First of all, the look on the bookstore clerk’s face was priceless: “Um,” she said, and put it in the bag as though handling a diseased porcupine. Yeah, I have a copy on hold at the library but theirs isn’t there yet and I didn’t want to wait. My masochism: Let me show you it.
Second, oh, dear Jesus, I don’t know how you write an “insider’s account” of the Pentagon machinations leading up to the war and make it this dull. Bob Woodward, on whom Feith snarks pathetically in talking about “people who write long pages of dialogue from only their notes,” is entertaining, however annoying his mancrush on Bush might be. Woodward puts you in the room. Feith tells you what the room is called, lists who was in it, paraphrases what they said, and then is on to the next room. If you were playing Where’s Post 9/11 Waldo, it would be useful, but a good read it is not.
The book proceeds as a list, which I’ll paraphrase here:
I was born.
I grew up.
I work at the Pentagon!
Old school liberals aren’t pussies! They’re hawks! Richard Perle is awesome!
Being a lawyer sucks.
I shook the president’s hand! I was in a meeting! I wrote a policy paper! Rumsfeld listens to me! The president listens to me! Everybody listens to me!
The president didn’t want to go to war, except that he did, and we didn’t make him, except that we have enormous influence, which is impossible to resist.
I hate Seymour Hersh.
Colin Powell is an asshole.
The CIA sucks.
Acronyms. Operational details. Tom Clancy.
Whoa, war sucks.
Here’s what Bush screwed up to make the war suck.
Let me teach you my ways, so that you might replicate my phenomenal successes.
Interspersed with chapters that are answers to “critics,” most of whom are unnamed, chapters that come across as superfluous when they’re not outright desperate.
Seriously, some of it needs (not bears, certainly) re-reading, to be sure I understand the precise amount of straw he’s stuffing in his arguments (ie, “Seymour Hersh is a shitty reporter and mixed up my intelligence shop and the Office of Special Plans, even though he didn’t, and other people took him at his word, even though they didn’t”). Colin Powell, natch, comes off looking the worst, especially in instances where he advocated further sanctions against Iraq:
I saw Powell’s smart sanctions intitiative as a way toseem to be addressing a problem without doing anything difficult or risky — or effective.
And you know, I’ve got no great love for Powell, who started speaking up when it became politically convenient to do so. But that’s just tacky, coming from the guy whose entire third chapter is about taking military action specifically to show terrorists in places other than where we’re currently bombing what we’re capable of. You can’t bust on someone for making moves for appearances’ sakes after that. It’s just needy.
There’s not much here that hasn’t been debunked already; the rest of it is just “here’s what paper was on the table in the meeting the results of which you already know.” What struck me most strongly, in addition to the staggering hideousness of claiming that you knew Iraq could descend into chaos and didn’t do anything to prevent it, was the way in which Feith’s recounting of Afghanistan and Iraq differ:
The first third or so of the book is detail after self-congratulatory detail about what Feith wrote that influenced the president. What meetings he spoke up in, what ideas filtered all the way up to the top, what people had to say about his ideas.
Then, after he’s done talking about Afghanistan and into Iraq, it shifts. Meetings happen. Discussions are had. Things are done. Decisions are made. It’s not that he never talks about himself anymore, it’s that the preponderence of the explanation of decisions is made in the passive voice.
And the book ends with a truly stunning number, a little list of ways future patriots can learn from the Iraq mistakes, like this is an after-school special.
Don’t pretend to know more than you know. Don’t be categorical when you should be tentative.
Seek out important information, even when it’s hard to obtain.
Don’t scorn information from scholars, exiles and other open sources. Don’t assume the only reliable human intelligence comes from foreign officials who betray their governments to intelligence agents for money.
The list goes on for a while, including caution to keep the debate “civil,” but I’m sorry, that last? Zombie irony just rose from its grave and I have a stake that needs sharpening.
ps. Oh, and as to theliberal blogosphere’s book on Feith? He doesn’t mention it. He does refer sarcastically to people who “view reading the New Yorker as research,” though, so take that how you will.