The Dowd Difference: The Case Against Doug Feith
In her New York Times’ article “The Dream is Dead,” Maureen Dowd assesses a speech given by Pentagon official Doug Feith. The occasion for the speech was a preview of Feith’s book, War and Decision. Dowd uses the event to vent her evident disregard for both American policy concerning Iraq and those who created it—embodied in the person of Feith. In her writing, Dowd uses a sort of ‘dual’ metaphoric frame to establish the tone and evoke particular images within the minds of her readers. The following is an analysis of this metaphorical framing style and other persuasive devices Dowd employs, as well as an examination of the validity of her arguments and supporting evidence.
Firstly, the majority of Dowd’s metaphoric frame is composed of direct/indirect terms and phrases that present Feith as an elitist—and out-of-touch intellectual. These include “egghead”; “electrons”; “tweaking their memos”; “mulling over points of grammar”;”wooly-headed,” etc. The label “Humpty-Dumpty” evokes associations of fantasy, flights of fancy, fragility and unrealism. In further attempts to display Feith as an unwholesome ‘geek’—Dowd mentions “generals watching him drop the ball” (Italics mine) and that he “dawdled…” She also refers to his “mishegoss,” i.e. his wackiness, and “chuckleheads”–both of which are suggestive of a stereotypical ‘nutty professor.’ In an even stronger (if not malevolent) indictment of Feith’s rationality—she relates the story of Feith’s devastating familial experiences in the Holocaust—thus questioning the soundness of Feith’s decision-making. Further, Dowd quotes Jay Garner, America’s first viceroy in Iraq, who calls Feith “incredibly dangerous” and says his “electrons aren’t connected.”
The second part of the dual-frame has to do with Dowd’s connecting Feith to a type of ‘old-boy network’—thereby further solidifying his image as a weak/dependent figure—as well as establishing his role as a typical, ineffective ‘player’ of Washington politics. Dowd effectively engenders a particularly masculine feeling with her use of nicknames: “Wolfi,” “Condi,” and “Rummy”—all are buddies of Feith in a buddy-system. In contrast to Feith’s group of elitist ‘buddies’—Dowd touts Tommy Franks and other soldiers– who represent the ‘real deal.’ She expressly mentions an extremely effective narrative concerning the time Feith sat in his bureaucratic office fretting over the punctuation in deployment orders—while the true American soldiers—men of action, armed and ready to go—were forced to sit for hours, waiting…
Among other devices Dowd uses is the idea of Feith and his ilk as charlatans. Phrases such as the obvious “slippery con man,” “trick the country,” “sweetheart deal,” and “harder to sell” imbue Feith with a persona much like that of a used-car salesman. Dowd also uses some cold, impersonal and often scientific terms such as electrons, incandescent and the “devil term”–neocon—with further denote Feith as an out-of-reach, robotic figure (Larson, 2007, p. 129).
Dowd’s general tone and style reveal an obvious anti-conservative/anti-Iraq-war bias. Some more explicitly-biased phrases include: “trick the country into war”; “the chuckleheads who orchestrated the Iraq misadventure”; “the necons tried to scrub out that sort of analysis”; “continuing to spread the blame”; “not quite the original boast”; “drove the neocon plan to get us into Iraq, and then dawdled without a plan as Iraq crashed into chaos” and “an attack on an unrelated dictator.”
In spite of Dowd’s biases—she does offer some fairly good evidence. She states how classified reports by the National Intelligence Council (2003) cautioned President Bush that terrorist groups could connect with leftover portions from Saddam Hussein’s government and declare guerilla warfare. Dowd also cites some very credible expert sources. These include testimonies in the form of Tom Rick’s revelation that Feith’s Pentagon office was called the “black hole” of policy—by generals, no less (Italics mine); and of course, the aforementioned assessment of Feith’s mental deficiencies offered by Viceroy Garner. She also offers some strongly suggestive inconsistencies and weak rationale/policy defenses made by Feith himself. In his speech Feith said, “A strategic alliance of the ousted Baathists and foreign jihadists was something that our intelligence community did not anticipate”—this of course directly contradicts the evidence Dowd cites concerning the National Intelligence Council’s 2003 cautions to Bush regarding just such a strategic alliance.
Further, the testimony/quotation offered by Tommy Franks is especially credible. Franks is a respected, well-recognized ‘everyman’—the very antithesis of Feith. Further still, Dowd’s introducing her article with Frank’s ‘expletives’ is extremely effective—for it immediately captures the readers’ attention. Also Dowd’s use of narrative with her short tale of the Feith- family’s tragedy during the Holocaust—and (especially) the telling anecdote regarding the soldiers’ unnecessary wait on the runway–is most effective. Both narratives capture and illustrate possible negative features of Feith’s less-than-incisive mental capacities. Dowd’s primary, cogent argument is that of cause and effect (p.183): Because we entered into a war with Iraq and toppled the government of Saddam Hussein, his men—former governmental employees/thugs–got together with Muslim extremist-terrorist groups and formed an efficient guerilla insurgency.
As aforementioned, Dowd’s article contains plenty of bias. It is not difficult to ascertain her partisanship and where her political sympathies lie. In this vein, Dowd employs a fallacy common to many political arguments—the ad hominem or “to or at the person” attack (p. 188). Using quotes and stories that exemplify an apparent lack of mental acuity (Franks’ “…dumbest guy on the planet”statement, for example) Dowd attacks Feith personally—not just the soundness/logic/evidence of his point of view.
Finally, Dowd does indeed present some fairly solid evidence and valid logic to support her argument against Feith’s explanations/defense of his (and other Pentagon official’s) past behaviors concerning the war in Iraq. The problem, however, is that much of the credibility and valid evidence Dowd offers gets lost within a sea of logical fallacies and Dowd’s own anti-conservative bias. Dowd’s article and persuasive effort would be most effective on those who are already predisposed to her point of view—others may remain wary and unconvinced.
Dowd, M. (Dec 12, 2007). The Dream is Dead. New York Times. Retrieved Jan 4, 2008 from
Larson, C.U. (2007). Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility (11th ed.). Belmont: