A furious row has broken out over claims in a new book by BBC broadcaster James Naughtie that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell described neoconservatives in the Bush administration as "fucking crazies" during the buildup to war in Iraq.
Powell's extraordinary outburst is alleged to have taken place during a telephone conversation with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. The two became close friends during the intense negotiations in the summer of 2002 to build an international coalition for intervention in Iraq via the United Nations. The "crazies" are said to be Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz.
Last week, the offices of Powell and Straw contacted Public Affairs, the U.S. publishers of Naughtie's book, to say they would vigorously deny the claims if publication went ahead. But as no legal action was threatened, the U.S. launch of the book, "The Accidental American: Tony Blair and the Presidency," is proceeding as planned this week.
Naughtie stands by his claims and is said to be privately delighted that Powell and Straw have reacted so violently to the suggestion that the former U.S. general had fallen out with the neocons.
Provocatively, the phrase "fucking crazies" will be quoted on the jacket of the book, according to a source at the publisher. "We were surprised to receive calls from the offices of Jack Straw and Colin Powell within 24 hours of each other," the source said.
Naughtie claims that Powell and Straw spoke on an almost daily basis. Powell's concerns were said to have chimed with Straw's and those of Blair himself -- that if America acted without U.N. sanction, allies would be lost.
Cheney and his allies were preparing for a spring war and did not wish to be deflected by the U.N. inspection process. Powell is thought to have been terrified that the strategy of the "crazies" would alienate the Blair government, which believed it needed U.N. backing to win over Parliament and the British public.
John Kampfner, political editor of the New Statesman and author of "Blair's Wars," said Naughtie's characterization of the feverish political atmosphere of the summer of 2002 was entirely accurate. "The British government saw Powell as the most significant voice of sanity in the U.S. administration. At different times during this very difficult period, the Brits used Powell to get across their point of view to the White House. But, bizarrely, Powell sometimes also used Blair to pass messages to Bush."
Kampfner's book, which covers the Blair government's military adventures in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan as well as Iraq, reported that in July 2002 Blair sent his foreign policy advisor, David Manning, on a secret mission to Washington to deliver a letter hinting that without a second U.N. resolution Britain would not be able to join a war in Iraq.