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May 4, 2004
Powell Plays It Close To The Vest

My friend Wil S. Hylton has a new piece in GQ today backing up a lot of Bob Woodward's assertions from Plan of Attack concerning the huge divide between the State Department and the rest of the cabinet, particularly the Vice President's office and the Pentagon.

In the warped logic of presidential politics, consensus equals clarity, and dissent is pure treason. But even within this arid intellectual landscape, the show of solidarity put on by the Bush administration for the past three years must rank among the greatest pieces of performance art in the last half century. Even as senior members of this administration have brawled in private, feuding over nearly every major piece of American foreign policy, not just the war in Iraq and the reconstruction of Afghanistan but also U.S. policy in China, Russia, Taiwan, Korea, Iran, Syria, and Libya, even as neoconservative firebrands like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle have struggled against traditional conservatives like Colin Powell to export American democracy around the globe, even as the schism between the State Department and the Pentagon has become increasingly venomous and personal, the White House has been scrambling to keep the whole mess under wraps, to maintain the illusion that the president's "dream team" is still very dreamy -- or, at the very least, a team.

Hylton conducted on-the-record interviews with Powell, Rice, Powell's chief of staff Larry Wilkerson and others and deftly points out the contradictions between their stories. Particularly interesting are the conversations with Powell, who carefully says a whole lot of nothing -- ending his interview with the line "You didn't get as much substance as you might have wanted." -- and Wilkerson, whom Hylton is assured by several staffers is "of a single brain" with Powell. It's a clever little bit of deniability, to have Wilkerson present the facts much more candidly, and to ensure that the reporter has the idea that he basically speaks for Powell.

Hylton describes his interview with Rice:

I met with Condoleezza Rice in her office at the White House, a bright and white and airy room that looked like a wedding cake turned inside out, where Rice sat prim and pretty beneath an Impressionist painting in a black business suit and bright red lipstick, smiling politely as she lied through her teeth about the war between the State Department and the Pentagon, as though no such conflict could possibly exist, not in her immaculate White House, and the century-long battle between the two agencies had, in fact, come to a screeching halt on January 20, 2001, when she and the Texan came to town.

Go read the whole piece.


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