Doug Feith: "The President wants to cut America down to size"
March 23rd, 2011
09:04 PM ET

Doug Feith: "The President wants to cut America down to size"

Doug Feith served as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy for President George W. Bush from July 2001 until August 2005, where he worked closely with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior administration officials on U.S. policy from Afghanistan to Iraq.  (Fareed highlighted an incredible April 7, 2003 memo Rumsfeld sent Feith basically asking him to solve the world’s most intractable problems in a few lines.) Feith is also the author of War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism, and director of the Center for National Security Strategies at the Hudson Institute.

I talked with Feith this afternoon about American foreign policy in the Middle East. Here’s an edited transcript of what Feith had to say about President Obama’s motivations for intervention in Libya.

“Most people are analyzing U.S. action in Libya in a way that makes what President Obama is doing seem incomprehensible.  If the President says Gadhafi must go and believes it is important enough to engage our military to achieve this objective, why would he wait two or three weeks before making a stand? If the President’s goal is to protect civilians in Libya, how can he be willing to let Gadhafi - the source of the humanitarian danger in Libya - remain in power after the operation ends?

“Pundits are puzzled because they assume President Obama is focused on Libya.  But that assumption may be false.

“The only way to make the President’s behavior comprehensible is to recognize that he has a larger strategic goal than just the outcome of Libya.  While the rest of the country is focused on Libya’s future, the President is focused on fundamentally changing America’s role and standing in the world. Libya, for him, is simply an occasion for undertaking a radical reformulation of 70 years of American foreign policy.

“At least since the U.S. entered World War II, there has been a view of the United States as a leading power, a democratic power, a country that acts boldly in its own interests.  I think President Obama does not believe that’s the role America should play in the world.

“Had the Arab League vote, the push by the French and British and the UN vote not lined up as they did, the intervention in Libya wouldn’t have happened.  This means that whatever happens in Libya is less important to the President than these other factors.

“The President is saying that as important as Libya is, it is not as important as the principle that the U.S. should not act independently. He is saying, 'I’m willing to intervene in Libya only if I can do it in a way that establishes the principle that America does not act unilaterally, independently or simply for American interests. We only act within multilateral contexts.  We try not to take the lead and when we do have to assert leadership, we do not hold it for very long. We transfer leadership early.'

“Essentially, the President wants to cut America down to size - he would say make America a better citizen of the world. But what he is talking about is moving America away from a position of leadership.

“This explains why the President missed a major opportunity two to three weeks ago to seize on the momentum of the rebels to defeat Gadhafi.  Unlike other countries that acted earlier to support the rebels, the President did not recognize the rebels, arm them or provide other forms of support.  He did not want to act without the United Nations.

“Over the next two to three weeks, Gadhafi turned the tide and recaptured virtually all the ground he had lost. Only when he was on the verge of wiping out rebels - and only after the international community had come together - did President Obama act.

“What President Obama is doing is very risky. He is taking an important military action in a circumstance that he does not consider to be very important. He’s gone out of his way to emphasize that we shouldn’t consider it too important either - waiting for the UN, emphasizing limitations on our means, and stressing that he does not want to lead the operation.

“The President said at the outset that we are not going in on the ground.  But if he had the strategic goal of removing Gadhafi from power, the smart thing to do would be to say that that was the goal, and to stress our determination to achieve it.

“Instead, he has signaled to the Libyan people that if the going gets hard, America won't escalate its efforts and will therefore settle for a more modest goal than ousting Gadhafi.   Even if President Obama has no intention of sending in ground forces, it doesn’t serve U.S. purposes to announce that because it sends a negative message to Libyan people, whom we are trying to motivate.

“But - and here is the key point - President Obama is less interested in motivating Libyans to overthrow Gadhafi than in establishing the principle of constrained American action.

“This is why many American commentators have said they lack confidence in the President regarding Libya.

“Now he may turn out to be lucky in Libya. Tomorrow Gadhafi could get a bullet in his head from somebody in Libya. Everything may turn out well. That would be good for America and good for the world. But that would not be the result of our action. It would just be good luck.”

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Topics: Military • Perspectives • Q&A • United States

soundoff (78 Responses)
  1. tomi

    Umm I say conscript a north american army of 2 million. build an insane military, And destroy everyone in our path to the ultimute empire. One world order would work, providing the right people are in charge. It would rid us of world instability. 2012 Isnt a natural disaster, we'll destroy ourselves, thanks to our pety differances, racism, and religion. See you all on the battle feild. Lock and load.

    March 25, 2011 at 1:35 am | Reply
    • Michael E Brown, MHA

      We can put you in the front of the line? We already have a hugh needs to be home and not playing policeman for the rest of the sin in the world.

      March 25, 2011 at 1:44 am | Reply
    • Thinks2010

      tomi–I know an army of 2 million sounds like a lot. It is, and it is far more people than should ever have to risk or sacrifice their lives in war. However, it is a small number in the history of war. Remember World War I, the so-called war to end all wars? There were approximately 65 million combatants in that war (42,632,000 fought for the Allied Powers and 22,850,00 for the Central Powers). in todays wars it is not so much size that matters as it is weaponry, technology, information, training, will, and support. Even then, victory is not assured. In the past, you could win a battle and lose the war. Today you can win the war but lose the peace. War is increasingly becoming a no-win proposition for all involved. Unfortunately humanity has neither outgrown it nor found other universally acceptable or reliable ways to resolve disputes. One hopes humanity will one day mature beyond war, but that time has not yet arrived.

      March 25, 2011 at 3:25 am | Reply
  2. Andy Christensen

    Leadership is doing what you want other people to do and not doing what you want others to not do. If we want other countries to respect international law, to not treat military force as a first resort for solving problems, to not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, and to ask for help from the international community when they feel threatened rather than taking matters into their own hands, we have to practice what we preach. Other countries will wonder, "If the most powerful, dominant country in the history of the world cannot or will not do it, why should we?"

    March 25, 2011 at 2:18 am | Reply
  3. Vincenzo Ruello

    who is man ?

    March 25, 2011 at 5:43 am | Reply
  4. Michael

    So much of this policy is being built as a direct response and adjustment to the damage wrought by Bush's 8 years in office, especially as concerns the fiasco in Iraq. With Iraq, the US has suffered such a loss of confidence and credibility, and it is difficult to see how Pres. Obama could partake in Libya without securing multilateral support. We have hamstrung ourselves, and have no one to blame but Bush/Cheney/Rove.

    March 25, 2011 at 7:48 am | Reply
  5. Vincent

    Seriously, I love the how so many people can be hypocrites. Bush kept this country safe for eight years through attacking these "people" (I use that term loosely) over in the Middle East that attacked us on 9/11. I mean Bush took down Hussein in a matter of six weeks but he went the extra mile for these people to unite them under a democratic government. And what happened? Well lets see, the Shites, Sunnis and even Kurds are all working together under a Prime Ministry to make Iraq a better country for its people. And who is to blame for democracy springing up in Iraq? GWB I think. And I also love how the left side of America will argue about the fact that we are in a debt because of these wars. Wait, did Clinton's Gulf War disappear? Come on people. The last time America was debt free was when Andrew Jackson was President. Obama is not a war time President at all. He is being skiddish when it comes to Libya and he is lowering defense spending. What type of leader lowers defense spending in a time of war? Thats like a King taking down his castle wars during a time of war because he can't afford it anymore. Bottom line is Bush kept this country safe and make Iraq and Afghanistan a more politically stable place. It appears to me that the rest of the Middle East is taking actions of their own to make sure democracy springs up in there countries aswell.

    March 25, 2011 at 8:19 am | Reply
    • Notcontrolledlikeu

      You really still think 9/11 was all outsourced and BIG BROTHER had no stake in it at all???

      April 3, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Reply
  6. Jim

    I wholeheartedly agree with the President in regeards to downsizing America, we should start in the White House!

    March 25, 2011 at 9:13 am | Reply
  7. Dave

    I disagree with so much of this article that it's hard to know where to start, and I say that as a Republican. Leadership doesn't mean that we everything on our own. No good leader does that. Good leaders delegate. Good leaders get a team involved. Good leaders lead by example, but they don't shoulder entire burdens when they don't have to. I haven't seen any evidence that the United States is diminished in the eyes of the world by agreeing to work as a group.

    I don't think that there's a person on the planet that knows what the region between the Ivory Coast and China is going to look like in five years, or even one. Any of those countries can go any direction. The important thing is not to be reactionary, and not to feel like the United States has to hold all of those countries together or they will fall apart (in fact, to think that one leader is essential and must stay in total control forever is a very dictatorial way of thinking). The best strategic goal for the President to have is to try and get his international allies all on the same page when it comes to fostering democracy in a region that is just learning to embrace it.

    America can lead without doing everything itself.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:40 am | Reply
  8. Gimble

    Stop judging by past, long gone standards. We need a new book of standards by which everyone on the planet must abide. Live and let live. Equality for men and women. Cleaner living conditions. Food on everyones table. Education for all children. It does not matter what your religious beliefs are, simply do not try to thrust them on others.
    Mankind has such incredible potential, and we live on a most beautiful planet. Why must man continue to destroy as opposed to create. The combined ground available for agriculture is more than enough to sustain another 8 billion people.
    We must start placing greed and political control in the garbage where it belongs. Stop the weapons of mass destruction and supply plows and harvesters. Our standards will go higher while the death toll will be lower.
    I challenge mankind to stop the crap, become men amongst men.
    Help your fellow man, do not fear him. It is not God who is intolerant but man who is stupid.

    March 25, 2011 at 10:29 am | Reply
  9. GaHap

    Cutting America down to size is a socialist/communist ideal. WE do not want our country cut down. We are proud to be Americans. We do not want a President who bows to foreigners. We do not want a President who makes excuses and apologizes to other countries. We want a President who is proud to be an American and we do not have that. He is the President because the stupid Republicans tried to get Palin elected. It was a matter of picking the lesser of two evils and this is what we got. Obama has absolutely no leadership skills. He can talk up a storm but can't do much else. So, what would a good President have done with Libya? Reagan is dead so I guess we'll never know.

    March 25, 2011 at 10:40 am | Reply
    • caterpillar

      GaHap says: "So, what would a good President have done with Libya? Reagan is dead so I guess we'll never know."

      GaHap is wrong on two points: First, we do know what Reagan would have done with Libya. Reagan talked really tough, dropped a bomb on Gadhafi's tent, missed Gadhafi but killed his baby, which led to Gadhafi murdering several hundred Americans; Gadhafi remained safely in power thereafter. Second, we do know what a good President would do about Libya because we have a superb President in Barak Obama who has done an amazing job of consensus building, diplomacy, and using American power to the benefit of the United States and the world.

      March 25, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  10. JT

    I believe The President has achieved the objective of "cutting us down to size" beyond his wildest expectations. The French are literally ecstatic in leading a mission where we have already done all the heavy work and they can claim leadership. Imagine patrolling a no-fly zone over a country with no aircraft! Now not only do they not like us but respect us even less. Ditto for the rest of the world. Good job Mr. President. Your Libya war room made my TopTen list this week.

    March 25, 2011 at 11:08 am | Reply
  11. Larry Kegel (USAMY)

    Let the rest of the World stop all the Killing in the World!!! The United States sure can't afford to do it... We have enough problems of Our Own here!!!

    March 25, 2011 at 11:23 am | Reply
  12. Sara

    One wonders why a network with some shred of credibility remaining would jeopardize its reputation by publishing an interview with this fool. Seriously, I'd be more interested in hearing the views of my daughter's third grade classmates. The only possible explanation for CNN doing this interview would be to raise its ratings with the right wing extremists in the Tea Party and others who worship demagoguery.

    March 25, 2011 at 11:50 am | Reply
    • Thinks2010

      Sara–CNN is doing exactly the right thing by publishing this opinion piece. Like you, I disagree with Mr. Feith's assessments on just about everything. How do I know this? I know it because news outlets like CNN have interviewed him or published his opinion pieces. It is equally important (if not more important) to read or hear the opinions of those with whom you disagree as it is to hear those with which you agree. When you have access to the thoughts of your opponents you can: 1) know what they are thinking, 2) better understand their actions, 3) better predict their future actions, 4) formulate reasoned critiques and persuasive arguments against those ideas, 4) formulate and implement policies that address their concerns without adopting their policies with witch you agree, 5) discover any common ground you might share, 6) integrate any good ideas they might have hidden among their idiotic ideas into your policies and actions. In other words, we should all be grateful to those media who broadcast and print opposing opinions because they keep us informed and better prepared and because. In fact, we should demand that all media present opposing opinions. Don't forget, our opinions are also opposing opinions. If we wish to be heard, we should be willing to hear others as well.

      March 25, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Reply
      • Thinks2010

        Oops–I keep forgetting to review my comments before I post. Point 4 in my post should read: 4) formulate and implement policies that address their concerns without adopting their policies with witch you disagree,

        March 25, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Deandre

      PssasY Good point. I hadn't touhght about it quite that way. 🙂

      April 21, 2011 at 10:48 am | Reply
    • bxdwmsf

      wLOme0 djsiqtziakck

      April 21, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  13. R.Johnson

    We are paying for rushing in to help everyone around the world – we already have a debt that will never be fixed because of the politicians. We go to help everyone and pay for ourselves. If and we should (take the leadership role) go in and help either humanitarian or in the case of Libya – go in hard, go in fast, and go in to WIN. Do not play games – do not play politics and try to be nice to everyone – bending American power when another country cries. We have gotten away from what America was. A power – do not mess with us. We have the power – Use IT. There is no surprise about Obama's actions – what did anyone expect from him? continued downgrading of American power.

    March 25, 2011 at 11:52 am | Reply
  14. James

    Nice. Pulling the US out of a world leadership role would lead to what? If the US isnt leading, who will it follow? Oh yes, people used to hope Saddam Hussien or Osama bin Laden would get shot or die of a heart attack too. Wishfull thinking cannot take the place of leadership and inaction.

    March 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Reply
    • James E

      Sorry James way above, I didnt see your name. The post immedialtey above this is James E.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Reply
    • John in LA

      All right James. You the man. It's about time Americans speak out and have the balls to be responsible... and not crawl under their shell (i.e. home to watch cableTV and "Gone with the Wind"). Americans need to wake up, be responsible, and take the lead. If you're the number one Superpower, you should act like one. Stop acting like a wimp in this world. The world is looking for America for leadership – not make stupid mistakes but clear, logical and make sense (with principles) leadership. American may not make all the right decisions but at least 80% are right for the world.

      March 25, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Reply
  15. Forwardblue

    First couple of days cost the USA about 900 million and it requires up to 300 million week to maintain. I do not see the logic in staying with this turnip with have plenty of wars going on to be able to let someone else handle it.

    March 25, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Reply
  16. Max Leygrume

    There's some seriously deluded liberals 'round these parts !

    None of you posting here seem to be any smarter than your failed social experiment – aka Barry Soetoro. He's a laughing stock around the globe , an abject failure here at home....yet you still support him ! I mean... what would it take for a liberal to see reality? I actually think it's funny. All you pathetic libs running around trying to convince each other that Barry is an actual actual Chief Executive. Ha ha ha ha ha !!!!!!!

    March 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  17. makom8

    The NEW WORLD ORDER GOV does not include any KINGS or DICTATORS. Does anyone believe that all these protests and uprising just happened on their own. This is a movement to create the NEW WORLD ORDER. The reason Libya was attacked is that the Dictator found out that all he had to do was fight back against the protesters. Words will not defeat these uprisings. If you sit and do nothing your nation will be destroyed along with you. One by One every DICTATOR AND KING will be taken down. Every KING and DICTATOR will have to stick together and help each other if any of them hope to survive this uprising. With every nation that falls there is less of a chance that any will survive. If you let Libya fall then the only Question is "What nation is next...."

    March 25, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Reply
    • John in LA

      All right makom8. You the man!

      March 25, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Reply
  18. JP

    If you find a bully in the street killiing someone, are you going to do something about it or not? If you have the means, you will. That's what Libya is about for Obama. Feith is projecting and making assumptions beyond Obama's intended purpose. Real leading is not unilateral bullying. It's working with others toward a common goal. It has to be done taking into consideration other countries opinion's, needs, and concerns. Otherwise it just looks like we're simply bulldozing our own selfish agenda and as a result if we pay attention to history we become huge targets. The world is moving from "I" to "We" because this is spaceship Earth, not just spaceship America. Bubble-thinking has gone the way of the dinosaur.

    March 25, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Reply
    • John in LA

      All right JP... let's talk smacks and not put up with wimpy people who live in a bubbled world view. Americans need to spend more time overseas in Dictator and tyrant run countries, then come back and tell us how they feel.

      March 25, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  19. Corey

    Judging by these hypocritical comments, CNN really is just a liberal wasteland... objectional journalism? Only as biased as pravda.

    Bottom line, liberals give Obama a pass on this miliatry adventure because he has a D next to his name.

    Parrels? how about 17 UN resolutions spanning over a decade of a defiant madman with 32 countries signed on and approval from congress board for the removal of Saddam.

    1 UN resolution and 16 countries signing on this "Kinetic Military Action" In Libya, while snubbing congress completely.

    I don't know, I think W. was a little more justified in Iraq.... But, no no, don't let me interrupt your Obama circle jerk.... just know the rest of the country, the independents see the seething hypocritical liberals for exactly as they are.

    March 25, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Reply
  20. John in LA

    Liberals, Conservatives, who gives a crap. Those are just terms and stereo types to define someone or a group that does not agree with one's opinions or thinking. The bottom line is as follows:

    1. If you are the most powerful country in the world, do you sit back and have thugs run the neighborhood?
    2. When you see people being slaughtered and brutalized; all for desiring justice, freedom, democracy and liberty, do you sit by and be irresponsible?
    3. Would you prefer to have thugs, dictators, and tyrants run the world for you, and continue to give you grief as you introvert yourself within your boarders and say "I don't care. That's not my problem?"

    American and Americans in general need to grow up and be mature. The current American generation (the 3rd and 4th generation) have become a generation of entitlement, not taking responsibility, and still acting like they are in diapers, looking for mommy and daddy to guide, provide and help them. Listen up guys: Your adults. As Americans, we stand for our principles, we defend justice, and we don't put up with dictators, tyrants, and others in or near our boarders who impact our way of life. The world is global in integrated. Injustice in this 21st century is the new war.

    March 25, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Reply
    • Cam Rankin

      While I agree with the first part, Yes we should support democracy ,period. We should not act unilaterally if at all possible. Iraq, we learned a valuable lesson that's helping us now in Afghanistan. As far as Libya we are making the most responsible decision we can with world, UN and NATO support. Only problem is where does it end as far as intervention, do we enter Syria, Iran even Bahrain, home of HQ of 5th Fleet? That's the tougher question.

      March 26, 2011 at 2:21 am | Reply
      • John in LA

        We take each situation and handle it separately and uniquely, depending on what occurs, how the current leaders handle it, and the outcome. Not all countries are the same and there is no single "cookie cutter" recipe for the middle-east. The answer is: it all depends. If you had 4 children, would you handle them, treat them, react to them all the same? No everyone is unique and special in their own ways. Some good, some bad, but all around not bad. If the world was a simple place and we had all the answers to all it's problems, we would solve world hunger and all the world crisis for the next century if not more. Who knows, an asteroid may be on it's way in a few years, with the power of total destruction of earth, and everything else we worry about, war and all wouldn't make much of a difference now, would it? One day at a time, one set of problems hand a uniquely a day at at time.

        March 26, 2011 at 3:24 am |
  21. Gilbert

    Doug Feith probably made worst assessment I've ever read. The U.S. shouldn't be involved in Libya at all! If the their people want democracy and regime change then so be it. Lybians should fight for it, not the U.S. I wouldn't want to hear of a single death of any of our men and women to protect people who are probably just using American fire-power for their own interests. We don't even know the rebels agenda. Can anyone explain? Congress wasn't consulted on this act of war. Why not? This administration is completely opposite of it's campaign promises.

    April 3, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Reply
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