Powell aide blasts administration foreign policy "cabal"
Here's how two sources reported the speech by former Colin Powell aide Col. Lawrence Wilkerson to the New America Foundation.
WASHINGTON -- U.S. foreign policy is being made in secret by a small "cabal" of powerful people like Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a former top Bush administration official charged yesterday.
Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired U.S. Army colonel who was chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell until they left office in January, unleashed possibly the broadest attack on the Bush administration from one of its own since former Counter Terrorism Chief Richard Clarke last year.
Wilkerson said "we have courted disaster in Iraq, North Korea and Iran" and said that if there is another attack in the U.S. such as a nuclear explosion in a U.S. city "you are going to see the ineptitude of this government."
He accused President George W. Bush of "cowboyism" in dealing with foreign leaders and said that Cheney and Rumsfeld and others could not be kept under control by a president "not versed in international relations and not too interested in them either."
The White House did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Speaking at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, Wilkerson said his central complaint was that too much power was centered in too few people who kept the rest of the bureaucracy in the dark.
There was a "cabal between Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld on critical decisions that the bureaucracy did not know was being made."
Asked what role Bush played with the "cabal," Wilkerson said the president "was very integral to the process. When the president's [intervention] was needed the president's office was entered by one person and the president's consent was obtained," Wilkerson said.
Then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who succeeded Powell, failed to intervene to stop the "cabal" because she made a calculated decision "to build her intimacy with the president," rather than confront his other advisers, Wilkerson charged.
He indicated that this flawed, secretive process contributed to what he thought was a bad decision to go to war in Iraq.
But Wilkerson said that any decision by the Bush administration to leave Iraq "precipitously" would result in Iraq's neighbors sending in troops and creation of a breeding ground for terrorists like Afghanistan, leading to another major war involving the United States.
"We will have to go back and take the Middle East within a decade," if that happens, he said.
The Bush administration never planned for what would happen in Iraq after the war, he said.
"There was simply no plan with regard to postwar Iraq," other than some contingencies for humanitarian assistance, he said.
Wilkerson said that Powell, for whom he worked for 16 years at the Pentagon as well as at State, did not agree with his decision to go public with his criticisms, and it had led to a breach between them.
Powell is "one of the world's most loyal soldiers and feels we will overcome these problems," Wilkerson said.
Colin Powell's right-hand man has launched a blistering attack on the White House, describing President George W Bush as "cowboyish", his secretary of state Condoleezza Rice as "extremely weak" and American foreign policy as "courting disaster".The tragedy is that not many people spoke up sooner about this run-amuk "cabal" and that Powell let his loyalty to Bush destroy his highly regarded reputation.
The attack came from Col Larry Wilkerson, who for four years was Mr Powell's chief of staff at the state department during the first Bush administration.
In a sometimes savagely phrased speech at a Washington think-tank, the former US marine said that the Bush team had so damaged the country's foreign policy machine that he was "not sure that the state department even exists any more".
The result was that America's relations with the world had taken a pounding. Asked about the efforts by Mr Bush's key aide Karen Hughes to sell America to the Muslim world he said: "It's hard to sell shit." In remarks quoted by the Washington Post, Col Wilkerson said: "If you're unilaterally declaring Kyoto dead, if you're declaring the Geneva Conventions not operative, if you're doing a host of things that the world doesn't agree with you on and you're doing it blatantly and in their face, without grace, then you've got to pay the consequences."
The speech lifted the lid on the disagreements that were hinted at but rarely admitted for most of the first Bush term.
Mr Powell was known to feel that he was cut out of foreign policy-making by the vice-president, Dick Cheney, and the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.
Col Wilkerson said that had damaged America's foreign policy. "What I saw was a cabal," he said. Bypassing the state department, America had "courted disaster in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran".
He added: "You've got a president who is not versed in international relations and not too much interested in them either."
The full transcript of Wilkerson's damning remarks as well as commentary can be found at "The Washington Note" here.