War and Peace

Defense Department Looks to the Future In Iraq and Elsewhere

Posted May 29, 2003 at 4:33pm

With the war in Iraq giving way to questions about the United States’ role in building a new order in the shattered Middle Eastern nation and whether — and where — America will use the overwhelming force it displayed in the Persian Gulf elsewhere, the Pentagon increasingly looms as the critical hub of the Bush administration.

At the heart of this debate is a core group of veteran defense policy experts with a strong — and critics would argue, overly aggressive — view of America’s obligation to exercise its might on the world stage. One of those men is Douglas Feith, an attorney and veteran of the Defense Department and the National Security Council who was named undersecretary of Defense for policy by President Bush in July 2001.

As the White House wrestles with how and when to implement the nation’s unparalleled power, Feith joined Roll Call Executive Editor Morton Kondracke for a discussion of the international landscape. ROLL CALL EXECUTIVE MORTON KONDRACKE: Let’s start with Iraq. We’ve got 150,000 troops there now. How many do you think we’re going to need and for how long are they going to be there?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT UNDERSECRETARY FOR POLICY DOUGLAS FEITH: It depends on events. We are in the process right now of getting Iraqi policemen back to work. It’s going reasonably well. But how many will be able to get back and how many will go through vetting and will prove out and we’ll want to use is an open question. We’re also in the process of recruiting what are called stabilization forces. There’s going to be a British-commanded division, a Polish-commanded division, and there may be a third foreign-commanded division. The first two are going to be multinational, the third might be multinational also or a country might provide the entire division. Whether three additional coalition-contributed divisions is enough, we’ll see.

ROLL CALL: So that would be a total of how many allied forces?

FEITH: It depends on how large the divisions are. I mean, the division could be 10,000, it could be 20,000 people. We have something like 20 countries contributing elements to the British and Polish-led divisions, so it’s a pretty big effort. And then of course it depends on how much of a security problem you have in the country going forward. Right now we have some Arab-Kurd tensions in the north and we have some Shiite-against-Shiite tensions in the south. The west is in pretty good shape and pretty quiet. The major security issues remain in Baghdad, and again, depending on how things play out you’ll need more or fewer forces.

ROLL CALL: Senator Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) said the other day that we have to make a long-term commitment. He was talking in terms of five years. What do you think about that?

FEITH: I don’t know how one could know that we need to be there for five years. If things go well one could imagine you could be there for a lot less time than that. There’s a common view that people sit around here guessing about the future, and there’s a difference between planning and guessing. And the way you plan is to take a whole lot of things into account, make sure that you’ve got the resources to do what you need to do, and then you just go forward. You don’t sit around. It’s not like an office pool where you say, “Oh, well we’re going to be there for so many years or we guess that we’re gonna need so many forces or we guess that it’s gonna cost so much money.” That’s just not the process. And we get beaten up on Capitol Hill all the time on this question where Members of Congress had said to me, for example, it was irresponsible for the Congress to approve military action in Iraq before the president had told Congress how long and how expensive the post-war work was going to be. And when you’re at a hearing it’s very hard to respond to something like that because you don’t want to be scoring debating points, but nobody asked Franklin Roosevelt on December 8, 1941, “Well, before we act on your resolution we’d like to know not only how long is the war going to last and how much is it going to cost, but how long is the post-war work going to last and how much is it going to cost?”

ROLL CALL: What do you say, though, to his charge that the planning for the peace was much less developed than the planning for the war?

FEITH: The planning for the peace has been under way since last summer. It was being done by various offices of the U.S. government and it was being done in a tightly controlled fashion because our diplomacy was aimed at trying to resolve the issue without war. And having too much open planning for the post-war was thought to be inconsistent with a sincere effort to try and get the issue resolved diplomatically. In fact, it was a sincere effort to get it resolved diplomatically, but prudence required that we plan both for the war and for the post-war. Planning was done. The planning was pretty good. A lot of the things we were most worried about in the post-war period didn’t materialize, a lot of the crises. Now, that’s partly a result of the fact that the war went rather swiftly and was prosecuted well and it’s partly a result of the care that was taken in the post-war work. For example, we didn’t have lots of panic over food for a variety of reasons, but one of them was that we had done very careful planning on making sure there would be ample food, even in the event of fairly large numbers of internally displaced persons and a cutoff of the World Food Program distribution system for a period. We had thought that through and we had the plans. And it had a good effect because people knew that they were going to be fed and that helps keep panic down and it helps keeps security.

ROLL CALL: Do you acknowledge, though, that the security problems — the looting, the violence — have been greater than you expected, and isn’t the evidence of that the fact that you’ve had to move in more military police than seemed to be originally contemplated?

FEITH: I think there’s a misconception implied in the question because we had a plan that called for flowing forces continually, and had the war gone on longer there would have been more forces in the country. The war ended rather quickly, and so forces continued to flow after the war ended. The fact that the forces continued to flow after the war ended doesn’t prove that you miscalculated, it just proves that the plan was to flow the forces in for a period of time. And the issue of “Was there more looting than we anticipated?” Everybody anticipated that there would be serious problems. Everybody who thought about it understood that there would be serious problems of restoring order when a tyranny as tight as Saddam’s fractured.

ROLL CALL: There’s been various discussions about getting NATO in to help us. What about making this a NATO effort?

FEITH: There is a NATO element that is being created, a response force it’s called. If that gets pulled together by the end of the year there may be an opportunity to use that in Iraq. And we’re open to the idea and we’re talking with various allies about it, and it could be a good thing if it’s organized properly.

ROLL CALL: There is criticism, as you know, on Capitol Hill from Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) particularly, quite harsh criticism, directed at the fact that the administration argued for this war on the basis that there are weapons of mass destruction there that might get handed off to a terrorist group. So far, we’ve found no weapons of mass destruction. Where are they?

FEITH: We had a lot of intelligence from a lot of different sources and a lot of different types of intelligence about the biological weapons program, chemical weapons program, actually not just programs in those cases [but] actual possession of chemical and biological weapons by the Iraqi regime, and the nuclear weapons program, although we didn’t think that they had actually developed a nuclear weapon. We are in the process of doing the meticulous work to find the evidence of those programs. We have found, most notably, the mobile labs that may have been — we want to be careful about this, we’re not looking to jump the gun on it — may have been the mobile biological weapons production facilities we were told about through human intelligence several years ago and that Secretary [of State Colin] Powell highlighted in his U.N. speech. Whether those are actually the biological weapons production facilities, it looks like they may be but we’re not making any definitive judgements yet. The analysis continues.

ROLL CALL: But what about these thousands of liters of nerve gas and stuff like that, where could they possibly have hidden all that stuff?

FEITH: Well, just take your example, thousands of liters. A liter is a bottle, I mean, like a Coke bottle, how much space would it take to [contain] 1,000 liters? I’ll bet you could put 1,000 liters in the room that we’re sitting in. Now, Iraq’s a large country. We have not looked at every space the size of this room in Iraq yet. Whether we’ll ever be able to cover every large room in the country is a question, but we will over time find out why we had all that intelligence and what became of whatever the Iraqis had. And I think it’s just not in order at this point to be making final judgements on the question. We’re looking. We’re doing it meticulously, we’re doing it professionally and I think that over time we will come to an understanding of their programs. It is also worth pointing out that this is not completely speculative and theoretical. This is a regime that used chemical weapons against the Iranians and against its own Kurdish citizens. So, we know that it had both the capability and the will and we had a lot of intelligence that it continued to have the capability, and for that matter the will, right up until the war.

ROLL CALL: Let’s switch to another war, or partly out of the subject of the war in Iraq. Senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.) is charging that the whole Iraq operation was a diversion from the war on terrorism and that we devoted a lot of resources, military and presumably also intelligence, to the war in Iraq that we should have been deploying against al Qaeda and that the attacks in Saudi Arabia are the evidence that we did not pay enough attention to al Qaeda. What do you say about that?

FEITH: We continue to prosecute our fight against al Qaeda globally as we did before, during and since the major combat operations in Iraq. The administration views the, as the president put it, the battle in Iraq, as part of the global war on terrorism, and I think that that’s the correct way to look at it. This administration identified from the very beginning of the war on terrorism the connection between state sponsors of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction as the connection that was of greatest strategic concern to us. And, the president designated the axis of evil countries on the basis of their existence at this intersection of state support for terrorism and weapons of mass destruction programs. Iraq lived at that intersection, and eliminating the Saddam Hussein regime is an important contribution to fighting international terrorism and making sure that international terrorist organizations are not going to be getting weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime.

ROLL CALL: That is the principal connection, I take it, that plus rather tenuous evidence that Iraq was actually involved with al Qaeda. Those are the two arguments, right? Weapons of mass destruction and al Qaeda connections?

FEITH: Not just al Qaeda connections, terrorist connections. The reason that we are concerned about those connections is because a large part of the thinking about how we can defend ourselves against weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogues states is that you can deter them. What the September 11 attack highlighted was that there are terrorist organizations out there ready, willing and able to do as much damage as they possibly can and they could be vehicles for these so-called rogue states to use weapons of mass destruction against us without leaving any trace of the role of the state sponsor. And that means that you can’t rely on deterrence to deal with the problem. I think on the issue of the connection between the Saddam Hussein regime and terrorism, I think there is substantial intelligence on that subject, including connections with al Qaeda. And we’re actually learning more. I mean, the fact that we caught Abu Abbas in Iraq is itself pretty dramatic evidence of the support that Saddam Hussein was giving to particularly bad terrorist actors.

ROLL CALL: Let me move on. Iran is a country that is working on nuclear weapons and has well-documented connections with terrorist groups Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad and so forth. What are we going to do to confront or deal with Iran?

FEITH: It is a serious problem. Both of the aspects that you mentioned, the nuclear weapons program and the support for terrorism. The Iranian regime is a failure and we have a lot of information that it is widely perceived in Iran as a failure. There is a lot of discontent that manifests itself. It is a very peculiar regime because it has aspects of openness that a lot of the worst regimes in the world don’t have and yet it has a lot of the traits that the worst regimes in the world do have. But we can see that there is a lot of unhappiness among the Iranian people with that regime and its failures. And the president has made it clear that he sympathizes with the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom and for a much better government than they now have. If the Iranian people succeed in putting in a better leadership for their country, that could help solve these problems. Nobody’s first choice is to think that you’re going to address a problem like this or every problem around the world, nobody thinks that it’s a good first choice to address every problem around the world militarily, and that’s not our thinking either. There may be ways that important changes in Iran can come about without our using the same kind of approach that was required in Iraq.

ROLL CALL: Both the Iran case and the North Korean case suggest that the lesson that axis of evil countries have taken from our success in Iraq is: “Get nukes as fast as you can.”

FEITH: I don’t think that follows. We’re not assessing the Iranians as having nuclear weapons. What I said about Iran has to do with the particular circumstances of Iran. There are also some particular circumstances, vulnerabilities of the North Korean regime, that may allow the world to reach a solution to that problem without war. And the way serious people in the government approach these problems is not by assuming that you’re going to be throwing military power at every problem that you find around the world. In fact, serious people, and even those of us who are described as on the hawkish end of the spectrum … no sensible person thinks first of using military power. It’s just not done, it’s just not smart. And, when we look at a problem we try to think it through and think through all the various ways that one could address the problem, mitigate the problem, perhaps solve the problem and how it could be done in the most sensible fashion and the most economical fashion and not just from a financial point of view.

ROLL CALL: Thank you.