I haven't finished reading Douglas Feith's War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism, but I feel secure in saying that it is an extraordinarily frank and persuasive book. Feith, who served as under secretary of defense for policy from 2001 to 2005, has been criticized harshly and, I think, unfairly for somehow lying us into Iraq. In War and Decision he presents his view, fortified by generous quotes from government documents, reports, and memorandums. He should be saluted for getting many materials declassified so that we can have a clearer idea of what was actually going on at the top levels of government. I have long been struck by the contrast between what we can read today about the acts of leaders in World War II and what I gather was available to readers at the time. This book provides our first in-depth look at the inside of the Bush administration's national security top leadership from one who was there.
One warning, however: Those who are looking for dirt on Feith's colleagues in government are not going to find it here. He seems to be at pains to relay the arguments of those who had different views fairly and accurately. He concedes some mistakes of his own. And he contradicts much of what has become conventional wisdom about the Iraq war. To whet your appetite, here is an excerpt from the introduction:
Readers who have invested time and faith in the current public affairs literature may find it jarring to discover that key Administration figures—Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Richard Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz, myself, and others—made arguments and advocated policies that run directly counter to the positions usually associated with them. For example:
- It was the Pentagon "neocons" who continually urged the President to tone down his democracy rhetoric.
- The most powerful analysis of the downsides of going to war in Iraq came not from the State Department or the CIA, but from Donald Rumsfeld.
- The Pentagon-CIA dispute over the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship began with objections by Defense officials about the CIA's politicization of intelligence, not the other way around.
- The work of the State Department's Future of Iraq project on post-Saddam political transition was opposed not by Defense officials, but by Colin Powell and Richard Armitage.
- It was CIA officials who predicted that Iraqis would launch pro-U.S. uprisings after the start of the war.
- It was State Department officials who advocated a multiyear U.S. occupation of Iraq.