The Oval Office Cabal

THE OVAL OFFICE CABAL….You may recall a GQ interview a last year with Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s chief of staff, that made it pretty clear that Powell’s office was not very happy with the direction of U.S. foreign policy. On Wednesday, Wilkerson decided to spill his guts, a decision that led to a “personal falling out” with Powell, who he has served for 16 years. Here’s a long excerpt:

Decisions that send men and women to die, decisions that have the potential to send men and women to die, decisions that confront situations like natural disasters and cause needless death or cause people to suffer misery that they shouldn?t have to suffer, domestic and international decisions, should not be made in a secret way.

That?s a very, very provocative statement, I think….But fundamental decisions about foreign policy should not be made in secret. Let me tell you the…practical reasons why it?s true.

….When you cut the bureaucracy out of your decisions and then foist your decisions on us out of the blue on that bureaucracy, you can?t expect that bureaucracy to carry your decision out very well and, furthermore, if you?re not prepared to stop the feuding elements in that bureaucracy, as they carry out your decision, you?re courting disaster.

….What 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.

….And, of course, there are other names in there, Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith, whom most of you probably know Tommy Franks said was stupidest blankety blank man in the world. He was. Let me testify to that. He was. Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man.

And yet, after the Secretary of State agrees to a $400 billion department, rather than a $30 billion department, having control, at least in the immediate post-war 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 itself in a closet somewhere.

….And so it?s not too difficult to make decisions in this, what I call Oval Office cabal, and decisions often that are the opposite of what you thought were made in the formal process. Now, let?s get back to Dr. Rice again. For so long I said, yeah, Rich, you?re right. Rich being Under Secretary of State Richard Armitage. It is a dysfunctional process. And to myself I said, okay, put on your academic hat. Who?s causing this? Well, the national security advisor. Even if the framers didn?t envision that position, even if it?s not subject to confirmation by the Senate, the national security advisor should be doing a better job. Now, I?ve come to a different conclusion.

And what different conclusion would that be? Unfortunately, the transcript ends at that point, even though Wilkerson obviously had a lot more to say. The main Financial Times article includes these bullets:

  • Condoleezza Rice, the former national security adviser and now secretary of state, was ?part of the problem?. Instead of ensuring that Mr Bush received the best possible advice, ?she would side with the president to build her intimacy with the president?.

  • The detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere was ?a concrete example? of the decision-making problem, with the president and other top officials in effect giving the green light to soldiers to abuse detainees. ?You don’t have this kind of pervasive attitude out there unless you’ve condoned it.?

  • The military, particularly the army and marine corps, is overstretched and demoralised. Officers, Mr Wilkerson claimed, ?start voting with their feet, as they did in Vietnam….and all of a sudden your military begins to unravel?.

There’s more, so read the whole thing if you have a few spare minutes. As the Bush administration continues to unravel, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a few more people speaking out like this.

And at least we have confirmation that Doug Feith is, in fact, really, really stupid.

Via Henry Farrell.

UPDATE: You can watch a video of the speech here. Note that I’ve corrected the transcript based on the video.