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The “Cheney-Rumsfeld Cabal”?


‘Cabal’ is such a silly word. Dripping with the “Neocon” con. And all of that.—You don’t suppose, do you, that Dick Cheney – Donald Rumsfeld et al. invented American wars of aggression? Detention without habeas corpus? Torture and so-called “rendition”? The burning of the bodies of foreign nationals to frighten the survivors? And, in short, the Imperial Presidency?


Nevertheless. After the former Chief of Staff (Lawrence Wilkerson) of the former Secretary of State (Colin Powell) called the Vice President and Defense Secretary of the current regime the “Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal” during a talk in Washington this past Wednesday (Oct. 19), Agence France Presse, Associated Press, and United Press International (haven’t checked Reuters) were quick to pick it up and circulate it across their wires, UPI also circulating a 1700-word excerpt from it, under Wilkerson’s byline. (All reproduced at bottom.)

Weighing the Uniqueness of the Bush Administration’s National Security Decision-Making Process: Boon or Danger to American Democracy? (Transcript), Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, U.S.A. (Ret.), New America Foundation, October 19, 2005

Cheney ‘cabal’ hijacked foreign policy,” Edward Alden, Financial Times, October 20, 2005
Powell Aide Blasts Rice, Cheney- Rumsfeld ‘Cabal’,” Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, October 20, 2005
Powell’s ex-aide rips leaders,” Timothy M. Phelps, Newsday, October 20, 2005
Colonel Finally Saw Whites of Their Eyes,” Dana Milbank, Washington Post, October 20, 2005
Cowboy president courts disaster, says Powell’s man,” Francis Harris, Daily Telegraph, October 21, 2005
Former Powell Aide Says Bush Policy Is Run by ‘Cabal’,” Brian Knowlton, New York Times, October 21, 2005 (also published in the International Herald Tribune)

Methinks that the steadfastness of the armed resistance to the American military occupation of Iraq is taking a serious political toll. Back in the States, anyway, it has forced the regime most responsible for this disaster—this criminal enterprise, to steal the rhetoric the Office of the Prosecutor uses in The Hague against the targets of the most celebrated American war of the 1990s—to keep devouring its own. Hence, Wilkerson’s worries.

As if a system weren’t behind it all. Namely, the United States of America.

As if what the American garden needs is just a little pruning, here and there. Particularly more Democratic buds for election to high office. And fewer Republican cabals.

Sorry, fellas. But I don’t buy it. Not for one second.

(By the way: Can anybody tell me whether the esteemed Juan Cole counts himself among the anti-cabalists?)

Postscript (November 27):

For a lot more on the phenomenon of (as well as the wreckage left behind) elites devouring elites—and, just as long as we all remember that I’m using the term ‘elites’ loosely here, and largely not in the C. Wright Mills-specific sense of class and sociological analysis:

Elites Devouring Elites I (a.k.a. “Fallen Legion I,” Nick Turse, TomDispatch, October 14, 2005)
Elites Devouring Elites II (a.k.a. “Fallen Legion II,” Nick Turse, TomDispatch, November 27, 2005)

FYA (“For your archives”): Copies of those items not readily linkable.

Agence France Presse — English
October 20, 2005 Thursday 10:48 PM GMT
HEADLINE: ‘Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal’ hijacked US foreign policy: former Powell aide
DATELINE: WASHINGTON Oct 20

Former secretary of state Colin Powell’s top aide has accused Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of creating a “cabal” that has hijacked US foreign policy.

Retired colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Powell’s right-hand man for 16 years in the public and private sectors, also skewered President George W. Bush, saying the US leader was “not versed in international relations and not too much interested in them either.”

“I would say that we have courted disaster in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran,” Wilkerson, who was Powell’s chief of staff at the State Department, said Wednesday at a policy forum at the New America Foundation.

“The case that I saw for four-plus years was a case that I have never seen in my studies of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, changes to the national security decision-making process,” he said.

“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,” he said.

The Bush administration “made decisions in secret, and now I think it is paying the consequences of having made those decisions in secret. But far more telling to me is America is paying the consequences,” Wilkerson said.

“You and I and every other citizen like us is paying the consequences, whether it is a response to (Hurricane) Katrina that was less than adequate certainly, or whether it is the situation in Iraq, which still goes unexplained.”

He added: “So you’ve got this collegiality there between the secretary of defense and the vice president, and 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 Oval Office cabal, and decisions often that are the opposite of what you’d thought were made in the formal process.”

He said the “Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal” is influenced by the business world and that Cheney was a member of the “military industrial complex.”

“How much influence on their decisions? I think a lot — in how much the decisions reflect their connections with the cartels and the corporations and so forth, I think a lot. I think the president, too,” Wilkerson said.

The former top aide, who has criticized the administration in the past, accused the administration of “cowboyism” in its dealings with former South Korean president Kim Dae-Jung, who won the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize for his landmark summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, which ushered in a new era of rapprochement between the two Koreas.

“When you put your feet up on a hassock and look at a man who’s won the Nobel Prize and is currently the president of South Korea, and tell him in a very insulting way that you don’t agree with his assessment of what’s necessary to be reconciled with the North, that’s not diplomacy, that’s cowboyism,” he said.

Wilkerson also accused Powell’s successor, former national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, of cozying up to the president and of being “extremely weak” in her previous post.

As Bush’s confidante before becoming secretary of state, “she made a decision that she would side with the president to build her intimacy with the president,” he said.

The retired officer admitted that his dissenting views have hurt his relationship with Powell. “He’s not happy,” he said.

Associated Press Worldstream
October 20, 2005 Thursday
HEADLINE: Ex Powell aide says Cheney, Rumsfeld, others made U.S. foreign policy decisions in secret
BYLINE: HARRY DUNPHY; Associated Press Writer
DATELINE: WASHINGTON

Vice President Dick Cheney and other top officials in the Bush administration made decisions in secret to carry out foreign policy for which America is still paying the consequences, the former top aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell said.

Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired colonel who was Powell’s chief of staff until last January, also said Wednesday that the U.S. military, particularly the Army and the Marine Corps, is overstretched as a result of the war in Iraq and is starting to lose officers and senior enlisted men “who are voting with their feet as they did in Vietnam.”

Wilkerson’s speech to the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, was unusually tough for a former Bush administration official.

“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 the decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made,” Wilkerson said.

“Now it is paying the consequences of making those decisions in secret but far more telling to me is America is paying the consequences,” he said.

He said if leaders were not prepared to stop feuding bureaucrats as they carry out decisions “you are courting disaster. And I would say that we have courted disaster in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran. ”

Wilkerson said that Condoleezza Rice, the former national security adviser and now secretary of state, was “part of the problem” because she “made a decision that she would side with the president to build her intimacy” with him instead of seeing that he received the best information from all parts of the government.

Wilkerson said Powell “is not happy with my speaking out because, and I admire this in him, he is the most loyal soldier.” Wilkerson served Powell for 16 years first at the Defense Department and then at the State Department.

He said at one point during their four years together at the State Department, Powell became so exasperated with him that he pushed him out of his office. He said their disagreement was over information that the State Department was providing Rice.

Wilkerson also criticized prisoner abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, saying the president and other officials established a climate in which soldiers thought their actions were permissible.

“We are going to be ashamed of what we allowed to happen,” he said. “We need to say to the American people this is not us.”

UPI
October 20, 2005 Thursday 2:22 PM EST
HEADLINE: Former top official blasts ‘Cheney cabal’
BYLINE: MARTIN SIEFF
DATELINE: WASHINGTON, Oct. 20

Colin Powell’s right-hand man as secretary of state unleashed a blistering attack on the top policymakers in the Bush administration Wednesday, accusing them of running foreign policy in a tight, secret cabal and, even worse, bungling it disastrously.

“What I saw as a cabal between the Vice President of the United States Richard Cheney, and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld,” Col. Lawrence Wilkerson told a stunned audience at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank.

“We have courted disaster, in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran, generally with regard to domestic crises like Katrina, Rita and I could go on back, we haven’t done very well on anything like that in a long time,” he said. “And if something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence.”

“The Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal flummoxed the process” over going to war in Iraq and the shambles that was made of the nation’s reconstruction, Wilkerson said. Cheney and Rumsfeld now preside over “a concentration of power that is just unparalleled” in U.S. history,” he said.

He described Douglas Feith, Rumsfeld’s under secretary of defense through the Iraq war, as being exceptionally stupid.

“Most of you probably know (Gen.) Tommy Frank said (that Feith) was (the) stupidest (expletive deleted) man in the world. He was. Let me testify to that. Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man.”

Feith was put in charge of the reconstruction of Iraq and he was “given carte blanche to tell the State Department to go screw themselves in a closet somewhere,” he said.

Neither faith nor anyone else among the inside circle of policymakers around Bush made any plans at all for rebuilding Iraq or ensuring security and public services there after the rapid three week conquest of the country in March-April 2003, Wilkerson said. “There was simply no plan with regard to postwar Iraq,” apart from a few contingencies for humanitarian aid, he said.

Wilkerson’s attack was striking for its vehemence and for high stature of the man who made it. He served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell through President George W. Bush’s first term of office and before that was the director of the Marine Corps War College, as well as a being 31 year veteran of the U.S. armed forces.

Wilkerson accused some of the most senior officials in the U.S. government of condoning torture in Iraq. “Ten years from now we will be ashamed of what we allowed happen” on detainee abuse, he said.

“The general (former secretary of state Powell) and I knew — as military men — that you don’t have pervasive behavior (of abuse of prisoners) in the ranks (of the armed forces) unless you condone it (from the highest levels),” he said.

Wilkerson criticized President Bush for remaining “not versed in international relations and not too much interested.” He said that during his four years at Powell’s right hand he observed first hand “a case I have never seen in my studies of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations (and) changes in the national security decision-making process.”

Wilkerson made clear that he was not speaking on behalf of Powell. On the contrary, he said, his decision to express his concerns publicly had led to a breach in their decades-long close friendship and professional association.

Administration spokesmen and supporters in the media look certain to dismiss Wilkerson’s criticisms as they did with previous whistleblowers like former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke as a case of petty sour grapes. But coming at a time when the administration is still reeling from the aftermath of the flooding of New Orleans, inflation and gasoline prices close to $70 a barrel, and when the president’s approval ratings have fallen to a record low of around 36-38 percent in Pew research polls, they may gain a great deal of traction and be widely quoted.

UPI
October 21, 2005 Friday 10:56 AM EST
HEADLINE: Wilkerson’s speech: Blasting the ‘cabal’
BYLINE: LAWRENCE WILKERSON
DATELINE: WASHINGTON, Oct. 21

The following are extracts from the presentation Col. Lawrence Wilkerson give Wednesday, Oct. 19 at the New America Foundation, a non-partisan Washington think tank.

I would say that we have courted disaster in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran. Generally with regard to domestic crises like Katrina, Rita – and I could go on back – we haven’t done very well on anything like that in a long time. And if something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence. Read it sometimes again.

… Read in there what they say about the necessity of the people to throw off tyranny or to throw off ineptitude or to throw off that which is not doing what the people want it to do. And you’re talking about the potential for, I think, real dangerous times if we don’t get our act together.

… The case that I saw for four-plus years was a case that I have never seen in my studies of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, changes to the national security decision-making process. 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 then when the bureaucracy was presented with the decision to carry them out, it was presented in a such a disjointed, incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn’t know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out.

Read George Packer’s book, “The Assassin’s Gate,” if you haven’t already. George Packer, a New Yorker — reporter for the “New Yorker”, has got it right. I just finished it, and I usually put marginalia in a book, but let me tell you, I had to get extra pages to write on. (Laughter.) And I wish I had been able to help George Packer write that book. In some places I could have given him a hell of a lot more specifics than he’s got. (Laughter.)

But if you want to read how the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal flummoxed the process, read that book. And of course there are other names in there: Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, whom most of you probably know (U.S. Army Gen.)Tommy Franks said was the stupidest blankety, blank man in the world. He was. (Laughter.) Let me testify to that. He was. Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man. (Laughter.)

And yet — and yet — and yet, after the secretary of state agrees to a $40 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. Now, that’s not making excuses for the State Department; that’s telling you how decisions were made and telling you how things got accomplished. Read George’s book.

In so many ways I wanted to believe for four years that what I was seeing — as an academic now — what I was seeing was an extremely weak national security advisor, and an extremely powerful vice president, and an extremely powerful in the issues that impacted him secretary of defense — remember, a vice president who has been secretary of defense too and obviously has an inclination that way, and also has known the secretary of defense for a long time, and also is a member of what Dwight Eisenhower warned about — God bless Eisenhower — in 1961 in his farewell address, the military industrial complex – and don’t you think they aren’t among us today – in a concentration of power that is just unparalleled.

It all happened because of the end of the Cold War. … How many contractors who did billion dollars or so business with the Defense Department did we have in 1988 and how many do we have now? And they’re always working together.

If one of them is a lead on the satellite program — I hope there’s some Lockheed and Grumman and others here today, Raytheon — if one of them is a lead on satellites, the others are subs. And they’ve learned their lesson; they’re in every state. They’ve got every congressman, every senator. They’ve got it covered. Now, that’s not to say that they aren’t smart businessmen. They are — and women — they are. But it’s something we should be looking at, something we should be looking at.

So you’ve got this collegiality there between the secretary of defense and the vice president, and 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 Oval Office cabal, and decisions often that are the opposite of what you’d thought were made in the formal process. Now, let’s get back to Dr. (Condoleezza )Rice again (national security advisor thorough the first Bush administration and secretary of state in the second one).

For so long I said, yeah, Rich, you’re right — Rich being Undersecretary of State Richard Armitage (in the first Bush term) — it is a dysfunctional process. And to myself I said, okay, put on your academic hat; who’s causing this? Well, the national security adviser. 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 after reading Packer’s book I found additional information, or confirmation for my opinion, I think. I think it was more a case of — in some cases there was real dysfunctionality — there always is — but in most cases it was Dr. Rice made a decision, she made a decision — and this is all about people again because people in essence are the government. She made a decision that she would side with the president to build her intimacy with the president.

And so what we had was a situation where the national security advisor, seen in the evolution over some half-century since the act as the balancer or the person who would make sure all opinions got to the president, the person who would make sure that every dissent got to the president that made sense — not every one but the ones that made sense — actually was a part of the problem, and probably on many issues sided with the president and the vice president and the secretary of defense. And so what you had — and here I am the academic again — you had this incredible process where the formal process, the statutory process, the policy coordinating committee, the deputies committee, the principal’s committee, all camouflaged — the dysfunctionality camouflaged the efficiency of the secret decision-making process.

And so we got into Iraq, and so George Packer quotes Richard Haas in his book as saying, “To this day I still don’t know why we went to war in Iraq.” I can go through all the things we listed, from WMD (weapons of mass destruction) to human rights to — I can go through it — terrorism, but I really can’t sit here and tell you, George, why we went to war in Iraq.

And there are so many decisions. Why did we wait three years to talk to the North Koreans? Why did we wait four-plus years to say we at least back the EU-3 approach to Iran? Why did we create the national director of intelligence and add further to the bureaucracy, which was what caused the problem in the first place?

The problem is not sharing information. The problem is not that we don’t have enough feet on the ground or enough people collecting intelligence or enough $40 billion eyes in the sky — national technical means. That’s not the problem. The problem is our people don’t share.

The problem is the FBI is over here in its niche, and the CIA is over here, and INR (State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research) is here, and Treasury is here, and the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) is here, and the NSA (National Security Agency) is here, and the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) is here, and God Almighty, they never talk to each other.

They don’t share. They don’t pass information around. They don’t work in the same cultures. They don’t have the same attitude about the information they’re handling, sometimes for good reason. Some are domestic law enforcement; some are not.

There are all kinds of problems that need to be dealt with and we are not going to make it into the 21st century very far and keep our power intact and our powder dry if we don’t start to deal with this need to change the decision-making process, and an understanding of that need, which, for whatever reason, intuitive or intellectual I don’t know, I’ll give credit to the Bush administration for, by suddenly concentrating power in one tiny little aspect of the federal government and letting that little cabal make the decisions.

That’s not a recipe for success. It’s a recipe for good decision-making in terms of the speed and alacrity with which you can make decisions, of course.

…What this administration did for four years. … It made decisions in secret, and now I think it is paying the consequences of having made those decisions in secret. But far more telling to me is America is paying the consequences. You and I and every other citizen like us is paying the consequences, whether it is a response to Katrina that was less than adequate certainly, or whether it is the situation in Iraq, which still goes unexplained.

… my army right now is truly in bad shape — truly in bad shape. And I’m not talking about the billions and billions of dollars of equipment it’s burning up in Iraq at a rate 10 or 15 times the rate its life cycle said it should be burned up at, but I’m also talking about when you have officers who have to hedge the truth, NCOs who have to hedge the truth.

They start voting with their feet, as they did in Vietnam, my war. They come home and they tell their wife they’ve got to go back for the third tour and the fourth tour and the wife says, uh-uh, or the husband says, uh-uh, and all of a sudden your military begins to unravel. And the signs are very concrete right now that the Army and the Marine Corps — to a lesser extent the other services because they’re not quite as involved in the deployments that we’re talking about here and the frequency thereof, the op tempo as we say it — problems are brewing. Problems are brewing.

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