Powell Aide Blasts Rice, Cheney-Rumsfeld 'Cabal'
by Jim Lobe
top officials in the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney's
office await possible criminal indictments for their efforts to
discredit a whistleblower, a top aide to former Secretary of State
Colin Powell on Wednesday accused a "cabal" led by Cheney and Pentagon
chief Donald Rumsfeld of hijacking U.S. foreign policy by circumventing
or ignoring formal decision-making channels.
Wilkerson, who served as Powell's chief of staff from 2001 to 2005
and when Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the
U.S. Armed Forces during the administration of former president
George H.W. Bush, also charged that, as national security adviser,
Condoleezza Rice was "part of the problem" by not ensuring that
the policymaking process was open to all relevant participants.
some cases, there was real dysfunctionality," said Wilkerson, who
spoke at the New America Foundation, a prominent Washington think
tank. "But in most cases … she [Rice] made a decision that she would
side with the president to build her intimacy with the president."
case that I saw for four-plus years," he said, "was a case that
I have never seen in my studies of aberrations, bastardizations,
and perturbations in the national-security [policymaking] process,"
I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States,
Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on
critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not
know were being made."
also stressed that the "extremely powerful" influence of what he
called the "Oval Office Cabal" of Cheney and Rumsfeld, both former
secretaries of defense with a long-standing personal and professional
relationship, adding that both were members of the "military-industrial
complex" that former President Dwight Eisenhower warned the nation
against in his 1961 Farewell Address. "[D]on't you think they aren't
among us today in a concentration of power that is just unparalleled,"
remarks came as the administration is besieged by record-low approval
ratings and anticipation that a special prosecutor will hand down
indictments of top aides to both Bush and Cheney, including Bush's
political adviser, Karl Rove, and Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis
"Scooter" Libby, in connection with efforts to discredit retired
ambassador Joseph Wilson.
July 2003, Wilson publicly challenged the administration's prewar
depiction of Iraq's alleged nuclear-weapons program, and particularly
its assertion that Baghdad had sought to buy uranium yellowcake
from Niger, an assertion that Wilson himself investigated and rejected
in early 2002 after traveling to Niger as part of a Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) mission.
House officials, including Rove and Libby, told reporters that Wilson's
wife worked for the CIA and played a role in selecting him for the
Wednesday, Capitol Hill was rife with rumors that Cheney himself
may also be indicted or resign over the scandal. They were given
more credence by an anecdote recounted that Powell had told a prominent
Republican senator that Cheney had become "fixated" on the relationship
between Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame, after he and Bush learned
about it directly from Powell.
his departure from the administration, Powell has declined to publicly
criticize U.S. policy or his former cabinet colleagues. Until now,
Wilkerson has also kept his counsel, although he publicly opposed
John Bolton's confirmation as UN ambassador. At that time, most
analysts believed that Wilkerson reflected Powell's private views
would not be surprising, as Wilkerson worked directly with or for
Powell for some 16 years out of their 30-plus-year military and
government careers. At the same time, Wilkerson said he had paid
a "high cost" in his personal relationship with Powell for publicly
embodies Powell and [Powell's deputy secretary of state, Richard]
Armitage," who is also a retired military officer, Steve Clemons,
who organized Wilkerson's NAF appearance, told IPS. "That's how
his remarks should be seen."
so, it appears that Powell and Armitage have little but disdain
for Rice's performance as national security adviser, although Wilkerson
was more complimentary about her work at the State Department and
the relative success she has enjoyed in steering U.S. policy in
a less confrontational direction compared to the frustrations that
attributed her success to several factors, including her "intimacy
with the president" and the fact that the administration "finds
itself in some fairly desperate straits politically and otherwise."
of his remarks, however, addressed what he described as national-security
policymaking apparatus that was made dysfunctional by secrecy, compartmentalization,
and distrust, as well as the machinations of the Cheney-Rumsfeld
got this collegiality there between the secretary of defense and
the vice president," he said. "And then you've got a president who
is not versed in international relations – and not too much interested
in them either. And so it's not too difficult to make decisions
in this, what I call the Oval Office Cabal, and decisions often
that are the opposite of what you thought were made in the formal
did we wait three years to talk to the North Koreans? Why did we
wait four-plus years to at least back the EU-3 approach to Iran?"
he asked. "… The formal process … camouflaged the efficiency of
the secret decision-making process. So we got into Iraq."
then when the bureaucracy was presented with those decisions and
carried them out, it was presented in such a disjointed, incredible
way that the bureaucracy often didn't know what it was doing as
it moved to carry them out," he said.
you're not prepared to stop the feuding elements in the bureaucracy
as they carry out your decisions, you are courting disaster," he
said. "And I would say that we have courted disaster in Iraq, in
North Korea, in Iran."
was particularly scathing about former Undersecretary of Defense
for Policy Douglas Feith, citing Gen. Tommy Frank's famous description
of the neoconservative ideologue as the "f*cking stupidest guy on
me testify to that," he said. "He was. Seldom in my life have I
met a dumber man. And yet, after the [Pentagon is given] control,
at least in the immediate postwar period in Iraq, this man is put
in charge. Not only is he put in charge, he is given carte blanche
to tell the State Department to go screw themselves in a closet
somewhere. … That's telling you how decisions were made and … how
things got accomplished."
also denounced the abuse of detainees and said Powell was particularly
upset by it. "Ten years from now, when we have the whole story,
we are going to be ashamed," he said. "This is not us. This is not
the way we do business. I don't think in our history we've ever
had a presidential involvement, a secretarial involvement, a vice-presidential
involvement, an attorney general's involvement in telling our troops
essentially, carte blanche is the way you should feel. You should
not have any qualms because this is a different kind of conflict."
don't have this kind of pervasive attitude out there unless you've
condoned it," he said adding that "it will take years to reverse
the situation" within the military. He said it was a "concrete example"
of the result of the way the cabal worked.
also contrasted Bush's diplomacy very unfavorably with his father's.
Referring to Bush's first meeting with South Korean President Kim
Dae Jung, Wilkerson noted: "When you put your feet up on a hassock
and look at the man who's won the Nobel Prize and is currently president
of South Korea and tell him in a very insulting way that you don't
agree with his assessment of what is necessary to be reconciled
with the North, that's not diplomacy; that's cowboyism."
very different when you walk in and find something you can be magnanimous
about, that you can give him, that you can say he or she gets credit,
that's diplomacy. You don't say, 'I'm the big mother on the block
and everybody who's not with me is against me.' That's the difference
between father and son."
the same time, Bush had been "wonderful" in "put[ting] his foot
down" against a more aggressive policy on North Korea, at one point
saying, according to Wilkerson, "I do not want a war on the Korean
was very helpful, very helpful," said Wilkerson. "It helped us fight
off some less desirable results."
he said, was a "good executive" as defense secretary under George
H. W. Bush but appeared to change as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks. "I think [he] saw 9/11 and the potential for another 9/11
with nuclear weapons and suddenly became so fixated on that problem
that it skewed his approach," Wilkerson said, adding that neither
he nor Rumsfeld could be considered neoconservatives.
Iraq, he said he was "guardedly optimistic" because "we may have
reached the point where we are actually listening to the Iraqis."
U.S. troops will likely have to remain in Iraq for between five
to eight years, however, because "it is strategic in the sense that
Vietnam was not."
predicted that a precipitous withdrawal "without leav[ing] something
behind we can trust, we will mobilize the nation, with five million
men and women under arms to go back and take the Middle East within
a decade," due to the U.S. dependence on the region's energy sources.
disclosed that the Department's policy-planning bureau had a discussion
about "actually mounting an operation to take the oil fields in
the Middle East, internationalize them under some sort of UN trusteeship,
and administer the revenues and the oil accordingly."
Lobe [send him mail]
is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service