Monday, June 30, 2008

Inside Rumsfeld's Pentagon

Boston Review (July/August 2008)
By Andrew J. Bacevich

Setting aside combat memoirs, of which there are a growing number, the literature of the Iraq War divides neatly into two categories. The first category, dominated by journalistic observers, indicts. The second category, accounts authored by insider participants, acquits. The two books reviewed here fall into the second category: They are exercises in self-exculpation. Pretending to explain, their actual purpose is to deflect responsibility.

Douglas Feith and Ricardo Sanchez are not exactly marquee figures. Yet each for a time played an important role in America’s Mesopotamian misadventure. From 2001 to 2005 Feith served in the Pentagon as the third-ranking figure in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) under Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy. From 2003 to 2004 Lieutenant General Sanchez, now retired, served in Baghdad, commanding all coalition forces in Iraq.
Of the two accounts, Feith’s qualifies as the more sophisticated. It is also far and away the more dishonest. Feith trained as a lawyer, and War and Decision qualifies as a masterpiece of lawyerly, even Nixonian, obfuscation.

Like a shrewd defense attorney, Feith poses only those questions that will advance his case. As a result, his very long account confines itself to a very narrow range of issues. Although Feith styles himself a strategist, conscientious readers will learn nothing here about, say, the strategic significance of Persian Gulf oil. In War and Decision, oil just does not come up. Readers will be instructed in great detail about Saddam Hussein’s record as a vile and cruel dictator. They will remain oblivious to the record of U. S. support for the Iraqi tyrant during the Reagan era, despite the fact that Feith himself served in the Reagan administration.
They will be reminded of the many intelligence failures attributable to the CIA. They will look in vain for any reference to allegations, substantiated at the highest level of the British government, that the Bush administration engaged in “fixing” intelligence to support precooked policy decisions. They will learn that Feith is Jewish and a self-described neoconservative, and that members of his extended family perished in the Holocaust. They will find no mention of Feith’s involvement in right-wing Israeli politics, notably as a participant in the group responsible for “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” prepared in 1996 for Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Among that study’s recommendations was one identifying Saddam’s overthrow as a key Israeli national security objective.
This careful discrimination between convenient and inconvenient facts enables Feith to craft a finely honed version of the Iraq War. The resulting narrative can be summarized in three sentences: Apart from the odd misstep or two, senior officials in OSD, to the man high-minded patriots and sophisticated thinkers, performed their duties brilliantly. Alas, their counterparts at the CIA and State Department, motivated by a combination of spite, prejudice, parochialism, and outright disloyalty to the president, conspired to frustrate or derail OSD’s plans. Abetted by L. Paul Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority that governed Iraq during the first year after Saddam’s removal, they succeeded, with terrible consequences. ............ READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE.

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