"Weapons of Mass Deception"


Douglas J. Feith A Briefing on the Anniversary of the End of Major Combat Operations

MR. RUPPE: Thanks. Hi. David Ruppe, with Global Security Newswire.
The President has said that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction still might be hidden in the country or have been moved out of the country. So, to degree, do you consider it a defeat for the U.S. that we have been unable to secure those weapons, if they exist, and to what degree is the administration concerned that those weapons still might be in the hands of al Qaeda, might get into the hands of al Qaeda or into the hands of insurgents and be used on our forces or civilians at home?

MR. FEITH: Well, we are still in the process of finding out exactly what the situation is, what happened with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which we know Saddam had, but we don't quite know what became of them. That work is going on by the Iraq survey group, and when it's work is completed and its report is done, we will announce it publicly.
One of the great problems with proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is precisely the one that you called attention to. There's always the danger that they could get into the hands of terrorists or other people that you don't want to acquire them, and it's a serious problem worldwide, and it's obviously a problem in Iraq, but as I said, we have not completed our work on the subject yet.

MR. RUBIN: Hi. Michael Rubin from AEI.
Looking ahead, the United Nations, the United States, the Iraqi Governing Council and the transitional administrative law have called for elections before the end of January 2005. There's two ways to do direct elections. One is a constituency-based system, and the other is a party slate system, and they would have very different results. I'm curious about what the position of the U.S. Government is with regard to what direct elections mean and how they should be carried out.

MR. FEITH: It's an important question. We haven't resolved it yet. It's something that we've been discussing. It's a decision that I think is one that the Iraqis will take the lead in making, but it's one of those great questions that states face when they organize themselves, they either organize themselves as a new democracy or reorganize themselves through a constitutional process. There's a lot of experience on this subject in the world, and it's being reviewed right now in different countries, and different countries experience and what's suitable, given the nature of Iraq and its history and culture.
One point that I would make that is important, whenever one approaches a subject as awe-inspiring as laying the foundation stones for somebody's government, it's important that these institutions be well-rooted in Iraq and in their culture and world view. Their chance of success goes up a lot if it is produced by Iraqis, with a proper appreciation of who they are, and what their history is, and what their experience is, and is not something that is, something that people from the outside attempt to engineer without due respect for the people in the country.
MR. LAKE: Thank you. Eli Lake, with the New York Sun.
In an article in today's Salon, your old law partner, Marc Zell, is quoted as saying that Ahmed Chalabi had betrayed him in a promise to try to secure better relations with Israel and a free Iraq.
Do you have any comment on this? I know that it's just hit, and I don't know if you've gotten a chance to see it--
MR. FEITH: I know nothing about it.
MR. LAKE: As a broader question, there have been a lot of stories that said that the administration at this point have basically tried to distance themselves at this point from Ahmed Chalabi in a future transitional government. You have been an ally of his before you joined the administration. Can you comment on some of those reports?
MR. FEITH: I know nothing about the first question that you asked.
Iraq has a number of people who have been playing an important role in the Governing Council. Chalabi is one of them. The process by which the Iraqis are ultimately going to pick their leaders is being developed right now, and it's going to be an electoral system, and the leaders of Iraq will be the people who emerge from that process with support from the Iraqi people.
MR. ALI: Mohammed Ali, with Al Jazeera.
Sir, you mentioned Abu Ghraib incidents. Is the Pentagon waiting to accept an independent investigation in that and the other allegations from some former detainees from Guantanamo, as well, are saying they were subject to abuse? That will be my question.
Thank you.
MR. FEITH: I think I've said everything that I want to say on that subject. I know that Secretary Rumsfeld, and I believe General Casey and maybe some others are going to be speaking to the press today, and I'm sure they'll address those questions.
MS. PLETKA: I'm going to exploit the ownership of the microphone for a second to ask a question, if I might, Doug.
Other than the question of WMD in Iraq under Saddam, one of the things that troubled so many was the brutal history of the regime and the record of the Ba'athist Party over so many decades, although flexibility is a virtue, I wonder if you can just give us a little more insight into the decision to reverse the de-Ba'athification process, and more particularly perhaps, to the question of this general, General Sallah, who was picked and then unpicked, I gather, to head the force outside Fallujah. Can you just explain a little bit your thinking on that.
MR. FEITH: It's good to have the opportunity to say that we haven't reversed the de-Ba'athification process. I think that's a misconception.
As I mentioned in my remarks, the de-Ba'athification policy was crafted with a number of ideas in mind. One of them was the importance of communicating to the Iraqis that the Ba'ath regime is gone and is not coming back. Another important consideration was justice, that the people responsible for the regime's crimes would be brought to justice.
But another consideration was clearly that it was important to be fair, and it was important to make sure that broad policies don't have unfair effects on people in the country who may not, although they may have been compelled to be Ba'ath Party members, were not tainted with the crimes of the regime and had renounced the Ba'athist ideology, and we didn't want to be in a situation where the country couldn't work together or couldn't come together.
So the de-Ba'athification policy was attempting to strike a proper balance among various considerations. One way that it was set up to strike that balance was to provide for an appeals process that would allow people to, who might otherwise be eliminated from government employment, to come in and explain why they should not be excluded.
We have not changed, in essence, the de-Ba'athification policy. The Coalition Provisional Authority has not. What it did, though, is recognize, after a lot of complaints, that it was not being implemented as it should, and this appeals process, in particular, was not working as it was intended, and so adjustments were made there.
Now, on the question that you raised about this former Iraqi general. One of the biggest challenges in a situation like Iraq today is vetting people, and Secretary Rumsfeld has spoken on this publicly a number of times, that you do the best you can in vetting, but part of the vetting process, kind of one of the checks on the vetting process, is after you're finished vetting people, and you go public with somebody, if you've made a mistake, you hear about it, and that allows you to take corrective action. And that's what was done in that case, and it was a mistake.
AUDIENCE PARTICIPANT: [?], Turkey [?]. There will be a NATO Summit in Instanbul next month. What kind of a role in Iraq does the United States expect from Turkey and NATO?
MR. FEITH: The United States is encouraging NATO to assume more responsibility in the war on terrorism in general in both Afghanistan and Iraq. NATO is playing an important role in Afghanistan, having taken over the International Security Assistance force, and NATO played a more limited role in Iraq in assisting the Polish multinational division.
Any contribution that NATO is willing to play and has the resources to effect I think is in our interest, and we're working with--we're talking with a number of our NATO allies, and it's going to be undoubtedly an important topic of conversation in the Istanbul Summit. We're talking with them about the best role for NATO to play to support the Coalition's efforts in Iraq and to increase NATO's activities in Afghanistan.
Turkey itself has obviously a very important relationship with Iraq and has all kinds of roles to play. As one of Iraq's important neighbors, one hopes that Turkey will increasingly play a role in the economic reconstruction of Iraq and participate in commercial relations with them. There's obviously a Turkish interest in the effort to create, as I said, a unified Iraq, an Iraq that preserves its territorial integrity and creates a government that can get the active cooperation of all of the major elements of the country, including the Kurds in Iraq, so that the unity of Iraq can be preserved, and therefore the broader regional stability that Turkey cares so much about can be preserved.
MR. GALLOWAY: Joe Gallow, Knight Ridder Newspapers.
Our panel, before you arrived, dealt at some length with planning for the war and the postwar or the lack thereof, and I believe your job is being in charge of the Office of Special Plans. So, if there are failures--and clearly there were--would you care to address the actual act of planning, how you conducted it and what went wrong?
MR. FEITH: Well, there was a great deal of planning done throughout the U.S. Government. I think that your question reflects a theme that is rather common in a lot of reporting on this subject that kind of implies that people in Washington were somehow responsible for all of the planning regarding Iraq or postwar Iraq, and I think that's a rather wild oversimplification.
There was a lot of planning done interagency here in Washington at the strategic level. There was also, among the White House, the State Department, the Treasury Department, the Justice Department and the Pentagon, there was also obviously a lot of operational-level planing done by CENTCOM. And it's a very complex subject to evaluate the quality of the planning. Some of it was very good. Some of it was a lot less good.
I think that it's something that is best left to historians to sort out, rather than ask the people, in the middle of everything, to step back and evaluate their own work. I'm perfectly comfortable to say that we live in a democracy. The records will be available to scholars, and they'll look over and decide what went right and what went wrong.
We are in the process of addressing, as a department and as a government, certain things that we think we've learned from the process. For example, the value of having a standing organization that can do the kinds of things that the Postwar Planning Office, which was put together just a few weeks before the war, was intended to do. The United States has done stability operations or peace operations for a number of years in a number of cases: in Haiti, more than once in the Balkans, and in Afghanistan, and now in Iraq. And yet every time we did it we had to organize a new effort, and I think there's a good argument to be made that having that capability and that expertise in an office that functions, in effect, as a standing task force, is probably a smart thing to do and could make those kinds of operations go better in the future.
But that's the kind of example of things that we're doing currently to try to assess recent experience, but the ultimate kind of judgment that you're asking for, as I said, I think is better left to historians.
MS. PLETKA: We can take one last question. The gentleman right back there. We've ignored the far back corner.
MR. SWISHER: Mr. Feith, I was wondering if you could comment--
MS. PLETKA: Excuse me. Can you identify yourself.
MR. SWISHER: I'm sorry, certainly. Clay Swisher, and I work for CNO Resources.
I was wondering if you could comment what effect you think Israeli settlement construction and occupation practices in the West Bank and Gaza strip, the effect that that is having on the ability of our troops to convey to the Arab and the Muslim World that the United States stands against oppression and they stand for freedom.
MR. FEITH: Well, the specific focus of your question is outside of my lane. But on the general point that there is a lot of criticism of Israel, it will not surprise you to hear, throughout the Middle East, and there's a lot of criticism of the U.S. relationship to Israel throughout the Middle East, and that clearly is one of the conditions that we live with as we work with people throughout the Arab World, and it's a constant subject of conversation, and it, as I said, it's one of those conditions that we have to deal with.
We have, nevertheless, I think established with a lot of people in Iraq, despite various differences about policy issues, important relationships of trust. What is important, as I said in my prepared remarks, is the main thing the Iraqis want to know is what is our attitude toward them and their country, and are we really sincere in our desire to leave them to run their own affairs and to help them get into the position where they can provide for their own security, set up their own government and be on a path to independence, and to freedom, and to a functioning economy.
And on that, I think we've made progress. We have a lot more to make, and as we make that progress, I think we'll help ourselves on the political track, as well as the security track, in our work in Iraq.
MS. PLETKA: Doug, thank you very much for a thoughtful presentation, and thank you to the audience.
Bye-bye. We're closed.

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Milton Frihetsson, 20:55


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