It is an amazing fact that neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post saw fit to review Douglas Feith’s War and Decision when it was published last year. Feith provides an inside account of the debates within the Bush administration on the war to remove Saddam Hussein and related issues. The book has just been published in the (linked) paperback edition.
The Claremont Institute has now posted Stanley Renshon’s review of Feith’s book. Professor Renshon devotes deserved care and attention to Feith’s book. His review is extremely interesting and worth reading in its entirety. I want to make an observation incidental to Professor Renshon’s review. Professor Renshon notes toward the top of his review:
So many of the other books to emerge about the Iraq War to date focus on the difficulties that American forces faced because of the brutal insurgency that took hold after Saddam was d[e]posed. The tenor of those books is reflected in their titles: Fiasco, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, and The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End. The none too subtle subtext of books like these is that the decisions made by the Bush Administration were both wrong and thus obviously avoidable. The explanations for these “facts” in the view of critics is that they are the obvious result of ignorance, arrogance, incompetence, and an increasingly irrational investment in rigid neoconservative ideology at the expense of selecting sound options which to the critics, writing in retrospect, were obvious.
Reading his review of Feith’s book, I recalled reading reviews in the Times Book Review of each of these three books that Professor Renshon mentions in passing. Checking my memory via the Times book review search engine, I discovered in fact that each of the three books mentioned by Professor Renshon was reviewed by the Times not once but twice. Thomas Ricks’s Fiasco was reviewed by Jacob Heilbrunn (in the Times Book Review) and by Michiko Kakutani (in the daily paper). Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City was reviewed by Michael Goldfarb (in the Times Book Review) and by Michiko Kakutani (in the daily paper). Peter Galbraith’s The End of Iraq was reviewed by Noah Feldman (in the Times Book Review) and by Michiko Kakutani (in the daily paper). There seems to be a pattern here.
What to make of this? Unlike Ricks, Chandrasekaran and Galbraith, Feith presents an inside account of the decisionmaking concerning the war. Whatever the respective merits of the books by Ricks et al., and whatever areas of agreement they have with Feith, in one way or another Feith disputes the essential narrative they advance, and he does so with some authority. “If a counter-narrative of the Iraq War emerges with any clarity and force,” Professor Renshon holds, “it will depend in substantial part on the kind of evidence that Feith copiously documents and allows us to assess for ourselves.”
The essential narrative countered by Feith’s book is one consistent with the views of Times editors and reporters, but do they seriously find Feith’s book unworthy of review? I doubt it. Rather, I suspect that their failure to deal with it reflects their illiberal distaste for genuine debate and for the concession of worthy motives to their political opponents.