Feith identifies as our central mistake the decision not to create an Iraqi Interim Authority to take over some sovereign functions soon after the overthrow of Saddam. Bush ordered the creation of such an authority March 10, 2003. But it was resisted by State Department and CIA leaders, who argued that Iraqis would not trust "externals" -- those in exile -- and who were especially determined to keep the Iraqi National Congress' Ahmed Chalabi from power. As head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer took the State-CIA view and, without much supervision from Washington, decided that the U.S. occupation would continue for as long as two years. Only deft negotiation by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld produced a June 30, 2004, deadline for returning authority to Iraqis. The January 2005 elections placed many of the "externals," including Chalabi, in high office.
Feith admits he made mistakes and misjudgments. He criticizes Bush for not defending the main rationale for invasion -- protecting Americans from a genuine threat -- and instead emphasizing the subsidiary and iffy goal of establishing democracy. He says little about military operations, beyond noting that Bremer and the military leaders had no common approach to combating disorder.
There's still much to be learned about our decisions, good and bad, in Iraq. But Feith's book is a step forward, as were those of Sherwood and Churchill 60 years ago.
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