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War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism

War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism

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by Douglas J. Feith

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In the years since the attacks of September 11, 2001, journalists, commentators, and others have published accounts of the Bush Administration's war on terrorism. But no senior Pentagon official has offered an inside view of those years, or has challenged the prevailing narrative of that war—until now.

Douglas J. Feith, the head of the Pentagon's Policy


In the years since the attacks of September 11, 2001, journalists, commentators, and others have published accounts of the Bush Administration's war on terrorism. But no senior Pentagon official has offered an inside view of those years, or has challenged the prevailing narrative of that war—until now.

Douglas J. Feith, the head of the Pentagon's Policy organization, was a key member of Donald Rumsfeld's inner circle as the Administration weighed how to protect the nation from another 9/11. In War and Decision, he puts readers in the room with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, General Tommy Franks, and other key players as the Administration devised its strategy and war plans. Drawing on thousands of previously undisclosed documents, notes, and other written sources, Feith details how the Administration launched a global effort to attack and disrupt terrorist networks; how it decided to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime; how it came to impose an occupation on Iraq even though it had avoided one in Afghanistan; how some officials postponed or impeded important early steps that could have averted major problems in Iraq's post-Saddam period; and how the Administration's errors in war-related communications undermined the nation's credibility and put U.S. war efforts at risk.

Even close followers of reporting on the Iraq war will be surprised at the new information Feith provides—presented here with balance and rigorous attention to detail. Among other revelations, War and Decision demonstrates that the most far-reaching warning of danger in Iraq was produced not by State or by the CIA, but by the Pentagon. It reveals the actual story behind the allegations that the Pentagon wanted to "anoint" Ahmad Chalabi as ruler of Iraq, and what really happened when the Pentagon challenged the CIA's work on the Iraq–al Qaida relationship. It offers the first accurate account of Iraq postwar planning—a topic widely misreported to date. And it presents surprising new portraits of Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, Richard Armitage, L. Paul Bremer, and others—revealing how differences among them shaped U.S. policy.

With its blend of vivid narrative, frank analysis, and elegant writing, War and Decision is like no other book on the Iraq war. It will interest those who have been troubled by conflicting accounts of the planning of the war, frustrated by the lack of firsthand insight into the decision-making process, or skeptical of conventional wisdom about Operation Iraqi Freedom and the global war on terrorism—efforts the author continues to support.

Editorial Reviews

Bret Stephens
“Indispensable. . . . The best account to date of how the administration debated, decided, organized and executed its military responses to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Much of what makes War and Decision so compelling is that it is, in effect, a revisionist history.”
Michael Barone
“Extraordinarily frank and persuasive. . . . [O]ur first in-depth look at the inside of the Bush administration’s national security top leadership from one who was there. [Feith] has been criticized harshly and, I think, unfairly.”
National Review
“Meticulous. . . . A convincing refutation of unfair allegations about the author [and] a balanced analysis of policy debates about Iraq inside the administration. . . . Will be studied for years by journalists, historians and aspiring political appointees.”
Frank J. Gaffney Jr.
“Extraordinary. . . . I was unprepared for the thoroughness of the documentation, the sweeping nature of the narrative and the highly readable prose. It is the first attempt by a serious student of history to lay out the myriad, challenging choices confronting a president. . . . Splendid.”
Christopher Hitchens
“If you want to read a serious book about the origins and consequences of the intervention in Iraq in 2003, you owe it to yourself to get hold of a copy of Douglas Feith’s War and Decision.”
Victor Davis Hanson
“One would have expected, as in the case of all the other Iraq exposés, that [Feith] would use the memoir genre to get even. Instead, he is self–critical, even admits to occasional hubris, but, more importantly, also chronicles the contortions and reinventions of many post–2003/4 critics of the war.”
Eli Lake
“As Americans turned on the Iraq war, anti-war forces tried to portray the war as not only a mistake, but the result of a neoconservative coup. . . . In his new memoir, War and Decision, Mr. Feith does an admirable job in dispelling this hokum.”
“The Corner
“By far the most balanced, detailed, and lucid account of this story that’s come out yet. . . . Feith makes the first intellectually serious attempt to explain how the government tried to answer that question [of settling post-9/11 defense strategy] in the years after 9/11.”
Peggy Noonan
“What’s needed now? More memoirs, more data, more information, more testimony. More serious books, like Doug Feith’s. More ‘this is what I saw’ and ‘this is what is true.’ Feed history.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

War and Decision
Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism

Chapter One

This Means War

The threat of jihadist terrorism was on the list of U.S. government concerns at the start of the Bush Administration in early 2001, but it got less attention than Russia did. As a first order of business, President George W. Bush wanted his new Administration to ensure, if possible, that Russia and the United States would never revive the nuclear tensions of the Cold War.

His Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, favored the effort. Over the years, Rumsfeld's view of the relationship between the two countries had been informed by his career as a member of Congress, U.S. Ambassador to NATO, White House Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense, and corporate executive. The President assigned Rumsfeld a leading role in this Russia project—and so it became my first major assignment when I returned to the government in mid-July 2001 as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, the top adviser on defense strategy and national security to Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

I had worked at the Pentagon before, in the middle years of the Reagan Administration—a bitter period in the Cold War, a time of widespread and well-grounded fear of superpower conflict. A strategic missile fired from the Soviet Union could devastate an American city within seven minutes, and vice versa. Nations around the world watched the Soviet Union and the United States with anxious impotence, knowing that such a nuclear exchange would cause a global disaster.

The Cold War ended well, however, and the world became safer whenthe Soviet Union died a nonviolent death on Christmas Day in 1991. But Russia retained much of the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal. Ten years later, President Bush entered office with the goal of making Russia a partner rather than an adversary in security affairs. He viewed Russia with hope because, as he saw it, neither he nor Russian President Vladimir Putin had the zero-sum-game mentality of the Soviet era. President Bush believed he could terminate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, build up our missile defenses, and work to enlarge NATO without reviving the Cold War or starting a new arms race.

I was pleased to be joining an Administration that aimed to identify common ground with Russia, dismantle Cold War structures, and change attitudes on both sides. Our success was far from certain. But the benefits—for us, the Russians, and the world—would be considerable if we did succeed.

In pursuit of these goals, on September 11, 2001, I was in Moscow for negotiations at the Russian Defense Ministry. It was my second visit to Russia since taking office less than two months before, part of the initiative to create a new framework for U.S.-Russian relations. But the news from New York that reached us a little before five o'clock that afternoon, Moscow time, forced me and everyone else in the United States to revise our thinking about national priorities.

As thoughtful and careful as we try to be, events have a way of confounding our assumptions. Even wisdom is no proof against surprises. It appreciates the proverb: If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.

My work that day at the Defense Ministry had ended with a joint news conference with my Russian counterpart, General Colonel Yuri Nikolayevich Baluyevsky, an assertive man who sometimes seemed nostalgic for the superpower contention of the bad old days. At the small, ad hoc news conference—known as a "press gaggle"—in the hallway outside the conference room, Baluyevsky and I briefly reviewed the day's discussions. The Russian journalists asked about the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the prospects for a new nuclear weapons reduction treaty.

After the gaggle, I was heading for the car with Assistant Secretary of Defense J. D. Crouch when a U.S. embassy press officer quietly buttonholed us. He'd just heard, by cell phone, that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

Skeptical about the news—first reports are almost always wrong—I glanced at Crouch. A cool-headed, intellectual, gentlemanly but tough figure, Crouch had been a university professor and a police SWAT team volunteer officer between tours at the Pentagon. He signaled that he shared my wait-and-see attitude.

Crouch and I kept to our schedule, moving along to an event with English-speaking reporters. When we arrived, minutes later, the embassy press officer told us that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center. He handed me a cell phone, and through it I heard CNN broadcast President Bush's first remarks about the attacks, made from an elementary school in Sarasota, Florida. The President said, "Terrorism against our nation will not stand."

The phrase astonished me. This was more than a confirmation that something bad had happened in New York. The President's words clearly echoed those of his father after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, as the nation faced the prospect of war in the Persian Gulf.

I did not think this choice of words could have been a coincidence. The first President Bush avoided categorical statements, tending to preserve flexibility rather than invoke fundamental principles. So his unqualified pronouncement that "this will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait" was uncharacteristically bold and inflexible—and therefore memorable. When I heard his son use those same words, I commented to Crouch that the President seemed to be talking war. From our location, thousands of miles from Washington, I took the President's words as strategic guidance.

Our conference with the English-language journalists was in a new American-style hotel in Moscow, in a small meeting room full of cameras and boom mikes and reporters with writing pads. Crouch and I were immediately asked about the New York attack, but we had heard nothing then but snippets of news coverage. It was clear that something terrible had happened, but its magnitude was still unclear. The Pentagon had not yet been hit, and the World Trade Center had not yet collapsed.

My main recollection of this press event was the badgering of the New York Times reporter, who wanted Crouch and me to agree with him that if airplanes could attack the World Trade Center, it made no sense for the United States to invest in protection against ballistic missiles. I was eager to wrap up the event so that we could learn more about what had happened in New York.

War and Decision
Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism
. Copyright © by Douglas Feith. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Douglas J. Feith served as U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from 2001 to 2005. He is the Director of the Center for National Security Strategies at the Hudson Institute and a Belfer Center Adjunct Visiting Scholar at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He lives near Washington, D.C., with his family.

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War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Iulievich More than 1 year ago
Since the only other reviewer currently on this page gives the book a 1-star rating with not one shred of useful information as to why, I figured that we might as well average things out! When I have finished reading the book, I will emend my review. For now, an initial perusal suggests that it may not be a page-turner that will keep you up all night following it. However, given the author's position, his involvement with making the decisions about which he writes, and his reputation as one of the handful of principals involved in the decision process, I would think that the book is worth rather more than an off-hand comment of "Not worth it." If nothing else, it will be a significant primary source for students of the war decisions following 9/11 -- with all the usual caveats that attend to first-person memoirs of important events, particularly those involving national security.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was written by a senior Bush Administration official, and offers a details account of the Administration's planning before the Iraq War. Contrary to what many reader may think, especially if they only read the liberal news, Feith offers compelling evidence of the Administration's detailed planning in the lead-up to the invasion. I recommend this book to any serious reader.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Whether you agree with the war or not these are the kind of books that will be needed to make judgements far into the future. Unbiased researches will be able to check the claims made by the persons involved in historic events.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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The_IR_Guy More than 1 year ago
Of course Feith was a supporter of the war and one should always be wary of government officials seeking to reroactively reclaim their image. BUT, Feith has done all a service here and collected important documents that bolster his claim sin most cases. This does not mean it is the end ofthe story, but non of the reviews so far has grappled with this. They merely repeat their own preferences. The cirtics especially engage in ad hominem attacks and never address what is actually in the book. Feith also has posted additional government documents on a website for the book so the reader can see documented evidence. In a time when everyoine seems to have forgotten that the British, French, German, Ruussian and many other intelligence agencies ALL thought Hussen had WMD, the simple platitudes get us nowhere. You think Woodward is better?! The guy has a never published a footnote or documenting evidence in his books. He asks us to just trust him that he got it right. yet we know that the way he works is to get close to one or two policy elites and basically writes off their version of events. Ever wonder why "Bush at War" was so glowing while "Pland of Attack" so critical...different sources. Bush gave him access for the first, and the second was all Armitage and Powell. Woodward is a hack that loves to be close to power and will sell out his craft for access. Most of the books on decision-making for this war come from people who have partial access at best or cobble together speculation from secondary sources. At least Feith gives us the documents and it is up to good readers to assess how well they support his arguments or not. For me, I think he did a reasonably fair job. Bottom line, read the book, look at the documents THEN comment. Commenting on a book you have not read just because you dislike the person's politics is beyond ridiculous and cheapens the important political debate that needs to occur for the country to come to grips with this conflict.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Inka_Hawk More than 1 year ago
Unless you feel the need to read fantasy that weakly attempts to cover up the major character flaws of senior Pentagon civilians during a critical period in US history, avoid this book at all cost. The author's reputation as a positive influence on defense policy is wanting at best -- especially amongst the military personnel who served at the Pentagon during that time. Read a Woodward book instead; at least he endeavors to present the facts as they occurred -- regardless of how painful they might be.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Feith attempts to rehabilitate his name and rewrite history in this book is as pitiful as his role in the decisions regarding the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Doug Feith, one of the chief neocon architects of the war in Iraq, a man who helped spread disinformation about ties between Saddam and Al Queda and ginned up bogus WMD claims, AS WELL as plan the disasterous occupation strategy, is now attempting the herculean task of defending his actions. It would be a difficult task for any writer, let alone one as obtuse and disingenious as this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this book is not very good. filled with incorrect data and very closed minded opinions. I do not recommend.