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Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Larry Wilkerson of State on the NeoCons

GQ : FEATURES : GENERAL:

"Casualty of War
Four years into an embattled Bush administration, Colin Powell is hard at work at something he's never had to worry about before: salvaging his legacy.
By Wil S. Hylton

It is worth noting that I found Larry Wilkerson in his well-appointed wood-paneled office in the State Department not through any great journalistic dexterity of my own but through the good graces of Powell's staff, and in particular one of his media advisers, who had been indispensable in helping me contact Powell's close friends and advisers, telling me whom to call and precisely when they'd be available. For Wilkerson in particular, she had been persistent, telling me on no less than four separate occasions that the relationship between Powell and his chief of staff was like "mind meld," and that after fifteen years of working together, they were of a single brain.

I arrived at Wilkerson's office on a sunny winter morning, hoping he could shed light on Powell's undercover influence and the assortment of successes he has managed lately, against the odds, beneath his veneer of irrelevance. I hoped, for example, that Wilkerson would be able to illuminate Powell's efforts in Libya, where he began a diplomatic process, long before the war in Iraq, to open dialogue with Qaddafi, something that Armitage told me "required us to beat down the protestations of those in the administration who did not want any discussions with Libya." (Asked about the same thing, Rice had said, "Um, I don't remember it really that way.")

I was also interested in Powell's friendship with the president of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf. During normal conversations, the two men refer to one another as "Mr. Secretary" and "Mr. President," but in more serious moments one will sometimes say, "General, we need to do this general-to-general," and the other will say, "Okay, General, what is it?" and they will use the designation "General" until the issue is resolved, at which point they will resume calling each other "Mr. Secretary" and "Mr. President." Preposterous as that may sound, it is difficult to deny that the closeness between Powell and Musharraf has helped balance the scales between Pakistan and India and has helped avert war in Kashmir for the past two years, not to mention giving American troops access to Pakistani bases for the war in Afghanistan.

What I didn't expect from Wilkerson was the rest of the picture, a glimpse of the venom with which Powell and his staff have come to regard their adversaries in the Pentagon. But almost as soon as I asked about the relationship between Powell and the neocons, Wilkerson crouched forward in his chair and said, "I make no bones about it. I have some reservations about people who have never been in the face of battle, so to speak, who are making cavalier decisions about sending men and women out to die. A person who comes immediately to mind in that regard is Richard Perle, who, thank God, tendered his resignation and no longer will be even a semiofficial person in this administration. Richard Perle's cavalier remarks about doing this or doing that with regard to military force always, always troubled me. Because it just showed me that he didn't have the appreciation, for example, that Colin Powell has for what it means."

"I call them utopians," he said. "I don't care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz. Utopians, I don't like. You're never going to bring utopia, and you're going to hurt a lot of people in the process of trying to do it."

"It's politically incorrect for me to say so," he added, "but when all you use is a stick, you're not going to get very far." He used the example of Pakistan. "The problem is, you sanction Pakistan, you lay all this stuff on Pakistan, the Pressler Amendment, and so forth, and then all of a sudden Pakistan does a nuclear test in '98. But if you stay involved with them and you keep working on them and you keep at it, over and over and over again, keep seeing what's successful and what's a failure and emphasizing what's successful, doing more of it, and quit doing what's a failure, then you can make more progress than if you just sanction somebody and walk off and say, 'That's it, I'm not dealing with you anymore.' "

"It hasn't worked in Cuba for forty years," I said.

"Dumbest policy on the face of the earth," he said. "It's crazy.""