Saturday, April 26, 2008

Millbank Continues The Post's War Against Feith

Dana Milbank continues the Washington Post's campaign against Doug Feith's new book, War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism.

The paper's effort to diminish Feith's book began two weeks ago when Thomas E. Ricks and Karen DeYoung wrote a hit piece on Feith's book without waiting for the book to be released or bothering taking the time to read the unedited manuscript of an embargoed book of some 528 pages less than six hours before they managed to obtain less than six hours before they went to press.
It seems a little unethical that Ricks and DeYoung forget to mention that they both have books being sold, books which take a bit of a different view of things than the three Post writers' versions of what is contained in Feith's book.

I feel at least as qualified as DeYoung, Milbank or Ricks to write about Feith's new book. Even though, like the three of them, I have not yet read War and Decision. At least I took the time to talk to Feith about the book and his experiences before writing this. Earlier today I was fortunate enough to participate in a conference call with Doug Feith and other bloggers including some RedState colleagues. As Pejman Yousefzadeh posted, we engaged in an interesting hour-long discussion about the book.

One of my colleagues attended the book launch event the Center for Strategic and International Studies ("CSIS") held for War and Decision, last night. Like Feith, my colleague reported that Mibank's article bore little resemblance to what actually occurred during the book launch. You don't have to take their word for it or my representations about what they said. CSIS has posted a video, or if you prefer, an audio file of the event, so even though you weren't there you can watch or listen to the event and draw your own conclusion.

As for Millbank's article, just note that reviewers, who have actually read War and Decision, give it high praise:

At the National Review, Larry Di Rita calls it "a reference publication:"

Feith draws on countless internal documents, many of which were intended for, written by, or debated among members of the president’s Cabinet, the most senior advisers to Cabinet officials, and the president himself. Feith has performed a public service by taking the time to present these documents, which have gone through the painstaking process of official declassification, in nearly 600 citations that are reproduced online with links to full texts, transcripts, and presentations. (To pick another insider account by comparison, George Tenet’s At the Center of the Storm offers, well, zero documents, citations, or footnotes).

[. . .]

In grasping the importance of this book, it’s crucial to understand the current state of the Iraq-war literature — a genre largely created by journalists, who bring to the task the same rigor and sourcing found in daily news stories (which is to say not much). Tom Ricks, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Bob Woodward, George Packer, Michael Gordon, and others have created a narrative arc that relies upon the insights of civilian and military actors willing to air their opinions, insights, grievances, and point papers with reporters eager to give them a hearing.

[. . .]

War and Decision sets a high standard for official memoirs that will follow. It is fair enough for other officials to take issue with Feith’s conclusions, and some have, but these criticisms are blunt until they can rely on documentation as rich as Feith’s. The press wrote the first draft of the Bush administration and the War on Terror, but Feith’s book relegates it to the recycling bin.

At the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens liked Feith's book for its myth busting:
"War and Decision" offers many more such examples where perceptions of the administration's conduct collide with the reality of it. Much to Mr. Feith's credit, however, his book is no apologia, even for those he obviously admires. Of Mr. Rumsfeld, he notes that "his style of leadership did not always serve his own purposes: He bruised people and made personal enemies." As for President Bush, Mr. Feith argues -- rightly, in my view -- that his problem was not that he "discouraged challenges" but rather that he showed "an excessive tolerance of indiscipline, even of disloyalty, from his own officials."

Washington Times columnist, Frank J. Gaffney Jr. calls the book "extraordinary:"
In contrast to previous books and memoirs on the subject published to date, Mr. Feith's is not aimed at self-promotion or self-vindication. Neither is it an effort to settle scores with those who have, in some cases viciously, attacked the author in their own screeds.

Rather, it is the first attempt by a serious student of history to lay out the myriad, challenging choices confronting a president who, within eight months of taking office, witnessed a devastating attack on this country and resolved to prevent another — possibly far more destructive one.

As mentioned in Larry Di Rita's review, Feith has also set up a companion website to the book, where you can access copies of many of the documents referred to in his book.

I plan to read War and Decision. How about you?

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