The Cheney-Rumsfeld "cabal"

Colin Powell's former chief of staff says that Bush's lack of interest in foreign affairs has let others take control in secret.

Published October 20, 2005 3:38PM (EDT)

Dick Cheney's simmering feud with the CIA and his freelance intelligence operation for Iraq both may have played a role in the outing of Valerie Plame. But a former Bush administration official says Cheney's actions have had an even more far-reaching effect internationally.

In an extraordinary speech Wednesday at the New America Foundation, Col. Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that a "cabal" led by Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been making decisions on "critical" international issues without the knowledge or participation of others in the administration. The Bush administration and the American people are now "paying the consequences of making those decisions in secret," Wilkerson said.

As the Washington Post notes, Wilkerson has a long working relationship with Powell and was often thought to be someone who would say aloud what Powell thought himself but was too cautious to reveal. If that's what was happening Wednesday, the former secretary of state has a lot to get off his chest.

Wilkerson says the administration has "courted disaster in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran" and has failed to prepare for disasters back home. "And if something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence," he said.

Although Wilkerson had some praise for the president he served, he said that Bush's ignorance of -- and lack of interest in -- the details of foreign policy left an opening for Cheney and Rumsfeld to take over. He said Congress has abdicated its oversight responsibility, that Condoleezza Rice has traded away her independence in order to win favor with Bush, and that former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith is one of the dumbest men he's ever met. He also argued that top Pentagon officials "condoned" the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

If the all the latest speculation about the Plame scandal is too much of a parlor game for your tastes, Wilkerson served up the red meat. A partial transcript of his speech is available here.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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