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Gary Younge
Powell aides go public on rift with Bush

In an article in GQ magazine Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff of the United States secretary of state, bemoans Mr Powell's firefighting role in President George Bush's cabinet.

"He has spent as much time doing damage control and, shall we say, apologising around the world for some less-than-graceful actions as he has anything else."

The article, which includes an interview with Mr Powell, is most illuminating for the comments made by his close friends and colleagues who are explicit about his distrust and disdain for the hawks in the administration.

Mr Powell's deputy, Richard Armitage, remarks on his boss's anguish at the damage to his credibility following his speech to the United Nations last year making the case for war and insisting there were weapons of mass destruction. "It's a source of great distress for the secretary," he said.

Meanwhile his mentor from the National War College, Harlan Ullman, describes the US national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, as a "jerk".

He said: "This is, in many ways, the most ideological administration Powell's ever had to work for. Not only is it very ideological, but they have a vision. And I think Powell is inherently uncomfortable with grand visions like that."

Their candour suggests that the internecine battles within the administration are becoming increasingly bitter and open, particularly those between the departments of defence and the state. "None of Powell's friends had made any pretence of speculating about or guessing at his feelings," wrote the journalist, Wil Hylton. "They spoke for him openly and on the record."

Mr Wilkerson even makes jibes at the war record of Mr Bush's inner circle, comparing their desire for military conflict with their reluctance to serve as young men: "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."

He then goes on to name former neo-conservative adviser, Richard Perle. He said: "Thank God [he] tendered his resignation and no longer will be even a semi-official person in this administration."

One of the most glaring examples of this departmental rivalry is in the policy towards China and Taiwan, which has been lobbying the US to support its move towards official independence from China. Such a move would incense the Chinese and inevitably inflame tensions in the area. Nonetheless, Mr Powell's colleagues say the Bush administration has been encouraging the Taiwanese in their efforts.

"[Taiwan] is another place where you get a lot of tension," says Mr Wilkerson. "Because there are literally people from the defence department on that island every week. Every week. And have been for three years. And many of those people are delivering messages to Taiwan that Taiwan needn't worry. Meanwhile, we're trying to maintain a more balanced attitude."

Mr Wilkerson compares Mr Powell's carrot-and stick approach to Pakistan with the hawks' lack of diplomacy.

"When all you use is a stick, you're not going to get very far." Negotiation, he argued, makes more progress "than if you just sanction somebody and walk off and say, 'That's it, I'm not dealing with you any more'."

"It hasn't worked in Cuba for 40 years," says Mr Hylton.

"[It is the] dumbest policy on the face of the Earth," replies Mr Wilkerson.

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