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Walter Rodgers

Iraq war: a baffling defense of Bush policy from a former Pentagon insider

In an interview about the Iraq war, former Pentagon official Douglas Feith suggests Washington was fooled by Saddam Hussein's bluff about weapons he wanted foes to believe he had.

By Walter Rodgers / April 13, 2010


In April 2003, I was embedded with the US Army’s 7th Cavalry in the western suburbs of Baghdad, sleeping on top of a Humvee. Seven years later I still wonder why we were there. So, I suspect, do many Americans.

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What responsibility – what options – do generals have when they believe civilian leaders, the president, the vice president, and the secretary of Defense, are bent on a “wrongheaded” war?

I recently put that question to former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, who served from 2001 to 2005 and was a major architect of the war in Iraq.

“If it’s a debate over what’s the smart and right thing to do,” he said, “the president is the elected representative of the American people. Somebody has to make policy for the country, and the country decides by democratic means [that] it’s going to be the president.”

His implication seemed clear. Americans elected George W. Bush, and the public must live with the consequences of its former president’s decision. As I write this, the Associated Press is reporting that Iraqi gunman dressed as US and Iraqi Army soldiers raided Sunni Arab homes south of Baghdad and executed 24 people, including five women, then brutalized the bodies beyond recognition.

The catalog of what has gone wrong during the US occupation is thicker than the Manhattan phone book.

Despite some encouraging signs, such as parliamentary political jockeying as Baghdad lurches toward civilian government, Mr. Feith was only modestly hopeful about Iraq’s progress.

“All the things which have been gigantic problems in recent years remain,” he said. “The fact that the political system is evolving is good and hopeful. But it’s not inevitable. You can still have a breakdown and a lot of violence.” A friend with the US Agency for International Development privately told me that when the Americans leave Iraq there will be an “enormous score-settling between majority Shiites and minority Sunnis.”

Opponents of the war have vilified Feith, although he sees himself as “a man more sinned against than sinning.” His book “War and Decision” seems the definitive Bush administration defense of the war to date.

In our interview, Feith portrayed a Bush administration at war with itself, with Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Central Intelligence Agency undercutting the Pentagon’s civilian leadership and President Bush’s policy. Unanswered is why Bush tolerated this.