Closing Words of Douglas Feith
By Al Kamen
Monday, December 9, 2002; Page A21
To outsiders, Pentagon policymakers grapple daily with profound national security issues. But there's more, ever so much more, to the mini-State Department than simply thinking deep thoughts. Meticulous attention to detail, at every level, is critical to successful policy.
Back on July 24, 2001, an e-mail circulated from the office of newly confirmed Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith to "All-Policy" on "Subject: MR. FEITH'S SIGNATURE BLOCK ON LTRS."
The e-mail said the block should read:
Douglas J. Feith
One hour later, Navy Cmdr. Pete Hanlon, a military assistant to Assistant Secretary for International Security Policy J.D. Crouch, forwarded that e-mail to Crouch's group with more advice on this obviously vital issue: "Another tip to assist you in your memos -- do not use 'Doug Feith' on buck slips/memos/coordination pages. Always use 'Douglas J. Feith.' " (But no need to use His Excellency or even The Honorable.)
More fine-tuning followed a week later: "PLEASE DISREGARD EARLIER E-MAIL, 24JUL1157," an e-mail from Feith's office said. "PLEASE USE THE FOLLOWING FOR MR. FEITH'S SIGNATURE ON LETTERS":
With best wishes, I am
Douglas J. Feith
Finally, everything seemed to be working smoothly. But then the 9/11 terrorist attack shattered the calm at the Pentagon.
Two weeks after the attack, with the fires at the Pentagon still smoldering, a policy official circulated another e-mail with important information on "Subject: USDP's [Feith's] writing preferences."
"Got a letter back from Mr. Feith with some clear guidance that I pass to you for your use":
1. Please never, never, never split an infinitive in anything I am to sign.
2. Always do letters for me in draft (note: on plain bond) -- rather than waste lots of stationery. I edit virtually everything.
Lest anyone miss this important guidance, which appears to contradict the earlier guidance to use letterhead, Hanlon sent another e-mail to his folks. "All AOs [action officers], please note the attached e-mail listing Mr. Feith's preferences."
This exchange, coming so soon after the tragedy and amid complaints that "clear guidance" on policy matters was often hard to come by, sparked derisive cracks by some in the policy shop that "This will certainly take care of the terrorists."
Perhaps that more informal transmission didn't fit the bill. So Feith's office circulated an official instruction two weeks later.
"Mr. Feith would like any documents that are for his signature . . . on plain bond paper 'double spaced' just in case he wants to change any of the language -- that will cut down on wasting good letterhead." So would less editing and single-spaced type.
Still, with the war on terrorism and the expected war on Iraq, it's comforting that top officials still have time to handle important matters of style and punctuation. Who knows but what this may prove the critical factor in Iraq, a land of evil infinitive splitters.
Something in the Oven by Friday
Friday's the deadline for entries in the Loop Best Dish contest to suggest favorite recipes for the Clinton Foundation's new cookbook. We're looking for things like Bill's Meaning of "Is" Gumbo. Just send in your recipe, perhaps with a key ingredient or two, to: In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or via e-mail to loopwashpost.com.
Entries must include your name and work and home or cell phone numbers. Those not wanting their names printed may enter on background.
Winners Thank O'Neill
Speaking of contests. The resignation of Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill on Friday means we have winners in the Loop Outta Here contest, which back in May asked who would be the first Cabinet official to leave. We'll start sorting through the entries to find the winners.
He Otto Keep a Job
Where's Otto? There was much buzz last week on Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's trip to Colombia about the absence of assistant secretary of state Otto J. Reich, whose recess appointment ran out. He's been named special envoy to Latin America, working at the State Department, but not in his old office.
Reich's friends say he's been told he would be renominated as assistant secretary when Congress returns in January. But his confirmation chances, even in a GOP-controlled Senate, are dicey. Now there's talk that Reich may move to the National Security Council staff.
Meanwhile, there had been chatter a while back that Anne W. Patterson, ambassador to Colombia, would be named assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement. But her on-the-record briefings to reporters on the trip last week sparked talk that maybe she'd be named to Reich's old job.
On another front, Powell and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe became fast buddies on the trip. So much so that Powell lobbied several recalcitrant Colombian lawmakers to back a tax reform plan Uribe had proposed so that country could pick up more of the burden for the anti-drug and anti-terror effort there.