PENTAGON INSIDER DOUGLAS FEITH SAYS U.S. ATTACK ON IRAQ WAS "ANTICIPATORY SELF-DEFENSE" AND NOT REALLY ABOUT RETALIATION FOR 9/11 -- "60 MINUTES" SUNDAY ON CBS
In the First Pentagon Insider's Account of the Run-up to War, the Ex-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Also Says U.S. Didn't Foresee the Insurgency or Need for More Troops
The first Pentagon insider to give his account of the run-up to war says the attack on Iraq was more a defensive move against possible future threats from Saddam Hussein than a retaliation for the 9/11 attacks. Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy, also tells Steve Kroft that the Pentagon failed to foresee the insurgency or the need for more troops to prevent the post-war chaos that included looting. Feith's interview will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES, Sunday, April 6 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
"What we did after 9/11 was look broadly at the international terrorist network from which the next attack on the United States would come," says Feith, the number-three person in the Pentagon's hierarchy from 2001 to 2005. "Our main goal was not merely retaliation for the 9/11 attack, it was preventing the next attack," he says. Pressed by Kroft on the importance of getting the 9/11 plotters, Feith responds that getting them was important, but "it was also important to go after the broader network...and prevent whatever plans there were for following attacks," Feith tells Kroft.
Feith concedes this line of thought could rationalize attacks on other countries, including North Korea, Syria and Iran. But he says Saddam's attacks on his Middle Eastern neighbors, use of chemical weapons on his own people and his interest in building a nuclear weapon made Iraq a special case. "In an era where weapons of mass destruction can put countries in a position to do an enormous amount of harm, the old idea of having to wait until you actually see the country mobilizing for war doesn't make a lot of sense," says Feith.
When all the factors were considered, says Feith, Saddam had to go. "If we had left him in power, we would be fighting him down the road at a time and place of his choosing," Feith says. President Bush weighed the options, he says. "The president decided that the risks of war...were overweighed by the risks of leaving Saddam Hussein in power," Feith tells Kroft.
The risks of war, says Feith, were well known and documented in a memo from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that Feith refers to as "the parade of horribles" in his upcoming Harper Collins book, War and Decision. They included ruining the reputation of America overseas, strengthening Muslim militant resolve and the ethnic strife occurring in Iraq now. What they didn't anticipate? "That the Bathist regime, even after it was overthrown, would be in a position to organize and recruit for and to finance and command and insurgency," says Feith. His book also addresses the fact that the smaller and more mobile American force conducting the attack saved U.S. lives, but was too small to control the country after the initial fighting, allowing widespread looting.
Feith acknowledges that few people are pleased about the war, but he believes it was and still is the right thing to do for America. "I think the president made the right decision given what he knew....And to tell you the truth, even given what we've learned since," he tells Kroft.