That’s quite a cabal you have, Mr. President
Former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson gave quite the talk at the New America Foundation earlier this week. The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank and the Financial Times‘ Ted Alden thought it worth writing about. The Washington Note’s Steve Clemons provides the full transcript (Clemons has plenty more about Wilkerson in other blog posts). ...
Former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson gave quite the talk at the New America Foundation earlier this week. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank and the Financial Times' Ted Alden thought it worth writing about. The Washington Note's Steve Clemons provides the full transcript (Clemons has plenty more about Wilkerson in other blog posts). What's the big deal about Wilkerson's speech? Well, for the press, it's the latest sign of a conservative crack-up. For foreign policy wonks, it's the accusation that the Bush administration pretty much ignored the 1947 National Security Act:
Former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson gave quite the talk at the New America Foundation earlier this week. The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank and the Financial Times‘ Ted Alden thought it worth writing about. The Washington Note’s Steve Clemons provides the full transcript (Clemons has plenty more about Wilkerson in other blog posts). What’s the big deal about Wilkerson’s speech? Well, for the press, it’s the latest sign of a conservative crack-up. For foreign policy wonks, it’s the accusation that the Bush administration pretty much ignored the 1947 National Security Act:
Almost everyone since the ?47 act, with the exception, I think, of Eisenhower, has in some way or another perturbated, flummoxed, twisted, drew evolutionary trends with, whatever, the national security decision-making process. I mean, John Kennedy trusted his brother, who was attorney general ? made his brother attorney general ? far more than he should have. Richard Nixon, oh my god, took a position that was not even envisioned in the original framers of the act?s minds, national security advisor, and not subject to confirmation by the Senate, advice and consent ? took that position and gave it to his secretary of State, concentrating power in ways that still reverberate in this country. Jimmy Carter allowed Zbig Brzezinski to essentially negate his secretary of State. Now, I could go on and say what Sandy Berger did to Madeline Albright in the realm of foreign policy, and I could make other provocative statements too, but no one, in my study of the act?s implementation, has so flummoxed the process as the present administration…. 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…. 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. Harlan and I can sit down and we can make a decision probably a lot faster than all of you and me can make a decision, but if all of you bring something to the fight and will be integral in the implementation of the decision I?m going to make, and if you know some things I don?t know and you might dissent because of those things you know, I damn well better listen to you, and I better figure out a way to get all of you to work together if we finally come to a decision and we decide to implement that. I better know how to get you to work together. That is not what this administration did for four years. Instead 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. You know, if I had the time I could stand up here today I think and make a strategic case for why we are in Iraq and why we have to stay there and we have to get it right. As Winston Churchill said, ?America will always do the right thing, after exhausting all other possibilities.? Well, we need to get busy and exhaust them and do the right thing.
Hmmm….. a dysfunctional foreign policy decision-making process…. this sounds familiar. Very, very familiar. Wilkerson also points out, however, that there was a stronger pre-war consensus on Iraqi WMD intellgence than many want to believe:
I can?t tell you why the French, the Germans, the Brits and us thought that most of the material, if not all of it, that we presented at the U.N. on 5 February 2003 was the truth. I can?t. I?ve wrestled with it. I don?t know ? and people say, well, INR dissented. That?s a bunch of bull. INR dissented that the nuclear program was up and running. That?s all INR dissented on. They were right there with the chems and the bios. Carl Ford and I talked; Tom Finger and I talked, who is now John Negroponte?s deputy, and that was the way INR felt. And, frankly, I wasn?t all that convinced by the evidence I?d seen that he had a nuclear program other than the software. That is to say there are some discs or there were some scientists and so forth but he hadn?t reconstituted it. He was going to wait until the international tension was off of him, until the sanctions were down, and then he was going to go back ? certainly go back to all of his programs. I mean, I was convinced of that. But I saw satellite evidence, and I?ve looked at satellite pictures for much of my career. I saw information that would lead me to believe that Saddam Hussein, at least on occasion, was spoofing us, was giving us disinformation. When you see a satellite photograph of all the signs of the chemical weapons ASP ? Ammunition Supply Point ? with chemical weapons, and you match all those signs with your matrix on what should show a chemical ASP, and they?re there, you have to conclude that it?s a chemical ASP, especially when you see the next satellite photograph which shows the U.N. inspectors wheeling in in their white vehicles with black markings on them to that same ASP and everything is changed, everything is clean. None of those signs are there anymore…. The consensus of the intelligence community was overwhelming. I can still hear George Tenet telling me, and telling my boss in the bowels of the CIA, that the information we were delivering ? which we had called considerably ? we had called it very much ? we had thrown whole reams of paper out that the White House had created. But George was convinced, John McLaughlin was convinced that what we were presented was accurate. And contrary to what you were hearing in the papers and other places, one of the best relationships we had in fighting terrorists and in intelligence in general was with guess who? The French. In fact, it was probably the best. And they were right there with us.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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