"Stupidest Guy" Feith Defends Rice's "Mushroom Cloud"
Back in 2003, General Tommy Franks called Bush Iraq intelligence fabulist Douglas Feith "the f**king stupidest guy on the face of the earth." Two years later, Colin Powell's one-time aide Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson said of Feith "seldom in my life have I met a dumber man." Defending Condoleezza Rice's - and by extension, President Bush's - pre-war "smoking gun/mushroom cloud" Iraq talking point, Douglas Feith today once again justified his critics' low opinion of him.
Writing at the National Review, Feith argued that Rice's September 8, 2002 statement on CNN was not either "a gaffe or a lie." Instead, he contended, Rice was merely "highlighting the limits of U.S. intelligence" in what he deemed "an important and accurate statement":
"You will get different estimates about precisely how close he is." She presented a summary of what the CIA was saying at the time about Iraq's nuclear weapons program, and then added: "The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
There are, of course, a few problems with Feith's exercise. First, Feith's offers an abridged version of Rice's comments, selectively excluding her points about "shipments into Iran" and those "aluminum tubes" that "are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs." While Feith laughably claimed that "Rice and all the other top Bush administration officials relied on erroneous intelligence" and that "they did so in good faith," Rice's mistaken claims were hotly disputed within the American intelligence community, as the 2002 NIE and the Senate Intelligence Committee's Phase 2 report made clear.
The second of Feith's fallacies is the implication of his assertion that "was a clear and proper warning that our country was subject to surprise." Apparently, wars of preemption are fine even when the data is dubious or the threat is unclear. Put another way, when in doubt, wipe 'em out.
But perhaps the most comic aspect of Feith's defense of Rice is his implicit attack on President Bush. During his now infamous October 7, 2002 saber-rattling address in Cincinnati, Bush made the same smoking gun/mushroom cloud reference. But in Bush's case, there were no qualifications about "uncertainty" or "different estimates" of Saddam's nuclear threat:
"Some citizens wonder, after 11 years of living with this problem, why do we need to confront it now? And there's a reason. We've experienced the horror of September the 11th. We have seen that those who hate America are willing to crash airplanes into buildings full of innocent people. Our enemies would be no less willing, in fact, they would be eager, to use biological or chemical, or a nuclear weapon.
Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud...
...Understanding the threats of our time, knowing the designs and deceptions of the Iraqi regime, we have every reason to assume the worst, and we have an urgent duty to prevent the worst from occurring."
Less than three weeks ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its long delayed Phase 2 report on the Bush administration's uses - and misuses - of pre-war Iraq intelligence. As McClatchy noted, a bipartisan majority of the Committee concluded that "Bush knew Iraq claims weren't true." One of its key conclusions concerned administration claims regarding the Iraqi nuclear program, noting that "Bush and other officials failed to disclose that the State Department disputed that finding."
That would be the same State Department now run by Condoleezza Rice. So while General Tommy Franks may not be the brightest blub, his dim assessment of Douglas Feith continues to ring true.