The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Newsweek: Chemistry in the War Cabinet

Key quote:

'A senior administration official tells NEWSWEEK that a "general consensus"
has emerged among Bush and his top advisers for a "regime change" in Iraq.
Saddam will not be attacked "tomorrow or unilaterally." Rather,
this adviser predicts, Powell and Rumsfeld will work out a
"compromise." The United States will step up pressure on
Saddam to admit U.N. arms inspectors to look for Iraq's
weapons of mass destruction. No one expects Saddam to fully
comply, but the process will buy time: to show Saddam's
intransigence, get America's allies on board, find and support
freedom fighters in Iraq, and prepare for an invasion, if
necessary. The time line could take anywhere from six to 18
months, this official said.'


NEWSWEEK 28th January 2002


Secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld had been reading, with
mounting irritation, newspaper articles pitting him against
Secretary of State Colin Powell. Sitting on the dais during an
international conference last summer, Rumsfeld listened to a
reporter probing for substantive differences between the
president's top foreign-policy advisers and thought to himself,
"Oh, here we go." Rumsfeld braced the reporter: "Are you trying
to find some daylight between Colin and me?" Another
newsperson interjected, "Do you always agree on everything?"
Rumsfeld shot back: "Except for those few cases where Colin is
still learning." Telling that story last week, Rumsfeld seemed to
relish his ability to trump the press while needling the secretary
of State. The point, however, was not Rumsfeld's wit, but rather
that he felt comfortable one-upping Powell before a large
audience--and, equally important, that Powell laughed as hard
as anyone.

Measured by the usual backstabbing standards of Washington,
Rumsfeld and Powell--and the rest of President George W.
Bush's war cabinet--have gotten along famously. Sitting in his
vast Pentagon office last week, Rumsfeld ticked off the epic
feuds that have paralyzed earlier administrations, including
Secretary of State

Henry Kissinger vs. Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger
under President Ford and national-security adviser Zbigniew
Brzezinski vs. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance under President
Carter. (Ford finally pleaded with his warring advisers, "I just
can't go on like this.") Somewhat to the disappointment of the
press gallery, which thrives on high-level conflict, the
relationship between Powell and Rumsfeld has been a love fest
by comparison. "I don't go outside and leak things," declares

It's not that the secretaries of State and Defense are always like-
minded: Rumsfeld is widely and not inaccurately seen as a
hawkish "go it alone" interventionist, while Powell tends to take a
more cautious and "multilateralist" approach. But especially
since September 11, their disagreements have been muted;
concrete evidence of a split has rarely surfaced in the press.
Some observers predict that the good feelings in the Bush
cabinet will evaporate when the president has to make a final
decision on whether to get rid of Iraq's Saddam Hussein. But
then again, maybe not. A senior administration official tells
NEWSWEEK that a "general consensus" has emerged among
Bush and his top advisers for a "regime change" in Iraq. But
Saddam will not be attacked "tomorrow or unilaterally." Rather,
this adviser predicts, Powell and Rumsfeld will work out a
"compromise." The United States will step up pressure on
Saddam to admit U.N. arms inspectors to look for Iraq's
weapons of mass destruction. No one expects Saddam to fully
comply, but the process will buy time: to show Saddam's
intransigence, get America's allies on board, find and support
freedom fighters in Iraq, and prepare for an invasion, if
necessary. The time line could take anywhere from six to 18
months, this official said.

It may be hard to keep up a united front along the way, but
Bush's team seems determined. Last week NEWSWEEK
interviewed Rumsfeld and Powell, as well as Vice President
Dick Cheney and national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice,
along with several of their top aides, about how they achieved
relative harmony, and how they plan to maintain it. All the
"principals," as Bush's top advisers are called, credited the
president with being decisive and setting a certain tone, which
boils down to: tease each other ("mercilessly at times," says
Cheney) but don't whine, leak or second-guess. At the same
time, it is clear that Bush was wise, or fortunate, in choosing a
team that has certain qualities and characteristics that are
useful in times of crisis. Lately, he has not been shy about
showing off its strength. It may not be a coincidence that the
week after the Enron scandal brushed the White House, the
administration made the entire war cabinet available to
NEWSWEEK to describe how they're winning the war.

The first and perhaps most important attribute they share is
confidence, in themselves and each other. All of Bush's top
foreign-policy advisers have huge egos and reputations as
skillful bureaucratic infighters. But they are a mutual-admiration
society: "If they were going to pick an all-star team," says
Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, "they'd pick each
other." After working together--in some cases for decades--they
trust one another to play fair and be discreet. "Contrary to other
administrations, you don't have to watch your backside when you
go down to the Situation Room," says Cheney. "What gets
argued stays down there."

Their only agenda, the members of Bush's team all say, is "to
serve the president." It is a conventional mantra, familiar to
"West Wing" viewers, but they utter it with evident sincerity. At one
time or another, Cheney, almost 61, Powell, 64, and Rumsfeld,
69, have all seriously considered running for president
themselves. But now, says Rumsfeld with a sigh, "we're old."
None of them "is reaching for fame for the first time," says Libby.
Adds Powell: "We're not positioning ourselves for the next job."
(Rice, who at 47 is much younger than the others, is rumored to
be politically ambitious, but a close adviser predicts she will
return to academic life at Stanford, where she served as provost
from 1993 to 1999.)

It's not surprising that the press picked out Rumsfeld and Powell
as rivals. Rumsfeld has strongly held views on America's global
role. At about the time he was nominated to be secretary of
Defense a year ago, Rumsfeld says he went to President Bush
and warned him that the United States was seen as "risk
averse" in the eyes of the world. "We're going to have a conflict,
and there's going to be a need for a decision," Rumsfeld says
he told the president. "I want you to know that I'm going to be
coming at you. I am going to be telling you that I believe our
country has to lean forward and not back, or else we're going to
be encouraging others to do things to us." Rumsfeld says Bush
replied, "You're exactly right. I agree completely." Colin Powell,
on the other hand, had built his reputation as chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff by resisting armchair generals whose first
instinct is to send in the troops. On his desk at the Pentagon
was an inscription from Thucydides: restraint impresses men

"We argue," Powell concedes, "but we almost always find the
answer. We have political views. I am considered moderate. But
everyone knows where everyone else is coming from." Powell is
not viewed as doctrinaire. "He's the least ideological man I've
met," says an aide. "He works the problem." The secretary of
State is not "knee jerk," Rumsfeld agrees, but rather "more
practical." Powell is careful not to tell Rumsfeld how to run a
military operation. Indeed, none of the group patronizes the
others by playing elder statesman. "You never hear the phrase
'When I was national-security adviser...'," says an aide. Powell
might have been expected to clash with Rumsfeld on missile
defense (Rumsfeld is gung-ho, Powell lukewarm) and Iraq
policy. But so far, scant proof of that has emerged.

Because they have stood in each other's shoes at one time or
another, working at a variety of jobs at State, Defense and at the
White House over the past 25 years, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld
and Rice can appreciate the institutional pressures each faces.
Beyond overlapping careers, they are bound by a web of
personal ties. "I hired the vice president in 1969," says
Rumsfeld, who was head of the Office of Economic Opportunity
in the Nixon White House. But Cheney, a postgraduate fellow at
the time, recalls that the two had hated each other at first. At an
earlier job interview with the then Representative Rumsfeld
(Republican of Illinois) in 1968, "I stomped out. He thought I was
an arrogant academic. I thought he was a pompous
congressman." But the two men, driven and acerbic, became
close friends. (Cheney's wife, Lynne, noticed that hanging from
their Christmas tree this year was a decoration given by the
Rumsfelds back in 1974. "The ribbon is getting a little frayed,"
she noted.) When President Ford named Rumsfeld as White
House chief of staff in 1974, Rummy brought Cheney along as
his deputy.

Powell and Condi Rice share more than the experience of
serving as national-security adviser (Powell had the job from
1987 to 1989, Reagan's last years in office). The two are not by
any means policy clones. When Powell splits with Cheney and
Rumsfeld, Rice sides with the hawks 60 percent of the time,
estimates a Powell aide. But Rice views Powell as "almost an
uncle," says a Rice assistant. The two are the first African-
Americans ever to hold high-ranking foreign-policy jobs. Beyond
that, Powell's wife, Alma, comes from the same proud black elite
of pre-integration Birmingham, Ala. "Powell understands where
Condi is coming from," says the aide. Cheney, for his part, says
he spotted Rice as a comer more than a decade ago, when she
was a young national-security staffer and he was secretary of
Defense under "41." "I constantly tried to hire Condi. Drove [her
boss, national-security adviser Brent] Scowcroft crazy," says

In Washington, it is very unusual for cabinet officers to meet
without a phalanx of advisers, usually arrayed in seats around
the periphery of the meeting room. But since September 11,
Powell, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice have talked privately on the
phone every morning at 7:15 and then at meetings and meals all
through the day. The absence of aides cuts down on the
potential for leaks. It also allows the principals to be more frank
with each other, to feel each other out before sending directional
signals to the bureaucracy. And "because they talk a lot,
disagreements tend not to fester," says a Powell aide.

A lot of the talk is in jest. At a recent meeting of the National
Security Council, Rumsfeld grew very severe. "Colin," he said,
"you are the secretary of State of the United States of America.
You are the senior diplomat. You are the spokesman for our
policies. Everyone listens to you--and you're causing enormous
confusion in the world because the president is saying 'Kabul'
and the vice president is saying 'Kabul,' and you are saying 'Ka-
bool.' Now at what moment are we going to get this sorted out?"

Some of the teasing has an edge. "Colin, you're not working for
Clinton anymore," Rumsfeld once taunted Powell when the
secretary of State was urging a go-slow, please-the-allies
approach to an issue. But Powell just laughed. "Sometimes the
needles go deep," he says, "but never with a sharp, malicious
edge. I can assure you, I hold my own." One of Powell's lighter
targets is Rumsfeld's sometimes oddly informal dress (during
his NEWSWEEK interview in his grand office, Rumsfeld wore an
old fleece vest, as if he were about to head over to the club for a
game of paddle tennis). Scoffs the dapper Powell, with mock
horror: "This guy wears hiking boots with a suit!"

President Bush, a fraternity towel-snapper from way back, "eggs
on" the teasing, says Powell. While all the jokiness may seem
sophomoric at times, it serves to defuse tension and add levity
to life-and-death decision-making that, day in and day out, could
become dark and grim. Though the president is dutiful about
doing his reading homework, he appreciates and prefers the
personal touch. At the CIA, grateful officials say that the smartest
thing Director George Tenet did was to insinuate himself at the
president's daily intelligence briefing from the very first. Past CIA
directors went to the White House at most once or twice a week;
Tenet is there virtually every day. Loose and engaging, the CIA
director, who has been known to sing Motown tunes at the top of
his lungs in his office and bounce a basketball down the
secretive corridors of the agency, likes to call people "pal." After
the massive intelligence failure of September 11, Tenet may
have saved his job just by being the president's good buddy.
(Tenet has spent more face time with Bush at Camp David and
the Crawford, Texas, ranch than anyone but Rice.) The other
principals respect Tenet, who has also been shrewd about
regularly courting them at private lunches.

The president abhors leaks, especially self-serving ones. A Rice
aide who also worked for 41 recalls "peeling W off the ceiling"
after rival factions working for his father aired their differences in
the newspapers. "The president is not someone who's willing to
put up with problems for the sake of ego," says Rice. "That's just

Bush's foreign-policy advisers, particularly Rumsfeld, say they
ignore what is being written about them. If anyone becomes too
much of a media celebrity under "43," they are in for it. After
getting badly cut up by leaks from the uniformed military who
were resisting his attempts at reform before September 11,
Rumsfeld has emerged as a gruff but reassuringly macho
presence at the Pentagon's televised midday briefings. Bush
has recently begun calling the secretary of Defense "Matinee
Idol." ("Yeah," chipped in Cheney, "for the AARP crowd.")

The one woman in the mix, Condi Rice, comes in for her share
of verbal abuse. When she used the word "conflate" at a
principals' meeting, she was mocked for academic jargon. "I
don't even know what the word means!" exclaimed Rumsfeld.
Rice recently showed off her new hairdo and a stylish gown at
the Kennedy Center Honors. "Every single one of them came up
to me and said, 'God, you looked great at the Kennedy Center.
Like a model," said Rice. "Well, I thought, I must have looked
pretty lousy before."

Rice plays down her role as a mere "coordinator," but Treasury
Secretary Paul O'Neill, a sometime participant in the war cabinet,
says she is much more. "She's really talented at dealing with
people who are not timid about voicing their opinions, at coaxing
us in a way that isn't grating," says O'Neill, who is known for his
outspokenness. "Strong personalities don't have to clash--they
can reinforce each other," says Rice. "The hard thing is when
you have people who won't say what they think." Rice does not
always shoot for consensus. "She will know when we're not
going to agree," says O'Neill. "She'll say, 'Let's sharpen the
debate, put it on paper, and let the boss decide'."

Bush is perfectly willing to entertain sharp disagreements, say
his advisers. "Everything doesn't have to be prechewed like baby
food before it comes to him," says Rumsfeld. But once Bush has
decided, he doesn't want to engage in endless reappraisal. In
late October, says one of Bush's advisers, when "things were
moving slowly" in the bombing campaign against the Taliban,
the discussion at one meeting of the war cabinet took on an
uncertain, even doubting tone. "There was this discussion,
people were musing, 'Do we have to think of something else?' "
said this adviser, who was present. No one was eager to
contemplate the "something else": a large force of U.S. ground
troops, fighting guerrilla warfare in the Afghan mountains during
wintertime. Bush told his advisers to buck up and be patient, to
not lose faith in the original plan of employing U.S. warplanes
and Special Forces working with the local tribesmen. "We did
agree on this strategy, didn't we?" asked Bush. The group rallied
round--and the strategy soon began to pay off.

Bush's aides have no doubt that the campaign to unseat
Saddam Hussein will have equally difficult moments. There are
a host of tough decisions to come involving balky allies and
dubious surrogate forces on the ground. Last week, for instance,
it was reported that Saudi Arabia is considering asking U.S.
forces to exit Saudi soil. That could mean giving up Prince Sultan
Air Base, the main combat air-control center for the gulf region.
Attacking Iraq without using Saudi Arabia as a base would be a
logistical nightmare. Deciding whether the Saudis will go along
with a war on Iraq will be a daunting diplomatic challenge. Even
so, told that some observers predicted that the unity of the Bush
war cabinet would collapse over Iraq, Cheney replied,
"Hogwash." Says Rice: "I don't think it's going to break apart over
Iraq. The president knows we'll work it in the same way."

That's not to say that, behind closed doors, there won't be some
tense moments. Last fall, as the national-security team met in
the White House Situation Room, Rumsfeld became extremely
exercised over a policy matter. Pounding on the table, he "went
on and on," says a knowledgeable source. When he finally
stopped, a pained silence fell over the room. Finally, Cheney
dryly remarked, "You guys should have known him 30 years ago,
before he mellowed."

This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq
For removal from list, email
CASI's website - - includes an archive of all postings.

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]