Former Powell Aide: 'Concerned About Our Democracy'

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - The man who served as chief of staff to former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell but is now a bitter critic of President Bush and other senior members of the Bush administration said Wednesday that he is "concerned about our democracy."

Since he left the State Department in 2005 after working as Powell's top aide for a little more than two years, Lawrence Wilkerson has frequently criticized what he calls the "White House cabal" consisting of Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

"Beginning in January 2001, we began to see radical changes," Wilkerson told a group assembled at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., Wednesday. He said Bush's "radical decisions" began with his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol -- an international plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions -- and continued with the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

When Powell resigned as secretary of state last year, many speculated that he was frustrated with being left out of the president's inner circle. Powell has been much more restrained than Wilkerson in expressing that frustration following their departure from the State Department.

But Wilkerson was blunt Wednesday, declaring that he is "concerned about our country" and "concerned about our democracy." He asked his audience whether they would "want to be a national security state with the military making our foreign policy?"

Answering his own question, Wilkerson claimed that "the military is making our foreign policy right now."

Wilkerson called for a return to the "traditional state," in which "the military is subservient in every fashion and form to the civil authority."

"Do we want to sacrifice our civil liberties? We are told this is a long war, we are told this is a twilight struggle like the Cold War. Well, when does the Patriot Act end?" he asked, referring to the counter-terrorism measure that has drawn scorn from civil libertarians and the president's political enemies.

The Bush administration's "most egregious situation," Wilkerson alleged, was the abuse of individuals captured in Iraq and Afghanistan and locked up at facilities like the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the Guantanamo Bay jail at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

"That was the straw that broke the camel's back. I couldn't stay quiet any longer, and I just kept talking about it, and talking about it," Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson did concede that troops on the ground in Iraq are making progress, but he added that "they are all very, very concerned that they made so many mistakes in the intervening years -- from the invasion itself to what they are doing now -- that they are behind the power curve, and they can't make up the time.

"They've disenchanted, they've abused, they've pissed off -- whatever term you want to use -- too many Iraqis, and they're in the insurgency," Wilkerson said. U.S. forces "just don't have the wherewithal now," he added.

In an Oct. 25, 2005, commentary, Wilkerson wrote that Powell was constantly working to smooth over the mistakes of others as secretary of state and that the Bush administration's "performance during its first four years would have been even worse without Powell's damage control.

"At least once a week, it seemed, Powell trooped over to the Oval Office and cleaned all the dog poop off the carpet," Wilkerson wrote. "He held a youthful, inexperienced president's hand. He told him everything would be all right because he, the secretary of state, would fix it."

Powell did fix Bush's problems, according to Wilkerson, "everything from a serious crisis with China when a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft was struck by a Chinese F-8 fighter jet in April 2001, to the secretary's constant reassurances to European leaders following the bitter breach in relations over the Iraq war. It wasn't enough, of course, but it helped," Wilkerson stated in his 2005 commentary.

On Wednesday, the Department of Defense declined to react to Wilkerson's latest criticism of Rumsfeld and the Bush administration.

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

E-mail a comment or news tip to Monisha Bansal.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.