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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.

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Other recent books about Iraq, such as “The Fourth Star,” by Greg Jaffe and David Cloud, suggest even greater internal disarray and conflicting goals. The authors say that “President Bush wanted to transform Iraq into a model democracy for the Middle East.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, meanwhile, wanted to get out of Iraq as soon as possible. And the generals wanted to turn the war over to a future Iraqi Army just as quickly.

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The original casus belli, Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, has become the stuff of revisionist history. Feith blames the error largely on bad intelligence from the CIA, which allegedly led the president to believe that Mr. Hussein had stockpiled chemical and biological weapons and that he had a nuclear weapons program.

Feith suggests Washington was fooled because of Hussein’s bluff about weapons he no longer had. The Iraqi leader feared more uprisings by Kurds and Shiites, and Feith now speculates that Hussein deliberately wanted potential insurrectionists in his own country to believe he had WMDs to use if they revolted again.

My own difficulty with that explanation is that it leaves the impression that Bush blundered into an unnecessary war because of a bluff.

Perhaps most curious is Feith’s contention that the Bush administration never did anything to promote the idea that Hussein or Iraq was linked to the 9/11 terrorism in order to manipulate public opinion. “I don’t believe anybody ever said Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11,” he said.

“Why then polls showing more than 60 percent of the American public believed Iraq was implicated?” I asked. “Who led us down that road?”

“I know I never believed it,” Feith said.

Former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke has accused Mr. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, of taking advantage of the 9/11 tragedy to promote their agenda of deposing Hussein.

What emerges today is an unflattering picture of Bush’s war presidency. He got WMDs wrong. He ran an embarrassingly “weak shop,” ignoring destructive bureaucratic infighting in Washington. Most astonishing, Bush’s critical judgments were so badly flawed he allowed himself to be persuaded that leaving a petty Arab tyrant like Hus sein in power actually threatened the mighty United States of America, which defeated Nazi Germany and Japan and won the cold war against the Soviet Union.

It is simply mind-boggling.

Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.