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ICG Risk Blog - [ Wilkerson and Scowcroft: uncloaking is not limited to Romulan and Klingon birds-of-prey ]

Wilkerson and Scowcroft: uncloaking is not limited to Romulan and Klingon birds-of-prey


As first Romulan and then Klingon birds-of-prey created mischief for Federation forces by their ability to uncloak and suddenly attack, so have the increasingly public and strident disclosures of Lawrence Wilkerson and now Brent Scowcroft bedeviled the Bush43 administration.

While Brent Scowcroft's interview in the New Yorker (not yet on line but best summary here) has gained the most notoriety, emerging as he does like some ancient Yoda, connecting the dynastic line between Bush41 and Bush43 and reminding current conservatives and neocons alike that the father disowns the son's foreign policy and national security team, many of the mechanical issues of the utter debacle of governance between State, Defense and the White House are better covered by Wilkerson in his speech and Q&A to the New American Foundation (see various formats below).

One wonders who else will uncloak. Rich Armitage still appears to prefer cloaking, working behind the scenes, performing what Steve Clemons' describes as the role for Powell that Alexander Hamilton did for George Washington, deftly maneuvering to clear the "space for moderate Republicans, sensible "ethical realists" who care believe that American national interests coincide with credible global engagement."

Culminating a long association with Powell, Wilkerson served as Powell's chief of staff from 2002-2005 and was thus intimately involved in attempting to vet the "Chinese menu" from which Powell was to make his Iraqi WMD presentation to the UN.

While Wilkerson first began to uncloak in April-May 2005 during the hearings on the Bolton nomination, clearing his views with Armitage before offering testimony to the Senate foreign relations committee, by August 2005 he was describing his participation in the 2003 Iraqi WMD speech as "I wish I had not been involved in it. I look back on it, and I still say it was the lowest point in my life." No doubt, as Powell was not told that the mobile bioweapon lab was sole-sourced from an Iraqi defector, Curveball, whom the CIA had never interviewed and the DIA had branded as a "fabricator." Wilkerson points to the slow collapse of the Tenet-Powell relationship in summer 2003 as no Iraqi WMD data fell apart and Tenet had to tell SecState that the biolab was a fabrication.

Wilkerson came out fully in his 19 Oct NAF speech and Q&A, and all the print and interview items that I have seen to date are derivatives or summaries of that speech. (While Wilkerson is said to say what Powell thinks, Wilkerson notes that his public statements have estranged his relationship with Powell given the former's attachment to loyalty.) It is clear that Wilkerson's Axis of Evil is Cheney and Rumsfeld whom he has dubbed a cabal (also here) so strong that it rolled over an "extremely weak" Rice and dominated US policy to the exclusion of other federal departments, not the least of which was State. Bush43 is held culpable for failing to intervene or rein in this team whose "national security decision-making process" exceeded any of the "aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, [and] changes" that Wilkerson had seen in 31 plus years of federal service as a military officer and diplomat. The disconnect between Washington and Baghdad is indeed startling.

I would also point readers to Holbrooke's WP op-ed piece that notes:

presidents get the advice they deserve, from the advisers they pick. Those advisers never agree completely, nor should they. Bush was surely aware that there were two views in his administration on most critical issues, but the buck stopped on his desk. Apparently, Cheney's voice was often the most influential, but Bush made the final calls. As Les Gelb wrote about Vietnam with deliberate irony, "the system worked," but it produced the wrong outcome.

Leaving the reader to Clemons' lengthy excerpts of  Scowcroft in "Breaks Ranks" and Wilkerson's NAF commentary, I agree that the pair form a sustained and continuing indictment of US foreign policy that has, and will continue to, cost us dearly. The Chinese, Russians and Iranians (if for nothing else that we spent 200 billion dollars to achieve what the Iranians had bled themselves for a decade in attempting to accomplish) are among the many unintended beneficiaries of our errors. 

For my part, I will touch on some topics of particular interest to me.

For the French bashers among you, I thought Wilkerson's comments in the Q&A on the intense French support offered behind the scenes were instructive, as were the collective opinions of the WMD data (which is other sections was shown to be much stronger in chembio over nuclear), and Iraqi spoofing:

[Regarding the misinterpretation of Iraqi nuclear capacity] 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…

[Explaining apparent Iraqi spoofing of their chemical weapons capacity, perhaps using Iraqi 'reactions' to UN inspections as proof of deliverable reserves] Well, Saddam Hussein really cared about deterring the Persians – the Iranians – and his own people. He didn’t give a hang about us except on occasion. And so he had to convince those audiences that he still was a powerful man. So who better to do that through than the INC, Ahmad Chalabi and his boys, and by spoofing our eyes in the sky and our little HUMINT, and the Brits and the French and the Germans, too…

The consensus of the intelligence community was overwhelming. I can still hear George Tenet telling me, and telling [Powell that] the information we were delivering [which had convinced Tenet and John McLaughlin] 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…

The French came in in the middle of my deliberations at the CIA and said, we have just spun aluminum tubes, and by god, we did it to this RPM, et cetera, et cetera, and it was all, you know, proof positive that the aluminum tubes were not for mortar casings or artillery casings, they were for centrifuges. Otherwise, why would you have such exquisite instruments? We were wrong.

Wilkerson demolishes any fiction of Rumsfeld/DoD in having a legitimate postwar occupation plan. I draw readers' attention to Abrogating an established government tradition of preparing for postwar duties and The annoying realism of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), foreign and domestic which discussed the State Department's Future of Iraq effort comprising seventeen working groups "designed systematically to cover what would be needed to rebuild the political and economic infrastructure of the country" and parallel CIA war-gaming that indicated that an "Iraqi government couldn’t be assembled by the [process] being used for Afghanistan as the "rivalries in Iraq were so deep, and the political culture so shallow, that a similarly quick transfer of sovereignty would only invite chaos.":

State’s implication was that Iraq demanded a long and substantial US commitment even as it inculcated the concept of "resentful dependence" of weaker states upon the stronger, i.e., wanting US support without US control and oversight, and so stated that "the military occupation itself had to be brief" and that US nationals must be seen as assisting Iraqis, not employing them.

All working groups emphasized "how disorderly Iraq would be soon after liberation, and how difficult it would be to get the country on the path to democracy… [the] period immediately after regime change might offer these criminals the opportunity to engage in acts of killing, plunder and looting."

Wilkerson had this on the lack of postwar contingency planning:

Read George Packer’s book, "The Assassin’s Gate," [named for the main point of entry into Baghdad’s Green Zone] if you haven’t already. [Get a taste from Packer's WAR AFTER THE WAR in the New Yorker.] George Packer... has got it right. I just finished it, and I usually put marginalia in a book, but let me tell you, I had to get extra pages to write on… And I wish I had been able to help George Packer write that book. In some places I could have given him a hell of a lot more specifics than he’s got… But if you want to read how the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal flummoxed the process, read that book. And of course there are other names in there: Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, whom most of you probably know Tommy Franks said was the stupidest blankety, blank man in the world. He was… Let me testify to that. He was. Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man… And yet – and yet – and yet, after the secretary of State agrees to a $40 billion department rather than a $30 billion department having control, at least in the immediate post-war period in Iraq, this man is put in charge. Not only is he put in charge, he is given carte blanche to tell the State Department to go screw itself in a closet somewhere. Now, that’s not making excuses for the State Department; that’s telling you how decisions were made and telling you how things got accomplished. Read George’s book.

[In the Q&A] Again, I recommend to you "The Assassins’ Gate." George Packer gets this right. There was simply no plan, other than humanitarian assistance and a few other things like protection of oil and so forth, with regard to post-war Iraq. There was no plan.

The postwar disaster that we now have in Iraq is laid squarely at the feet of OSD which "is Washington shorthand [for] strong guidance from Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, [and] William Luti."

The magnitude of that disaster and the strategic aspect of Iraq are coupled strongly:

Another scenario is an Afghanistan in Iraq – essentially a terrorist breeding ground in Iraq. And people who criticize that opinion on my part say, well, it already is. The French are saying [that] they’ve actually got a conduit going from Paris or somewhere in France to Iraq and back again, training in Iraq and then coming back to Paris to blow up – kill Parisians and French in general. [See also Don't Ignore Western Europe, Terrorism Expert Warns U.S.]

We can’t leave Iraq. We simply can’t. I can make that case. No one in this administration has made that case. They have simply pontificated. That’s all they’ve done. Now, I’m not evaluating the decision to go to war. That’s a different matter. But we’re there, we’ve done it, and we cannot leave. I would submit to you that if we leave precipitously or we leave in a way that doesn’t leave something there we can trust, if we do that, we will mobilize the nation, put 5 million men and women under arms and go back and take the Middle East within a decade. That’s what we’ll have to do. So why not get it right now? Why not get it right now? I don’t see any signs, other than signs of desperation – that is to say, the polls are falling, people are finally listening, to a certain extent, to the evidence that’s building up, and so people are getting desperate… I don’t see anything that looks coordinated because I think the decisions are still being made essentially in that small group [Cheney-Rumsfeld-OSD].

On the efforts of Karen Hughes and the Sisyphean challenges facing US public diplomacy, Wilkerson was characteristically direct on what the US has to sell in the way of ideas and how it is being received abroad:

Public diplomacy? Broken. Broken. But I will say this. I will say this. An Egyptian friend of mine said this to me: "It’s hard to sell shit." [text corrected to match the audio] And I think if I had Karen Hughes here or Margaret Tutweiler or Charlotte Beers – all of whom were undersecretaries of State for – or are undersecretaries of State for public diplomacy, they would say, "You’re right; it is hard."

Scowcroft may not feel compelled to write a book, but Wilkerson is working on one. If his NAF speech is any indication, it will be informative.

The White House cabal
By Lawrence B. Wilkerson
LA Times
October 25, 2005

The Republican Rift
Q&A Interview with Jeffrey Goldberg
New Yorker
Issue of 2005-10-31
Posted 2005-10-24

'The System Worked'
By Richard Holbrooke
Washington Post
October 23, 2005

Brent Scowcroft "Breaks Ranks" with George W. Bush in Major New Yorker Article
Steve Clemons
The Washington Note
October 23, 2005

Breaking Ranks: What Brent Scowcroft tried to tell Bush
Jeffrey Goldberg
New Yorker
Issue of 2005-10-31
Posted 2005-10-24
Not yet posted to the web - longest abstract here

US policy and the 'Oval Office cabal'
By Jim Lobe
Asia Times
Oct 21, 2005

Both of the following FT articles (Cheney cabal article and Wilkerson transcript) are mirrored here:

‘Cheney cabal hijacked US foreign policy’
By Edward Alden
Financial Times
Published: October 20 2005 00:00
Last updated: October 20 2005 00:19

Transcript: Colonel Wilkerson on US foreign policy
Financial Times
Published: October 20 2005 00:17
Last updated: October 20 2005 00:17

Colonel Finally Saw Whites of Their Eyes
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post
October 20, 2005

Total Disconnect On Iraq Realities
by Allen Pizzey
CBS News
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 20, 2005

Moderated by Steven Clemons, Director, American Strategy Program
New America Foundation
American Strategy Program
Policy Forum
Transcript by: Federal News Service, Washington, D.C.
Entire talk with Q&A is 95:59.
Film (MP4)
Film (WMV)
Audio (MP3)

Don't Ignore Western Europe, Terrorism Expert Warns U.S.
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post
September 8, 2005

Former aide: Powell WMD speech 'lowest point in my life'
August 23, 2005; Posted: 10:44 a.m. EDT (14:44 GMT)

Friday, May 6, 2005

The Long Arm of Richard Armitage in the Battle Over Bolton
Steve Clemons
The Washington Note
April 22, 2005

Powell Playing Quiet Role in Bolton Battle
GOP Senators Sought Views on Nominee
By Jim VandeHei and Robin Wright
Washington Post
April 22, 2005

U.N. pick portrayed as a bully
Bolton was abusive boss, ex- official says
Steven R. Weisman
New York Times
April 13, 2005

What Washington doesn’t see in Iraq
New Yorker
Issue of 2003-11-24
Posted 2003-11-17

Gordon Housworth

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