Sunday, May 25, 2008

Lack of Feith

OK, a poor pun based on the correct pronunciation of his name (fight-th). The Power Liners had a post today about the lack of mainstream media interest in his new insider book "War and Decision" (gee). They note the particularly interesting silence coming from the employer of James Risen--the New York Times. To wit:
Risen immediately recognized the importance of War and Decision. According to Feith, Risen requested and received a pre-publication copy of the book, interviewed Feith, and wrote a piece highlighting book's most newsworthy item -- the Bush administration’s postwar plan for political transition in Iraq (the one most people who follow these things probably believe didn't exist). Risen's editor, however, turned the article down on the ground that it was not newsworthy.
Risen didn't think it was political, and granted, Feith's literary talent doesn't approach that of Risen or Woodward, but of course it was political. The Times certainly didn't seem to have a problem with Scheuer's anonymous missive months before an election. We all know who stands to lose from a reversal of the conventional wisdom on Iraq--and it's not just Obama. Rehashing the war might also dredge up memories of the Times' own contributions.

But after reading most of the book it's odd neither the Times nor Post decided to challenge it. It was clearly an exercise in self-defense against the popularized accounts from other high profile administration officials and the news organizations that conveyed them. For instance, they could have started on page 211:
A dialogue with Iraq would be "an astonishing departure" for the US Government, Rumsfeld wrote, noting that he had met with Saddam when he worked for President Reagan in the mid 80s. Starting a dialogue would "win praise from certain quarters," Rumsfeld thought, "but might cause friends, especially those in the region, to question our strength, steadiness and judgment."
They missed the opportunity to reprint the infamous Rummy-Saddam handshake picture. Or how about page 215:
No one I knew of believed Saddam was part of the 9/11 plot; we had no substantial reason to believe he was.
Good grief, Feith himself ran the Office of Special Plans, which was looking into the connections. Cheney spoke several times of the Atta in Prague affair and Laurie Mylroie, no doubt familiar to several neocons in the administration, was under the impression Saddam was behind the first attack on the WTC. James Woolsey was even sent to London to investigate the connection. Crickets.

There are also some interesting omissions. After going into detail about a very scary top secret tabletop exercise the government ran before 9/11 called "Dark Winter" regarding biological warfare, and after continually mentioning the dangers Saddam posed by potentially passing such weapons (he had smallpox) to terrorists, Feith devoted only two short blurbs to the anthrax letter attacks. Even Ari Fleischer mentioned them in more detail in his memoirs. And he gave only a few cursory mentions to the PNAC group but couldn't find space for significant details despite 400+ pages.

He also had nothing to say about Joe and Val Wilson, although he did mention a highly contentious blowup in February 2003 between Defense and State regards appointing senior advisers to the new Iraq government ministries--page 388:
In the weeks that followed, it became more common for newspaper stories to quote anonymous senior State officials, denouncing "pissant," "pencil-necked" Pentagon officials--phraseology characteristic of Richard Armitage.
Months later Armitage, Grossman and Powell would play important roles in the Plame imbroglio, with the Post's own Bob Woodward and the Times' own Judy Miller and Nic Kristoff at center state. Grossman was a friend of Joe Wilson and Powell was friendly with NBC's Andrea Mitchell. More cricketry.

It's possible the editors just felt the matter is settled--that most readers have already made up their minds and they didn't want to contribute to Feith's effort to write history. Or perhaps the real reason (other than protecting Barack's anti-war advantage) was the fact that all the players come off looking quite rational, both in his writings and the supporting documents. Feith is a source--he was there, so it's hard to argue against him without calling him a liar, which they can't support without documentary evidence, which they don't have.

Indeed, from the footnotes on page 323 regarding a NYT article about Feith's role in discussing the link between al Qaeda and Saddam: "(I was unable to correct the record: The Times did not publish my letter to the editor.)"

Perhaps they felt it better to let the sleeping dog lie.

By the way, in the footnotes to page 215 there is this:* Saddam Hussein was the only international figure, other than Usama bin Laden, to praise the attacks of 9/11. And US troops would later discover two dramatic murals--one installed in Iraqi Army headquarters--celebrating the airplane attacks on the World Trade Center."

Emphasis, added. Here's two of the more famous murals. Perhaps he's referring to the one on the right being at Army HQ:

These murals don't prove Saddam was beind 9/11, only that he seemed to approve. Feith makes the point that the Fedeyeen were training terrorists within this climate, which lends needed perspective to the questions Bush was grappling with after the attack. Ironically, there was a time when top Democrats echoed those concerns, in the innocent days before the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.

Meanwhile, Obama was against the war but never had to vote on it. Thanks to Bush's actions he now enjoys the luxury of not worrying about things like 'dark winters' coming from the hand of the Butcher and is free to demagogue the issue at will, expressing the judgment to lead and such.

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