Douglas Feith, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, is a longtime neoconservative activist and former lawyer known for his advocacy of militarist security policies and right-wing "pro-Israel" views. Feith served four years in the George W. Bush administration as Donald Rumsfeld's deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. The controversial (and now defunct) Office of Special Plans, viewed by many as the origin of the faulty intelligence used to justify the Iraq War, was set up under Feith's purview.
Feith left office in August 2005 amid allegations that he deliberately skewed intelligence on Iraq to bolster the case for war,which some observers have argued could amount to a war crime. Feith tried to fend off criticism of his record in War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of Terrorism, a memoir about his service in the Bush administration that was published in April 2008.
In September 2008, the Hudson Institute, a bastion of neoconservative advocacy, announced that it had hired Feith as a senior fellow. As the director of Hudson's Center for National Security Strategies, Feith has focused much of his work on promoting costly weapons programs, devising strategies for combatting radical Islam, and arguing against negotiations with Iran.
In a November 2013 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, Feith argued that "peace and arms-control agreements" are basically a waste of time. "What typically happens with such agreements is the following: On the democratic side, political leaders hype the agreement to their voters as a proud diplomatic achievement. The nondemocratic side—typically an aggressive, dishonest party—cheats," Fieth wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in November 2013. "If Mr. Obama can justify his deal with Iran only by promising to 'crank up' the relaxed sanctions if and when the Iranian regime cheats, no one should buy it."
A few months later, in January 2014, Feith signed a letter published by the William Kristol-founded Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) that suggested additional sanctions on Iran could help diplomacy succeed, despite the fact that most observers appear to think that adopting additional sanctions would effectively scuttle talks. One observer commented that the FPI letter "implicitly endorses" a bill that had been floated in Congress by hawkish Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) that would impose new Iran sanctions.
In April 2012, he coauthored with Abram Shulsky and William Galston a Hudson report outlining a "battle of ideas" against "America's radical Islamist enemies," which was titled "Organizing for a Strategic Ideas Campaign to Counter Ideological Challenges to U.S. National Security." In March 2010, he co-authored with Shulsky the report "Organizing the U.S. Government to Counter Hostile Ideologies." And in 2009, he teamed up with Shulsky and Jack David to author a briefing paper entitled "START Treaty Renewal and America's Strategic Posture."
In a November 2011 op-ed for the Journal published amid a flurry of anti-Obama criticism from the "pro-Israel" right, Feith argued against a joint American Jewish Committee-American Defense League plea for unity in the pro-Israel community. The organizations sought a pledge from political actors and organizations that they would refrain from making U.S. support for Israel into a partisan wedge issue. Feith retorted: "Anyone truly intent on preserving unity among Israel's friends could do so by building on the substantial bipartisan opposition to Mr. Obama's policies on Israel. Instead, the AJC and the ADL are working to protect Mr. Obama. These organizations exist in large part to defend the Jewish state from unfair criticism, pressure and attacks. But they are defending President Obama from well-grounded charges that he has subjected Israel precisely to that." The liberal watchdog Media Matters called Feith's op-ed "the latest in the right-wing medianarrative that Obama is 'anti-Israel' because of his policies toward Israel—even though these policies are often ones that were advocated for or articulated by the Bush administration or echoed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself."
In the wake of the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, Feith and coauthor Seth Cropsey took to the Journal op-ed page to echo the controversial claim by the Romney campaign that Obama "sympathized" with the attackers. "The administration's first response—to blame an American video, not Islamist terrorists—reflected strategic misjudgments," they wrote. "First is the refusal to accept that the terrorism threat is part of a larger problem of Islamist extremism. And second is the belief that terrorism is spawned not by religious fanaticism but by grievances about social, economic and other problems for which America bears fault." Feith and Cropsey went on to ridicule the notion that radical Islamists in the region had "grievances" against the United States that went beyond their supposed religious compulsions, concluding: "Because Mr. Obama misdiagnoses terrorism and extremism, it is not surprising that he failed to recognize their consequences; instead, he reflexively looked in the Benghazi wreckage for a cause that originated in this country."
Mother Jones' Adam Sewer had earlier criticized this line of attack, arguing that it "suggest[s] that Obama has very specific personal motivations: When violent religious radicals slaughter Americans, Obama is on the side of the radicals." Serwer linked the implications with "a very well-developed narrative, popular on the fever swamps of the right where questions about Obama's citizenship or faith linger."
Pentagon Track Record
Feith has never been formally charged in connection to his work at the Pentagon, but official reports link him to faulty evidence used to justify the war. An investigation by the Department of Defense's Office of Inspector General (IG) concluded that despite widespread consensus among intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, that there was no conclusive evidence linking Iraq to al Qaeda, Feith ignored these conclusions. His office "inappropriately" produced analyses regarding the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda—including "some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community"—and shared these assessments with senior decision makers, sometimes presenting the analyses as intelligence products, according to the report. The IG also concluded that in preparing briefing charts, Feith's office "went beyond available intelligence" regarding the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship, and that his staff gave a White House briefing on that relationship "containing information that was different from the briefing presented to [Director of Central Intelligence], not vetted by the Intelligence Community, and that was not supported by the available intelligence." In response to the findings, Feith called the report's argument one of "naked incoherence." The OSP has also been the subject of a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation.
Besides his work with the OSP, Feith was also responsible for establishing two other controversial offices in the Pentagon during the lead-up to the Iraq War: the very short-lived Office of Strategic Influence, which was closed down after creating a furor in Congress because of its purported aim of "providing news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations as part of an effort to influence public sentiment and policy makers," and the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group,"a small unit of intelligence analysts who examined possible links between Mr. Hussein and Al Qaeda" that issued a classified report directly contradicting CIA conclusions about such ties.
Feith's resignation from the Department of Defense sparked speculation that he was pressured to leave because of ongoing investigations into the administration's efforts to manufacture support for the Iraq War, which was widely criticized in and out of government. Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of the Iraq invasion, once referred to him as the "stupidest guy on the face of the earth." History professor Juan Cole wrote in January 2005, when Feith announced his impending resignation: "Feith is clearly resigning ahead of the possible breaking of major scandals concerning his tenure at the Department of Defense, which is among the more disgraceful cases of the misleading of the American people in American history."
After leaving the Bush administration, Feith became a professor at Georgetown University, lecturing on the "war on terror," a two-year appointment ending in 2008. In April 2008, Georgetown University announced that it would not renew Feith's contract. When asked what he planned to do next, Feith told the Georgetown newspaper, The Hoya, "I'm considering a number of things. At the moment, I'm just focusing on all the interviews that have resulted from the publication of my book."
The decision to hire Feith spurred harsh criticism from many faculty and students, some of whom regarded Feith as a war criminal. A letter signed by 35 professors stated, "Mr. Feith has been accused of ethical conflicts during his term in charge of Iraq reconstruction. More seriously, he has sought to diminish the importance of the Geneva Conventions and has defended the use of torture in a number of public writings and talks. He speaks regularly against the relevance of international law to conflicts in the Middle East and opposes diplomatic solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps most seriously, he was a central figure in the dissemination of false justifications for the illegal invasion of Iraq, behavior that many experts consider to constitute war crimes, and which the most sympathetic would have to think a highly dubious grounds for further employment."
Feith's class gained attention in mid-2007 after former CIA head George Tenet published his memoir, At the Center of the Storm. Tenet, who like Feith took a teaching post at Georgetown after he left the administration, accused the Bush administration of having never fully debated the merits of going to war in Iraq. The book also criticized the war-lobbying efforts of a number of administration officials, including Feith, about whom Tenet painted "an unflattering portrait ... as a man eager to manipulate intelligence to push the country to war."
In an article discussing Tenet's book, the Washington Post reported that Feith and Tenet taught "rival versions" about recent U.S. history in their respective classrooms, including the decision to invade Iraq. One difference, according to the Post, was the list of reading assignments: "Both classes' reading lists include the 2004 report by the Sept. 11 commission. Tenet asks students to read the entire report. Feith assigns two early chapters on the rise of the al-Qaeda threat, leaving out portions elsewhere that criticize the work of his Pentagon office."
In April 2008, Feith's memoir War and Decision was released. According to the Washington Post, "Although he acknowledges 'serious errors' in intelligence, policy, and operational plans surrounding the invasion, Feith blames them on others outside the Pentagon [including Paul Bremer and Colin Powell] and notes that 'even the best planning' cannot avoid all problems in wartime. While he says the decision to invade was correct, he judges that the task of creating a viable and stable Iraqi government was poorly executed and remains 'grimly incomplete.'" (For more on Feith's book, see Gareth Porter, "Feith's Unsurprising Revelations," May 8, 2008.)
In a television appearance promoting his new book, Feith drew a fine line between what he regarded as honest mistakes and purposeful dissemination of bad information in the lead-up to the war. "There were statements that everybody in the administration, myself included, made that in looking back, you wish you would have made differently you would've qualified differently. I don't think any of them were deception; I think they were errors," Feith opined.
Feith's political trajectory seems to have begun while he was an undergraduate at Harvard University in the mid-1970s. He cited as particularly important the tutelage of the stridently anti-Soviet professor Richard Pipes, who gained notoriety for his work as part the Team B affair in the late 1970s and whose son Daniel is an influential neoconservative. In a 2004 speech at Harvard's Kennedy School, Feith said of his time at Harvard, "We were part of a rather small minority in Cambridge who thought that working to bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union was not only a noble pursuit, but a realistic project. Richard Pipes joined the Reagan administration to implement that project and I had the honor and pleasure of working with him on the National Security Council staff before I crossed the Potomac River for my first stint at the Pentagon."
Since that initial stint in the Pentagon, Feith has been associated with numerous neoconservative-led policy and advocacy organizations that champion hardline Israeli policies, hawkish security strategies, and extravagant weapons programs. He has supported letter-writing campaigns of Daniel Pipe's Middle East Forum (MEF), chaired the advisory board of the Center for Security Policy (CSP), and served as an advisor to the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Feith has also been associated with the National Institute for Public Policy (NIPP), which promotes missile defense, space weapons, and nuclear weapons development. Feith, along with Max Kampelman, was a team leader of a NIPP initiative, funded by the right-wing Smith Richardson Foundation, which advocated the implementation of ambitious missile defense systems.
During the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, Feith consistently disparaged U.S. policy on the Middle East while championing the positions of Israel's Likud Party. In a 1996 op-ed for the conservative Washington Times, Feith compared former Israeli prime minister and Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu to the Republican Party under Reagan: "[Netanyahu's] Likud Party is in general about as radical as our Republican Party. Mr. Netanyahu favors diplomatic, defense, and economic policies for Israel similar in principle to the kind of policies that Reaganites favored (and favor) for the United States." In the same article, Feith echoed the Likud position on peace negotiations and occupied territories. He wrote, "Israel is unlikely over time to retain control over pieces of territory unless its people actually live there. Supporters of settlements reason: If Israelis do not settle an area in the territories, Israel will eventually be forced to relinquish it. If it relinquishes the territories generally, its security will be undermined and peace therefore will not be possible."
By 1997, however, Feith and other advocates of hardline tactics began expressing their disappointment that the Netanyahu government had not "dismantled the Oslo process," as Feith wrote in Commentary, a neoconservative flagship magazine. Feith outlined a radical break with what he characterized as the "peace now" framework of negotiations, recommending instead that Netanyahu fulfill his "peace through strength" campaign promise. "Repudiating Oslo would compel Israel, first and foremost, to undo the grossest of the errors inherent in the accords: the arming of scores of thousands of PA [Palestinian Authority] 'policemen,'" he wrote. What is more, Feith argued for Israel "to deflate expectations of imminent peace" and to "preach sobriety and defense."
In February 1998, Feith and many other high-profile neoconservatives and foreign policy hawks signed a letter to President Bill Clinton calling for a "comprehensive political and military strategy for bringing down Saddam [Hussein] and his regime." Among the signatories to the letter, which was produced by the Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf, were several people who would later be tagged to serve in the first administration of George W. Bush, including Feith, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalilzad, Peter Rodman, John Bolton, and Dov Zakheim.
Many of these individuals served under Ronald Reagan, as did Feith, who in the early 1980s was a Middle East specialist at the National Security Council. Feith later transferred to the Department of Defense, where he spent two years as staff lawyer for Assistant Defense Secretary Perle. In 1984 Feith became deputy assistant secretary of defense for negotiations policy. Later in the decade, Feith and Perle became leading advocates of a policy to build closer U.S. military and diplomatic ties with Turkey and to increase the military ties between Turkey and Israel.
In 2000, Feith cofounded One Jerusalem, a pro-Likud group dedicated to maintaining an undivided Jerusalem. Other cofounders include JINSA chair David Steinmann; Dore Gold, a top advisor to Ariel Sharon; and Natan Sharansky, former Israeli diaspora minister.
Feith has also supported lobbying efforts aimed at persuading the United States to drop out of treaties and arms control agreements. As Jason Vest reported, "Largely ignored or derided at the time, a 1995 [Center for Security Policy] memo co-written by Douglas Feith holding that the United States should withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty has essentially become policy, as have other CSP reports opposing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the International Criminal Court."
Law Career and Lobbying Work
Feith left his post in the Reagan administration's Pentagon in 1986 to found the Feith & Zell law firm, based initially in Israel, whose clients included major military contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman. In 1999, Feith & Zell merged with the Israel-based Zell, Goldberg & Co. (ZGC), which resulted in the creation of the FANDZ International Law Group. In late 2003, by when Feith had returned to government, FANDZ boasted that it had "established a task force dealing with issues and opportunities relating to the recently ended war with Iraq ... and is assisting regional construction and logistics firms to collaborate with contractors from the United States and other coalition countries in implementing infrastructure and other reconstruction projects in Iraq." Remarked Washington Post columnist Al Kamen: "Interested parties can reach [Fandz] through its website, at www.fandz.com. Fandz.com? Hmmm. Rings a bell. Oh, yes, that was the website of the Washington law firm of Feith & Zell, P.C., as in Douglas Feith, former Pentagon official in the Reagan administration and now undersecretary of defense for policy and head of—what else?—reconstruction matters in Iraq."
In 1989, Feith established International Advisors, Inc., a lobbying firm whose major clients included Turkey. Among the company's advisors was Richard Perle, who was inaccurately described by the Wall Street Journal as the company's founder, prompting an angry letter to the editor from Perle. He wrote, "I have not created a company to lobby for Turkey…. The firm to which the story refers, International Advisors, Inc., was created by Douglas Feith, a Washington attorney. I am not a stockholder, director, officer or employee of the firm. I will not lobby for nor represent the government of Turkey. I will chair an advisory board that is only now being formed."
According to journalist Jason Vest, International Advisors played an important role in pushing favorable U.S. policies toward Turkey: "International Advisors, Inc. hit the ground running in 1989, flexing its lobbying muscle immediately by securing the defeat of Congressional efforts to keep Turkey's U.S. military aid at a level lower than that of neighboring Greece. In addition to cementing the U.S.-Turkey military-to-military relationship, IAI was also part of a joint 1989 Turkish-Israeli effort to quash a U.S. Senate resolution marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks."
In 1996, Feith and Perle participated in a study group organized by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (largely based in Israel) that produced a report aimed at shaping the policies of the incoming Likud-led government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The June 1996 report, titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," urged Israel to break off then-ongoing peace initiatives and suggested strategies for reshaping the Middle East, including pushing stronger Israeli relations with Turkey, which at least some members of the study group—whose participants also included David Wurmser, the principal author of the study, and Meyrav Wurmser—argued would improve Israel's strategic situation, especially vis-à-vis Syria.
"A Clean Break" also recommended "removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq" and working closely with "Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll back" regional threats and using "Israeli proxy forces" based in Lebanon for "striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon." If that should "prove insufficient, [Israel should strike] at select targets in Syria proper." Further, "Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, even rolling back Syria." This would create a "natural axis" between Israel, Jordan, a Hashemite Iraq, and Turkey that "would squeeze and detach Syria from the Saudi Peninsula." This "could be the prelude to a redrawing of the map of the Middle East, which could threaten Syria's territorial integrity."
During his tenure in the Bush Pentagon, Feith attempted to distance himself from the study, writing in a 2004 letter to the Washington Post that he played a very limited role in producing it. He pointed to the study's introduction, which stated, "ideas in this paper emerge from a discussion in which prominent opinion makers" participated, to argue that none of the ideas contained in it could be attributed "to any one participant."