, when we didn’t find WMD, the White House changed their rhetoric.

President Bush was set to give a series of speeches. I received two memos from Donald Rumsfeld. I said to him that we needed to discuss the rationale for the war. Strategic communications decisions are not done by the National Security Council or the National Security Adviser. The linkage between the NSC and the communications team was not that good. President Bush was giving an explanation disconnected from NSC deliberations. The changing of the rhetorical line damaged the war effort, and almost lost us the war. Thankfully, in 2007 we were able to turn it around.”

Mr. Feith was then asked about Pro-bono work he has done in Bosnia and other areas.

“I went to Bosnia pro-bono. There are some Jihadists in Bosnia, but many Bosnian Muslims are European. They are not Middle Eastern or Arab Muslims. They don’t support the Islamists.”

(For those on the right who love to cherry pick, Mr. Feith did not say that all Arab Muslims are terrorists. He spoke only about the European Muslims.)

Mr. Feith was then asked if all Presidents were now inherently handicapped due to the unpopularity of the 2003 Iraq War. It was inquired as to whether a President might in the future hold back on engaging in a proper war out of fear of bad media relations.

“There was support for the war. Certain wars, when taking a long time, are bloodier and costlier. People’s patience gets tried, and political pressure is applied. The President is not handicapped. When wars are years and not weeks, living in a democracy leads to people having concerns.”

Another questioner wanted to know if Mr. Feith wishes he had included anything else in the book, and what he may have left out.

“I wish I had done an entire additional chapter on Afghanistan. I didn’t carry it past 2002. I had a lot to do with Afghanistan policy through 2005. Also, the National Strategic Plan for the War on Terror is mentioned briefly. That could have been an entire chapter. Yet overall I regret not making the entire book shorter.”

In what was a partial reiteration of a prior question, it was asked as to whether or not it was even possible for America to fight wars nowadays with 24 hour media coverage, and if popular support was impossible.

“Wars depend on circumstances. 9/11 galvanized the country. Directly after 9/11, there was no strong anti-war sentiment.  If there is a future attack on America, there will be strong broad based support for strong action. Protracted wars inevitably lead to criticisms about how the war is being fought. Pericles dealt with sustaining support for war in his day.”

I then asked my question.

“Mr. Undersecretary, it’s a pleasure to have you with us, even if by teleconference. Do you care one way or another about your legacy, and if so, when the history books are written properly, what do you think your legacy will be? How would you like to be remembered 100 years from now? What would you want people to say about Douglas Feith the person?”

Mr. Feith gave a sobering and thoughtful answer.

“As far as legacy, what I have learned is that one has a tougher skin than one thinks one has. I have been on the receiving end of enormous criticism, much of it ill informed, badly motivated, and lacking any historical record. Over time I have faced nasty charges about lying and disloyalty. Some people have said that I only supported War in Iraq to benefit Israel. While I am pro-Israel, and my record reflects that, the Israel motive is not true. As the records open and passions cool, some rotten allegations will fall by the wayside.

I will not speak for me personally, but the Bush Administration people, over time, inaccuracies will be set aside. Hopefully there will be appreciation that serious problems were dealt with in an intelligent way and in a meticulously honest fashion. We upheld the Constitution and did a lot of good for the country. In the eight years since 9/11, there has been a substantial payoff. There will be more appreciation.”

The next questioner how the label “War on Terror” came up, and why it was not called a war on Islamofacism, Radical Islamic Fundamentalism, or something of that nature.

“The ‘War on Terror’ was actually a very ‘clever fudge’ President Bush came up with within hours of 9/11. President Bush wanted a term that conveyed a serious reaction, that would include possible military action. We wanted to use the term ‘war,’ but were not sure of the exact enemy. Terrorism is evil. It targets innocent people. The War on Terror bought us time to sort out and think through the nature of the problem. The problem is Radical Islamism, Jihadism, or whatever you want to call it. Yet we were talking about technique and not the enemy, because we didn’t immediately know the enemy.”

The next questioner wanted to know if tribalism made progress in Arab or Muslim lands impossible.

“Can we overcome tribalism? We’ll see. There has been remarkable progress in Iraq. Tribalism is not at odds with democratic processes and institutions. There is grounds for skepticism. If there is success, they would be the first Arab country to do it. Yet there is progress.”

The last questioner wanted to know why it was so difficult to find Osama Bin Laden.

“Bin Laden is well hidden. There has been a substantial effort to find him. I flew over the Hindu Kush mountains. It is tall, jagged terrain. There are tens of thousands of caves, many of which are inaccessible. No central government has ever run that area. An individual can hide there, the topography is difficult. Also, we don’t have the run of Pakistan. It is a sovereign country. We do have the run of Afghanistan, but we don’t have the run of Pakistan.”

I plan to sit down at some point in the future and read “War and Decision.” After all, anybody can carp from the sidelines. I am glad I live in a nation that allows such carping, although I wish it was done more often in a civil manner. However, carping is more useful when it is done by people who have a remote idea of what they are actually talking about. That comes from speaking to people who were actually in the room when life and death decisions were made.

I would like to thank Undersecretary Feith for his time and insights, especially given that he was taking time to do so on his birthday.

I will go to my grave believing that he and the rest of the Neocons were…and are…right.

To quote Winston Churchill, history will vindicate the Neocons because I will be helping to write it.”


3 Responses to “My Conference Call with Undersecretary Douglas Feith”

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  2. General Tommy Franks once referred to Mr. Feith as the “stupidest guy on the face of the Earth.” That’s one of the nicer things that have been said about him. “War criminal” is probably more apropos. I know he’s been trying to reinvent himself since his rather inglorious departure from the Bush administration back in 2005, but it is unlikely history will acknowledge the new and improved Douglas Feith. I know I won’t.


  3. Dav Lev says:

    To contradict Jersey McJones..Doug is one of the most articulate Americans on our global war against terrorism in the Unied States.

    I con’t care what Tommy Franks said…Doug understood the menace
    of the Jihadists in Iraq and Afghanistan to the USA, Israel, and Western

    The book is detailed, and shows his competence. I read it.

    I have been told that he couldn’t even run his own agency..that is
    straw man (read Fiasco).

    He admits the mistakes made by Bush in our wars to rid this planet of
    the worst thugs since Adolf Hitler.

    Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. He killed hundreds of thousands of his
    fellow muslims. He killed his own family. He attacked Iran (perhaps he should have attacked in 2009 instead and gotten rid of Ahmad-which
    would have killed 2 birds). Saddam, in my opinion, would have repeated
    911, over and over again. That was his danger to US.

    It’s obvious that Bush’s mission accomplished sign was ill thought of.
    But it really conveyed the message that we defeated Saddam in 3 weeks.

    My opinion is that we should have set up a provisional govt, with
    Iraqis…then gotten out. We have been there far too long.

    Our purpose was not to bring democracy to this dysfunctional Arab
    country, but to rid the world of Saddam and his regime, which we
    did quickly, thus protecting every American and US interests worldwide.

    Douglas gave his views to his superiors..he did not make the decision about
    the wars. That was left to the President, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell
    and Rice, correctly..ultimately to Bush, with the approval of Congress.

    Now, 8 years later, we find ourselves in a no-win war in Afghanistan…Obama’s war.

    Let’s face it, these Muslim thugs are against everything we stand for.
    But they are also at war with one another.

    They want a NWO, just as Hitler did. (New World Order). Left
    unscathed they will accomplish their goals. (See Europe).

    911 was just one phase of their overall goal…

    They hate Israel because that country represents democracy,
    something they cannot tolerate and represents all that is good.

    We are not dealing with civilized human beings folks.

    Had Israel not destroyed their nuclear reactor in 1981 we would
    today be facing a nuclear Iraq AND soon, a nuclear Iran.

    Again, thanks to the neo-cons, Bush, Rice, Rumsfeld, the generals
    that supported the war, the Congress which supported taking out we are free people, not under the yoke of
    these barbarians.

    Just look at Iran..and what has happened there these past few months.
    Now, the mullahs are changing the universities to suit their Islamic
    ideals…correcting the curricula. Just today, over 20 kurds were killed
    in a bomb blast within Iraq. The Kurds are on our side.

    Doug was aware of a test using small pox..which would have
    killed over 1m-3m Americans within a few weeks, had it been real.
    He knew that Iraq had the ability and desire to strike US similarly.

    History will prove that Doug and the people he advised, did the RIGHT thing.

    I am confident of that.

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