Former top official blasts 'Cheney cabal'

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst  |  Oct. 20, 2005 at 2:22 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- 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.

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