(CBS) The name Douglas Feith may not mean much to most Americans, but to students of the Iraq War and historians already studying it, he is one of the main architects.
From 2001 to 2005, Feith was under secretary of defense for policy and the No. 3 man at the Pentagon, intimately involved both pre-war strategy and post-war planning. His boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, called Feith one of the most brilliant individuals in government but he has also been a lightning rod for criticism and a magnet for blame.
In a new book, which has been called the first insider account of decision making in Iraq, Feith defends much and apologizes for very little. But he offers some unusual insights about the path to war.
Feith discussed his memoir with 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft.
If you didn’t see 60 Minutes last night, then please go to the link, and read the entire article. I wish I could copy and paste the entire thing here, but, you know, there’s that whole copyright thing. I’ll try to pick out a few interesting excerpts.
On why we invaded Iraq…
“The President decided that the threats from the Saddam Hussein regime were so great that if we had left him in power, we would be fighting him down the road, at a time and place of his choosing.”
Why, when we knew Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11…
“What we did after 9/11 was look broadly at the international terrorist network from which the next attack on the United States might come. And we did not focus narrowly only on the people who were specifically responsible for 9/11. Our main goal was preventing the next attack.”
“One of the reasons people were told we were going to war in Iraq was because of the imminent attack with weapons of mass destruction was about to happen,” Kroft observes.
When Feith replies, “I don’t believe anybody in the U.S. government said that,”
Steve Kroft then cited quotes from Rumsfeld, Chimpy, and Cheney saying exactly that. Feith answered…
Feith insists that Saddam still had WMD programs in place and the capability to resume production. He says even Rumsfeld conceded privately that the U.S. might not find any weapons of mass destruction on the ground. And he told the president so in a memo that outlined all of the things that could possibly go wrong.
Some call it, “the CYA Memo,” but Feith says that is a mischaracterization of the list. “I mean, it was very intense and very disturbing work to anticipate all the possible problems of a war.”
Feith called the document “the Parade of Horribles,” and printed many of them in his book, he says, to refute the perception that Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush launched the war without considering or understanding the possible consequences.
Among the horribles:
the U.S. could become so absorbed with its Iraq effort that it would pay inadequate attention to other serious problems; that war could cause more harm and entail greater costs than expected; that it would not go on for two to four years, but eight to 10 years; that terrorist networks could improve their recruiting and fundraising as a result of the U.S. being depicted as anti-Muslim; that Iraq could experience ethnic strife among Kurds, Sunnis and Shia and that the war could damage America’s relationship with allies and its reputation in the world community.
Feith still doesn’t back down from his assertion that the invasion was the right thing to do. However…
Feith writes there was one potential problem the Pentagon seriously underestimated: the ability of Saddam loyalists to create, carry out and sustain a bloody resistance.
The result was a lack of detailed contingency planning and a shortage of troops.
“One of the things that you say, was that we didn’t have the manpower or the resources to do it,” says Kroft.
“I don’t believe I raised the troop level issue in that connection,” says Feith. “But, I mean, you’ll tell me if I misremember my own book.”
Kroft refreshed his memory, reading, “The small force strategy for major combat operations, while it saved American lives, limited the number of forces we had to deal with the looting.”
“That’s a fair point,” says Feith. “Your point is correct.”
Seriously, what’s in the water in D.C.? Does everyone there have a memory problem?
On Ambassador Paul Bremer’s decision to disband the Iraqi army:
“I guess the first time I heard the idea, it came from Ambassador Bremer when he was on his way to Baghdad,” Feith tells Kroft. “I … I didn’t sign off one way or the other. I told him that he has to discuss it with Secretary Rumsfeld.”
And did he?
“[Bremer] says that he did. I was not in on those conversations,” says Feith.
“Did Secretary Rumsfeld sign off on it?” probes Kroft.
“I did not find, in the record, any piece of paper in which Secretary Rumsfeld signed off on it,” he said.
“You had never asked Secretary Rumsfeld? That’s the part I find hard to believe,” says Kroft. “I mean, there are hundreds of decisions. But this isn’t one of hundreds of decisions. This is a decision to dissolve the Iraqi army.”
“Well, the Iraqi army was, at that point, dissolved,” Feith tells him. “This was the issue of do you reconstitute them or start from scratch with a new military?”
“But you’re raising doubts about whether there was approval,” parries Kroft. “That’s why I’m doing this.”
“No, no. What I’m saying is the process by which this decision was made was not a great process,” Feith concludes.
Feith said the problem was that his plan was not the one that they ran with. He said he wanted to cede authority to Iraqi exiles and some Kurds, including Ahmed Chalabi. You remember ol’ Ahmed, dont’cha?
Feith says there have been lots of errors in judgment, but not by him. He is generous in his criticism of Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and General Tommy Franks. And they have returned the favor, plus interest.
“General Franks basically [called you], the dumbest guy on the face of the planet. Former CIA Director George Tenet called your intelligence evaluations ‘total crap.’
Some of them have already answered that question in books of their own or with quotes in the books of others, portraying Feith as a bureaucratic bully hell-bent on war. The most frequent and damaging charge has been that Feith used his Pentagon office to produce alternative intelligence reports that linked Saddam to al-Qaeda and then passed them on to the White House. Some of it, like a report that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague, has been widely discredited. An investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general called Feith’s activities “inappropriate,” but not illegal or unauthorized.