Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, garnered national attention in October when, in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece, he characterized the president’s closest aides as “a secretive, little-known cabal.” After resigning from the Foggy Bottom department, Wilkerson is now calling the campus just across the street his part-time home.
Grae Baxter, director of the University Honors Program, worked with GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg to bring Wilkerson, a former director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College, to GW. The Vietnam veteran and retired Army colonel teaches one class in the honors program.
“(Trachtenberg) thought (Wilkerson) was exactly the kind of accomplished individual who could make a contribution to very bright students,” Baxter said.
Wilkerson was hired to join Powell as deputy executive officer at the U.S. Army’s Forces Command. Wilkerson worked with Powell when the GW alumnus was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In December 2000, Wilkerson rejoined Powell when the latter was named secretary of state.
As time passed at the State Department, Wilkerson became alarmed with many of the Bush administration’s international involvements and conflicts. Before he left his post, Wilkerson saw up close the government’s response to the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.
“I saw that the people who would be accountable were the privates, not the ones up the chain making the decisions,” he said.
In January 2005 Wilkerson left the Bush administration, a week after Powell’s departure.
“The White House was probably happy to see me leave,” he said.
After his departure from the State Department, Wilkerson sought to return to teaching at a host of area universities. His honors senior seminar, titled “National Security Decision Making,” focuses on the 1947 Security Act and its connection to past presidencies as well as the current administration.
As both chief of staff and an adviser to Powell, Wilkerson was involved in numerous projects vital to national security. He has worked on issues involving North Korea and diplomatic attempts to dismantle the country’s nuclear weapons program.
Wilkerson said he was responsible for preparing Powell’s congressional testimony on both foreign policy and the State Department’s budget.
This summer, he publicly stated that he regretted being involved with Powell’s infamous February 2003 presentation to the United Nations, in which the secretary of state discussed Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction that were never found in post-invasion searches. Wilkerson called the time “the lowest point” in his life.
Wilkerson said he hopes that the administration will change.
“I would like to see diplomacy more in use than bayonets. And I would particularly like to see some real diplomacy – real diplomacy – with respect to Iran and North Korea,” he said.
Most recently, Wilkerson has publicly criticized the Bush administration for its dealings in Iraq and with the detainee abuse scandal.
“The two (issues) … which I developed profound concerns were one, the detainee abuse issue and two, the ineptitude of post-invasion planning for Iraq,” Wilkerson said. “I have been doing all that I can to bring these two issues – and the ineptitude and incompetence surrounding them – to the attention of the American people.”
As for the abuse scandal’s repercussions, Wilkerson said the lack of high-level investigation may be felt for years.
“No one near the top has been fired for this hugely damaging failure – damaging in the immediate sense of the war against terrorism and in the long-term sense of America’s image in the world, but particularly in the Muslim world,” he said.
Looking back, Wilkerson feels that the solutions for Iraq require a working political process, safety for minorities and a stronger economic system. As for Powell, Wilkerson said the two are no longer close.
Wilkerson said, “We do not have much of a relationship now.”