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Commentary: Dumb, but smart Feith

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI editor at large   |   Oct. 24, 2005 at 9:07 AM

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- What has Douglas Feith, the former No. 3 at the Pentagon, done to deserve so many high-ranking public hoots of derision? First he was lampooned by Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of both the 2001 Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom in 2003. "The stupidest guy on the face of the earth," Franks was quoted as saying.

The latest surprise sally came from Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's chief of staff when he was secretary of state. "Seldom in my life," said Wilkerson, "have I met a dumber man." Wilkerson was Powell's most trusted adviser for almost 16 years.

Feith was a key cog in what Wilkerson calls the "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal" that hijacked U.S. foreign policy and marched the country to war in Iraq with disinformation about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. The "cabal" is code for the neo-cons.

Wilkerson is a former associate director of Policy Planning at the State Department and ex-director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College.

With 1,600 people who reported to him as undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Feith was anything but stupid when he set up the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group and the Office of Special plans to find evidence of WMD and of links between Saddam's regime and al-Qaida. This new rump adjunct to the intelligence community was charged with finding what the CIA couldn't. The neo-cons were determined to develop a credible rationale for the war.

Immediately following 9/11, Feith began agitating for retaliation against Iraq, not Afghanistan. After resigning from the Pentagon last spring, he wrote an op-ed that conceded he favored an invasion of Iraq as that would have taken Osama bin Laden and cohorts by surprise. Bin Laden would have been delighted to see Feith prevail on this score and doubtless would have concluded U.S. retaliation was unrelated to al-Qaida.

Several prominent journalists were encouraged to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson who had investigated reports of Niger exporting yellowcake uranium to Iraq and concluded they were groundless. Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby told The New York Times' Judith Miller that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was the CIA agent who had sent Wilson to Niger in order to embarrass the administration. In so doing, he had blown the cover - deliberately is what a federal prosecutor believes - of a secret operative, which is a violation of federal law.

In the run-up to the Iraq war, Miller wrote several stories that purported to prove the existence of WMD in Iraq. In 1998, Feith signed an open letter to President Clinton calling for the administration to work with Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress to oust Saddam. Both Feith and Chalabi supplied Miller with WMD disinformation that the Times published under her byline.

According to Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, then Secretary of State Powell called Feith's operation the "Gestapo office." Powell opposed - and Feith rammed through - the authorized reinterpretation of the Geneva accords to permit tougher interrogation methods of prisoners of war. Judge Advocate General officers were also shut out of interrogation sessions at Guantanamo Bay, Bagram in Afghanistan, and Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

Col. Wilkerson, a military academic, broke his silence on his years with Powell in the Bush administration in a speech at the New America Foundation last week. He blamed President Bush, "not versed in international relations and not too much interested," for allowing the Cheney-Rumsfeld "cabal" takeover. Wilkerson also blamed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for abdicating her role as "honest broker" when she was national security adviser in order to keep building on "her intimacy with the president."

The Cheney-Rumsfeld team's end run around the bureaucracy, he said, has left the army in bad shape and stalled nuclear diplomacy with Iran and North Korea.

Richard Perle, the former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, and his protégé, Feith, co-authored in 1996 a white paper for The Institute for Advanced Strategy and Political Studies, an Israeli think tank that called for the ousting of Saddam as a means to transform the balance of power in the Middle East in such a way that Israel could ignore pressure to trade land for peace with the Palestinians or Syria.

The document was titled "Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" and was designed as a policy manifesto for the then incoming Binyamin Netanyahu government. The think tank's principal thrust was to generate support for the confluence and inseparability of Israeli and American security policy.

"Only the unconditional acceptance by Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimensions...is a solid basis for the future," said the American authors referring to Israel's rights, which must include the West Bank, which is "our land to which we have clung for 2,000 years."

It was also the document that led Brent Scowcroft, President George H.W. Bush's national security adviser and close friend, and opponent of the war on Iraq, to conclude a year ago that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's peace plan was to evacuate Gaza and four tiny hilltop settlements in the northern West Bank - and call it a day.

In "Breaking Ranks: What Turned Brent Scowcroft Against the Bush Administration," Jeffrey Goldberg in the current New Yorker documents a convergence of views with Wilkerson's salvos. He clearly does not believe the promotion of American-style democracy abroad is a sufficiently good reason to use force.

"You encourage democracy over time," said Scowcroft, "with assistance, and aid, the traditional way. Not how the neo-cons want to do it."

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