Douglas Feith: Portrait of a Neoconservative

by , September 16, 2004

Douglas Feith serves as the number three civilian in the George W. Bush administration’s Defense Department, under Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. Undersecretary for Policy Feith previously served in the Reagan administration, starting off as Middle East specialist at the National Security Council (1981-82) and then transferring to the Defense Department where he spent two years as staff lawyer for Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Perle. In 1984 Feith advanced to become Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Negotiations Policy. Feith and Perle were among the 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.

Feith left DOD in mid-1986 to found the Feith & Zell law firm, based initially in Israel, whose clients included major military contractor Northrop Grumman. In 1989 Feith established another company, International Advisors Inc., which provided lobbying services to foreign clients including Turkey.

Feith’s private business dealings raised eyebrows in Washington. In 1999, his firm Feith & Zell formed an alliance with the Israel-based Zell, Goldberg & Co., which resulted in the creation of the Fandz International Law Group. According to Fandz’s web site, the law group “has recently 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 Web site, at www.fandz.com. Fandz.com? Hmmm. Rings a bell. Oh, yes, that was the Web site of the Washington law firm of Feith & Zell, P.C., as in Douglas Feith [the] undersecretary of defense for policy and head of – what else? – reconstruction matters in Iraq. It would be impossible indeed to overestimate how perfect ZGC would be in ‘assisting American companies in their relations with the United States government in connection with Iraqi reconstruction projects.'”

A vocal advocate of U.S. intervention in the Middle East and for the hardline policies of the Likud party in Israel, Feith has been involved in or overseen the activities of two controversial Pentagon operations – the Defense Policy Board, whose former head Richard Perle resigned after concerns arose about conflicts of interest between his board duties and business dealings, and the Office of Special Plans (OSP), which allegedly misrepresented intelligence on Iraq to support administration policies. Feith’s office not only housed the Office of Special Plans and other special intelligence operations associated with the Near East and South Asia (NESA) office and the Office of Northern Gulf Affairs but also the office of Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, who directed military policy on interrogations of the Guantanamo Bay detainees and then arranged for the transfer of the base’s commanding officer, Maj. General Geoffrey Miller, to the Abu Ghraib prison in an effort to extract more information from Iraqi prisoners.

Feith & Israel

Feith cannot be described by just one label. He is a longtime militarist, a neoconservative, and a right-wing Zionist. According to Bob Woodward’s book, Plan of Attack, Feith was described by the military commander who led the Iraq invasion, Gen. Tommie Franks, as “the f***ing stupidest guy on the face of the earth,” referring to the bad intelligence fed to the military about Iraq and the extent of possible resistance to a U.S. invasion.

Feith also has a reputation as a prolific writer, having published articles on international law and on foreign and defense policy in The New York Times, Washington Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and New Republic.

His militarism – and close ties with the military-industrial complex – were evident in his policy work in the Pentagon working with Richard Perle in the 1980s and then part of the Vulcans along with Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Cheney in the Bush II administration; his work as a corporate lobbyist in the 1990s for Northrop Grumman along with other military contractors; and his prominent role in the Center for Security Policy (CSP) and in the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). His political orientation is distinctly neoconservative, as evident in his affiliations with such groups as the Middle East Forum, Center for Security Policy, and Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS).

Feith served as chairman of the board of directors of the Center for Security Policy, a policy institute that promotes higher military budgets, missile defense systems, space weapons programs, and hardline policies in the Middle East and East Asia. CSP was founded in 1988 by Frank Gaffney, a fellow neocon and, like Feith, a former DOD official in the Reagan administration. Feith helped Gaffney organize CSP’s large advisory board, which includes leading neocons, arms lobbyists, and the leading congressional members linked to the military-industrial complex. Feith has also served as an adviser to the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, which aims to foster closer working relationships among the Israeli military, the U.S. military, the Pentagon, and military contractors in both countries.

Feith has supported lobbying efforts aimed at persuading the United States to drop out of treaties and arms control agreements. Wrote one journalist in The Nation, “Largely ignored or derided at the time, a 1995 [Center for Security Policy (CSP)] memo co-written by Douglas Feith holding that the United States should withdraw from the ABM [antiballistic 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.”

Feith is a self-proclaimed Zionist – not a Labor Zionist, but a right-wing Zionist close to the Likud party and the Zionist Organization of America.

In the 1990s, Feith was an outspoken critic of the Middle East policies of both the Bush and Clinton administrations, which he said were based on the faulty “peace now” and “land for peace” policy frameworks. Instead, he called for a “peace through strength” agenda for Israel and the United States – invoking a phrase promoted by the neoconservatives since the mid-1970s, which became the slogan of the Center for Security Policy.

The Middle East Information Center described Feith as an “ideologue with an extreme anti-Arab bias,” remarking that “during the Clinton years, Feith continued to oppose any agreement negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinians: Oslo, Hebron and Wye.” Feith defined Oslo as “one-sided Israeli concessions, inflated Palestinian expectations, broken Palestinian solemn understandings, Palestinian violence, and American rewards for Palestinian recalcitrance.”

In 1991, Feith, together with Frank Gaffney (founder of the Center for Security Policy), addressed the National Leadership Conference of the State of Israel Organization. In Feith’s view, it was foolish for the U.S. government and Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians over issues of land given that contrasting principles – not differences over occupied lands – fueled the Israeli-Arab conflict. He notes that, even before Israel was established, Western political leaders mistakenly thought that “the vast territories newly made available for the fulfillment of Arab ambitions for independence would make it easier to win acceptance within the region of a Jewish state in Palestine.” According to Feith, no matter what they say publicly or at the negotiating table, the Palestinians have always rejected the principle of legitimacy, namely “the legitimacy of Zionist claims to a Jewish National Homeland in the Land of Israel.” Criticizing the George H. W. Bush administration’s attempt to broker a land for peace deal, Feith warned, “If Western statesmen openly recognized the problem as a clash of principles, they would not be able to market hope through the launching of peace initiatives.”

In 1997 the Zionist Organization of America honored Dalck Feith and Douglas Feith at its annual dinner. It described the Feiths as “noted Jewish philanthropists and pro-Israel activists.” The father was awarded the group’s special Centennial Award “for his lifetime of service to Israel and the Jewish people,” while Douglas received the “prestigious Louis D. Brandeis Award.”

Dalck Feith was a militant in Betar, a Zionist youth movement founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, an admirer of Mussolini. Betar, whose members wore dark brown uniforms and spouted militaristic slogans modeled after other fascistic movements, was associated with the Revisionist Movement, which evolved in Poland to become the Herut Party, which later became the Likud Party.

In 1999 Douglas Feith wrote an essay for a book entitled The Dangers of a Palestinian State, which was published by ZOA. Also in 1999 Feith spoke to a 150-member ZOA lobbying mission to Congress that called, among other things, for “U.S. action against Palestinian Arab killers of Americans” and for moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The ZOA lobbying group also criticized the Clinton administration for its “refusal to criticize illegal Palestinian Arab construction in Jerusalem and the territories, which is far more extensive than Israeli construction there.”

Initially, Feith strongly supported the Netanyahu government controlled by the Likud party. Immediately before Netanyahu took office, Feith in a Washington Times op-ed wrote: “His Likud party is in general about as radical as our Republican Party. Mr. Netanyahu favors diplomatic, defense, and economic policies for Israel similar in principal to the kind of policies that Reaganites favored (and favor) for the United States.” In the opinion piece, Feith echoed the Likud position on peace negotiations and occupied territories. According to Feith, “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.”

Feith wrote that the Likud party’s policies were guided by the “peace-through-strength principle.” Feith took the opportunity of the op-ed to explain that both Israel and the United States would benefit from a strong commitment to missile defense. According to Feith, Israel would directly benefit from the installation of a sea-based, wide-area missile defense system, which would supplement Israel’s own national missile defense system that the U.S. helped develop. Noting the symbiosis of U.S. and Israeli interests, Feith wrote that Netanyahu knew that “if he encourages Israel’s friends in Congress to support such programs, he will create much good will with the broad-based forces in the United States, led by the top Republicans in Congress, that deem missile defense the gravest U.S. military deficiency.” Feith didn’t see fit to mention that, along with Israel, the main beneficiary of such a global missile defense system would be military contractors such as the ones he represented in his law firm, including Northrop Grumman.

Feith is also well known for his participation – along with neoconservative big wigs Richard Perle and David Wurmser – in a 1996 study organized by the Israel-based Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, which urged scrapping the then-ongoing peace process. The study, titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” advised Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu “to work closely with Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll back” regional threats, help overthrow Hussein, and strike “Syrian military targets in Lebanon” and possibly in Syria proper.

Three of the six authors of the report – Perle (who was IASPS team leader), Wurmser, and Feith – helped set the Middle East strategy, including strong support for Sharon’s hardline policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the Bush II administration. Perle chaired the DOD’s Defense Policy Board, Feith became undersecretary of defense for policy, and Wurmser became Vice President Cheney’s top Middle East adviser after leaving the State Department where he worked under Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton.

Other members of the IASPS study group on “A New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000” included James Colbert of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, Meyrav Wurmser of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), and Jonathan Torop of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a neoconservative think tank founded by a director of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). At the time the report was published, David Wurmser was an associate of IASPS.

As guiding principles for a new framework of Israeli-U.S. policy in the Middle East, the report advocated that the new Likud government do the following:

“Change the nature of its relations with the Palestinians, including upholding the right of hot pursuit for self defense into all Palestinian areas and nurturing alternatives to Arafat’s exclusive grip on Palestinian society. Forge a new basis for relations with the United States – stressing self-reliance, maturity, strategic cooperation on areas of mutual concern, and furthering values inherent to the West. Israel has the opportunity to make a clean break; it can forge a peace process and strategy based on an entirely new intellectual foundation, one that restores strategic initiative and provides the nation the room to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism, the starting point of which must be economic reform.”

By 1997 Feith and other right-wing Zionists in the United States were expressing their disappointment that the Netanyahu government had not “dismantled the Oslo process,” as Feith wrote in Commentary, the neoconservative magazine of the American Jewish Committee. Feith then proceeded to outline a radical break with what he characterized as the “peace now” framework of negotiations. Instead, Feith recommended 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 ‘policemen.'” Feith asserted that the “PA’s security force has succeeded primarily in aggravating Israel’s terrorism problem.” What is more, Feith argued for Israel “to deflate expectations of imminent peace” and to “preach sobriety and defense.” It was not until a new Likud government was formed under Ariel Sharon and when Feith and other Zionists such as Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams, and Michael Rubin, together with militarists such as Rumsfeld and Cheney, took over control of Middle East policy during the Bush II administration that Israel, supported by the United States, made a “clean break” from the Oslo framework.

Typical of other neoconservatives, Feith in public statements has not made reference to his own Zionist convictions. Rather in congressional testimony and in op-eds in major media, Feith has instead argued that U.S. Policy in the Middle East should be guided by concerns about human rights and democracy. Israel, according to Feith, should never enter into good-faith negotiations with Arab countries or the PA because they are not democratic. Moreover, human rights violations in Syria, Iran, and Iraq justify aggressive U.S. and Israeli policies aimed at ousting undemocratic and repressive regimes. Israeli occupations are justified in the name of ensuring the national security of democratic Israel.

Intelligence Operations and Scandals

Feith is no stranger to intelligence scandals. In 1982 he left the National Security Council under the shadow of an FBI investigation of administration officials suspected of passing intelligence information to Israel. During the Bush II administration, investigative reports by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker focused public attention on the Office of Special Plans that came under Feith’s supervision.

In the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Feith and Wolfowitz started cooking intelligence to meet the needs of the radically new foreign and military policy that included regime change in Iraq as its top priority.

One might have thought that the priority for a special intelligence would have been to determine the whereabouts of the terrorist network that had just attacked the homeland. But Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Feith, working closely with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Richard Cheney, had other intelligence priorities. This loosely organized team soon became the Office of Special Plans directed by Abram Shulsky, formerly of RAND and the National Strategy Information Center (NSIC). The objective of this closet intelligence team, according to Rumsfeld, was to “search for information on Iraq’s hostile intentions or links to terrorists.” OSP’s mission was to create intelligence that the Pentagon and vice president could use to press their case for an Iraq invasion with the president and Congress.

About the same time the Pentagon took the first steps toward launching a counterintelligence operation called the Office of Strategic Intelligence to support the emerging security doctrine of preventive war. But this shadowy office, whose very purpose was to create propaganda and to counter information coming out of Iraq, was quickly disbanded. Congressional members expressed their concern that a counterintelligence office would not limit itself to discrediting the intelligence of U.S. adversaries. Such a secret counterintelligence office, critics warned, either intentionally or inadvertently might spread disinformation to the U.S. public and policy community as part of the buildup to the planned invasion.

Feith oversaw these efforts to provide the type of “strategic intelligence” needed to drive this policy agenda. As the Pentagon’s top policy official in Middle East affairs, Feith had oversight authority of the DOD’s Near East and South Asia bureau (NESA). That office came under the direct supervision of William Luti, a retired Navy officer who is a Newt Gingrich protégé and who has long advocated a U.S. military invasion of Iraq.

The OSP worked closely with Ahmed Chalabi and others from the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an expatriate group promoted by the neoconservatives to replace the Hussein regime once U.S. troops were in Baghdad. Chalabi assured the Pentagon that a U.S. invasion would be supported by widespread Iraqi resistance, leading to claims by top administration officials and neocon pundits that the invasion would be a “cakewalk.” The OSP also relied on intelligence flows about Iraq from a rump unit established in the offices of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – who like Chalabi was a proponent of a U.S. military invasion and had close relations with neocons like Wolfowitz and Feith.

Feith became embroiled in a new intelligence scandal in late August 2004 when it was reported that the FBI had for the past two years been investigating intelligence leaks to Israel from the Pentagon. The Pentagon official named in the media reports is Lawrence Franklin, who was brought into the Office of Special Plans from the Defense Intelligence Agency. Franklin, who had served in the military attaché’s office in the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv in the late 1990s as a colonel in the Air Force Reserve, is suspected of passing classified information about Iran to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee and Israel. Fellow neocon and Franklin’s friend Michael Ledeen called the allegations against Franklin “nonsensical.” The FBI is also investigating whether Franklin and other DOD officials passed classified information to Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress. According to one neocon interviewed by the Washington Post, “This is part of a civil war with the administration, a basic dislike between the old CIA and the neoconservatives.”

Read more by Tom Barry