James Zogby’s Column
Just one month ago, I wrote about President Bush’s nomination of Douglas Feith to the position of Undersecretary of Policy at the Department of Defense (DOD/Pentagon). Because this is one of the top four posts at the Pentagon in charge of “all matters concerning the formulation of national security and defense policy” and because Feith is an extreme hard-line pro-Likud hawk-I called it a “Dangerous Appointment.”
My earlier article focused on an examination of Feith’s pro-Israel writings. The body of his work reveals a strong ideological and anti-Arab bias. I also noted his close association with the pro-Likud groups, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and his law firm’s international work promoting the Israeli arms industry.
In recent weeks more information has surfaced about Feith’s activities that raise additional concerns about his nomination.
The first set of allegations are questions regarding Feith’s performance during his two previous periods of government service. During the first Reagan Administration, Feith served under Richard Allen on the White House National Security staff. It was Allen who reportedly gave Israel the “green light” to undertake its devastating 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
When Allen was replaced at the White House by William Clark, Feith was fired from his post. There were allegations, at the time, of his bias toward and involvement with Israel.
During Reagan’s second term, Feith resurfaced as part of Richard Perle’s team at the Pentagon. Perle is a notorious Cold War hawk and a neo-conservative pro-Israel hard-liner. At the Pentagon he was called, by friend and foe alike, the “Prince of Darkness.” The team of like-minded associates Perle assembled to work under him at the DOD included not only Feith, but Steven Bryen. While serving as a staffer to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 1970s Bryen was accused of passing U.S. military secrets to Israel. He was removed from his post. A third member of the group was Frank Gaffney, who has, like Feith, also produced an extensive body of virulently anti-Arab writings in right wing U.S. newspapers and magazines.
During their tenure at the Pentagon, this group actively worked to solidify the U.S.-Israel defense relationship at the expense of U.S.-Arab ties. It has been alleged, for example, that Feith actively worked to oppose President Reagan’s decision to transfer AWACs to Saudi Arabia.
Almost immediately upon leaving office, Perle and Feith teamed up to sell their access as foreign lobbyists. One of their earliest clients was the government of Turkey.
In 1989, Feith registered International Advisors Inc. (IAI) as a foreign agent representing the government of Turkey. In official documents, one of the stated purposes of the work of IAI was to “promote the objective of U.S.-Turkish defense industrial cooperation.”
The move was heralded in the Turkish press as creating a “warmer atmosphere” between Turkey and conservative members of Congress and “the strong Jewish lobby in the United States.” It was thought that these relationships would help Turkey’s military ties and sales to the United States.
IAI was described in both the United States and Turkish press as Perle’s brainchild. The Wall Street Journal, reported in early 1989 on the creation of IAI as follows:
“Richard Perle, who among other things supervised U.S. military assistance to Turkey during his recent seven-year hitch in the Pentagon, has created a company in Washington to lobby for Turkey.
The company, International Advisors Inc., is headed by three men, including two who worked under Mr. Perle at the Defense Department. According to a statement the company filed with the Justice Department, it will ‘assist in the efforts for the appropriation of U.S. military and economic assistance’ to Turkey.”
Perle, however disputed this claim saying that IAI was not his group. He claimed that he was merely an “advisor.” He further noted “I find very distasteful this business where people leave the government and the next thing you know, they’re on the other side of the table negotiating with the U.S.”
And in a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, Perle elaborated his position by stating “I have not created a company to lobby for Turkeyé.The firm to which the story refers, International Advisors, Inc., was created by Douglas Feith, a Washington attorney. I am not a stockholder, director, officer or employee of the firm. I will not lobby for nor represent the government of Turkey. I will chair an advisory board that is only now being formed.”
In fact, in the official documents filed with the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Foreign Agents Registration Unit, Douglas Feith is listed as the Chief Executive Officer of IAI and its only stockholder.
However, in semiannual reports filed by IAI during its 1989-1994 tenure, Richard Perle is listed as the single highest paid consultant to the group earning $48,000 each year. Feith, himself earned $60,000 per year and his law firm, Feith and Zell, received hundreds of thousands of dollars from IAI.
What is most disturbing in all of this, of course, is, as Perle himself observed, the “distastefulness” of this business where “people leave the government and the next thing you know, they’re on the other side of the table negotiating with the U.S.”
That Perle was being disingenuous about his role in IAI and indirectly setting up his former colleague and now “partner” as the “distasteful” one, raises serious questions about both individuals.
What is also troubling is the fact that during the almost six years that Feith and IAI were officially registered as Foreign Agents for the Government of Turkey, Feith and a number of individuals serving as staff and receiving payments from IAI were making tens of thousands of dollars of contributions to both pro-Israel PACs and pro-Israel Senators and Congressmen. In records filed with the Federal Election Commission, Feith himself contributed more than $15,000 during this period, sometimes listing IAI, a foreign agent, as his place of employment.
The one pro-Israel PAC to which Feith contributed $3,500, Washington Political Action Committee, just so happened to be headed by Morris Amitay, former AIPAC official and one of the earliest members of IAI!
Two of the single largest recipients of this largesse were Senator Robert Packwood and Congressman Dan Burton. In an article published in 1997, in the Charleston Daily Mail, Burton was accused of having his position on several foreign policy issues influenced by campaign contributions from foreign agents. The article specifically cites Feith giving this example:
“A strong supporter of Turkey, Burton took to the House floor June 5 to denounce efforts to cut off all U.S. aid to the country [Turkey] because of human rights criticism. ‘Let me give my colleagues some facts about Turkey and about the Armenia problem,’ Burton said as he launched into a historical account.
The speech went on, citing almost word for word material distributed to members of Congress by Capitoline, Turkey’s lobbying firm. For several years, when the firm of former President Regan aide Douglas Feith was paid $600,000 a year to lobby for Turkey, Feith’s office had regular contact with Burton and his aides. Feith gave donations to a handful of lawmakers over the years, including at least $2,250 to Burton.”
More recently, Feith and Perle teamed up to represent another foreign entity, the government of Bosnia. According to Richard Holbrooke, the principal U.S. negotiator at the Dayton peace talks, Perle and Feith worked for and advised the Bosnians during the talks. This time, however, they did not register with the Department of Justice, as foreign agents are required to do.
It should also be recalled that both Perle and Feith worked together in 1996 to prepare the document “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” that advised the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on what issues to raise and what language to use during his first visit to the United States in July of that year.
Now, it must be said that while (as Perle acknowledges) this might all be distasteful, and in the case of the PAC contributions, at least, questionable, none of it is illegal. But it does raise serious questions about the fitness of Mr. Feith to serve as the Undersecretary of Defense in charge of developing “policy on the conduct of alliances and defense relationships with foreign governments, their military establishments and international organizations;” and developing, coordinating and overseeing “the implementation of international security strategy and policyéon issueséthat relate to foreign governments and their defense establishment.”