Colin Powell vs. Condi Rice: Hand-to-Hand Combat over John Bolton


Sid Blumenthal has written a blistering critique of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s position on John Bolton, making the lucid and appropriate point that whereas Colin Powell has frequently put the interests of the nation above loyalty to those on petty power trips, Rice seems to be doing the opposite.’
Blumenthal writes:

In seeking to prevent the bullying and duplicitous ideologue from representing the US before the international organisation, Powell is engaging in hand-to-hand combat with his successor. Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s first true test has not arrived from abroad. Caught by Powell’s flanking movement, she is trapped in a crisis of credibility, which she herself is deepening.
Powell’s closest associate, his former deputy Richard Armitage, is orchestrating much of the action. Wavering senators are directed to call Powell, who briefs them on Bolton’s demerits. Powell’s former chief of staff, Lawrence B Wilkerson, has surfaced to give an interview to the New York Times, declaring that Bolton would be “an abysmal ambassador”.
Other former foreign-service officers have queued up to provide ever uglier details of Bolton’s career as a “serial abuser” and “a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy”, as Carl W Ford Jr, the former director of intelligence at the state department, described him before the Senate foreign relations committee.
Rice’s response to the seemingly endless stream of witnesses has been to order state department senior staff to stanch the flow of adverse stories.
“This whole building knows how Bolton dealt with people,” a dismayed senior state department official told me. “If she is sending a different signal than Powell sent that will be difficult. The muzzle is being put on, the damage is being done. To the extent it’s buttoned up here, it’s dangerous for the secretary. Powell and Armitage created an environment of accountability about treatment of the staff. Any kind of allegation that you did things like Bolton did was death in the foreign service. Persons were removed. Now she’s trying to be a team player, trying to support someone Powell ostracised.”

Then focusing on the hugely important matter of Bolton’s insubordination against Powell, Blumenthal exposes the probable and vital significance of the NSA intercepts Bolton was using to wage war against Armitage, Powell, and others at the State Department:

The Bolton confirmation hearings have revealed his constant efforts to undermine Powell on Iran and Iraq, Syria and North Korea. They have also exposed a most curious incident that has triggered the administration’s stonewall reflex. The foreign relations committee has discovered that Bolton made a highly unusual request and gained access to 10 intercepts by the National Security Agency, which monitors worldwide communications, of conversations involving past and present government officials. Whose conversations did Bolton secretly secure and why?
Staff members on the committee believe that Bolton was probably spying on Powell, his senior advisers and other officials reporting to him on diplomatic initiatives that Bolton opposed. If so, it is also possible that Bolton was sharing this top-secret information with his neoconservative allies within the Pentagon and the vice-president’s office, with whom he was in daily contact and who were known to be working in league against Powell.
If the intercepts are released they may disclose whether Bolton was a key figure in a counter-intelligence operation run inside the Bush administration against the secretary of state, who would resemble the hunted character played by Will Smith in Enemy of the State. Both Republican and Democratic senators have demanded that the state department, which holds the NSA intercepts, turn them over to the committee. But Rice so far has refused. What is she hiding by her cover-up?

The White House is toughening-up its support of Bolton, even to the point of anticipating a stalemate or even negative vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Bolton. Lawyers are now considering various mechanisms by which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee might be circumvented to take the nomination directly to the floor of the Senate, this making a mockery of the Committee, its findings, and any vote it might take.
This is incredible. The Bush administration is willing — it seems — to gamble everything on behalf of Bolton, even to the point of emasculating the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senators like Richard Lugar, Chuck Hagel, Lincoln Chafee, George Voinovich, and others need to say enough is enough. This is no longer about Bolton being a “loose cannon” or irresponsible manager of intelligence, or an agent in a guerilla war against Secretary of State Colin Powell’s diplomacy. This is about an incredible abuse of power not by Bolton, but by the White House.
If it stays on its present course, the White House is saying that not only was Bolton’s wide berth of disturbing, reckless behaviors not appropriate, White House officials are celebrating Boltonianism and mimicking it in its treatment of Lugar and his committee.
Because the White House is willing to go to such incredibly perverse lengths on this battle, I think it’s increasingly clear that Bolton’s opponents can and may just possibly win. The manner and style of White House pressure on its caucus is forcing the Senate to accept the unacceptable.
Dick Cheney’s team is canvassing the Republican caucus to see how solid or weak support will be for Bolton in a full Senate vote — but they are taking the vote before anyone has seen the NSA intercepts.
If Bolton played loose with the nation’s most secret secrets and was spying on his superiors and passing on information to others in government, Bolton’s behavior may have violated bounds of legality. The Senate will switch in a heart-beat if that is the case, despite any pre-NSA Intercepts ring-kissing operation that Cheney has going on among the Republicans in the Senate chamber.
Today, in addition to Blumenthal’s devastating piece, Bolton-obsession is still running strong in the nation’s papers, and particularly in the New York Times and Washington Post. In the latter case, Art Buchwald moves Bolton even deeper into pop culture, and Richard Cohen correctly argues that Bolton’s misassessments of intelligence, heavy-handedness with allies, and delinqency on his real non-proliferation tasks were like an “acorn” on Dick Cheney’s tree.
Bolton stories will continue to bubble out this week. But watch for a blow-up over the NSA intercepts if the White House or Condoleeza Rice continue to stonewall by restricting access to U.S. Senators demanding to see what Bolton saw.
Cover-ups never work, but it seems to me that whether or not national security related logistical reasons are the excuse for delay or Condoleeza Rice is to blame, each day that passes without response from or compliance by the administration increases the prospect of yet another major blow-up in the Committee over Bolton.
THE AGREEMENT BETWEEN MAJORITY AND MINORITY STAFF ON THE SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE is predicated on the good will that the staffs would collectively secure all testimony and information relevant to the Bolton case. Lugar has today joined Biden in making a formal request of the administration for NSA intercept access.
But if the administration does not comply, Biden and others on Committee — and any miffed and irritated Senator on the floor of the Senate — and I hear that Senator Rockefeller is one of those most miffed — can again help launch fireworks again around the time of the May 12th Committee hearing.
The White House may be deploying new and cynical tactics, but those moderate Republicans and progressives working behind the scenes — as Sid Blumenthal points out — are profoundly resolved to restore integrity to American foreign policy and to protect the system of checks and balances that are being smeared and violated by the Cheney-Bolton machine.
The administration is testing its opposition, and I hear that many in the White House check out this blog each morning.
Good morning to all of you there. Just wanted to let you know that we intend to duke it out as long as the Cheney-Bolton team want to stay in the ring.
— Steve Clemons