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Iraq, One Year Later

Presenter: Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith
May 04, 2004 12:00 PM EDT
Iraq, One Year Later

Thank you, Chris. I’m pleased to be here at the American Enterprise Institute.   I have some long-­time friends here, as you know if you’ve studied the published wiring diagrams that purport to illuminate the anatomy of the neo-con “cabal.”

 

This AEI conference is being held to look at Iraq now that a year has passed since Coalition forces overthrew the Saddam Hussein regime. 

 

At the beginning of May last year, seven weeks or so after the war started, major combat operations ended.  Iraq has changed greatly over the last twelve months, and largely for the good, though the intensity of the fighting in recent days tends to overshadow the progress.  It is true that the past weeks have been as costly to us as any since March 19, 2003.  We’re in a difficult period now.  So, sober reflection on where we stand, where we’re heading and why Iraq is important should be at a premium.  This conference is timely.

 

Iraq has been transformed since last May.

 

First and foremost:  The Saddam Hussein regime is gone and is not coming back. The threats that he posed to us and to his region have been eliminated and 25 million Iraqis have been liberated.

 

Economically, Iraq is recovering, though the ruinous results of the Ba'athist decades continue to impede progress.

 

Given its oil resources, and the education of its people, Iraq should have been a wealthy country.  Under Saddam, however, its infrastructure became pathetically dilapidated.   Coalition forces managed to spare most of that infrastructure from destruction during the war and, over the last year, the coalition has worked to repair and upgrade it.

Electricity generation has surpassed pre-war levels and is more evenly distributed. Iraqi schools have been repaired in large numbers.  Health care spending in Iraq is 30 times greater than its pre-war levels.

 

Unemployment has fallen by nearly one-half over the past year.  Inflation is a quarter of what it was before the war.  A large-scale currency exchange was conducted successfully at the end of last year.  The new currency has been remarkably stable, and its value has risen lately by 25% or so over its value last fall when the conversion was underway.  Iraqi marketplaces are filled with consumer goods for the first time in decades.

 

Politically, too, Iraq has moved forward.

 

At the national level, the major achievement has been the unanimous approval by Iraq’s Governing Council of the Transitional Administrative Law – the TAL – which will serve as the interim constitution until an elected assembly drafts a permanent constitution to be ratified by the Iraqi people.

 

The TAL is the most liberal basic governance document in the Arab world, with assurances of basic freedoms and equality of all citizens before the law.

 

As you may remember, the status of Islam was one of the more controversial issues in the drafting the TAL.   The result was a compromise that includes protection of “freedom of religious belief and practice” and a provision that no law may contradict “the universally agreed tenets of Islam, the principles of democracy, or the [enumerated individual] rights cited” in the TAL.

 

This latter provision’s precise meaning will have to be worked out over time – as is often the case with constitutional principles.  But it’s noteworthy that the TAL assumes compatibility among individual rights, democratic principles, and the “universally agreed tenets of Islam.”

 

The TAL’s text is important.   But the process by which this interim constitution came into being may be even more so.   After all, non-democratic regimes often have high-minded constitutions, decreed by the dictator, that are belied by the actual practice of officials who are above the law.   By contrast, the TAL emerged from vigorous bargaining among diverse Iraqis – men and women, secularists and Islamists, Sunnis and Shia, Arabs and Kurds.   It was not decreed by a cynic from on high.  Rather it was debated, crafted, and approved by the most representative governing body that Iraq has ever had.

 

There have been welcome political developments at the local level too. Over ninety percent of Iraqi towns and provinces have local councils.   More than half of the Iraqi population is active in community affairs. 

 

A number of Iraqi towns have held popular elections for local officials.  Here is a press report about some successful local elections in Dhi Qar province.  It comes from the Guardian, which – no doubt gritting its teeth – reported as follows on April 5:

 

“… Hundreds of would-be Iraqi voters pushed into a sparsely equipped school … to cast their ballots for the local council of Tar. Deep in the marshlands of the Euphrates, the town of 15,000 people was the first to rise against Saddam Hussein … in 1991.  Now it was holding the first genuine election in its history. The poll was the latest in a series which this overwhelmingly Shia province has held in the past six weeks, and the results have been surprising.  Seventeen towns have voted, and in almost every case secular independents and representatives of non-religious parties did better than the Islamists.”

 

This good has been wrought collectively by a large number of people – Iraqis, Americans, and Coalition partners, military and civilian, government employees and others, who have served in Iraq during the past year.   They have been self-sacrificing and brave.  Iraqis in this effort have risked assassination, and refused to be intimidated as they committed themselves to building a new, free Iraq.  Coalition troops – our own and those of partner countries – have borne the brunt of the fighting and are making sacrifices every day.  Our forces deserve praise and gratitude for their bravery, resourcefulness, high mindedness and devotion to duty.

 

It’s especially important to make this point now, as the horrific stories are told of the abuse of some Iraqi prisoners.  The Defense Department’s leadership will continue to ensure that the ongoing investigations are completed properly and remedial action is taken.  Individual accountability is crucial. 

 

Let me add:  No country in the world upholds the Geneva Conventions on the law of armed conflict more steadfastly than does the United States.  This is true not only because Americans recognize a moral obligation to be humane and because Americans are law-abiding by nature and in practice.  It is true also because no country in the world has a greater practical interest than the United States in respect for the laws of war.  We’ll deal promptly and properly with the terrible abuses.  The interests and dignity of our numerous, admirable military forces must not be undermined by the reprehensible actions of a few individuals.

 

Now, I’d like to shift to some comments about the current security picture.  There has been great interest in whether the fighting in Fallujah represents a widespread insurgency.  It is not one now.  Coalition forces, Iraqi authorities, and the Coalition Provisional Authority are working with Sunni tribal and other leaders to try to ensure that it does not become a broad-based attack that could threaten the progress country-wide toward Iraqi self-rule.  They are working to prevent the other major Sunni cities from erupting in sympathy with Fallujah.

 

In the Shia community, Moqtada al Sadr’s power grab has not succeeded.  According to all reports, support for him continues to decrease as the major Shia religious figures influence their community against him.   Our desire to avoid fighting in the Shia holy city of Najaf has given Sadr something of a sanctuary for the moment, but the Shia community continues to pressure him to agree to a peaceful resolution of the situation.

 

So neither Sadr nor the Fallujah anti-coalition fighters represent a broad movement or insurgency in Iraq.  Unlike in other historical guerrilla or terror campaigns, hardly any bombings in Iraq have been accompanied by a claim of responsibility.   The Ba’athists and terrorists behind the bombings know that they have no philosophical or political basis on which to appeal to the Iraqi people.

 

Their only hope is that we will lose heart and depart, and that they will then be able to impose their rule on the Iraqis.   This is not going to happen.

 

This AEI conference is a good opportunity to remind ourselves of why we went to war in the first place.

 

The controversy concerning our failure to find stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons has obscured the actual strategic rationale for the war – the public debate lately has focused on questions relating to the intelligence failure: Were the assessments “cooked?”  Was there political influence on the intelligence process? And so forth.

 

The intelligence failure, and the blow to US credibility that it caused, is a serious matter.   We should get to the bottom of it, and the President’s decision to appoint a commission on WMD intelligence reflects his desire to do so.  

But that matter shouldn’t blind us to the larger point:  The strategic rationale for the war didn’t actually hinge on classified information concerning chemical and biological stockpiles.   Rather, it depended on assessments about the nature of the Saddam Hussein regime and its activities.  The relevant facts were available to the public. 

 

Intelligence can play a crucial role in operational decision-making.  But it should surprise no one that the grandest strategic considerations of statesmen in democratic countries are commonly based on open, rather than secret, information.  Such statesmen, after all, would have a hard time arguing that their country should go to war, for example, but the reasons for the war cannot be shared with the public.  President Bush made no such argument.  Rather, he explained to the American people and the world the reasons that it was necessary to oust the Saddam Hussein regime.

 

Saddam’s regime was recognized widely as a threat to world peace since at least 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait.  Saddam had launched aggressive attacks against a number of countries in his region.  His military was the first in history to use nerve gas on the battlefield.  He was outspokenly hostile to the United States and defiant of numerous attempts by the UN Security Council over a dozen years or so to constrain him and compel him to account for and destroy Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. 

 

Saddam had ties of various types with various terrorist groups.  For example, the terrorist Abu Nidal lived in Iraq for years, as did Mahmoud Abbas, who was responsible for the hijacking of the Achille Lauro.  In addition, Iraq maintained links with the Palestinian terrorist groups responsible for “suicide bombing” attacks and Saddam famously boasted of paying $25,000 to each family of a suicide bomber.  Iraqi intelligence also carried out its own terrorist actions, notably the assassination attempt against former President Bush in Kuwait in 1993.

 

All of these points were known to the public.

 

The 9/11 attack compelled US policy makers to reevaluate the known dangers posed by the Saddam Hussein regime.  It was clear that the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks would have gladly killed a hundred or a thousand times the number of their 9/11 victims if they had had the means to do so.  The principal strategic danger to the United States in the war on terrorism is the possibility that terrorists could get their hands on chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.  That was and remains the focus of our attention.

 

Given Iraq’s record of hostility, aggression, WMD use and ties to terrorists – and given Saddam’s frustration of a dozen years’ worth of efforts by the UN, the US, and others to “contain” him – President Bush concluded in light of the 9/11 attacks that it was necessary to remove the Saddam Hussein regime by force.  The danger was too great that Saddam might give the fruits of his WMD programs to terrorists for use against the United States.  This danger did not hinge on whether Saddam was actually stockpiling chemical or biological weapons. 

 

President Bush told the American people and the world that the removal of that regime would make the world safer, would free the Iraqi people, and would open the way for the development of democratic institutions in Iraq that could inspire the growth of freedom throughout the Middle East.  If Iraq built democratic institutions, it would not only help ensure that Iraq remains off the list of terrorism supporters, but it could help us in the crucial task of countering ideological support for terrorism.  It would be of great practical benefit if Iraq became a model of moderation, freedom, and prosperity.  The terrorists of al Qaida and other organizations know how devastating that would be for their interests, which is why they are doing what they can to fight the Coalition in Iraq.

 

It bears stressing again:  What I have just summarized here was the strategic rationale for the war.  Those were the considerations that moved the key US policy makers.  On that basis, the President appealed for support to Congress and to the American people.  On that basis, the President obtained the support of our coalition partners.  As interesting as the intelligence questions are, assessing the strategic rationale for the war did not require anyone to have access to any secrets.  Reasonable people did and do dispute whether that rationale justified the coalition’s military action.  But I think no one can properly assert that the failure, so far, to find Iraqi WMD stockpiles undermines the reasons for the war.

 

Accordingly, the Coalition’s strategic goal has been a unified Iraq that:

·        Is on the path to democratic government and prosperity,

·        Forswears WMD,

·        Does not support terrorism, and,

·        Seeks to live in peace with its neighbors.

 

We aim to achieve this by transferring power to a government in Iraq that will govern by compromise and consensus among the various ethnic and sectarian groups – that is, by the means used to produce the Transitional Administrative Law – rather than allow one group to oppress the others.

 

The creation of such a government not only serves our strategic purposes, but it is a key to managing Iraq’s current security problems.  We have a security interest in Iraqis’ understanding that the US and the Coalition have no desire to control, much less exploit, Iraq or its resources.  We want Iraqis to run their own country.  Our strategy is to encourage and enable Iraqis to assume responsibility for their own affairs in all fields – security, economic, and political.

 

This is why the upcoming restoration of sovereign authority is so important to achieving our objectives in Iraq.   I would argue that those who say that the current security problems will or should lead to a delay in the transfer of sovereign authority to the Iraqis have the analysis backwards.

 

First, an early end to the occupation is essential to the political strategy for defeating the anti-Coalition forces.  A sovereign Iraqi government will be better able to marginalize its extremist opponents politically while Coalition forces defeat them militarily.   As the captured letter from Zarqawi to his Al Qaeda associates demonstrates, such a transformation is the worst possible scenario for those who oppose the emergence of democracy in Iraq.   Zarqawi wrote: “How can we kill their cousins and sons and under what pretext, after the Americans start withdrawing?   This is the democracy... we will have no pretext.”   The Ba'athists and terrorists fear the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people, and that’s why they are trying so hard to derail it.

 

Second, Iraqis have shown reluctance to take responsibility if the Coalition Provisional Authority appears intent to remain in charge.   This is understandable. Anybody who demonstrated leadership qualities and initiative under Saddam’s tyranny, more likely than not, was quickly killed by the regime.   Consequently, without the sense of urgency and accountability that a fixed deadline imposes, Iraqi leaders have been unable to resolve the difficult issues required to conduct elections and shape a new government.   But when such a deadline is established, as it was with the Transitional Administrative Law, Iraqi leaders have shown that they can come up with the compromises necessary for the Interim Iraqi Government to take shape.

 

The situation in Iraq is not easy.  There is value in thinking calmly and comprehensively about our strategy – assessing the facts, updating assumptions, reviewing the formulation of our objectives, and deciding the ways to achieve them.   Strategic thinking aims to see the important connections among the ideas and events that may appear superficially to be unconnected.  And it aims to think ahead many steps into the future.  Strategy takes a long view from a high elevation.

 

It is well known that no pre-war prediction will unfold perfectly, and that there will be setbacks that require adjustments in both objectives and courses of action.   In war, plans are at best the basis for future changes.   This Coalition has the benefit of leadership and strategic thinking, but it has shown also that it can be flexible as necessary. 

 

Examples of flexibility include:

·     Requesting a large amount of supplemental funds when it became clear that Iraqi reconstruction was going too slowly, in part because the Iraqi infrastructure proved to be in much worse shape than we expected.

·     Creating a new type of indigenous force (the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps) to fill the gap left by the Iraqi police service, many of whose members turned out not to be as well trained as we had supposed.

·     Responding to Iraqi demands for an earlier resumption of sovereignty by developing the idea of a transitional government that could take power before a permanent constitution is ratified.

·     Dropping the “caucus plan” for selecting the transitional government, when it turned out to be unpopular with Iraqis, and substituting a two-step process involving an interim government that can take power before legislative elections.

·     Revising the mechanisms for implementing the de-Ba'athification policy to address complaints that the appeals process was not working as intended, and to respond to the Sunni minority’s fears of marginalization.

 

Throughout all these changes, we have retained the strategic objective of Iraqis stepping forward to run their own country under a proper, representative arrangement that can win broad-based support.

 

A challenging mission such as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) requires steadiness.   If the basic strategy is correct, then steadiness in the face of setbacks is required.   Even as tactical adjustments are made, the essence of the strategy continues to provide direction.

 

Having a strategy means not being buffeted by the news of the day, not allowing fluctuating polls to determine what we do.  

 

History teaches that steadiness is a gem-like trait of a wartime leader.   Yet when a president is steady, as President Bush has remained throughout OIF, some folks inevitably will describe his steadiness as unapologetic stubbornness.   One can only imagine what today’s news media would have said about Winston Churchill in the face of his dogged refusal to change his strategy in the face of repeated setbacks!   Steadiness, so long as one is willing as we have been to revisit assumptions and demonstrate tactical flexibility, is a virtue.

 

One year after the end of major combat operations, we are still at war.  As our target date for the hand-over of sovereign authority to the Iraqis draws close, we must expect that the enemies of a free Iraq will become more violent.  They know that the establishment of a sovereign, credible, representative Iraqi government – a government that builds democratic institutions in Iraq – would be a major defeat for them, and they are determined not to let it happen.  The struggle against them will not be easy, but they offer nothing to the Iraqi people but a renewal of oppression.  The Coalition has the will, the forces, the resources, and the strategy to succeed.  And what we are fighting for is important and right.

 

Thank You.

 

Staff: Good morning, almost good afternoon, everybody.  I'm Danielle Pletka.  I'm the Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies here.  I'm going to moderate our Q&A.

 

Let me ask you all, as I always do, to remember that you, like Doug, are guests in our house.  Please behave courteously.  Identify yourself, identify your organization and, as always, put your statement in the form of a question.

 

The gentleman over there.  Someone will bring you a microphone.  Please wait.

 

Q:  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 what 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?

           

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 on-going by the Iraq survey group.  When its work is completed and its report is done, we will announce it publicly.

 

One of the great problems with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is precisely the one that you called attention to.  There is always the danger that they could get into the hands of terrorists or other people that you don't want to acquire them.  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.

 

Q: 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.

 

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 is a lot of experience on this subject in the world, and it's being reviewed right now in different countries [Inaudible] given the nature of Iraq and its history and culture.

 

One important point that I would make is:  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, what their history is, and what their experience is.  It’s not something that people from the outside should attempt to engineer without due respect for the people in the country.

 

Q: 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--

 

Feith:  I know nothing about it.

 

Q:  …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?

 

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.  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.

 

Q: 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.

 

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.  I'm sure they'll address those questions.

 

Staff: 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 Saleh, 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.

 

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.  It was important to make sure that broad policies don't have unfair effects on people in the country who, 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. 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, 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.  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 Iraq today is vetting people.  Secretary Rumsfeld has spoken on this publicly a number of times.  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.  That is what was done in that case, and it was a mistake.

 

Q: [Inaudible, reporter from Turkey].  There will be a NATO Summit in Istanbul next month.  What kind of a role in Iraq does the United States expect from Turkey and NATO?

 

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.  NATO played a more limited role in Iraq in assisting the Polish multinational division.

 

Any contribution that NATO is willing to make and has the resources to effect I think is in our interest. We are 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 are 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 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.

 

Q: Joe Galloway, 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?

 

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. It 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, 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 planning done by CENTCOM.  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. They'll look them 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, in Afghanistan, and now in Iraq.  And yet every time we did it we had to organize a new effort.  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 an example of the kind 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.

 

Staff: We can take one last question.  The gentleman right back there.

 

Q: Mr. Feith, I was wondering if you could comment--

 

Staff: Excuse me.  Can you identify yourself?

 

Q: 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.

 

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 that throughout the Middle East there is a lot of criticism of the U.S. relationship to Israel.  Clearly that is one of the conditions that we live with as we work with people throughout the Arab World.  It's a constant subject of conversation, and it, as I said, is 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 that Iraqis want to know our attitude toward them and their country, and if we are 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, 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.

 

Staff: Doug, thank you very much for a thoughtful presentation, and thank you to the audience.

 

Feith: Thank you.  

 

[Applause.]

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