Doug Feith: Giving Sophistry A Bad Name

It says a lot about the state of our political culture that the best interview of Doug Feith was conducted by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. That’s not to take anything away from Stewart — as usual, he manages to be funny, astute, and (mostly) respectful while revealing his guest as a disingenuous, dissembling weasel. It’s sad that the news show in which Feith is subjected to his most challenging interview was originally created as a satire of news shows.

I’m seriously not inclined to get into the yogic tangle of excuses that Feith offers. Essentially, Feith wants us to believe that pretty much everything else that we’ve read and heard about the administration’s decision to invade Iraq, and Feith’s own role in that decision, is wrong, and that we should instead heed Doug Feith’s own transparently self-serving interpretation of those events:

FEITH: When people read this book, I think people will be surprised to be reminded of what was actually said. A lot of people’s perceptions of what was said is filtered through the recent history….I think they misremember a lot.[…]

STEWART: Maybe the disconnect is that the written record within the government differs so greatly. With all respect, I think I remember pretty clearly the general tenor of what people were saying in the run-up to war, and it was, the president specifically: The risk of doing nothing is far greater than the risk of going in. But the risks of going in were never quantified publicly the way they were privately. In fact, the opposite: they undersold them. [There was] a consistent drumbeat, a willful selling of the positive and pushing back of the negative.

FEITH: Some of the criticisms you’ve made are valid. There were statements that everyone in the administration, myself included, made that looking back you wish you could make them differently. I don’t think any of them were deception. I think they were errors.

I think I see the problem. The problem is that Doug Feith has his own special, secret definition of “deception.” Telling the American people that you are sure Saddam Hussein has WMD (and “we know where they are!”) when in fact you are not sure that Saddam Hussein has WMD apparently does not meet that standard.


Back in the real world, the record on this is pretty clear: Having taken the decision, in the months after 9/11, to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein’s government, the Bush administration mobilized every unit of the executive branch, even creating new ones, blurring every possible line between advocacy and propaganda to make that invasion happen. And, as the Pentagon Retired Military Shills story shows, they have maintained this psy-ops campaign through the Iraq war to this day. For this administration, American public opinion has always been the central front in the war on terror.

In this respect, Doug Feith is only small part of a bigger story, an ideologically hidebound bureaucrat condemned to spend the rest of his life frantically and fruitlessly arguing against history’s overwhelmingly clear verdict on his incompetence and mendacity. At the end of the day, though, he’s just a supporting player in the tragedy of how the George W. Bush administration politicized America’s national security in order to enact a fundamentally unworkable model — a model based on a bunch of bong-hit fantasies about American power. And in doing so they led America into one of the biggest and costliest blunders in its history.