Jon Stewart: It seems like, in reading it, the basic idea of the book is that a lot of what we know about the run up to the Iraq war, a lot of conventional wisdom, is wrong. This idea, and I think it's something that you might take offense to, that we were misled into war somehow. Now, from this side of it, I always felt like we were misled so let's bridge that gap in ten minutes. What makes you say we were not misled? What was so honest about it?
Douglas Feith: I think the administration had an honest belief in the things that it said. Some of the things that it said that were part of the rationale for the war were wrong but errors are not lies. I think much of what the administration said was correct and provided an important argument that leaving Saddam Hussein in power would have been extremely risky even though the president's decision to remove him was extremely risky.
Jon Stewart: Let me stop you there. The president's decision to remove him was extremely risky. That's not the sense that the American people got in the run up. The sense that you got was we'll be greeted as liberators, it'll last maybe 6 weeks, maybe 6 months, it'll pay for itself. All these scenarios that were publicly proffered never happened. You said something that I thought was interesting. "The common refrain that the post war has been a disaster is only true if you had unrealistic expectations." Where would we have gotten those expectations?
Douglas Feith: Well, there were a lot of things that did not go according to expectations. We know that the war has been bloodier and costlier and lengthier than anybody hoped but the president had an extremely difficult task. After 9/11, there was a great sensitivity to our vulnerability.
Douglas Feith: There was a serious consideration of the very great risks of war and I think that many of them actually were discussed with the public but, to tell you the truth, looking back, this administration made gross errors in the way it talked about the war, some of them were very obvious like the WMDs.
Jon Stewart: …If you knew the perils but the conversation that you had with the public painted a rosier picture, how is that not deception?
Douglas Feith: I think a lot of people's perceptions of what was said are filtered through the recent history and the recent history has been very unhappy in a lot of ways…and people look back and I think they misremember a lot…
Jon Stewart: ...I think I remember pretty clearly the general tenor of what the government was saying to the people in the run up to the war. We have two choices. The risk of doing nothing is far greater than the risk of going in. But the risks of going in were never quantified…A willful selling of the positive and a pushing back of the negative.
Douglas Feith: The administration grossly mishandled the public explanation…I don't think it was dishonesty.
Jon Stewart: Just because your intentions are good and noble and you believe it to be the right move for the country doesn't make it honesty. I'll say why I think why: because you removed the ability for the American public to make an informed decision and once you have removed that then you no longer have, I think, the authority. Because what you've done is you've told us what part of the argument you think is appropriate for us to know about.
Jon Stewart: There was no momentum for a war in Iraq. The momentum had to be generated somewhere. Afghanistan had its own momentum. We were attacked from there. Bin Laden was taking refuge there with the Taliban. To get the country to mobilize in Iraq took effort.
Douglas Feith: I think you're looking at it differently from the way we're looking at it.
Jon Stewart: I believe that is correct.
Douglas Feith: There was a moment when the president wanted to focus on diplomacy…it was more than a moment. It was a period of months…The president didn't want to put out a signal that he had decided to go to war when he hadn't decided…
Jon Stewart: This administration is very sophisticated in the art of propaganda and public relations.
Douglas Feith: I disagree…I strongly disagree.
Jon Stewart: Being bad at it doesn't mean you're not sophisticated.
Jon Stewart: I appreciate you being here. I know you and I disagree somewhat on the war. But we may agree. What's your favorite baseball team?
Douglas Feith: Philadelphia Phillies.
Jon Stewart: Oh man, we really disagree. Mets!
Moment of Zen: Fox News interview, from April 27, of the president, talking about giving his daughter away on May 10.
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