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Richard Armitage on Colin Powell, Condi Rice and Hillary Clinton

Dick Armitage speaks. The key word is "inculcated."
Dick Armitage speaks. The key word is "inculcated." (Lucian Perkins/the Washington Post)
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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The GOP's 11th Commandment -- "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican," popularly associated with Ronald Reagan's 1966 California gubernatorial campaign -- was never much honored in practice before its formal interment in New York's 23rd Congressional District election last month.

And the commandment never much applied to historically less partisan foreign policy disputes.

Still, some of the direct pops that former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage takes at his former colleagues in the first edition of Prism, a new foreign policy magazine (Washington desperately needed another such journal), are interesting.

The early looting in Iraq that so devastated and demoralized the country? "Unit commanders were saying, 'What are our responsibilities? Tell us what to do. Should we stop this looting?' "Armitage recalled. "And [Donald] Rumsfeld said no." (On the other hand, we recall similar looting in Panama City in 1989, when Colin Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)

On another matter, many observers have tried to locate the precise meeting, the moment, when President Bush II made the final decision to invade Iraq. Armitage says they won't find it.

"Never to my knowledge," he told Prism, which is published by the military's National Defense University, "and I'm pretty sure I'm right on this, did the president ever sit around with his advisers and say, 'Should we do this or not?' He never did it."

Well, at least he didn't dither.

Armitage, who left the State Department with Powell in 2005, worries about the abilities of the general's successors, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Rodham Clinton, to inspire the rank and file. "I've been very heartened" since Powell's departure, Armitage said, by "the number of people -- many of whom I don't even know -- that worked for Powell and me, and to be frank with you, what they've said is 'The Dr. Rice years were terrible, the Powell years were wonderful' " in terms of developing the military's esprit de corps throughout Foggy Bottom.

"But it has to be inculcated," Armitage said. "Unfortunately, I don't think Ms. Clinton is from that mind-set. She's very good at secretary of state, she'll study her brief, but this takes effort from the bottom up. One has to be inculcated with this."

But how's the buffet?

Speaking of Rice, here's the opportunity you've been waiting for: a chance to spend several days with her aboard the Silver Wind luxury cruise ship. Rice, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former defense secretary William Perry are some of the "keynote speakers" for a 17-day late-summer Black Sea cruise sponsored by the Harvard Alumni Association and others.

It's part of the "World Leader Symposium," though technically we're talking ex-world leaders. Cheap suites run you only $48,000 a couple; roomier ones cost $80,000. Okay, so you might think this is expensive, but what other time would you get Bill Perry to guide that visit you've always wanted to take to the former Soviet nuke stockpile in Pervomaysk, Ukraine, now a "field of sunflowers"?

Priceless.


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