Friday, July 25, 2008

On understanding the war - Part 2

I am in a bit of a quandary.

On the one hand I finished Doug Feith's new book, "War and Decision," about his role as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy under Don Rumsfeld at the onset of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr Feith's book was the most interesting and insightful account that I have read (after 4 years of waiting) about how decisions concerning the post invasion occupation of Iraq were made or not made in Washington.

On the other hand, General Tommy Franks, the Central Command Commander who planned the invasions of both countries, stated in his book, "American Soldier," that Doug Feith was "getting a reputation around here [at CENTCOM] as the dumbest fucking guy on the planet." While I have not yet finished Franks' book, and I have personally seen examples and heard stories about how prickly four star generals can be, I must conclude that Feith may have gotten on Franks' nerves a little bit.

I scanned several reviews of Feith's book and noticed that the negative reviewers frequently managed to work Franks comment into the opening paragraphs of their article. After scanning these reviews and reading the book I discovered that a lot of people are very angry at Mr. Feith for some of the actions that he took while in office. (One must remember that a good portion of the time that people were attacking Feith in the papers and magazines I was in Iraq, otherwise occupied). In his book, Mr. Feith spends a lot of time methodically documenting that the criticisms of his detractors were based on ignorance, misinformation or downright lies.

My quandary lies in reconciling the views of the two men. However, I believe that in the process of reconciliation some flashes of truth will emerge. And right now, at this point in history, flashes are all we will be able to get. Two important actors, Don Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, have yet to publish their side of the story.

I was very favorably impressed with Doug Feith's account primarily because he quoted from actual documents produced at the time and notes that he kept from the many meetings he attended. The book is meticulously footnoted and, where possible, he provides links to the source documents so that the reader can verify the authenticity of Feith's facts. He does not quote from unnamed sources. He was not a journalist peering from the outside of the process through a knothole into the inner workings of the Pentagon. He was one of the key players in that process.

One can disagree with Feith's conclusions, and I disagree with some. But he has enlightened me, more than any other author, about why the decisions of the U.S government turned out the way they did. Like I said, I have been waiting four years for this kind of information. I believe that a lot of people in this country and around the world have made up their mind about Iraq using incorrect information or without a full knowledge of the complexities of the issues. I still don't understand why a lot of things happened and I was there. I have been writing this blog for almost two years in an effort to understand. In subsequent posts I will explore the many very interesting issues that Doug Feith has raised.

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