A Dangerous Appointment

James Zogby’s Column

Douglas J. Feith has been appointed Undersecretary of Policy at the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). This is one of the Pentagon’s four senior posts, charged with “all matters concerning the formulation of national security and defense policy and the integration and oversight of DOD policy and plans.” Additionally, among his many areas of responsibility according to the DOD, the undersecretary of policy has the responsibility to:

“Develop policy on the conduct of alliances and defense relationships with foreign governments, their military establishments and international organizations;

“Develop, coordinate, and oversee the implementation of international security strategy and policyéon issueséthat relate to foreign governments and their defense establishments; and

“Provide oversight of all DOD activities related to international technology transfer.”

This is a powerful position with great influence. Feith’s appointment to this post is a matter of great concern.

Feith has had a long career in both government service and the private sector. During the Reagan Administration he served as the White House National Security Staff and in the Defense Department as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Negotiations Policy. He also served as Special Counsel to Richard Perle, then Assistant Secretary of Defense.

Feith is an attorney with the Washington firm of Feith and Zell. His own biography says that he specializes in “technology transfer, joint ventures and foreign investment in the defense and aerospace industries.”

On the political front, Feith has been associated with the Cold War “neo-conservative” school of thought. What is of concern here is the extent to which Feith has transposed the neo-conservative worldview onto the Middle East. As his fellow cold warriors defined the world in ideological dualistic terms-the forces of absolute good confronting the forces of absolute evil-Feith defines the Arab-Israeli conflict in similar terms.

A prolific writer, Feith has left a long paper trail of anti-Arab tracts and diatribes against those who challenge or seek to compromise Israel’s strength and as he defines it, “moral superiority” over the Arabs.

As was the case in the Cold War battle against Communism, in Feith’s view, there can be no place for compromise between Israel and the Arabs. Since he defines the Middle East conflict in absolute terms, the only option for Israel is to confront its Arab enemies until they are defeated, which, in his worldview, means when they submit and accept Israel’s legitimacy and sovereignty over all of mandatory Palestine.

Since Israel represents the “good” and “our values,” in Feith’s view, it is necessary for the United States to identify with Israel in its struggle against the forces of “darkness,” the Arabs. This means providing Israel with superior military strength and political support. It also means that the United States should never pressure Israel either to surrender land or to compromise its hegemonic position in the region.

Throughout his career, Feith has articulated views such as these.

In the late 1970s, for example, he criticized then President Jimmy Carter’s Camp David effort to bring about a “comprehensive peace”-a concept he decried as false since it required Israel to weaken itself by surrendering “Judea and Samaria” to the Arabs. Feith’s logic was that

Arabs have no legal rights in Palestine;

Palestinians are not a “national group as such” and, therefore, have no special claim to Judea and Samaria;

Jordan is the Palestinian state for the Arabs; and

No pressure should be brought against Israel for building settlements in Judea and Samaria, since it is their right to do so.

Operating from this framework, Feith argues that the notion that “the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the issue of the stateless Palestinians” is a clever Arab trap designed solely to weaken Israel by threatening its relationship with the United States and its hold over Judea and Samaria.

He, therefore, condemned the Carter Administration for its opposition to Israel’s settlement policy since, in his view, this “only encouraged Arabs to believe that they could win benefits from the United States by refusing to make concessions to Israel.”

For Feith, Arab objections to Zionism were at the core of the conflict. Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories would not solve the conflict, only Arab acceptance of and submission to Israel would end it. Summarizing his recommendations to the Carter Administration, Feith suggested in a 1979 article that they, “(1) abandon the view that Judea-Samaria is the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict, (2) acknowledge that the crux is really the Arab refusal to accept a Jewish state in Palestine, (3) renounce quarreling over Israel’s rights in Judea-Samaria, which encourages Arab inflexibility and damages valuable U.S.-Israeli ties, (4) confine itself to the role of mediator, rather than party, to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and thus (5) inform Damascus, Amman, the Palestinian Arabs, and Riyadh that if they want an alteration in Jerusalem’s policies they had best start negotiating with Jerusalem, as Sadat has done, and quit relying on Washington to ‘deliver’ the Israelis.”

In the 1980s and 90s, Feith continued his criticism of any U.S. policy that deviated from his view. He criticized the Bush Administration for denying Israel loan guarantees and for pressuring the Shamir government to come to the Madrid peace conference.

His advice to the Bush Administration in 1991 echoed his earlier recommendations to the Carter White House. The U.S. government should, he suggested, require the Arabs to:

“Drop the slogan of ‘land for peace,’ which skeptical Israelis must suspect is a program for dismantling Israel in stages, and simply offer peace. That is, they could put forward an open, unqualified, non-grudging and sincere acknowledgement that the Jewish people are entitled to a state in a Jewish homeland;” and

“Abandon the name game by which they apply the label ‘Palestine’ only to the 20 percent of the British Mandate Palestine that lies west of the Jordan River. So long as one’s goal is the elimination of Israel, one does well to pretend that the Kingdom of Jordan, which occupies the other 80 percent of Mandate Palestine, is not a Palestinian state. That makes it possible to propagandize that the Jews control all the land and the Arabs of Palestine are ‘stateless.'”

During the Clinton years, Feith continued to oppose any agreement negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinians: Oslo, Hebron and Wye.

At one point he defined Oslo as, “one-sided Israeli concessions, inflated Palestinian expectations, broken Palestinian solemn understandings, Palestinian violenceéand American rewards for Palestinian recalcitrance.”

His objection to the Hebron and Wye understandings, however, is more interesting because it was his ideological soul mate, then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had agreed to them.

In 1996, Feith, together with Richard Perle wrote an advisory paper for the newly elected Likud Prime Minister. In that piece, entitled “A Clean Break: a New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” they advised Netanyahu to: “make a clean break from the peace process;” reassert Israel’s claim to its land by rejecting “land for peace” as the basis of peace; strengthen Israel’s defenses to better confront Syria and Iraq; and forge a new and stronger relationship with the United States based on self-reliance and mutual interest.

Feith was, therefore, deeply disappointed when Netanyahu appeared to accept the basis of Oslo and sign two additional agreements with the Palestinians that turned more land over to them. In a lengthy piece written in 1997 “A Strategy for Israel,” Feith returned to his neo-conservative roots arguing that “land for peace” was a fabrication designed to weaken Israel. Peace would only come when Arab and specifically Palestinian society was transformed into a democratic, law-abiding and peaceful one. Since Oslo had created unrealistic expectations and rewarded bad Palestinian behavior, the only solution for Israel was to repudiate Oslo and “reestablish an effective security and intelligence policy in the areas under Palestinian Authority control” (i.e. reoccupy the West Bank and Gaza). He went on to note that “the price in blood would be high,” but would be, a necessary form of “detoxification-the only way out of Oslo’s web.”

Despite his apparent obsession with the Arab-Israel conflict, Feith has written about a number of other Middle East-related topics. In all cases, inspired by the same pro-Israel, anti-Arab Manichean worldview.

He has written condemning U.S. politicians for estranging themselves from Israel in order to accommodate Arab oil states. He has associated himself with a controversial strategy paper that suggested, among other options, that the U.S. might lead a Kuwait-style invasion and war of liberation to oust Syria from Lebanon. And he has been one of Washington’s strongest advocates supporting the Iraq Liberation Act.

As disturbing as Feith’s views may be, his political associations cause even greater concern. In recent years, Feith has frequently been featured in the activities of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Known for its virulent anti-Arab incitement, the ZOA regularly attacks all Arab American political activity and demonizes politicians who hire Arab Americans or even associate with community organizations. The ZOA also frequently attacks American Jews whom they feel are not in line with their extremist pro-Likud philosophy.

In just the past few years, Feith was the Guest of Honor at ZOA’s 100th Anniversary Gala Banquet. He served as Master of Ceremony at two other major ZOA functions and has been a frequent participant at ZOA sponsored policy briefings on Capitol Hill supporting that organization’s anti-Palestinian legislative initiatives.

Feith’s law practice in Washington sheds further light on the one-sided nature of his work. His small law firm has one international affiliate, in Israel. Over two-thirds of all their reported casework involves representing Israeli interests. And, in light of Feith’s new appointment, one of these cases deserves some attention. As described on the firm’s website, Feith “represented a leading Israeli armaments manufacturer in establishing joint ventures with leading U.S. aerospace manufacturers for manufacture and sale of missile systems, to the U.S. Department of Defense and worldwide.”

Feith has long been a strong advocate for Israeli military technology. In a 1992 article, he wrote that the U.S. should deepen its military cooperation with Israel noting that, “Israel has a number of unique military technologies that it behooves the U.S. armed forces to acquire, such as unmanned aircraft and air-to ground missiles. With shrinking U.S. defense budgets, it is less expensive for the Defense Department to acquire these technologies from the Israelis than to pay to have them reinvented.”

He also observed in the same piece that, “It is in the interest of the U.S. and Israel to remove needless impediments to technological cooperation between them. Technologies in the hands of responsible, friendly countries facing military threats, countries like Israel, serve to deter aggression, enhance regional stability and perhaps also promote peace thereby.”

In the private sector, Feith is free to hold whatever views he wishes to hold, associate with whomever he wishes to associate, and do whatever legitimate business comes his way. But serious questions must be asked whether or not someone with his views and associations can fairly serve in a critical post at the Department of Defense. I, for one, am terrified at the prospect. He is ideologue with an extreme anti-Arab bias, and his role in the sensitive position of chief architect of U.S. defense policy can, I believe, have grave consequences for the United States and its relations with the entire Arab world.