Friday, October 21, 2005

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That's quite a cabal you have, Mr. President

Former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson gave quite the talk at the New America Foundation earlier this week. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank and the Financial Times' Ted Alden thought it worth writing about.

The Washington Note's Steve Clemons provides the full transcript (Clemons has plenty more about Wilkerson in other blog posts).

What's the big deal about Wilkerson's speech? Well, for the press, it's the latest sign of a conservative crack-up. For foreign policy wonks, it's the accusation that the Bush administration pretty much ignored the 1947 National Security Act:

Almost everyone since the í47 act, with the exception, I think, of Eisenhower, has in some way or another perturbated, flummoxed, twisted, drew evolutionary trends with, whatever, the national security decision-making process. I mean, John Kennedy trusted his brother, who was attorney general Ė made his brother attorney general Ė far more than he should have. Richard Nixon, oh my god, took a position that was not even envisioned in the original framers of the actís minds, national security advisor, and not subject to confirmation by the Senate, advice and consent Ė took that position and gave it to his secretary of State, concentrating power in ways that still reverberate in this country. Jimmy Carter allowed Zbig Brzezinski to essentially negate his secretary of State.

Now, I could go on and say what Sandy Berger did to Madeline Albright in the realm of foreign policy, and I could make other provocative statements too, but no one, in my study of the actís implementation, has so flummoxed the process as the present administration....

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. 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. And then when the bureaucracy was presented with the decision to carry them out, it was presented in a such a disjointed, incredible way that the bureaucracy often didnít know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out....

There are all kinds of problems that need to be dealt with and we are not going to make it into the 21st century very far and keep our power intact and our powder dry if we donít start to deal with this need to change the decision-making process, and an understanding of that need, which, for whatever reason, intuitive or intellectual I donít know, Iíll give credit to the Bush administration for, by suddenly concentrating power in one tiny little aspect of the federal government and letting that little cabal make the decisions. Thatís not a recipe for success. Itís a recipe for good decision-making in terms of the speed and alacrity with which you can make decisions, of course. Harlan and I can sit down and we can make a decision probably a lot faster than all of you and me can make a decision, but if all of you bring something to the fight and will be integral in the implementation of the decision Iím going to make, and if you know some things I donít know and you might dissent because of those things you know, I damn well better listen to you, and I better figure out a way to get all of you to work together if we finally come to a decision and we decide to implement that. I better know how to get you to work together.

That is not what this administration did for four years. Instead it 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. You and I and every other citizen like us is paying the consequences, whether it is a response to Katrina that was less than adequate certainly, or whether it is the situation in Iraq, which still goes unexplained. You know, if I had the time I could stand up here today I think and make a strategic case for why we are in Iraq and why we have to stay there and we have to get it right. As Winston Churchill said, ďAmerica will always do the right thing, after exhausting all other possibilities.Ē Well, we need to get busy and exhaust them and do the right thing.

Hmmm..... a dysfunctional foreign policy decision-making process.... this sounds familiar. Very, very familiar.

Wilkerson also points out, however, that there was a stronger pre-war consensus on Iraqi WMD intellgence than many want to believe:

I canít 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 canít. Iíve wrestled with it. I donít know Ė and people say, well, INR dissented. Thatís a bunch of bull. INR dissented that the nuclear program was up and running. Thatís 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 Negroponteís deputy, and that was the way INR felt. And, frankly, I wasnít all that convinced by the evidence Iíd seen that he had a nuclear program other than the software. That is to say there are some discs or there were some scientists and so forth but he hadnít reconstituted it. He was going to wait until the international tension was off of him, until the sanctions were down, and then he was going to go back Ė certainly go back to all of his programs. I mean, I was convinced of that.

But I saw satellite evidence, and Iíve looked at satellite pictures for much of my career. I saw information that would lead me to believe that Saddam Hussein, at least on occasion, was spoofing us, was giving us disinformation. When you see a satellite photograph of all the signs of the chemical weapons ASP Ė Ammunition Supply Point Ė with chemical weapons, and you match all those signs with your matrix on what should show a chemical ASP, and theyíre there, you have to conclude that itís a chemical ASP, especially when you see the next satellite photograph which shows the U.N. inspectors wheeling in in their white vehicles with black markings on them to that same ASP and everything is changed, everything is clean. None of those signs are there anymore....

The consensus of the intelligence community was overwhelming. I can still hear George Tenet telling me, and telling my boss in the bowels of the CIA, that the information we were delivering Ė which we had called considerably Ė we had called it very much Ė we had thrown whole reams of paper out that the White House had created. But George was convinced, John McLaughlin was convinced that what we were presented 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.

posted by Dan on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM


He's trying to legislate an administrative executive structure, so that he can perpetuate the virtues of George H.W. Bush. In doing so, we certainly prevent the evil of wrongheaded unilateral executive action. Instead, we end up with government by Politburo. Consensus is lovely, particularly when it is developed among a group of smart folks who know what their bureaucracies are willing to handle. But sometimes, there is a need to act. The system generally has its ways of disposing of those who constantly act badly. (It didn't work in 2004 -- unfortuantely.) And Presdients, as Mr. Wilkerson notes, have their ways of bypassing structures that don't agree with them. (You can lure a George to meetings, but you can't make him think.)

The real problem was that the Secretary of State did not have the trust of the President. That would have destroyed any system. I expect it galls this gentleman to notice that Rice is doing a better job in State than his man, and that may be because she spent some quality time sucking up to the President in the first administration. I sense that a lot of perscriptions here are really just to avoid something like George W. Bush happening ever again. That's really the job of the electorate, not a loser in the bureaucratic wars.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

people say, well, INR dissented. Thatís a bunch of bull. INR dissented that the nuclear program was up and running. Thatís all INR dissented on. They were right there with the chems and the bios.

That's all well and good, but it's the nukes not the chems and the bios that are the casus belli. Gas in the subway is bad news, but it's the threat of the mushroom cloud that's really serious business. Which means that INR dissented on the one point that really mattered.

posted by: Doug on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

Doug, moving the goal posts again?

That is BS.

All WMD were the casus belli, chem and bio were actually the MOST talked about...

posted by: politicaobscura on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]


Bio is the threat, not nuke, not chem. A nuke will do far, far less damage than Katrina (but more deaths - all localized to the target). A chemical release in the NY subways will do far less death/destruction than 9/11. Bio could concievably kill 10 or 100s of millions. Compare with the Dark Ages Black Death or the 1918-19 influenze epidemic. A bio weapon could easily change the face of the world, and quickly.

The caus belli was the need to change the status quo in the ME. Wiping Al Quida from Osama to the lowliest waterboy would not change the threat. Iraq was the easiest of the next in draining the swamp. The status quo had failed and it was time to change the ME in the least violent way possible. All long-term indications show its working.

But it will take a long time (decades - expect our troops to still be occupying Iraq in 50 years, just like we are still in Germany and Japan).


posted by: buffpilot on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

The most alarmist statements made by the administration were about nukes. Not bio, certainly not chem.

moving the goal posts again?

yeah, right. Initially, it was WMDs in vast quanities, a burgeoning nuclear program. Then it became stockpiles of WMDs, then WMD programs, then the possibility of restarting WMD programs. Certainly the administration and its apologists know about moving goalposts.

The caus belli was the need to change the status quo in the ME.

That was not the basis on which the war was sold to the American public. The war was sold on the basis of WMDs

The status quo had failed and it was time to change the ME in the least violent way possible. All long-term indications show its working.

I suppose someone who thinks an invasion force with 200 K forces, and a possible decades long occupation is the least violent way of changing the ME may also think that all long term indications show the occupation is working, instead of being very much a work in progress.

posted by: Jon on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

When did anyone talk about WMD's in vast quantities? I don't remember that.

I don't see Wilkerson's remarks as any evidence of a crackup. The State Department has always been at odds with the neo-cons or whatever you want to call them. Wilkerson has a political agenda, and I think the bizarre reference to Katrina proves it.

posted by: Yaron on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

When did anyone talk about WMD's in vast quantities? I don't remember that.

Fortunately, I have as my trusty assistant, Mr. Google. Direct quote from Bush on the White house web site.

"Iraq had likely produced ... a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and capable of killing millions."

" We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas. "

Thousands of tons = massive in my book.

That took 1 minute of searching. Please do use Mr. Google in the future.

posted by: Jon on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

> The caus belli was the need to change the
> status quo in the ME.

As an American Citizen, I would appreciate it if things like that could be mentioned _prior_ to asking me to support a war of aggression. It might, it just MIGHT, factor into the discussion and the final decision of the Citizens. Thanks.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

So is the 1947 National Security Act public law or just a suggestion? I heard Fred Barnes on Fox last night railing about Mr Wilkerson and mocking him as being the "Establishment" and getting his feelings hurt because elected officials chose to ignore the establishment. Well sounds like to me there is a public law that either should be rescinded or enforced. Am I wrong? And just because everyone has done it in the past doest not make it right or give you reason to do it even worst than it has been done before (I know that is in the eye of the beholder). I am not trying to choose a side except fine out whether they are violating the law or not and if we are not going to enforce the law we need to take it off the books.

posted by: DC on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

Nuclear weapons are *very* scary. Chemical weapons
aren't. Biological weapons aren't. Weapons
without a long-range delivery system aren't
particularly scary.

Anyone who looked at the evidence carefully believed
that Iraq was nowhere near having nuclear weapons,
and also nowhere near having a delivery system
(stealth planes, cruise missiles, or ballistic
missiles) with the range and capability to threaten
the US. Most people did believe he had some
chemical weapons, and possibly some biological
weapons research. But at worst those could only
be a threat to nearby countries: and no-one's
going to risk using unconventional weapons on the
nuclear-armed Israelis or the US-backed Saudi
Arabia or Kuwait.

So this WMD argument was mostly BS.

posted by: Richard Cownie on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

"Bio could concievably kill 10 or 100s of millions"

Conceivably, yes. But it's just not very probable.
Bacteria and viruses mutate - a useful weapon needs
to be highly infectious and also highly lethal.
But a highly lethal organism kills its hosts too
quickly to spread. Which is why the really lethal
fevers don't in fact cause big epidemics.

And if you *did* come up with a lethal disease
agent that could kill tens of millions, there's
so much travel these days that it would almost
certainly spread to a whole bunch of countries
which were not the intended target (including your

I suppose you could worry about biological toxins
released in water supplies; but then that isn't
much different from the chemical threat.

Nuclear weapons, on the other hand, are highly
predictable - you set off 100kton in/above a
city and you can predict the blast and fire
effects with great accuracy. And they're

posted by: Richard Cownie on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

Jon, that quote's not very interesting because he was speaking in the past tense. It's obviously a true statement, since Saddam used these same chemical weapons against the Kurds in 1988.

posted by: Yaron on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

Welcome to the PJ family! {{{{hugs}}}}

Charles sure knows how to pick 'em.

posted by: jheka on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

Richard Cownie has written my rebuttal for me. Thanks.

Brad DeLong says it more succinctly.

posted by: Doug on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

Your account certainly sounds reasonable. But the fact of the matter is that a decision to go to war didn't have to be made when it was made. A simple decision tree would have shown that the risk simply was not worth the effort. The real risk was not and IS not WMD. The real risk is reinforcing an unstable middle east. AND reducing America's ability to leverage/pressure other issues throughout the world.

The decision DID NOT have to happen when it did. Nothing material would have changed if the decision had been delayed, PERIOD. The administration/President had a lot of information, BUT that should not have changed the options on the table. If the information on WMD was convincing, it was and still is a very, very bad decision.

john c

posted by: john cook on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

The real casus belli was 9/11 coupled with the
desire to have iraq as a client state.

The WMD's were simply used to bait the public
into supporting going to war. Hence, the 'War On
Terror' concept was created.

But if you really looked at what was going on
nothing what Bush/Neocons were doing made sense
in obtaining any goal they thought they could

posted by: James on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

The cause was 9/11 alright. Broadly, after 9/11 it was believed that people were not afraid of us enough and encouraged folks like Osama to attack us in our own cities with mass casualties.

People forget that had the planes hit a bit later in the day almost 14,000 people could have been killed.

Playing Mr. Nice Guy got us 9/11, broadly speaking, so afterwards Saddam would get with the program, or get handled. He got handled.

posted by: Jim Rockford on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

So, Jim, are you saying that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks after all? Please cite evidence - and please cite evidence other than the multiply-discredited "Mohammad Atta met with Saddam or Saddam's agents." Because, let me tell you in advance, that was a different Atta.

Or are you saying he was a sponsor/supporter of OBL-AQ? If so, are you saying he was a more important sponsor/supporter than, say, Saudi Arabia or, for that matter, Pakistan? How many of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqi? How many madrassas were in Iraq compared to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan?

And are you saying that, once Saddam was "handled," that terrorist organizations are in retreat? Not able to recruit a lot of followers? Not carrying out more terrorist attacks? Again, please cite a source for a reduced incidence of terrorist attacks.

Regarding the war: I don't see how the need or efficacy of the war can still be debated. Too many senior military officials have called it a disaster; General Odom calls it the biggest strategic blunder in US history.

It's also inarguable that, although other countries thought Saddam might have WMDs, none of them thought that possibility was sufficient for a cassis bellum, and certainly not sufficient for a rush to war.

If the Bush Admin (and its supporters) are now saying WMDs weren't the "real" reason for the war, then why was the Bush Admin in such a hurry to invade?

If the Bush Admin (and its supporters) are now saying the "real" reason for the war was to "transform the Mid East," then what sort of transformation was intended? Was it the Bush Admin's aim all along to create an Islamic state, sundered along ethnic lines, allied with Iran? If so, could someone explain how this is a good thing?

Apologists for the war have painted themselves into a corner. None of their rationales for the war stand up to logical scrutiny. The ostensible reasons are revealed as empty, and the ostensible strategy is contradicted by the tactics.

The only rationale that accounts for the haste and waste - and for the tough-guy posturing - is that the 9/11 attacks scared a lot of people; they wanted to lash out at what seemed an easy target to make themselves feel better; and they didn't care what damage they did in the process.

War as feel-good therapy. War as Operation Restored Manhood. War for the dumbest of all dumb reasons.

posted by: CaseyL on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

So, Jim, are you saying that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks after all?

When is somebody going to call bullshit on this strawman already?

The war in Iraq was never about what Saddam had to do with 9/11, but what 9/11 had to do with Saddam:

"BCW Source? Meet Proven Weapons Delivery System. Proven Weapons Delivery System, meet BCW source..."


posted by: Peter Jackson on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

"The war in Iraq was never about what Saddam had to do with 9/11, but what 9/11 had to do with Saddam:"

? What does this mean exactly?

posted by: Dustin Ridgeway on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

It means that in a post-9/11 world the possession of weapons of mass destruction by a regime with the record of Saddam Hussein's had to be regarded in Washington as a threat requiring action. This seemed to me a persuasive reason to act against Iraq in 2003, and it still does -- with the caveat, a fatal one as it turned out, that the regime in question actually had to have weapons of mass destruction. Without them, there was no threat, 9/11 or no 9/11; that being so, a variety of secondary or ex post facto justifications have since been offered for the invasion, their appeal to the American public declining the longer the commitment in Iraq drags on.

posted by: Zathras on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

with the caveat, a fatal one as it turned out, that the regime in question actually had to have weapons of mass destruction. Without them, there was no threat, 9/11 or no 9/11

Perhaps in the immediate term. I myself would have probably been anti-Iraq war even after 9/11 if it weren't for the existence of Uday and Qusay. Not to mention the fact that producing more of these weapons was simply a production issue for Iraq as opposed to a development issue.

And you know what? This is the real-life grown-up world out here, where uncertainty and ignorance are the rule, not the exception. It's easy to talk smack on the internet, all warm and comfy in the glow of 20/20 hindsight, but if any of us were actually responsible for New York, or Baltimore, or DC, etc., it would be interesting to see how willing we'd be to risk the lives of the people who live there in order to preserve Saddam's sovereignty.


posted by: Peter Jackson on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

And again this would all be fine and good if half of the administration's policy making group had not been actively lobbying to invade Iraq well in advance of 9/11.

The point just goes back full circle to what Wilkerson was getting at in the first place. The judgement and process of this administration has been corrupt. Even if their policy was ALMOST right, their methods were in bad faith with the public and the men and women they put in harm's way.

posted by: Babar on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

I was on active duty for the first GW. I remember thinking that the claims about WMD sounded too good to be true. But then they were true. I think there is a lot of that behind people thinking that he had them now. He'd shown that behavior. That was also a lot behind the support for this war. Many people forget that the Democrats were much more against the first war (before it was fought and was so successful). 44 Senators including Sam Nunn voted against the war.

posted by: TCO on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

The causus belli was the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. When Saddam threw out the inspectors in 1997/8, he violated the cease-fire and the fight was back on. Same as if we had gone to war with Hitler when he occupied the Rhine land (we didn't but should have).

posted by: TCO on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

'The' cause, 'the' casus belli, 'the' real reason... Since when did there have to be one and only one?

posted by: Steve K on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

I think "real reason" and causus belli are two different things.

We may have had causus belli for going to war with China when the P-3 got pushed down. But that doesn't mean it was a good "real reason".

In my mind, the real reason for spanking Iraq was to show to Libyas and such of the world, that we will take action with a foe who keeps putting a toe over the line. Eventually we pull over to the side of the highway, take our belt off and whip them until they cry and cry. But the neocons may have had other thoughts in mind...

posted by: TCO on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

as mentioned above, but apparently not acceptable to the leftist doves, 9/11 realigned risk tolerances.

pretty much everybody thought that osama was a raving nutbar, and that while he might have been able to whack an opponent in afghanistan with a bomb in a video camera, all he really needed was some medication. writing in public about how you want to reverse the spanish reconquest of 1492!!! that's bloody ludicrous.

after 9/11, raving loons with a demonstrated willingness to take action are not written off as nutbars. Saddam is a raving nutbar with lots of ability to cause hell, track record of making interesting decisions, and a laundry list of threatening statements. So the people who want to go take out the trash everywhere around the world now get listened to.

Ok so people wanted Saddam whacked pre 9/11. Congress passed a law saying how much it wanted Saddam whacked, signed by President William J. Clinton. Leftists and realists need to admit in public how policy actually gets made. Some of them admit it when they run things, but then deny, deny, deny when they don't, unlike republican hawks, who support strong american action anywhere by anyone (unless the only stime you launch an airstrike is the same freaking day you have bad news about monica's bjs).

But go back to your seminars and talk about how the war was bad and amerikkka is evil, corrupted by rethuglicans. Then go work for the saudis and against israel. G_D D--ned striped pants set

posted by: hey on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

And why was taking out Saddam a priority for Clinton's White House as well? Because Saddam was a known threat (only the timing was uncertain), and because the Clinton White House knew just as well as the Bush White House that substantive change in the Middle East had to start at an acceptable point.

The oil-spot theory that got bandied about a couple of months ago concerning how to "win" in Iraq - Iraq IS the oil spot. Iraq was the base for a cruel dictator with the nasty track record we're all aware of, one of remarkably few national leaders who has actually invaded another country in the recent past with empire-building intent. It was a nation where a minority held power over a populace ranging from disgruntled to determinedly revolutionary - hence regime change might actually work there. It was (is) a nation smack in the geographic middle of at least three nations who do not have our best interests at heart - and yes, Saudi Arabia is one of them, but Saudi Arabia is nominally an ally, which means there are diplomatic paths that we still can tread with them before resorting to military action. (Syria ditto.) It - Iraq - was a nation openly engaged in violating a cease-fire imposed on it by the world community. It was repeatedly defiant of that community. Sanctions against it were falling apart, and American military presence was stalemated in the no-fly zone, costing us lots for for no gain. And Saddam behaved convincingly as if he had and was ready to use yet more WMDs.

In a time when a tiny group of Islamist extremists had successfully killed thousands, caused billions of dollars of immediate harm, and materially damaged the gargantuan engine of the American economy, could the US government, tasked from its inception with providing for the common defense, afford to continue with realpolitik - stability at all costs - in the Middle East? Perhaps the Islamists didn't have anything else in their hand... but if you had been President, would you have been willing to take that chance?

As to the point that we're no safer now... how can you tell?

posted by: Jamie on 10.21.05 at 08:40 AM [permalink]

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