Before the Invasion, There Was Feith
Someday, you are going to read a whole lot about the shenanigans of one Douglas J. Feith and an elaborate scheme to get the United States to invade Iraq. That is because Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., has been determined to get to the bottom of this sordid tale and is now, fortunately, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee and thereby empowered to get at the truth.
Last week, his focus led to the partial declassification of a report produced by the Pentagon’s inspector general. Although its shocking revelations did not get the coverage they deserved — what with a jealous astronaut under arrest and the death of a certain voluptuous stripper/heiress — efforts such as Levin’s eventually will uncover the full picture of why President Bush committed to a war costing tens of thousands of lives and an expected $1 trillion that served no valid national security purpose.
The tale begins with Feith, who was appointed undersecretary of defense for policy in the Pentagon by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after Bush was installed in the White House in 2000 by the Supreme Court. Feith’s office manufactured an “Alternative Analysis on the Iraq-Al Qaeda Relationship,” which ignored the consensus of the intelligence community that the two natural enemies — one a secular Arab government, the other a fundamentalist terror group bent on destruction of same — were not, nor ever had been, working together, despite a shared enmity for the United States.
Most important, as the Pentagon’s independent inspector general noted, the intelligence did not support any connection between Saddam Hussein’s regime and the brutal Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, such an apocryphal connection was asserted repeatedly by the Bush administration based largely on the cherry-picked information compiled and presented by Feith’s highly ideological group within the Pentagon.
“[I]ntelligence indicates cooperation in all categories” and a “mature symbiotic relationship” between Iraq and al-Qaida, Feith conveniently reported to superiors who had already decided on the need to overthrow Saddam and were seeking a way to link it to Americans’ rage at Osama bin Laden. These alleged “multiple areas of cooperation” included “shared interest and pursuit” of weapons of mass destruction and “some indications of possible Iraq coordination with al Qaeda related to 9/11.” All of those claims were known by the intelligence community to be false or completely unproven, as documented by the nonpartisan 9/11 commission. Yet, they were presented by Feith’s office “unbeknownst to the Director of Central Intelligence,” according to the report, were “not vetted by the Intelligence Community” and were “not supported by the available intelligence.”
The most glaring distortion was Feith’s indefensible reliance on a shaky, discredited report from a Czech intelligence agent who said 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta had a meeting with a top Iraqi diplomat in Prague five months before Sept. 11, 2001. As the 9/11 commission reported, there was never any good evidence of such a meeting, yet Vice President Dick Cheney continued to assert it as true, long after the facts were known. Cheney even called Feith’s report the “best source of information” on the alleged relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida after it was leaked to the neoconservative Weekly Standard.
So was the White House in on this hustle? It is hard to imagine it wasn’t, because Feith was selected by Cheney and Rumsfeld to run the “alternative” intelligence operation precisely because they knew he was an inveterate hawk, long committed publicly to a rollback strategy that would ensure Israel’s security through regime change in the Arab world, beginning with Iraq.
That radical and dangerous notion, based on a deep hostility to the Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts pursued by all previous presidents, had been clearly outlined by Feith in a 1996 report he co-wrote with Richard Perle and other prominent neoconservatives called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” issued by an Israeli think tank. The report spelled out a rosy scenario under which a new post-Saddam Iraq with a Shiite-majority government would support a pro-Israel position.
The absurdity of that expectation has been well demonstrated by the close ties of the Iraqi Shiite leadership with an Iranian government that is publicly committed to eliminating Israel. Of course, as a private citizen, Feith had the right to endorse such deeply erroneous views — but why was a man given to such bizarre analysis placed in a position of critical importance in the U.S. government?
More important, why did the president raise Feith’s analysis over that of the government’s lavishly funded intelligence agencies? That is the basic question, and one that truth-diggers such as Levin eventually may be able to answer.