Wilkerson's speech: Blasting the 'cabal'

By LAWRENCE WILKERSON   |   Oct. 21, 2005 at 10:56 AM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- 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.

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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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