Powell Agonistes

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Powell at the UNNot too long ago, Colin Powell was legitimately described as the most trusted man in American politics. Today he is perceived to struggle in a battle to rehabilitate his credibility, the most recent effort being a Sunday appearance on Meet the Press with Tim Russert. I have been traveling, missed the show on Sunday, but I got a flavor for the reaction to Powell’s interview yesterday when I took a high dive into the political pool with a quadruple twisting plunge on MSNBC, watching Tucker, Matthews, Olberman and Scarborough back-to-back-to-back-to-back. All had pointed questions for Powell.

CARLSON: “Colin Powell was the chief salesman of the decision to invade and occupy Iraq. So the question is, why would Barack Obama want his advice in the first place?”

MATTHEWS: “Why didn‘t Colin Powell just resign? Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has criticized this administration since he left office. But why did he salute the boss if he did not fully support the war? Where was Powell‘s tough talk against the administration when it would have counted?”

ROBACH (substituting for Olberman): “Have we ever heard Colin Powell say that the president and that he ultimately made a mistake in that decision?”

HUFFINGTON (Guest on Scarborough Country): “… where was that kind of moral authority when the country needed it? “

I found their questions to be a bit disingenuous, and distracting from the important comments that Powell made in the interview.

Colin Powell is speaking out. This is exactly what we need him to do. The Powell Doctrine, forged from the lessons learned in Viet Nam, served this country well in the first gulf war and as a guiding set of principles for our involvement in other military conflicts. The irony of Colin Powell being a primary enabler for the US involvement in a conflict that so clearly violated the tenets of the doctrine that bears his name has not been lost on us. The only one who can solve the riddle of of Colin Powell is Powell himself.

Powell has been a recurring topic at DWSUWF. Last September, I asked “whether Colin Powell might, in the judgement of history, carry the label of being to Iraq what McNamara was to Vietnam”. A few weeks later I wrote and posted an Open Letter to Colin Powell, concluding with this:

“Your experience with the military, with this administration, with the field of conflict in Iraq, with both failed and successful US conflicts, means you are uniquely qualified to help the American people find the right path through this thicket, by shedding some light on the problem. Permit me to be blunt. As an American citizen that supported this war to a large extent because of your support of it, and your eloquent arguments before United Nations in January of 2003, I do not find it acceptable for you to withhold your assessment of the status and outlook for this war now. Quite frankly, you owe this country the benefit of your honest assessment now. You owe us your complete, unexpurgated, unvarnished view.

In all honesty, I did not expect Colin Powell to respond to a letter from my blog and doubt whether he ever saw it. Regardless, his statements and appearances in the MSM over the last six months have addressed many of the very concerns expressed in that letter. It is critically important for Powell to continue to publicly air his evolving perspective on the war he helped sell, as the country struggles to find a way to bring it to an end. He provides a unique and important perspective that is worthy of careful consideration by all Americans.

Excerpted from and continued on Divided We Stand United We Fall.

  • Jeremy

    “Mobile Chemical Factories” ohhhh reallly? I’m sorry Mr. yes man Powell there’s no takesies-backsies. Growing a spine after the fact is way worse than the initial spineless act itself. I think George Tenent and Colin Powell should continue to play the fall guys, write some more books and sweep under the rug the responsibility they bare for the position this country finds itself in.

  • http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/ mw

    It is an interesting question how Powell rationalizes his UN performance and ultimately his support for the war. This is what he said to Tim Russert:

    GEN. POWELL: Well, we�you know, until somebody could show me something, you have to always keep, in the back of your mind, some element of questioning. I’m a soldier. I’m trained to consider all possibilities. But when we prepared for this presentation at the UN, and, of course, it was the most vivid demonstration of our intelligence, but it was not something that was made up just for that presentation. It reflected the consistent view of the intelligence community over time to 2001, 2002, 2003, and also reflected the kind of intelligence that President Clinton was being given in 1998 when he operated�executed Operation Desert Fox, which bombed Iraq for a period of four days. Same reason. They had this capability and they had these stockpiles, and something had to be done about it.

    The thing about it, Tim, is when we decided to take it to the UN, I worked for seven weeks to get a UN resolution, a unanimous resolution. as it turned out, 1441, and that resolution had a get out of jail card for Saddam Hussein. It gave him, I think it was 30 or 60 days, to come forward and answer all the questions that are outstanding about your capability and your stockpiles and what you’ve done with it. And, instead of seriously trying to answer that question, he just dumped a whole bunch of stuff on us that really wasn’t credible or believable. And it was at that point that he set us on the road to war. He had a chance to stop this. And when I briefed the president in August of 2002 about the potential consequences of the war, and he said, “What do we do?� I said, “I recommend we go to the UN.� He accepted that recommendation, we went to the UN. But I said to the president at that time, you know, “He could satisfy us, and if he satisfies us, if he makes it clear that here is it�here it all is, then you have to be prepared to accept that, and there may not be a war, and we may have a changed regime but not a regime change.�

    MR. RUSSERT: What did the president say?

    GEN. POWELL: He said yes, he understood that.

    MR. RUSSERT: Karen DeYoung wrote a book called “Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell,� and she quotes someone very close and near and dear to you, your wife of almost 45 years, Alma Powell, and this what she says: “Powell’s wife Alma thought Colin had been callously used to promote a war she wished had never happened. ‘They needed him to do it,’ Alma said, ‘because they knew people would believe him.’� Do you feel used?

    GEN. POWELL: No. I feel that when�I was part of an administration that, over a period of years, had created a body of evidence and intelligence that said this is a dangerous regime. And I had no love for Saddam Hussein, as you can appreciate. For 12 years I’d been listening to, “Well, why didn’t you take him out back in 1991?� So I had no truck with this regime, and we had a steady stream of intelligence reports that suggested he was a danger. And he became more of a danger after 9/11 when the possibility emerges that some of these terrible weapons he was working on�and let there be no doubt that he was continuing to work on these. He was continuing to hope that he could escape the boundaries of the UN sanctions and get back to making these kinds of weapons. And if you believe otherwise, I think that would be a naive belief. And so, throughout that time, we had this consistent body of evidence. And when the president called me in and said, “I want you to go to the United Nations and make the presentation,� I didn’t blink in the slightest because I had been using that intelligence all along in my presentations and had every reason to believe it. The problem we had in the next five days was that a product was being worked on in the White House and the NSC which was unusable. It was more a legal brief than it was an analysis.

    MR. RUSSERT: But did you think at that time a pre-emptive war was the best course for the US, or did you think that Saddam was already boxed because of the sanctions?

    GEN. POWELL: I would’ve preferred no war because I couldn’t see clearly the unintended consequences. But we tried to avoid that war with the UN sanctions and putting increasing diplomatic and international pressure on Saddam Hussein. But when I took it to the president and said, “This is a war we ought to see if we can avoid,� I also said and made it clear to him, “If, at the end of the day, it is a war that we cannot avoid, I’ll be with you all the way.� That’s, that’s part of being part of a team. And therefore I couldn’t have any other outcome, and I had no reservations about supporting the president in war.

    So what does it mean? Is he a liar? A co-conspirator? Is he self deluded? Or was he just a good soldier?

  • confused

    If Colin Powell had still been on active duty, then I would say he was a good soldier; but, he was a civilian, acting in an advisory capacity to the President as the Secretary of State, it was his job to give his best advice to his boss. I think he had his doubts about the wisdom of invading Iraq; however, Colin Powell is a team player above all else and in this instance that particular characteristic did not stand him in good stead.