Feith Regrets Not Pushing 'Law and Order' in Iraq The U.S. government has been criticized for many aspects of its handling of the Iraq war. But Douglas Feith, an architect of the war, says one of his biggest regrets is not convincing top Pentagon officials to pay more attention to law and order immediately after the fall of Baghdad in 2003.

Feith Regrets Not Pushing 'Law and Order' in Iraq

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/89429658/89457895" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


An architect of the war in Iraq insists that much of what you know about his role is not true.

Mr. DOUGLAS FEITH (Former Pentagon Official; Author): My narrative is at odds with this conventional wisdom.

INSKEEP: Former Pentagon official Douglas Feith has authored a book called "War and Decision."

Mr. FEITH: A lot of the conventional wisdom really is wrong and was, you know, a self-serving story by people who were not relying on the actual record.

INSKEEP: Today and tomorrow, we'll hear Feith's version of that record. Before the fall of Baghdad five years ago, his office was planning for Iraq's future. A noted writer on Iraq, George Packer, compares Feith's performance to a top disaster official during Hurricane Katrina.

Mr. GEORGE PACKER (Writer): Douglas Feith was the Michael Brown of the Iraq War. The planning was such a fiasco, it was such a failure of imagination, of coordination that within two weeks of the fall of Baghdad, I think we were already in a very deep hole from which we still haven't dug our way out five years later. And that can be directly attributed to the failures of planning that took place in Feith's office before the war.

INSKEEP: Those early problems included a lack of security. Five years ago, Baghdad erupted in looting and fire and eventually in insurgency. These events seemed to surprise Pentagon officials, who had expected a short occupation. Yet when he came to our studios, Douglas Feith insisted his office produced a memo warning of the danger.

Mr. FEITH: We specifically said it's extremely important that top priority be given to public safety, security, law and order, or you could get into a situation of win the war and lose the peace. And then we talked about the fact that there were going to be some special problems arising from the size of our invasion force.

INSKEEP: Implying without actually saying that maybe you needed a lot more troops?

Mr. FEITH: No, not saying that we needed a lot more - that issue was a contentious issue which we wound up as a government finding, you know, not dealing with well. We wound up in a deadlock. But there was a fundamental question of whether you get the additional forces by training Iraqis or whether you get the additional forces by bringing in more Americans. And it would have been better if we had brought in more Americans or trained up more Iraqis, but doing neither was a problem.

INSKEEP: Did you end up having a debate within the U.S. government where essentially, you had some people who didn't want to send in too many U.S. troops, you had other people who perhaps advocated training new Iraqi forces, Iraqi Liberation Forces or whatever you want to call them, but that was knocked down as being difficult or unrealistic, especially to do in the few weeks or months. Is that basically what happened? Everybody rejected every option.

Mr. FEITH: I - yes, there were more options than not, but basically what you're saying, I think happened for quite a while.

INSKEEP: Whose job was it to force the government to accept some idea or acknowledge that we weren't ready to go to war?

Mr. FEITH: Well, that's an important question, and I don't think I know enough to feel confident that I could come to those judgments. What I did is, in my books, I laid out as much information about these subjects as I had. And it will contribute, I hope, to eventually look at the whole situation and assign blame. I'm not…

INSKEEP: Now wait a minute, wait a minute. You've thought about this a lot, you know a lot about government. Whose job was it to force a decision on what you feel is a critical issue and many people feel is critical as well? Who was going to secure Iraq? That's the question.

Mr. FEITH: I mean, I can give you a captain-of-the-ship type answer, where you say, well, the president is in charge or the secretary of defense is in charge or the national security advisor is in charge. I mean, ultimately, when you're talking about political responsibility in the government, the top people are in charge. That's - but I don't think that was what your question was. I thought your question was where did the decision-making process actually break down? And as I said, I only saw my window.

INSKEEP: Well, it is interesting to note a very commonly reported version of events is that there was a process, an interagency process to deal with questions like this. If the U.S. government is preparing to go to war, people argue. They debate. They go through a process. They come up with a decision. It is commonly said that the Pentagon, that Secretary Rumsfeld was so well-connected to the White House and so powerful, he was able - you guys were able to bypass all that. You tell a story that seems virtually opposite of that, described the Pentagon as trying to work through the process and people in the State Department, Colin Powell, as kind of being passive aggressive and not really debating out matters fully and just arguing through the press. How could your story be so radically different from so many other people's versions of who subverted the process here?

Mr. FEITH: Well, I think you've highlighted something good, I think is extremely interesting, which is that almost all of the books that have come out so far about Iraq have reflected basically the point of view of only a few of the players in the interagency debates. What I did in my book is…

INSKEEP: Although some of these narratives come from really well- connected reporters, Thomas E. Ricks, Bob Woodward, George Packer…

Mr. FEITH: Absolutely. And I think they're largely based on a narrative that came out of top levels of the State Department.

INSKEEP: Is there something specific that you look back on and say, that was my responsibility?

Mr. FEITH: Well, one of my serious regrets: I discussed the memorandum that we wrote about the importance of law and order after the overthrow of Saddam. I regret that I didn't make more of that memo. It just - looking back, I think there were a lot of problems that flowed from the lack of law and order, the looting and the other, you know, disorder in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam.

INSKEEP: Did it end up just going to military people who weren't really thinking that much about that part of it - didn't think it was their responsibility?

Mr. FEITH: It went to military people, and I think to myself if we had pushed harder to get it onto General Franks' radar screen, to get it on to Secretary Rumsfeld's radar screen, it - perhaps it might have mitigated the serious problem of looting and disorder right after Saddam's overthrow.

INSKEEP: Which might have mitigated some of the other problems.

Mr. FEITH: Sure.

INSKEEP: Former Pentagon official Douglas Feith recalls that his own effort to secure Iraq involved training several thousand Iraqi exiles. In the end, he says only 73 served. Tomorrow, we'll ask Feith about the planning for a new Iraqi government and an exile named Ahmed Chalabi.


You can look up a key document from before the war and read it for yourself. Back in 2002, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld wrote about the possible downsides of war in Iraq, and you can read its key points at npr.org.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.