WASHINGTON — Douglas Feith, one of the leading hawks in the Pentagon, is coming under increasing criticism from within the administration, leading some to speculate about his future.
Administration officials, particularly in the State Department, claim that Feith and his staff mishandled preparations for postwar Iraq on several fronts, including law enforcement and the recruitment of local and national leaders, and may have been responsible for the administration’s misleading use of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in order to generate domestic and international support for a military invasion of Iraq.
Criticism is nothing new for Feith, a leading pro-Israel hawk, whose views have been parodied on “Saturday Night Live” and examined critically in the pages of the New Yorker and the Washington Post. But now some in Washington are speculating that Feith, the third-ranking civilian in the Pentagon, could be a likely candidate to take the fall for the administration if the intelligence controversy continues to mushroom.
“Canning [Feith] would be greeted with great hostility by many of Bush’s most ardently pro-Israel supporters — not so much Jews, as Evangelical Christians. But that latticework that keeps people in office looks like it’s fraying a bit for him,” wrote liberal political pundit Joshua Micah Marshall on his Web site. “And if the [weapons of mass destruction intelligence] question gains too much political traction, too much heat, I’m not sure there’d be anyone quite so well-placed to take the fall.”
Feith, who runs the Defense Department’s Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq, also oversees a Pentagon intelligence team that has come under scrutiny in recent weeks. Congressional aides have been telling reporters that this intelligence team will be closely reviewed during the Senate’s investigation into whether the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence data on Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons program.
In response to the most recent wave of criticism, Feith called a Pentagon press conference to deny the allegations. During the briefing, Feith acknowledged that following the attacks of September 11, 2001, he created a small intelligence team to search for terrorist links involving Iraq and other countries that he suggested American intelligence agencies might have missed. The job of the intelligence team, Feith told reporters, was “to review this intelligence to help digest it for me and other policy makers, to help us develop Defense Department strategy for the war on terrorism.”
It was widely reported recently that Feith’s aggressive management style has made him enemies both within the Pentagon and in other branches of the administration. According to one State Department official, Secretary of State Colin Powell recently mentioned Feith in a private conversation as a major source of the tensions between the State and Defense Departments.
The increasing attention to Feith’s alleged missteps could also end up fueling the theory advanced in some quarters that the Iraq invasion was thought up and promoted primarily by conservatives bent on improving Israel’s security. Feith boasts longstanding ties to several leading Jewish groups that oppose Israeli territorial concessions, including the Zionist Organization of America and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Feith also helped Richard Perle draft a controversial memo in 1996 urging the newly elected Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to abandon the “land for peace” formula of his predecessors and work with neighbors to undermine Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Feith’s departure could deal a severe blow to right-wing groups lobbying against a Palestinian state and President Bush’s “road map” plan. Though Feith appears to have lined up behind the administration’s current diplomatic push, he is generally assumed to be an ideological ally of right-wing Israeli and Jewish groups that oppose a two-state solution.
Earlier this month, Feith appeared to misspeak when he indicated in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that American forces stationed in Japan may soon be moved to bases in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. Feith told a Los Angeles Times reporter that “everything is going to move everywhere” and that “there is not going to be a place in the world where it’s going to be the same as it used to be…. We’re going to rationalize our posture everywhere — in Korea, in Japan, everywhere.”
A day after the story was published, Feith’s boss, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, told reporters: “There are things in that story, including the speculation that we might take our Marines out of Okinawa and move them to Australia, that simply have no foundation.” He described this detail as a “salacious detail” from “some eighth level in the bureaucracy.”