The departure by mid-2005 of the number-three
man at the Defense Department, announced by the Pentagon Wednesday, marks the
latest hint that President George W. Bush is moving foreign policy in a more
Combined with several other personnel shifts, as well as a concerted effort
to reassure the public and U.S. allies abroad that last week's messianic inaugural
address did not portend any dramatic new foreign policy departures, the resignation
of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith suggests that the administration
is deliberately shedding its sharper and more radical edges.
The fact that Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
John Bolton, who had hoped to be promoted to deputy secretary of state under
Condoleezza Rice, has still not been assigned a new job has contributed to that
Like Feith, Bolton, the administration's most outspoken exponent of unilateralism,
has generally been regarded as an extremist on key issues, such as Iraq, the
International Criminal Court (ICC), and Iran and other nuclear proliferation
issues, that have wreaked havoc on U.S. ties with its European allies.
With a number of senior posts, including Feith's, still unfilled, however,
it is too soon to conclude that Bush's second term will tack to the center.
While Rice's decision to appoint Trade Representative Robert Zoellick as her
deputy and to rely on career diplomats – rather than political appointees
as urged by Cheney and the neoconservatives – for other top spots suggests
strongly that the State Department will remain a realist redoubt in Bush's second
term, other key vacancies remain up in the air.
Speculation about who may replace Feith includes Bolton, I. Lewis Libby, another
neoconservative hardliner and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and
Richard Lawless, the more pragmatic, if hawkish, deputy assistant secretary
of defense for Asia.
But Elliott Abrams, Rice's former Middle East advisor, is considered the inside
pick. Although neoconservative, Abrams is considered more flexible – and
far more diplomatic – than either Feith or Bolton.
While Feith's hardline neoconservative backers, including his mentor, former
Defense Policy Board (DPB) chairman Richard Perle, insisted that his decision
to leave the administration was taken solely for "personal and family reasons"
– Feith, 51, has four children at home – as stated in the Pentagon
the announcement, many analysts dismissed that explanation, citing his well-known
"I think they decided to get rid him of long ago but were afraid that
doing so would have been seen as a tacit admission that Bush screwed up in Iraq,"
said one administration official who asked not to be identified.
He added that Feith's authority over policy had been gradually reduced over
the past 18 months due to complaints about his performance from Congress, the
uniformed military, and Washington's coalition partners in Iraq – particularly
British Prime Minister Tony Blair who, according to one source, had asked Bush
to remove Feith well over a year ago.
As undersecretary, Feith played a critical role in the run-up to the Iraq war
for which he was a major prewar booster. Two offices established under his authority,
the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group and the Office of Special Plans
(OSP) became particularly controversial.
The former reportedly reviewed "raw intelligence" gathered by the
official intelligence agencies and Iraqi exiles in order to try to establish
the existence of links between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda that
could be cited by the administration in its case for going to war.
The resulting product – which was subsequently leaked to the neoconservative
Weekly Standard – was then "stovepiped" to Cheney's office
and from there into the White House, thus circumventing review by professional
The OSP, which became the administration's lead agency for preparing both the
Iraq invasion and subsequent occupation, was widely criticized for excluding
regional specialists from its work, often employing outside "consultants"
considered ideologically compatible with Feith's own extreme right-wing Likudist
and anti-Arab views.
Many blame Washington's total failure to anticipate the Iraq's insurgency on
Feith's work, although his superiors, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, as well as Cheney's office and the White
House, clearly shared the same assumptions that U.S. troops would be greeted
as "liberators," rather than occupiers.
Feith's competence – both with regard to his assumptions about the region
and his strategic knowledge – was also repeatedly questioned by the uniformed
military. In Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's book about the
Iraqi war, Plan of Attack, Lt. Gen. Tommy Franks, who was in charge of
the operation, famously called Feith the "dumbest f****** guy on the planet."
As the Iraq occupation started going bad in the summer of 2003, Feith began
losing influence. By that fall, Rice created an Iraq Strategy Group (ISG) based
in the White House and led by Robert Blackwill to essentially wrest control
of occupation policy from Feith and the Pentagon, a process that took many months.
Feith's position was also undermined last summer when it was disclosed that
the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was investigating whether one of his
analysts had given classified material – specifically, a sensitive document
on U.S. Iran policy – to an Israeli diplomat via the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful lobby group. A grand jury in the case
has since been impaneled and AIPAC's offices subjected to two searches.
While Feith himself has not been implicated in the case, his close ties to
Israel have long raised eyebrows, even at times within the Bush administration.
In 2003, when Feith, who was standing in for Rumsfeld at an interagency 'Principals'
Meeting' on the Middle East, concluded his remarks on behalf of the Pentagon,
according to the Washington insider newsletter, the Nelson Report, Rice
said, "Thanks Doug, but when we want the Israeli position we'll invite
According to investigative journalist Stephen Green, Feith was summarily removed
from his post as a Middle East analyst in the National Security Council under
former President Ronald Reagan (1981-89), in 1983 because he had been the object
of a FBI inquiry into whether he had provided classified material to an official
of the Israeli embassy.
Feith, who was immediately hired by Perle when the latter was assistant secretary
of defense, has long been associated with extreme views on the Arab-Israeli
conflict. His former law partner, Marc Zell, has served as a spokesman for the
Israeli settler movement, and he publicly and prolifically opposed the Oslo
accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
In 1996, he joined with Perle and four other prominent hardline neoconservatives,
including David Wurmser, Cheney's Middle East advisor since October 2003, as
part of a study group sponsored by the Jerusalem-based Institute for Advanced
Strategic and Political Studies.
The result was a paper drafted by Wurmser and submitted to incoming Israeli
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, called "A Clean Break: A New Strategy
for Securing the Realm," which called on Israel to work "closely with
Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll back" regional threats,
strike Syrian targets in Lebanon and possibly Syria itself, and work to overthrow
Saddam Hussein as the key to permanently transforming the regional balance of
power and dictating peace terms to the Palestinians.
At the same time, Feith was active in several U.S. groups considered close
to the Israeli far right, including the Center for Security Policy (CSP), the
Middle East Forum (MEF), OneJerusalem.org, the Jewish Institute for National
Security Affairs (JINSA), and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).
Significantly, CSP and ZOA have expressed strong reservations about Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plans, which are strongly backed by Abrams and
the White House, to remove all Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and four
from the West Bank as part of a "disengagement" process that could
renew an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
(Inter Press Service)