Gonna Happen With Feith?
November 6, 2003
in a nutshell, is the question of the month for the Washington cognoscenti
trying to figure out whether a major shift in the Bush administration's
unilateralist and ultra-hawkish foreign policy is or is not underway.
reference is to Douglas Feith, the administration's rather obscure but
nonetheless strategically placed undersecretary of defense for policy, who
reports directly to deputy secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Pentagon chief Donald
the administration is looking for a scapegoat for the situation it faces in
Iraq, Feith is the most likely candidate both because of his relative obscurity
compared to other administration hawks and the fact that, of virtually all of
them, his ideas particularly on the Middle East might be the most radical.
protιgι of Richard Perle, the former chairman of Rumsfeld's Defense Policy
Board (DPB) who stands at the center of the neo-conservative foreign-policy
network in Washington, Feith has long opposed territorial compromise by Israel.
was an outspoken foe of the Oslo process and even the Camp David peace
agreement mediated by former President Jimmy Carter between Egypt and Israel.
His former law partner, L. Marc Zell, is a spokesman for the Jewish settlers'
movement on the occupied West Bank.
more to the point, virtually everything that has gone wrong in Iraq
especially those matters that Congress is either investigating or is poised to
probe is linked directly to his office. "All roads lead to Feith,"
noted one knowledgeable administration official this week.
now-defunct Office of Special Plans (OSP) is alleged to have collected often
with the help of the neo-conservatives' favorite Iraqi exile, Ahmed Chalabi
and "cooked" the most alarmist prewar intelligence against Saddam
Hussein and then "stovepiped" it to the White House via Rumsfeld and
Vice President Dick Cheney, unvetted by the intelligence agencies.
was also his office that was in charge of postwar planning, and rejected the
product of months of work by dozens of Iraqi exiles and Mideast experts in the
State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who anticipated many
of the problems that have wrong-footed the occupation.
OSP also excluded many top Mideast experts from the State Department from
playing any role in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq.
it is Feith's office that, with the CPA, recommended companies for huge, and in
some cases no-bid, contracts in Iraq that have amounted, in the eyes of some
critical lawmakers, to flagrant profiteering.
the firms that have profited most are those whose consultants or officers also
serve on the Pentagon's DPB, members of which are chosen by Feith.
a particularly provocative move that raises a host of conflict-of-interest
questions, Feith's former partner Zell has set up shop with Chalabi's nephew in
Baghdad to help interested companies win contracts for reconstruction projects.
they get rid of Feith, no one is going to believe that the administration is
seriously reassessing its policies," one congressional aide whose boss has
been a strong critic of Bush's policy in Iraq, told IPS.
are hints that Feith has seen his authority dwindle since the first half of October,
when National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice announced that she would head a
new interagency Iraq Stabilization Group (ISG).
move appeared designed not only to give the appearance that the White House was
taking control of a situation that had contributed to a precipitous decline in
Bush's approval ratings, but also to ensure that the Pentagon could no longer
simply ignore other bureaucracies, Rice included, as it had for much of the
of the ISG followed growing public criticism, even by otherwise loyal
Republican lawmakers, of the administration's failure to anticipate postwar
problems. It came soon after the appointment of former US ambassador to India,
Robert Blackwill who was Rice's boss on the National Security Council (NSC)
in the first Bush administration to a special, high-ranking NSC post.
hints that Feith's and other hawks' grip on policy has been loosened came in
the form of a distinct softening of the rhetoric against the other two members
of the "axis of evil" Iran and North Korea.
last week a top Feith aide, former assistant defense secretary for
international security policy J.D. Crouch II, abruptly resigned his position
have been unconfirmed reports that top White House officials decided two months
ago that Feith had to go, but were then dissuaded by Rumsfeld who argued that
his departure would be seen as an admission that things had gone seriously
wrong in Iraq.
was in that context, according to these reports, that the administration moved
to quietly reduce Feith's authority, in part by creating the ISG.
his mentor Perle, Feith has long been a hard-liner on foreign policy and arms
control. He was an outspoken opponent of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty
and the Chemical and Biological Weapons conventions, which he criticized as
ineffective and dangerous to US interests.
other clients, his law firm represented arms giants Lockheed-Martin and
like Perle, Feith has long taken a strong interest in Israel and its security.
His father, Dalck Feith, a philanthropist and major Republican contributor from
Philadelphia, was active in the militantly Zionist youth movement Betar, the
predecessor of Israel's Likud Party, in Poland before World War II.
father and son have been honored by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA),
which, unlike other mainstream Jewish groups in the United States, has
consistently supported Likud positions and the settlement movement in the
occupied territories and actively courted the Christian Right.
also served with Perle on the board of the Jewish Institute for National
Security Affairs (JINSA), a think tank that promotes military and strategic
ties between the United States and Israel.
first entered government as a Middle East specialist on the National Security
Council (NSC) under Ronald Reagan in 1981, but was abruptly fired after only
one year. Perle, who was then serving in the Pentagon as assistant secretary of
defense for international security, hired him as his deputy, a post he retained
until leaving in 1986 to found Feith & Zell.
years later, Feith was retained as a lobbyist by the Turkish government and, in
that capacity, worked with Perle to build military ties between Turkey and
1996, he participated in a study group chaired by Perle and sponsored by a
right-wing Jerusalem-based think tank that produced a report calling for
incoming Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to build a strategic alliance with
Turkey, Jordan, and a new government in Iraq that would transform the balance
of power in the Middle East in such a way that Israel could decisively resist
pressure to trade "land for peace" with the Palestinians or Syria.
1997, he published a lengthy article, "A Strategy for Israel," in
Commentary magazine, Feith argued that Israel should repudiate the Oslo accords
and move to reoccupy those parts of the West Bank and Gaza that had been
transferred to the Palestinian Authority.
years later, he and Perle signed an open letter to President Bill Clinton
calling for Washington to work with Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC) to
oust Saddam Hussein.
May 2000, they signed a report calling for the United States to be prepared to attack
Syria militarily unless Damascus failed to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.