In his new book “War and Decision,” former Pentagon official and Iraq war architect Douglas Feith blames many of his former Bush administration colleagues for the war’s failures. He chastizes former Secretary of State Colin Powell for “never express[ing] opposition to the invasion,” arguing that the war could have been avoided entirely if Powell had “persuaded the president” against overthrowing Saddam Hussein.
On Fox News this weekend, Feith again went after Powell, but this time, his criticism came with a slight twist. In the span of less than one minute, Feith attacked Powell for not strongly opposing the war — as he does in his book — but he then immediately criticized him for not “wholeheartedly support[ing] it” agreeing with host Paul Gigot that Powell’s “lack of support undermined” the war effort.
FEITH: Secretary Powell, I think, would have done the country a much greater service if he — since he didn’t quite agree with the president’s policy, as he’s made clear — if he had actually debated it and put forward an alternative strategy. But he didn’t do that, nor after the president made his decision, did he wholeheartedly support it. [...]
GIGOT: Is that what you’re saying? And that lack of support undermined the effort?
FEITH: I think that’s true.
So according to Feith — once called “the stupidest f****** guy on the planet” — the war could have been avoided if only Powell had done more to stop it. But at the same time, “victory” was at hand if only Powell had been “wholeheartedly” supporting it. Perhaps scapegoating can get confusing at times when you’re consistently blaming others for your failures.
Today, Spencer Ackerman has been taking a closer look at Feith’s book, and asks, “Can Doug Feith please stop playing himself?”
GIGOT: One of the fascinating things about your book is the degree to which it disagrees with so much of the conventional wisdom we’ve read about decision making in the Bush administration. For example, it’s often said that the president discouraged different points of view leading up to the war. But your book says, quote, “He encouraged an excessive tolerance sometimes of indiscipline, even of disloyalty, from his own officials,” unquote. Can you give me an example where that was the case?
FEITH: Well, what I’m talking about in there is that one of the principal problems I think this administration had was divided government. When I reviewed the debates in my book that occurred about Iraq policy, what struck me was how the president did not have the wholehearted support of the State Department and the CIA. And the point that I make is that Secretary Powell I think would have done the country a much greater service if he–since he didn’t quite agree with the president’s policy, as he’s made clear–if he had actually debated it and put forward an alternative strategy.
But he didn’t do that, nor after the president made his decision, did he wholeheartedly support it. And I think that the country would have been better off if he had either thrown in completely behind the policy or stepped aside in favor of somebody who would have.
GIGOT: So in a sense, the entire administration was not entirely behind it as we got into the occupation period and the attempt after Saddam Hussein was deposed in trying to develop a government there. Is that what you’re saying? And that lack of support undermined the effort.
FEITH: I think that’s true. It’s true, after Saddam was overthrown that there was actually a reversal of the policy that the president had adopted to put Iraqis in charge of their own government early on, and we wound up having a 14-month occupation where we ran the country, and I think that was a costly error.
And then also before the war, we actually lost ground diplomatically in the six months or so before the war, even though we took Secretary Powell’s suggestion to go to the U.N. as the main vehicle for out diplomacy.
Even the Weekly Standard’s Steven Hayes – who wrote a story based on Feith’s memo linking Hussein to Al Qaeda – criticized Feith, saying his characterization of the events leading to his article is “inaccurate.”