Thursday, October 20, 2005

Insider Criticism

Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, criticized the administration for hijacking foreign policy decisions in the run up to the Iraq war yesterday. He referred to a secret cabal primarily between Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield which led to poor decision making concerning detainee treatment at Abu Ghraib. He accused President Bush of "cowboyism" foreign policy who had little interest in foreign relations and therefore had little input or control over Cheney and Rumsfield foreign policy decisions. He also criticized Condoleeza Rice of being part of the problem because she was too weak to stand up to the cabal and would often side with the president instead of giving solid advice as National Security Adviser, or currently as Secretary of State.

Wilkerson's claims of a cabal that kept the rest of the bureaucracy in the dark appears to have some credibility, as evidenced by the administration's poor response to Hurricane Katrina, resistance to legislation defining torture rules led by Republican Senator John McCain, the poor handling of the Iraqi insurgency, and the identity leak of the CIA agent, wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, among numerous other bureaucratic policy debacles. In each case, the federal bureaucracy has appeared inadequate for dealing with the political fallout. The Cheney-Rumsfield neo-conservative movement has left the impression that it has hijacked the Republican Party.

As was the case with criticisms made by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil and former Counter Terrorism Chief Richard Clarke last year, the criticism made by Wilkerson are likely to be quickly discredited by the neocons. No doubt he will be accused of having an ideological agenda or having an axe to grind for being "forced" to resign along with Colin Powell. Powell himself was publicly seen as a dissenter to the neo-conservative agenda being pushed by the Cheney-Rumsfield cabal, maybe providing a motivation for his resignation. Perhaps Wilkerson is angry about how Powell was used to present the now infamous photos of what was assumed to be mobile chemical and biological weapons labs inside Iraq to the U.N., which later turned out to be incorrect. Does Wilkerson believe the position of Secretary of State was used to justify the Iraq war? Indeed, Wilkerson questions whether the cabinet position even truly exists anymore.

Wilkerson kept his criticism tied to bureaucratic hijacking, and stopped short of criticizing the decision itself to invade Iraq or directly implicating the president for foreknowledge of the intelligence failures in the lead up to the war. There is no doubt, however, the case for war was based on conflicting and suspect evidence of weapons of mass destruction, strongly pushed by the hawks of the administration, while the doves remained primarily silent, at least until they left office when they could speak more openly. It is not just the liberals who are critical of the Iraq war. There are truly reasonable and moderate conservatives out there with legitimate concerns about the motivations of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) which includes Cheney and Rumsfield. Unfortunately, the swift attacks made by administration officials to undermine internal dissent have stifled productive debate within their own ranks. In essence, the neocons have been allowed to overrun this administration’s foreign policy agenda, further alienating our allies and undermining U.S. efforts to democratize Iraq and to quell the insurgency, which is made up of only 2% foreign fighters with the rest being Iraqi Sunni. That little factoid is for another entry.

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