'Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal' hijacked US foreign policy: former Powell aide

Thu Oct 20,11:05 PM ET

Former secretary of state Colin Powell's top aide has accused Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of creating a "cabal" that has hijacked US foreign policy.

Retired colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Powell's right-hand man for 16 years in the public and private sectors, also skewered President George W. Bush, saying the US leader was "not versed in international relations and not too much interested in them either."

"I would say that we have courted disaster in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran," Wilkerson, who was Powell's chief of staff at the State Department, said Wednesday at a policy forum at the New America Foundation.

"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," he said.

"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," he said.

The Bush administration "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," Wilkerson said.

"You and I and every other citizen like us is paying the consequences, whether it is a response to (Hurricane) Katrina that was less than adequate certainly, or whether it is the situation in Iraq, which still goes unexplained."

He added: "So you've got this collegiality there between the secretary of defense and the vice president, and you've got a president who is not versed in international relations and not too much interested in them either.

"And so it's not too difficult to make decisions in this what I call Oval Office cabal, and decisions often that are the opposite of what you'd thought were made in the formal process."

He said the "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal" is influenced by the business world and that Cheney was a member of the "military industrial complex."

"How much influence on their decisions? I think a lot -- in how much the decisions reflect their connections with the cartels and the corporations and so forth, I think a lot. I think the president, too," Wilkerson said.

The former top aide, who has criticized the administration in the past, accused the administration of "cowboyism" in its dealings with former South Korean president Kim Dae-Jung, who won the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize for his landmark summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, which ushered in a new era of rapprochement between the two Koreas.

"When you put your feet up on a hassock and look at a man who's won the Nobel Prize and is currently the president of South Korea, and tell him in a very insulting way that you don't agree with his assessment of what's necessary to be reconciled with the North, that's not diplomacy, that's cowboyism," he said.

Wilkerson also accused Powell's successor, former national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, of cozying up to the president and of being "extremely weak" in her previous post.

As Bush's confidante before becoming secretary of state, "she made a decision that she would side with the president to build her intimacy with the president," he said.

The retired officer admitted that his dissenting views have hurt his relationship with Powell. "He's not happy," he said.

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