Is Doug Feith dusting off his resume? Or, more to the point, should Doug Feith be dusting off his resume? (Feith is UnderSecretary of Defense for Policy and generally considered one of the uberest of uber-hawks in the administration.)
In Washington, people seldom get fired because of manifest incompetence (God knows that's true.) Nor do folks usually get canned because of one mega screw-up. People hold their positions because of a latticework of ideological positions, interpersonal connections, reliability, their usefulness for various tasks and constituencies. When enough of those are pulled away, a person's position can grow precarious.
Feith gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times a few days ago in which he got seriously out in front of stated administration policy on possible US troop redeployments in Asia. Not that what he was saying was wrong necessarily, just not ready for public consumption.
Let's hear what Chris Nelson had to say about this in the Nelson Report a couple days ago ...
Summary: on the big Asia troop redeployment stories last week, it's now clear that Undersec. DOD Feith spoke without clearance on where to put the Okinawa Marines, and, at most, Australia looks like a future training site. General thrust of his L.A. Times interview more right than wrong. But net effect may be, finally, to show Rumsfeld why Feith is too loose a cannon to keep around.
So loose cannon-hood is one issue.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, interviewed in Singapore over the weekend, "clarified" the rather stunning remarks of Undersecretary for Planning Doug Feith, barely stopping short of calling Feith an idiot for his L.A. Times interview claiming that U.S. Marines now on Okinawa would likely be moved to Australia.
-- but, while Wolfowitz ridiculed Feith's "Australia" statement as a "salacious detail" from "some eighth level in the bureaucracy", he did confirm what we also reported, on Wednesday, and again Thursday, that "the story in the broad concept was generally pretty accurate."
-- but both formal, and informal, responses to Feith's L.A. Times interview from State Department, White House and even DOD sources, on Friday, made clear that professional Asia policy handlers viewed with great displeasure what one DOD source frankly called "Feith's obvious ignorance of the political ramifications of all this", especially for Okinawa and Australia.
Another source noted that Feith's tendency to try to work directly with Secretary Rumsfeld, at the expense of consultation with colleagues, and his habit of aggressive confrontation with perceived "opponents" within the Administration, nearly led to his being fired once before.
-- it was an open question, Friday, whether this latest episode, which went far beyond "inside baseball" to present serious international political concerns, will be the last straw for Feith, but Wolfowitz's dismissive language should be noted.
Then there's the question of the "Road Map." People sometimes tend to lump together all the neocons and hardliners in the administration on all the issues in the Middle East. That's not accurate. Paul Wolfowitz, for instance, may be seen as the godfather of the administration neocons. But he is also quite serious, I think, about a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Perhaps it wouldn't be one that doves have in mind, but one which would require what Israeli leaders often call 'painful compromises' -- certainly the creation of a Palestinian state, some retrenchment of settlements from the West Bank, and possibly even some compromises on Jerusalem.
Feith is a different sort of character. I think he can fairly be called a hardcore, Greater Israel, rejectionist -- someone who thinks the whole peace process, even a leaner, meaner one, is a mistake.
Up until now that fissure didn't matter quite so much. But in the present circumstances that puts him seriously off-message.
Finally, there's WMD and the intelligence failure issue.
If there's blame to go around in this administration it should cover a lot of very high-level people. But one of the key issues is the special intelligence shop that was set up over at the Pentagon because they didn't like the intell they were getting from CIA about Iraq. A lot of the intell they started working with came from Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi's 'intelligence network' inside Iraq. And a lot of that info now seems to have been pretty bogus.
That special intelligence shop, The Office of Special Plans, came under the oversight of Doug Feith. (Today he gave what The New York Times calls "rare briefing today to rebut accusations that senior civilian policy makers had politicized intelligence to fit their hawkish views on Iraq and to justify war on Saddam Hussein.")
Don't get me wrong. I don't expect Feith to be going anywhere anytime soon. I'm not even saying he'll be going anywhere at all. Canning him would be greeted with great hostility by many of Bush's most ardently pro-Israel supporters -- not so much Jews, as evangelical Christians. But that latticework that keeps people in office looks like it's fraying a bit for him. And if the WMD intell question gains too much political traction, too much heat, I'm not sure there'd be anyone quite so well-placed to take the fall.