Colonel Wilkerson's Way
January 12, 2006 - 1:56pm ET
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It was a real pleasure to hear retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson speak yesterday at the Center for National Policy , a low-key think-tank led by Leon Panetta and Tim Roemer. Once again, Col. Wilkerson, long-time aide to Colin Powell, delivered a blistering critique of the policies and processes of the Bush administration, offering one of the highest-level windows into the White House since former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill published his book in 2003.
For those hungry for new direct quotes from Wilkerson, I refer you to the two articles out there already. Agence France Presse was there, as was our own Bob Dreyfuss. Newsweek's Michael Isikoff was also there, and I'm personally looking forward to his handling of Wilkerson's characterization and explanation of Doug Feith's loyalties and motivations.
Speaking of Feith, the colonel offered greater insight into what Wilkerson himself called a "cabal" between Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, back in October at a talk I attended at the New America Foundation and hosted by Steve Clemons . Before I get into that insight, however, it is important to note Wilkerson's own motivation. According to the colonel, his motivation is not political, but stems from a deep concern for the future of our republic.
Wilkerson anchors his motivation in an historical analogy, quoting from Ferdinand Eberstadt, an architect of the National Security Act of 1947. Writing to the renowned journalist Walter Lippman, Eberstadt said that one of the goals of the Act was to protect the republic against another Roosevelt, a president who was so secretive that his own vice president, Harry Truman, did not know of the Manhattan Project. Eberstadt recognized that America got lucky in that FDR may have been secretive, but he was also brilliant. The problem, for Eberstadt, was the possibility that the American political process might seat a dumb tyrant in the Oval Office. At that, Wilkerson's point was made, and quite clearly.
And it is this situation—the presence of an underpowered president and an overpowered and secretive vice president—that has forced this insider, who stated that he would have rather stayed behind-the-scenes, to pull back the curtain on the Bush administration's deceptions and dysfunction. Last October, Wilkerson confirmed for America the reality that the vice president and the defense secretary are making the strategic decisions and then the vice president goes into the Oval Office and secures Bush's imprimatur. Yesterday, however, Wilkerson added new wrinkles. Secretary Rumsfeld, for instance, did not want the war in Iraq because it would distract from his plans. What these were, the colonel did not say, but it's a safe bet he was talking about a new and expensive defense build-up to counter the emergence of China.
Another tidbit was about former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Rumsfeld, at times, shut his deputy out of the process such that Wolfowitz had to call Powell's staff to find out what was happening at the Pentagon.
And that brings us back to Feith. Douglas Feith was the Asssistant Secretary of Defense for International Policy, reporting to Wolfowitz. Before joining the administration, Feith was a primary author of a strategy paper for Israel's Likud Party, called "Securing The Realm," which argued that regime change in Iraq was a major strategic priority for Israeli security. Once in the Pentagon, Feith oversaw the secret intelligence fabrication shop called the Office of Special Plans. Wilkerson yesterday revealed two things about Feith.
First, Wilkerson believes that Feith placed Likud's interests above America's during his service at the Pentagon. I expect Michael Isikoff to get the whole story out, but this well-placed insider's perception that Feith was not placing America's interests first is a major statement.
Second, Wilkerson stated that he and Powell received the first script for their February 2003 U.N. Security Council presentation on Iraqi WMD from the White House. When Wilkerson, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, and DDCI John McLaughlin were at the CIA to confirm the sources of the White House-provided script, they could not. John Hannah, Cheney's deputy national security adviser, attempted to confirm the sourcing with a sheaf of documents that ulitmately relied on New York Times articles, Washington Post articles, and DIA sources, Wilkerson said. The White House script was so unverifiable that they threw it out and started from scratch. Wilkerson said he had seen a nearly identical sheaf of "intelligence" one other time, at Doug Feith's shop.
Once again, Wilkerson is very clear that his motivation for describing these events is a deep concern for the republic, a concern not unlike those shared by the framers of the National Security Act of 1947. These perversions of the national security decisionmaking process, specifically the corruption of intelligence and the usurping of decisionmaking power from the statutory home of the National Security Council to the inner chambers of Cheney and Rumsfeld's offices—has Wilkerson motivated. So, in addition to his critique, Wilkerson is calling for a new national security act to ensure that American power is never abused again as it has been and continues to be under Bush and Cheney. I expect we'll here more about this in the near future.
And that brings up one final insight from Col. Wilkerson. While guest lecturing recently, Wilkerson recounted, he stated his opinion that today's threat of nuclear terrorism is both overblown and mis-understood. The threat from nuclear terrorism is from a single nuclear detonation within the U.S., an event which cannot physically destroy the United States and is therefore a significantly lower-order threat that posed by the Soviet Union, where tens of thousands of warheads were on ready-alert, capable of destroying human life on earth. A Marine officer disagreed, saying that if a terrorist group managed to detonate a nuclear device in an American city, the government would be forced to take such extraordinary measures to ensure security that the American republic would cease to exist. Wilkerson replied that his assessment still stood; in such a case it would be Americans destroying America, not the terrorists.
And it's that morality tale that has lit a fire under a man who made his career behind-the-scenes. The American national security process is broken. We cannot identify real threats, we have no grand strategic consensus, our intelligence and diplomatic communities are devastated, and decisionmaking is increasingly extra-constitutional.
In today's Washington, principled leaders are rare. The leading presidential candidates in 2008 have so far proven themselves either unwilling or incapable to mount a credible critique and alternative to the Bush administration. Some, like Sen. John Kerry, voted for the war and are now trying to hide behind "intelligence failures" while refusing to acknowledge what Colonel Wilkerson and Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of British Intelligence, clearly witnessed— that the intelligence was being fixed to the policy. Others, like Sen. Joe Biden, are embracing the administration's strategic analysis that the war on terror is the defining challenge of the coming era. This too is false, as confirmed by leading moderate strategists from Georgetown, Harvard, and Princeton at a New America Foundation conference back in September.
Col. Wilkerson, though he was a participant in the process that got us here, has showed how an honest accounting of our history and of our strategic situation can lead to a more powerful critique. It may be that we are finally far enough removed from the shock of 9/11 to question our own dysfunction and culpablility -- and it is time. But to do that, we must not simply stop at the partisan uses of the information within Wilkerson's critique. Rather, we must embrace his larger analysis. It is not only the people in the administration. The American national security process itself is broken and is being abused. Wilkerson's calling for a new national security act is, I believe, an initial sign that America may finally be approaching the time for an open and thorough debate about our purpose in the world and how we ought to fulfill it.
Thank you, Colonel. Keep leading.
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