Douglas Feith Bares His Soul to Jeffrey Goldberg

A revealing article by Jeffrey Goldberg in the New Yorker, based on an interview with Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, who has announced he will leave his post by the end of the year. Feith is on the hot seat because of the Franklin Affair, and is frequently mentioned in connection with the Plame Affair. But the powerful neocon faces the greatest amount of criticism for his role in producing the thoroughly bogus case for war on Iraq. Goldberg’s article comes out at a time when the British press has published a secret report of the minutes of a meeting between Tony Blair, MI-6 chief Richard Dearlove, and Jack Straw dated July 23, 2002 in which, to quote the document, “[Dearlove] reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

In other words, the “facts” that Bush was presenting to the American people and the world, conveyed most frighteningly in Bush’s state of the union address in January 2003 and Colin Powell’s United Nations speech on February 5, were spurious and bore no relation to the basic decision to attack Iraq in violation of international law that March. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear this information is not new. Individual neocons themselves have conceded, with the smug casualness of those who think they’re immune from judgment, that this was the case. Paul Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair in May 2003 that, “For bureaucratic reasons [the administration] settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction,” as the justification for war on Iraq, “because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.” Richard Perle astonished a London audience in November 2003 by declaring that “I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing,” and that “international law … would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone.” Those most responsible for the war have all but shouted from the rooftops what a Boston Globe cartoonist noted early on: what for most was a tragedy was for them an opportunity. But one that required disinformation to implement, since normal people require reasons for war other than those that can honestly be offered in most instances. “The first casualty in war is the truth,” as they say.

Feith complains to Golberg that administration critics on Iraq think “we were a bunch of people intent on going to war with Iraq no matter what. September 11th was a pretext. We believed that it would be easy, that we were linked up to Chalabi who was arguing that it would be easy and there would not be problems in the aftermath, and so for that reason nobody planned for anything hard, and when it turned out to be hard we were left without a plan.” But he offers no refutation of these claims that his bunch indeed wanted war, used 9-11 as a pretext, and was intimately connected to Chalabi’s disinformation apparatus. He merely acknowledges the criticisms as so many irritations, reminding me of Wolfowitz’s breezy change of the subject when asked about the absent weapons in July 2003.

“Well, we’ve liberated people from a dictator, right?” said Donald Rumsfeld’s top deputy while on a visit to conquered Iraq. “I’m not concerned about weapons of mass destruction. I’m concerned about getting Iraq on its feet. I didn’t come (to Iraq) on a search for weapons of mass destruction. If you could get in a relaxed conversation with Iraqis on that subject they’d say why on earth are you Americans fussing so much about this historical issue [!] when we have real problems here, when Baathists are killing us and Baathists are threatening us and we don’t have electricity and we don’t have jobs. Those are the real issues. I’m not saying that getting to the bottom of this WMD issue isn’t important. It is important. But it is not of immediate consequence.”

Feith, also seeking to shove the unimportant past under the rug, is focused on the future. He emphasizes all the good the U.S. is doing in Iraq following the invasion, whatever it happened to be based on way back all those historical months ago. “The Marshall Plan,” Feith told Goldberg, “didn’t get going until 1948. Here we are less than two years after the liberation of Baghdad, and an enormous amount of reconstruction has been done.” This has become the main post-facto rationalization for the war: We must reconstruct Iraq! But for this rationalization to have any efficacy, the popular mind must be hypnotized to imagine that the deposed Saddam and his regime, rather than sanctions and war, destroyed all that which must now be rebuilt. This is, as General Tommy Franks once said of Feith (this also mentioned in the Goldberg article) just “fucking stupid.” A new UN study published last week states that 84% of Iraq’s higher education establishment was “destroyed, damaged and robbed” since the beginning of the U.S. invasion.

That’s why “an enormous amount of reconstruction” is required—although it’s hard to do it in an atmosphere of ongoing violence, the predictable outcome of the invasion itself.

Recall that during the second month of the invasion about 15 schoolboys, protesting the seizure of their primary school in Fallujah, were killed by U.S. troops sent there to destroy weapons of mass destruction, fight al-Qaeda and maybe towards the end of an official list of reasons lengthening like Pinocchio’s nose, liberate oppressed boys like them.

Can we now rejoice with Feith that the damaged building’s been all fixed up? Probably not, since by all reports, the whole city of Fallujah’s in ruin. That was the city’s fate because it refused to capitulate to the invaders.

Feith’s longstanding advocacy of unprovoked war on Iraq, and support for war in general as a way of defending something, is explained in part by the following autobiographical material imparted to Goldberg:

“I had done a lot of reading, relative for a kid, about World War Two, and I thought about Chamberlain a lot. Chamberlain wasn’t popular in my house. What I was hearing from the antiwar movement, with which I had a fair amount of sympathy . . . were thoughts about how the world works, how war is not the answer. I mean, the idea that we could have peace no matter what anybody else in the world does didn’t make sense to me. It’s a solipsism. When I took all these nice-sounding ideas and compared it [sic] to my own little personal ‘Cogito, ergo sum,’ which was my understanding that my family got wiped out by Hitler, and that all this stuff about working things out-well, talking to Hitler to resolve the problem didn’t make any sense to me. The kind of people who put bumper stickers on their car that declare that ‘war is not the answer,’ are they making a serious comment? What’s the answer to Pearl Harbor? What’s the answer to the Holocaust? The surprising thing is not that there are so many Jews who are neocons but that there are so many who are not.”

In Feith’s fevered, confused mind, war on Iraq—a Third World country that never attacked the U.S.—is the moral equivalent to the U.S.’s response to Pearl Harbor, to resistance to Nazism. It’s an “answer to the Holocaust,” in which for all I know he may genuinely feel that Iraqis were somehow deeply implicated. What should it matter to such a mind that 1600 Americans and up to 100,000 Iraqis have died in a war based on lies—lies that he himself as a main operative of the (still not investigated) “Office of Special Plans” systematically collected and foisted on the public to justify?

Goldberg in 2002 published an article in the New Yorker praised by former CIA director and leading Iraq war enthusiast James Woolsey as a “blockbuster” providing a better rationale for an Iraq attack than what could then be culled from the cautious CIA intelligence reports. He claimed that al-Ansar, a group variously described as mostly Kurdish or mostly Arab and generally shrouded in mystery, was producing weapons of mass destruction on the Iranian border. The area was so pummeled by U.S. bombing that there can be no verification of the pre-war claims. Woolsey stated at the time that the CIA “got beat on this story by the New Yorker and Jeff Goldberg.” I asked at the time: “How likely is that, and who is likely to be feeding whom here—the CIA Mr. Goldberg, or Mr. Goldberg the CIA?”

I should apologize to the CIA for my implication. It probably wasn’t them, but Feith’s own Special Office. Interesting now in any case to find Feith, in the privacy of his library in his suburban Maryland home, unburdening his soul to this trusted journalist. And in the interview so plainly confirming Gen. Frank’s assessment.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at:

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: