Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld just “tried” to slide a knife into Col. Lawrence Wilkerson during a press conference yesterday, but with a smile and “aw, shucks” grin on his face.
Rumsfeld is pretending not to know who Lawrence Wilkerson was — though Wilkerson has worked with Powell for 16 years and served as Chief of Staff of the Department of State for four years.
Between the very cryptic lines of Rumsfeld’s indirect responses that downplayed Wilkerson’s critique, Rumsfeld seemed to be saying “I’m the winner in the bureaucratic battle with Powell, and that’s the end of the story.” Anyway, that’s my read on it.
Here is the relevant section from the press conference:
Q Mr. Secretary, recently Larry Wilkerson, the former State Department official, has described what he said was a cabal between you and Vice President Cheney in forming public policy leading up to the war. And he described what he said was a seriously dysfunctional foreign policy. I don’t think we’ve heard you speak on that. Can you just respond to that?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I haven’t read this. I’ve heard about it. And I don’t know the man. I’ve never met the man, and I don’t believe he’s ever been in a meeting of the NSC. So it’s hard for me to understand exactly what his insights might have been.
But, obviously, the president is the one who makes foreign policy, and the secretary of State is the one that implements foreign policy. And it’s the country’s policy.
I don’t know what else one could say.
Q If I can just follow up. He seems to be complaining that the State Department’s role in that was minimized in the lead-up to the war.
SEC. RUMSFELD: My experience in those meetings is that the president is the principal person who decides these things, and if he — what was his job, this fellow?
Q He was — forgive me, I cover the Pentagon, but he was the chief of staff to Powell.
Q He was chief of staff to Powell.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I don’t know what his perspective was or what his expectations were.
Q Do you think he was speaking for Secretary Powell?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh my goodness. Secretary Powell is perfectly capable of speaking for himself. I can’t imagine —
Q You didn’t interpret it that way?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I didn’t.
Q So there was no cabal?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Of course not. My goodness gracious. The president of the United States makes these decisions, and he did it in open meetings and discussions that went on, and at great length. And that kind of a perspective obviously is looking through the wrong end of a telescope, I think.
Tonight, you can watch Col. Lawrence Wilkerson respond to this and to extend his critique of national security decisionmaking process in the White House on the New Hour with Jim Lehrer. Ray Suarez is going to do the interview, and it should be fascinating and important.
I can also report that there will be (also TONIGHT) a devastating critique of Vice President Cheney and his key staff regarding the Plame Affair and the decision to invade Iraq tonight on Chris Matthews’ Hardball. TWN has learned that David Shuster has a hard-charging report tonight that will set the VP’s office on edge and add a lot to our understanding of Cheney’s role.
Lastly, Jim Lobe has a great article out this morning that captures the growing intrigue inside Vice President Cheney’s office with the new appointments of torture hard-liner David Addington as Chief of Staff and John Hannah as National Security Advisor to the Vice President. Lobe profiles both individuals and puts them in a context of the swirling political currents raging around Cheney.
— Steve Clemons