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Throwing The Book At Douglas Feith

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So Douglas Feith has a book out. The former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, famously described by Tommy Franks as "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth," has 688 pages in which to make the case that he made George Bush a war and Bush screwed it up.

Fortunately, the liberal blogosphere wrote the book on Feith years ago. And I do mean literally wrote the book.

A little background: In late 2004, I was asked by a publisher to begin gathering up the best blog posts on a given subject, to highlight the best of what the liberal blogs had to offer. It was a project called the Informed Citizen series, masterminded by Tom Sumner of William, James & Co, a small West Coast publishing house and early supporter of this strange new medium of ours.

I suggested Douglas Feith, whose machinations were just beginning to hit the press, and with whom I had, as I wrote to Tom, "a sick fascination, like a gaper at an accident." We weren’t sure at the time that there was enough out there for an entire book.

What we found, in the liberal blogosphere, was a staggering amount of information and research on Feith stretching back to the late 1990s.

A product of the Project for a New American Century, Feith made a name for himself writing about Middle Eastern affairs for conservative publications before moving into government work under the late President Reagan. He and his PNAC colleagues had long viewed ousting Saddam Hussein as a goal, and with the George W. Bush presidency and 9/11, they now had a vehicle through which to accomplish it.

The results of that work, as you can see, are all around us. More than 4,000 dead, tens of thousands wounded, and that’s just Americans. Iraq is once again edging toward chaos, and most people want to be gone from there. Yet Feith, one of the war’s chief architects, was introduced on 60 Minutes last night as an obscure figure; moreover, as an "insider," someone whose work was all but unknown.

Liberal blogs had been keeping tabs on Feith, including examinations of how he had his fingers all over every single bad decision made in the run-up to the war, and we exposed all of that in Special Plans, with posts from FDL’s very own Dave Neiwert, DailyKos diarist abw, Americablog, Wampum and Bad Attitudes. Those posts all examined Feith’s many misdeeds:

  • Relying on Iraqi exiles and dissidents, including a crazy congenital liar (that’s how his friends describe him) known as "Curveball," to provide intelligence on weapons of mass destruction.
  • Disbanding the Iraqi army, unemploying an entire population and leaving them pissed off and heavily armed.
  • Dismissing any attempts to plan with actual troops for looting and post-war violence as pessimistic and "anti-war."
  • And even as the rationale for war and its rosy aftermath was proving to be just one more big lie, former Feith aide Larry Franklin was found to be passing on classified information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

It was a record of incompetence and failure rivalling little else, even in the Bush administration. And while news stories here and there picked up pieces of Feith’s story, it was the liberal blogosphere that pulled it all together.

In his interview last night, Feith was utterly unrepentent about his actions. And really, why should he repent? Correspondent Steve Kroft gave him as hard a time as could be given, but Feith still walked away, to teach at Georgetown, to tour around talking about how he was right, and to say things like this, a quote he gave the Miami Herald back in 2003: "War, like life, always involves trade-offs." As if he’d know.

Feith may be right about one thing. It is, ultimately, the president who bears responsibility for this war. It is, ultimately, the president who presided over this disaster. Fill the government with anti-reality, anti-pragmatic, ideological fanatics willing to risk American power and might on their pretty plans on paper, and who treat any request for a backup plan as though it was a personal betrayal, and Feith is exactly what you get.

In Special Plans, we were able to point out what the blogs have become adept at pointing out over the past seven years: That whatever Feith and his PNAC colleagues may have done, for them to get away with it, Congress wasn’t doing its job. One of the blog posts in Special Plans is from Matt Yglesias, who wrote about oversight on pre-war intelligence during the Republican Congress:

It’s hard to think of a more important security issue facing the country than our capacity to gather reliable intelligence about who is, and who is not, collaborating with al-Qaeda. Feith’s operation has cut directly against this and, as the report documents, been used to mislead Congress about the state of American intelligence on the subject. Anyone with more than a passing regard for the national interest as opposed to partisan gain would want to get to the bottom of this. And yet, as an appendix to the report indicates, the administration time and again refused to provide key information to the SASC minority staff — putting politics above America’s national security. If a majority of the senators on the committee had gotten behind the inquiry it would have been possible to issue subpoenas and get this stuff out in the open.

I’m not giving Feith a pass, though. One of my very favorite posts in this book is by Jack K. of the Grumpy Forrester, who writes:

…so Doug Feith gets to saunter away to lucrative private life, after hammering together a poisonous mixture of misstatements, misrepresentations, half-truths, and fables to engineer Gee Dub’s Grand Iraqi Adventure, subsequent to which he did a major portion of the heavy lifting in post-conquest planning that stands as a stark icon to absolute perfection in incompetence.

The darkly grim irony in all of this is that, while Feith moseys off into this personal glimmering sunset, tens of thousands of common folk — butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, the guy down the street — found themselves federalized into full-time combat area duty as National Guard and Reserve members, jerked away from their jobs and families for far longer than they ever could have realistically imagined, while thousands of others were held in or called back to military service under stop-loss provisions when they thought their military commitment was about to be or had been completed.

They can’t look up one day from their MRE lunch and decide "for family and personal reasons" that they would like to leave this particular branch of government service.

That’s what truly enrages me about the information we all dug up: That despite all that work, despite all that information widely available discrediting this man on any number of levels, Feith remains someone worthy of paying a tidy sum to continue to spew his nonsense for the American people (a sum he claims, by the way, to be donating to the veterans of his war, which is the very least he could do). He should be giving his side of the story from a witness stand in the Hague, not from the comfy chair beside Tim Russert or Chris Matthews. He should be unemployed, not teaching at Georgetown.

The guy’s never gonna miss a meal. The Congressional report published last February said that what Feith had done was inappropriate but not illegal, something Feith’s defenders hailed at the time as a major exoneration, “not illegal” being the highest honor to which a Bush public servant can aspire these days. The war is going on and on, even as information continues to come out about how it was planned (or not, as the case may be).

As I wrote in the book’s conclusion, this many years in, we hardly even know what this is yet:

It may be years before we know the full extent of the machinations behind this war, the role Douglas Feith and his PNAC colleagues played in its beginnings, and the true cost in money and lives at the end.

But I have read enough of history to suspect the whole story, once told, will not be kind. And I take great comfort in the knowledge that for war crimes, there is no statute of limitations.

Special Plans made nary a dent in the mainstream discourse when it was published in 2005. America was just about to wake up to the idea that Bush and his war kind of suck, that spying on Americans isn’t cool, that it was OK to say so out loud because nobody’s bulldozing Dixie Chick records anymore. As annoyed as I am about that, I can’t say I’m sorry we were ahead of the curve, mostly because I don’t think you get some kind of cookie for speaking up after about a billion people beat you to it. The book provides an invaluable resource for understanding not just what Feith did and how he got away with doing it, but how he managed to be ignored for so long, by everybody but the liberal blogosphere, which was paying attention.

Lastly, I just have to say, when L. Paul Bremer III thinks you’re being a little dim, it may be time to hang it up:

Mr. Feith is an honorable public servant; possibly he was unaware of the many discussions my colleagues and I had with the president and his top advisers in the months after the establishment of the CPA.

The fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth, in other words, may be exactly that.

You’ll pardon me if, having read the book on Feith years ago, I’m not precisely shocked.

A.

Athenae blogs at First Draft, along with Holden, Scout and Jude. Her latest book is "It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal."

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Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a writing and politics blog, with her partners Holden, Jude and Scout. She is the author of the books Chicago's Historic Irish Pubs (2011, Arcadia Publishing, with Mike Danahey) and It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal, about a great liberal journalism institution (2007, Heritage Books). She also edited the anthology “Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War” (2005, William, James & Co.) Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.

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