Friday, July 31, 2009

War and Decision

Recently I started reading Doug Feith's War and Decision.

I say "started reading" because I have not finished it yet. The book is about how the Bush Administration and in particular the Defense Department reacted to 9/11 and managed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I have read most of the material on 9/11 and Afghanistan, but have not gone into the deeper material on Iraq.

I would highly recommend the book. Feith takes a very analytical approach that is full of insight and is though provoking. However, the book certainly has its faults. If you take the book as an extended position paper, then I would view these faults as fatal. If you take the book as a memoir, then these faults are perhaps the most valuable aspects of the narrative.

First off, Feith devotes a lot of the book to calling out statements by journalists and political opponents, and completely disproving these statements. From a literary perspective, this is easily the greatest weakness of the book. It is really beneath Feith to so painstakingly thumb his nose at detractors. How much joy can we really take in disproving pundits? This just in, journalists exaggerate and twist the truth in the quest for sensationalism...

I guess you can forgive Feith for all of this, as it must be frustrating to have to hear so many false claims in the press on a daily basis. Fine. However, the other mistake that Feith makes is not as annoying, but is in many was much worse. The funny part is that it is a mistake that, if we buy into Feith's characterizations, that his boss, Donald Rumsfeld, would have immediately pointed out. Feith claims to build up logical arguments for the decisions made by the Bush Administration, but he fails to point out the assumptions behind these decisions and their severe consequences. According to Feith, Rumsfeld was notorious for demanding to know the assumptions made by his analysts and advisors, hence the irony of Feith's prose.

The most basic and essential example of this is the reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Feith & co. immediately started thinking about how to broaden the response beyond just the perpetrators. This assumption, that the response needed to be broad, is hardly questioned. The only hand-waving given for it is that such a response would be more like a police action (punish the criminals) and thus ineffective. Justifications are only developed after the initial idea is pursued. For example, one justification is that a broad military action is the most likely way to prevent further attacks without negatively affecting the American way of life. Maybe this is true, the book is certainly thought provoking, but this justification is only developed ex post facto.

So more examples... Feith states that Iraq having WMDs was a given that everyone just accepted. He says that in late 2001 nobody would have argued that Iraq did not have WMDs. Feith also states that another given was that another 9/11-ish attack was imminent. It is not hard to see that if you start out assuming that the U.S. needed to make a broad military reaction, that Iraq had WMDs, and that devastating attacks were imminent, then you have to conclude the U.S. had to invade Iraq.

Anyways, I will reiterate that the book is good read, especially if you are an opponent of the war, as I am. Feith does admit early on that the Administration did not do a good job of communicating to the public. He underplays this (at least in the first third of the book or so, perhaps this changes.) Poor communication and an act of war have no place together in a democracy, at least in my opinion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

it's too bad these clowns got your money.