Cabal Unplugged

By now you've probably heard about the lacerating speech about Bush's foreign policy "cabal" delivered by former Colin Powell deputy Col. Lawrence Wilkerson. Here now is the full transcript, including Q&A. The money shot:

But 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 didn't know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out.

But there's much more of interest in the transcript: On detainee abuse, presidential secrecy, depletion of the Army, Executive Branch concentration of power, bureaucratic infighting, how the State Dept. and even the dreaded Europeans really did believe Saddam had WMDs.... And warming my nostalgic heart, he even gets off a two-paragraph rip on the "military industrial complex." Whole thing here; thanks to Rob McMillin for the link.

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  • Ron Hardin||

    The next cabal elections are 2008. Can the bureaucrats survive? Maybe it will be another cabal.

  • ||

    This is an excelent view into the liberal mind at State and at the CIA. These bureaucrats believe that the elected president and his appointed cabinet should not be running foreign policy. This liberal believes he and his unelected fellow travels should be running foreign policy.

    This is good news. It appears that all this weeping and nashing of teeth means Bush is cleaning house rather successfully. Getting ride of disgruntled partisan leftists for people who will promote foreign policy the president wants instead of what a bunch of left-wingers want.

    The State Department and the CIA need a good house cleaning like this. Only Bushophobs will not like this.

  • R C Dean||

    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.

    My God! The people who are supposed to be in charge are making decisions without clearing them with their underlings first! Oh, the humanity!

  • ||

    There was more than one money shot. It was like reading the scipt of a buakake film. Not that I would do that kind of thing. Never.


    We had a discussion in policy planning about actually mounting an operation to take the oilfields in the Middle East, internationalize them, put them under some sort of U.N. trusteeship and administer the revenues and the oil accordingly.

  • ||

    If the ones making the decisions are competent and honest, then there's no problem.

  • ||

    He criticized the president.

    Yeah, but we don't need to pay any attention.

    Why not?

    He's a liberal leftist.

    How do you know he's a liberal leftist?

    He criticized the president.

    Thanks for the excellent view into your mind, RA.

  • ||

    RC, maybe you missed the next line, that explains what he's talking about?

    "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 didn't know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out."

    Oops, it's about the career people agreeing that they're supposed to get their marching orders from "the people who are supposed to be in charge," and being troubled by the incompetance and delusions of those people.

    Damn, you had such a beautiful narrative built up there.

  • ||

    And a serious question: in what way was it "liberal" or "leftist" for the State Dept. to draw up a comprehensive post-war plan and how was it "conservative" to throw that plan into the waste basket?

  • ||

    I should have said, "...and how was it 'conservative' or 'anti-liberal' for the ones in charge to throw that plan into the waste basket?"

  • ||

    RC, maybe you missed the next line, that explains what he's talking about?

    RCDean has too much invested in BushWar to back away from those clowns now. Shrub could replace Cheney with Saddam as VP and it would be OK by him.

  • ||

    I can't help but think that if it weren't a cabal making decisions, we would have argument that there is no accountability.

    What we have is a president who has arranged an administration that is hands on at the top, and he is loyal to his people even in the face of incompetence. He doesn't hold them accountable and he is the only one who can fire them.

    If we let the bureaucrats run with policy, I wonder if Wilkerson would be comfortable with the buck stopping there.

    I'm not suggesting that top down is better, but it seems that the argument about process and bureaucracy is an attempt to have it both ways - bureaucrats should be prime movers in decision making while public faces should take the heat.

  • ||

    This got brought up in my ISP's newsgroups as well. Part of the problem is that some of the articles about the speech are very slanted, making it sound like Cheney et al. "hijacked" foreign policy away from the bureaucracy, and I reacted like RC Dean did: "How do elected officials 'hijack' policy decision-making away from an unelected bureaucracy?" But the real point of the speech was that the managerial and operational process is very poor: even if you can make decisions unilaterally, it's a good idea to consult with your direct reports, let them know what's going on, and make them feel like they have some input into the process. So I agree with joe that far, although I don't know where he gets "incompetence and delusions" from, because Wilkerson didn't say anything like that.


    I liked this bit -


    And of course there are other names in there: Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, whom most of you probably know Tommy Franks said was the stupidest blankety, blank man in the world. He was. Let me testify to that. He was. Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man.


    I'm not sure what to think about Wilkerson. On the one hand, I like a guy who doesn't talk like a politician. On the other hand, he doesn't seem to know when to shut up, and I bet he makes a lot of enemies.

  • ||

    "it's a good idea to consult with your direct reports, let them know what's going on, and make them feel like they have some input into the process"

    Or maybe even actually make sure they have some input into the process, because there are probably a lot of things that someone who's spent his life working in a certain field knows about that subject, that someone with leadership skills, high level contacts, and partisan credentials does not.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Having worked in some pseudo-bureaucracies and very bureaucratized corporations, I don't read this fellow's complaints as leftist or indicative of an elitist view at all. His words say to me, the guys at the top didn't bother to consult the people who would have to implement policies, to get their take on feasibility and advisability, thus depriving the workers of, among other things, preparation that would be valuable at the time the decision was finally announced and the plan needed to be executed. In other words, the people responsible for making things happen couldn't "hit the ground running." Absent that preparation, clear articulation of the plan is absolutely essential to quick and competent execution, but the complaint is that the guys at the top fumbled that move, too. In other words, after failing to prepare their people, they went on to confuse them.

    I've seen that pattern repeated many times in the past in private industry, and have heard similar stories from my buddies who work in government and the military. Haven't you?

    I am constantly reminded, by friends of mine who aren't as antagonistic toward government as me and my fellow libertarians, that government is nothing more than a group of fallible people, no more or less monstrous or worthy than any other human organization or enterprise. That being the case, government leaders cannot assume that their employees will automatically be ready to execute with any competency, decisions that were made in secret and communicated poorly, any more than military or business leaders can expect the same thing.

    Col. Wilkerson seems only to be making that well-established point one more time. And yet there are still some who completely fail to take that point. They're human too, I guess. :-)

  • ||

    So let the good Colonel run for prez if he thinks he's so smart.

  • R C Dean||

    Well, he sort of presents the poor presentation of the decision as a whole separate complaint.

    I tend to find that people easily grasp how to carry out ideas they agree with, and never quite get a handle on how to carry out ideas they don't agree with, so as a veteran bureaucrat I take even that complaint with a grain of salt.

    Still, I'm not saying that the Bushies are masters of all they do. I just think its funny that anyone cares about this guy complaining that the bosses making different decisions than he and his buddies would make. Show me a lunchroom where that isn't happening.

    I will admit, though that the bureaucrats' plan to take over the oil fields and give them to the UN is obviously superior. I mean, only somebody in Hallisatan's pocket would reject that one.

  • ||

    Why would anyone with an honorable military record want to, Doug?

  • ||

    Get over it, joe, you lost.

  • ||

    Now, Douglas, I think our Commander-in-Chief has demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that "smart" (as in "intelligent," that is) has nothing to do with being president. Of course, I don't know if a retarded person could be president, we'll have to see who gets nominated in '08.

  • ||

    James Anderson Merritt,

    The two most common things in universe are hydrogen and bureaucracy.

  • ||

    I find it interesting that in one area, Wilkerson complains about how the Dept. of Homeland Security was cobbled together to make one big dysfunctional government family, and then later on he advocates combining the Depts. of State and Defense into one mega-agency. I'm not saying he's wrong to advocate that, but it does seem rather inconsistent. After all, wasn't DHS created in order to promote information sharing--which Wilkerson claims is a real problem?

    BTW, in a new Dept. of State and Defense (Foreign Security?), I can see huge bureaucratic shitstorms arising between the military and diplomatic folks, who come from very different cultures.

  • ||

    John Quincy Adams said we�re the friends of liberty everywhere and the custodians only of our own.

    Smart man, that J.Q. Adams...

    Wilkerson discounts this statement almost without comment, when if fact it goes to the heart of what ails our foreign policy.

  • ||

    I find his discussion of WMDs (search for "weapons") very interesting.

    Saddam Hussein really cared about deterring the Persians - the Iranians - and his own people. He didn't give a hang about us except on occasion. And so he had to convince those audiences that he still was a powerful man. So who better to do that through than the INC, Ahmad Chalabi and his boys, and by spoofing our eyes in the sky and our little HUMINT, and the Brits and the French and the Germans, too. That's all I can figure.

    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 - which we had called considerably - we had called it very much - 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.

    In fact, I'll just cite one more thing. The French came in in the middle of my deliberations at the CIA and said, we have just spun aluminum tubes, and by god, we did it to this RPM, et cetera, et cetera, and it was all, you know, proof positive that the aluminum tubes were not for mortar casings or artillery casings, they were for centrifuges. Otherwise, why would you have such exquisite instruments? We were wrong. We were wrong.

  • ||

    Irrelevant, but this story always bugs me:

    Talk about secrecy - Harry Truman, when he took over in April of 1945, didn't even know about the atomic bomb. He had had hints because he'd written -- as chairman of the investigating committee in the Senate, he'd written to Stimson, and he had said, "I've heard about this land-buying out in Washington; tremendous numbers of acres are being bought. What's going on?" And Stimson had said, "Please, Mr. Senator, it''s too big for you" - essentially, and Truman had backed off - to give you a sense of the times and the seriousness of what was happening.

    Actually, Truman supposedly knew of the bomb before assuming the presidency. IIRC, he actually made an offhand mention to a bomb of incredible power being developed in a meeting. But I'll have to see if I can dig up that reference from the ginormous bio of the guy I have.

  • M1EK||

    KERRY WOULD HAVE BEEN WORSE! Because, uh, he would have had a cabal too. Except EXCEPT! It would have been worse! Like with Jane Fonda and Michael Moore!

    HAW HAW! MUCH WORSE!

  • ||

    Eric the .5b,

    I've often wonder just how secret the Manhatten Project was, given that over a dozen places in the U.S. housed facilities related to the project and the number of people involved.

  • ||

    Of course Kerry would have better. He told us that he would have done everything the same, but, you know, better.

  • ||

    M1EK,

    I love your form of argument. Can I use that? Apparently, if you repeat "Kerry would be worse!" in a shrill sarcastic tone, that must mean that he wouldn't have! You're brilliant!

  • ||

    These bureaucrats believe that the elected president and his appointed cabinet should not be running foreign policy

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought State was still part of the cabinet, and is charged with running foreign policy.*

    As far as I can tell, Powell was "appointed", and by my definition, Wilkerson doesn't fit the State Dept. Arabist career bureaucrat mold.

    * I'm aware of the change in the Sec. of State's role, or lack of, since Kissinger.

  • ||

    Eric-

    I have no idea what Truman knew, but according to Richard Feynman (one of the scientists on the project), a lot of people on the project (including many of the people that he supervised) didn't even know what they were working on.

    His team became much more productive after he was allowed to explain to them what they were actually working on. They worked better when they understood what they were doing. Most of them were processing numerical calculations on mechanical calculators. Strictly speaking, they didn't need to know what they were doing. The scientists could give them numbers and tell them how to crunch the numbers without explaining the context.

    But he was supervising very clever, mathematically inclined young guys who probably would have been studying technical subjects in college if the war hadn't intervened. As soon as he explained the problem at hand and the nature of the algorithm they started figuring out better ways to do things. They were also more enthusiastic workers.

  • ||

    It was like reading the scipt of a buakake film.

    That has to be the most unwholesome idea I've read in at least half a decade. Bravo.

  • ||

    Anyone who discounts the cost involved in disclosing strategy to bureaucrats who will oppose said strategy doesn't understand the first thing about Washington D.C..

  • Warren||

    thoreau,
    As one who worships at the altar of Feynman, it's always a pleasure to see him referenced. Better than the story about his high-school academy students, is the one about the uranium refinement at Oak Ridge TN. The army builds this huge facility to enrich uranium via diffusion and only like three guys know what's what. So Los Alamos sends young Richard Feynman to look the place over and see if all was copacetic. He goes there and finds several problems. He asks, "Is this the way you're going to handle the refined uranium?" "Yeah, sure. Why not" is the reply. "Won't it explode?" says dick. "Wha huh EXPLODE!?" (Why did you say that? Now they're all upset.) This leads Feynman to confront army security and say, "Los Alamos can not take responsibility for the safety of the Oak Ridge facility unless the management at Oak Ridge are fully informed as to its nature and purpose". The army relents and the Oak Ridge people redesign the place. This leads to a great story about how to tell the difference between a valve and a window but I'll leave that for another day.

  • ||

    "Anyone who discounts the cost involved in disclosing strategy to bureaucrats who will oppose said strategy doesn't understand the first thing about Washington D.C."

    Anyone who discounts the problems of keeping the experts in the dark, and putting ideologically-reliable hacks in positions that require expertise...well, between the phoney WMD intelligence, the failure of the Iraq post-war, and the Katrina response, I don't think I have to explain the downside here.

  • ||

    joe, "expertise" is what led into the conflict with the Middle East, from the Iran hostage crisis, to Lebanon, to the 1st WTC attack, to Somalia, to Khobar Towers, to the embassy bombings, to the U.S.S. Cole, to the 2nd WTC attack, and the attack on the Pentagon. Listening to the "experts" criticize the hacks that Bush appointed is like listening to a Kansas City Royal executive criticize a Tampa Bay Devil Ray executive for failing to field a winning team.

    A fundamental fact of Washington D.C. is that if one wishes to pursue a policy that is contrary to the general consensus of the bureaucracy that will carry out the policy, one has to cut the bureaucracy out of the loop, because if one does not, the bureaucracy will undermine the policy. Every. Single. Time.

    Therefore , Joe, if you wish to advocate adherance to the status quo in every single instance, go ahead and make a blanket denunciation of cutting entrenched bureaucrats out of the loop. On the other hand, one can recognize that criticism of a policy or it's implementation is certainly useful, if such criticism is well reasoned, but to criticize the implementation of a policy because a bureaucracy which was opposed to the policy was kept in the dark, well, that is simply a mindless devotion to reactionary thought.

  • ||

    "expertise" is what led into the conflict with the Middle East,

    Here I was thinking it was outside forces attempting to topple anything that looked even remotely hostile while supporting all manner of incredible atrocities from governments that were supportive between the years 1950 to 1980 that brought that about. Doesn't take much "expertise" to go into a place and break shit up, which is why things are so bad right now that the experts can't think of anything to help matters that won't wind up being agony for everyone involved, ourselves included.

  • ||

    Will Allen,

    And how's that working out for you?

  • ||

    Will,

    I understand bureacratic resistance. People who are able to predict the outcome of decisions tend not to like it when those who cannot point the car at a cliff and stomp on the gas.

    The idea that the best way to overcome it is to shut out the people who know what their talking about is dead wrong, and built on the twin falsehoods that such inertia is primarily 1) ideological and 2) based on satisfaction with the status quo. Were you to have an understanding of the civil service that was based on something broader than reading the words of those who invoke it in their political speeches, you'd realize that every intern has a head full of changes they'd just love to tell you about, and which are so dry, technical, and non-ideological that politicians' eyes glaze over when they find themselves having to listen to them.

    If the administration didn't like the outlook of the bureacrats in place, they should have found new bureaucrats. Lord knows they come in all flavors in Washington. By deciding to cut the people who know what they're talking about out of the loop altogether, they ended with a mutual admiration society telling each other how smart they are to go with their guts.

    Hence, the Iraqi people will take Ahmed Chalabi to their bosoom (and we don't need the bureaucrats at State to tell us different).

  • ||

    Would the writers at Reason stop saying "money shot?" to refer to anything except to that to which it refers? I don't like getting a mental image of nut gushing out a man's penis in slow motion every other fricking day (which is about how often the term is used).

  • ||

    Oh, yes, Joe, the consensus within bureaucracies is always correct, and really, it is such realistic advice to simply replace the bureacucrats within the space of a couple of years, which, in reality, is about how much time a President has to make fundamental change. Also, the ideas of interns always bubble to the top of hierarchies.

    I agree that differing viewpoints needs to be part of the mix. It does not follow that those viewpoints need to include people who have worked within an enttenched bureacracy.

    Shem, you apparently have come to the astounding conclusion that the so-called "experts" had no input regarding policy from 1950 to 1980.

  • ||

    By the way, Joe, if one is going to ridicule those outside the bureaucracy for their incorrect assessments, one should also target for ridicule the litany of incorrect assessments made by bureaucrats over the past quarter century. Of course, if one's highest priority is the defense of the bureaucracy, one may not do so.

  • gaius marius||

    The people who are supposed to be in charge are making decisions without clearing them with their underlings first! Oh, the humanity!

    it's the part where they decide to ignore all law, precedent and organization in doing so for their revolutionary ideology that gets most people, mr dean.

    mr merritt

    the guys at the top didn't bother to consult the people who would have to implement policies, to get their take on feasibility and advisability

    is exactly right. wilkerson is bitching that he wasn't consulted. and that he wasn't is a VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM.

    this is what perpetual revolutionists like cheney and rummy, people who never met a law they didn't find too restricting to be obeyed, don't get. the bureaucracy is not a functionless albatross. an institutional bureaucracy is a suicide-prevention device. it is designed to save people like rummy and cheney from themselves.

    now, one can argue about inertia and inefficiency and so forth. and many freemarket religionists will. but inertia and inefficiency are important and positive -- the most active and efficient governments are totalitarian monstrosities. inertia forces consideration and discourse before shooting off into a war where the primary cassus bellum -- wmd -- doesn't even exist.

    it has to be seen that a state without a preserving institutional bureaucracy is exactly what men like rummy and cheney work toward -- a dictatorial state, lightning quick and unburdened by inefficiencies like law, discourse and fact-finding. this is why they chose to manufacture evidence to sell the war they ideologically needed with no regard for any actual facts -- criminal oversights that will shortly result in indictments. and its why they work so hard to undermine and destroy institution on every front.

  • ||

    Warren-

    I loved that story about the window and valve from Feynman's book as well. His books are one of the reasons I'm studying physics.

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