Former Insider Lashes Out

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, October 20, 2005; 1:12 PM

It didn't make the front page this morning, but it seems to me that it's a big deal when a former top administration official declares that a secret cabal led by the vice president has hijacked U.S. foreign policy, inveigled the president, condoned torture and crippled the ability of the government to respond to emergencies.

Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell until both men resigned in January, unleashed his blistering attack on the Bush White House yesterday at a luncheon at a Washington think tank.

Edward Alden writes in the Financial Times: "Vice-President Dick Cheney and a handful of others had hijacked the government's foreign policy apparatus, deciding in secret to carry out policies that had left the US weaker and more isolated in the world, the top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed on Wednesday.

"In a scathing attack on the record of President George W. Bush, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Mr Powell until last January, 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.'

" 'Now it is paying the consequences of making those decisions in secret, but far more telling to me is America is paying the consequences.' . . .

"The comments, made at the New America Foundation, a Washington think-tank, were the harshest attack on the administration by a former senior official since criticisms by Richard Clarke, former White House terrorism czar, and Paul O'Neill, former Treasury secretary, early last year."

Alden summarized some of Wilkerson's other points:

* "The detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere was 'a concrete example' of the decision-making problem, with the president and other top officials in effect giving the green light to soldiers to abuse detainees. 'You don't have this kind of pervasive attitude out there unless you've condoned it.' "

* "Condoleezza Rice, the former national security adviser and now secretary of state, was 'part of the problem.' Instead of ensuring that Mr Bush received the best possible advice,' she would side with the president to build her intimacy with the president.'"

Timothy M. Phelps writes in Newsday that Wilkerson yesterday "unleashed possibly the broadest attack on the Bush administration from one of its own since former Counter Terrorism Chief Richard Clarke last year. . . .

"He accused President George W. Bush off 'cowboyism' in dealing with foreign leaders and said that Cheney and Rumsfeld and others could not be kept under control by a president 'not versed in international relations and not too interested in them either.' . . .

"Wilkerson said his central complaint was that too much power was centered in too few people who kept the rest of the bureaucracy in the dark. . . .

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