Rather, it is the first attempt by a serious student of history to lay out the myriad, challenging choices confronting a president who, within eight months of taking office, witnessed a devastating attack on this country and resolved to prevent another – possibly far more destructive one – from occurring. The considerations, the competing recommendations and the presidential and Cabinet-level decisions that shaped the Bush Administration’s approach to the terrorist threat emanating from state-sponsored networks are documented in an unvarnished, highly accessible way.
Particularly interesting are the many points on which earlier tomes and conventional wisdom are mistaken. For instance, Mr. Feith demonstrates that the record simply does not support claims that: “Bush and his hawkish advisors” were intent on waging war on Iraq from the get-go; Rumsfeld and his “neo-cons” failed to prepare for post-war Iraq and that the State Department had, only to have its plans spurned by the Pentagon; and Feith’s office tried to manipulate pre-war intelligence about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Given how central many of these myths are to the current criticism of the Iraq war, the contradictory evidence deserves attention.
Even more critical to this week’s congressional testimony – and what follows on Capitol Hill, on the hustings and, not least in Iraq – are Mr. Feith’s insights into problems that continue to afflict America’s execution of the war. For example:
* On issue after issue, George W. Bush’s decisions on Iraq were undermined by subordinates who opposed the president’s policies. As Feith charitably puts it, Mr. Bush “could…justly be faulted for an excessive tolerance of indiscipline, even of disloyalty from his own officials.” This pattern continues with members of the intelligence community, senior diplomats and even, until recently, a top military officer routinely flouting presidential direction – sometimes openly, on other occasions through malicious leaks to the press.
* There has been an abject failure to address competently and comprehensively the ideological nature of our Islamofascist enemies and their enablers. “…In the fight against terrorism, the effort to counter ideological support remains a gaping deficiency. No one in the Administration…is currently developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy beyond public diplomacy.” Congress has not helped matters, by failing to confirm Jim Glassman or reconstituting a dedicated organization like the U.S. Information Agency to do this work.
* Most importantly, the costs of failures to act – or win in Iraq – continue to be underestimated. “If and when major new terrorist attacks occur in the United States, the public will reexamine the Bush Administration’s strategy for the war on terrorism. The likely criticism then will not be that the President was too tough on the jihadists, the Baathists and other state supporters of terrorism, but that the Administration might have fought the terrorist network even more intensely and comprehensively.
“No dereliction of statesmanship is as unpardonable as a failure to protect the nation’s security. If the head of government underreacts when the country is threatened, history is not likely to excuse him on the grounds that his excessive caution enjoyed bipartisan support.”
Doug Feith has made important contributions to our nation’s security for three decades in public life and the private sector. If his splendid War and Decision gets the reading it warrants, others will be more likely to do so as well.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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