|Loss of Feith in
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - "What's gonna happen with Feith?"
That, 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 under way.
reference is to Douglas
Feith, the administration's rather obscure but nonetheless
strategically placed under secretary of
defense for policy, who reports directly to Deputy
Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Pentagon chief
If 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.
A protege 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.
He 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.
But, 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.
His 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
pre-war intelligence against Saddam Hussein and then
"stovepiped" it to the White House via Rumsfeld and Vice
President Dick Cheney, unvetted by the intelligence
It was also his office that was in
charge of post-war 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 who anticipated many of the problems
that have wrong-footed the occupation.
also excluded many top Mideast experts from the State
Department from playing any role in the Coalition
Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq. And 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. Among 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.
In 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.
"Until 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
Inter Press Service.
There 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).
The 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 past year.
the ISG followed growing public criticism, even by
otherwise loyal Republican lawmakers, of the
administration's failure to anticipate post-war
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.
Other 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. Then, last week, a top Feith aide,
former assistant defense secretary for international
security policy J D Crouch, abruptly resigned his
position without explanation.
There 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. It was in that context,
according to these reports, that the administration
moved to quietly reduce Feith's authority, in part by
creating the ISG.
Like his mentor Perle, Feith
has long been a hardliner 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 Northrop Grunman.
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.
Both father and
son have been honored by the Zionist Organization of
America, which, unlike other mainstream Jewish groups in
the US, has consistently supported Likud positions and
the settlement movement in the occupied territories and
actively courted the Christian Right.
served with Perle on the board of the Jewish Institute
for National Security Affairs, a think tank that
promotes military and strategic ties between the US and
Feith first entered government as a
Middle East specialist on the 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.
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 Israel.
In 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 Benjamin 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.
he published a lengthy article, "A Strategy for Israel",
published in Commentary magazine, where Feith argued
that Israel should repudiate the Oslo accords and move
to re-occupy those parts of the West Bank and Gaza that
had been transferred to the Palestinian Authority.
Two years later, he and Perle signed an open
letter to then-president Bill Clinton calling for
Washington to work with Chalabi's Iraqi National
Congress to oust Saddam Hussein.
In May 2000,
they signed a report calling for the US to be prepared
to attack the Syria militarily unless Damascus failed to
withdraw its troops from Lebanon.