March 16, 2004

Let's Help Colin Powell!

Colin Powell further shreds his reputation by revealing that he is clueless and needs help understanding his own situation:

Kerry Remark on Foreign Leaders Faulted: Mr. Powell also challenged Mr. Kerry's recent assertions that Mr. Powell had been undermined in foreign policy debates in the Bush administration. "Name a specific issue where it looks like I have been marginalized," Mr. Powell said.

Let's give him some help! Issues where it appears that Colin Powll has been marginalized include:

  1. Whether to continue the Clinton administration's policy of trying to engage and negotiate with North Korea.
  2. Whether to continue the Clinton administration's policy of ensuring that South Korea's preferences play a leading role in forming U.S. policy toward North Korea.
  3. Whether the U.S. continues the Clinton administration policy of making a serious attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace, or withdraws so that the Palestinians can see just how weak they are.
  4. Whether to try to make the Iraqi sanctions policy smarter, or just not bother because we're sending in the tanks soon.
  5. Whether it is important to strengthen relations with Mexico.
  6. Whether it is important to strengthen relations with Canada.
  7. Whether it is important to strengthen relations with France.
  8. Whether it is important to strengthen relations with Germany.
  9. Whether the U.N. is a useful tool or a dangerous obstacle.
  10. Whether anyone associated with the State Department shall be allowed to play any role in postwar Iraq.
  11. Whether the Powell Doctrine--the idea that where the U.S. intervenes it should intervene with overwhelming force, at least twice the force needed to accomplish the mission--is worth considering.
  12. Whether Northern Ireland is worth the U.S. president's attention.
  13. Whether the State Department is to play a role in the resolution of Iraqi debt issues.
  14. Whether the State Department is to even be informed before the launch of yet another Middle East Initiative.
  15. Whether the United States should seek detente or confrontation with Iran.

I'm sure people can think of many others, and they are...

Posted by DeLong at March 16, 2004 10:34 PM | TrackBack


Powell doctrine: send in so many troops that your control over the nation is absolute.

Posted by: Josh Yelon on March 16, 2004 11:25 PM


I might have considered voting for Mr. Powell at one point if he switched parties, claimed to be a fiscal hawk, and had conviction that working with people (allies) makes the world a better place.

The speech before the U.N. was the tipping point for me. What I fool I was trusting that he was one of the adults in charge at this White House. Iraqnam shredded his image and there is no recovery for his political future. I don't care to read in his future autobiography that he was tortured by his decisions while part of this clown show, that he was the ballast that kept the White House from going nukular, that he wanted to treat 9/11 as a crime, etc.. He had his chance to resign (or get fired a la O'Neill).

Mr. Powell's performance as part of this White House shows that he lacks both conviction and the courage to be his own man.

Posted by: phil on March 16, 2004 11:28 PM


What Phil said.

Posted by: WK on March 17, 2004 03:19 AM


But what a theme for a tragedy, or an opera.

Posted by: big al on March 17, 2004 03:31 AM


Northern Ireland.

When Clinton left office they had self-government. Messy yes, plenty of problems yes, but they had Protestants and Catholics in the same room addressing most of the same problems. Now to my latest knowledge they have direct London control. Clinton put immense efforts and his own political popularity in Ireland into play with great success. Bush said "screw it I got brush to clear in Crawford".

Posted by: Bruce Webb on March 17, 2004 03:35 AM


...and didn't the reporter who first claimed Kerry said "foreign leaders" check his recording and find out he got the quote wrong? Though it is undoubtedly true that lots of foriegn leaders would prefer Kerry, Kerry apparently never claimed to have talked to them about it. Thus another schoolyard fracus comes to an end.

Posted by: K Harris on March 17, 2004 04:27 AM


Responding to a baseless diatribe:
1. North Korea: Powell got all the area countries are engaged.
2. South Korea: See #1. BTW, which South Korean leader?
3. Whether the U.S. continues the Clinton administration policy of making a serious attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace, or withdraws so that the Palestinians can see just how weak they are: Give me the strength to know the things we can change, the things we can't, and the wisdom to know the difference. BTW: The Israeli homeland was based on the Balfour Decision. Anyone read it? I'm not sure we shouldn't reexamine whether the whole area ought to be a U.N. protectorate.
4. Whether to try to make the Iraqi sanctions policy smarter, or just not bother because we're sending in the tanks soon. Huh?
5. Mexico: Visiting workers.
6.Canada: We aren't heavily involved with Canada?
7. France: From the WSJ letter on the subject, "Don't trot out the tired, baseless arguments of unilateralism, of "pre-emptive." There are soldiers from many lands fighting the terrorists in Iraq. Don't tell us there are not, it would be an insult to their sacrifice. Don't tell us the U.N. could have helped, because it shrank from its duty for years. Don't tell us that negotiating with Saddam, or waiting through another round of inspections, would have kept him from murder and torture."
8. Germany: See France.
9. Whether the U.N. is a useful tool or a dangerous obstacle: Good qustion. Powell worked the U.N. hard a year ago. The Charter can't handle internal sovereignty issues. Annan let the "Oil for Food" program remain corrupt, ineffective, and a cash cow for Saddam Hussein. BTW, which is more important - peace at any cost or liberty?
10. Whether anyone associated with the State Department shall be allowed to play any role in postwar Iraq: Bremer.

I'd still vote for Powell. Or is there another dude who is a fiscal conservative and a social liberal?

Posted by: sbw on March 17, 2004 04:49 AM


Big Al,
I love the idea of the grand opera Powell. But is it a "tragic flaw" or was the heroic Powell all just media hype? His involvement in the Somalia snafu, for example, got swept under the rug in order to make him seem grander.

Posted by: scotus on March 17, 2004 04:55 AM


I agree with sbw that the original post is unfair to Powell--especially where Northeast Asian security is concerned. Others in the Administration might well have placed us on track for a major confrontation with the North, and Powell pulled us back from that potential disaster. Powell also got us much more in line with the South Korean administration, which had serious reservations about the early Washington hard line.

On the other hand, the Powell doctrine got thoroughly drubbed in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, as James Fallows so persuasively documents in the February Atlantic. Of course, as Sec State, it was not his decision in a formal sense, but we might have expected Powell to weigh in more persuasively as a cabinet member and critical player in the Administration national security team. Rummy steamrolled everybody on the size of the force, and we should wish that he hadn't, not because we needed it to win the war, but because we needed it to secure the early peace.

Posted by: Jim Harris on March 17, 2004 05:42 AM


The true Powell is the ultimate organization man. He spent years climbing the greasy pole of promotions and assignments, just as Eisenhower did. Years of calibrated ass-kissing and calculating the effect of every statement. Many of the policies he pursued were meritorious, but we'll never know if they were principled or part of a careerist program. the heroic image may be just another political asset.

But what is remarkable is how thoroughly used and demolished he's ended up. He knew months in advance that we were going to invade. Surely he could figure out what was likely to happen. Apparently, he decided that he'd rather be a player at the expense of looking pathetic.

Posted by: Roger Bigod on March 17, 2004 05:59 AM


Powell. Pathetic. And his son, too. Especially his son.

Posted by: tstreet on March 17, 2004 06:50 AM


rb, don't insult Eisenhower by comparing him to Powell.

jh, "the other guys would've been worse" is an awfully backhanded compliment. still, point taken; at least pyongyang and seoul aren't glowing. yet.

sbw, any time you cite the WSJ editorial page you should scrap your thinking and start over. further, only trolls describe containment as "peace at any cost" -- was the Truman Doctrine such an affront to freedom?

all, recall the resolution at hand. the only convincing defense of Powell so far is that he moderated a couple frothing wingnut policies. that sounds like an awfully marginal accomplishment to me.

Posted by: wcw on March 17, 2004 07:01 AM


It is clear with all the cabinet heads that they work for CEO Bush. Mr Bush does not work for them. Mr Powell cannot have an agenda of his own, nor can other cabinet members like the heads of EPA Treasury, Defense, etc. This is not the undisciplined democracy of the Clinton cabinet. This is the MBA model. The CEO calls all the shots. His final decision is the correct one. The policy of the cabinet heads is the policy of Mr Bush. If it is a reversal of past policy or policy that raises objections from the career staff, it is the job of the cabinet head to take all the flack, support the president and make the president look good. Those that are not team players (yes men) will be summarily dismissed and replaced. In this view, Mr Powell is not "marginalized", he is empowered. He is empowered to execute the policy of his leader as best he can. He is the loyal soldiers "Reporting for duty as ordered, Sir!" "How high? Sir."

Posted by: bakho on March 17, 2004 07:12 AM


We may dispute Brad's list, but what is more telling (and beyond dispute) is the ways in which Powell and the State Dept. have been stomped and shunted aside.

Consider, for example, all the pre-war work Powell had State doing on how to make the post-war occupation a success. Rumsfeld ordered Powell's group to be ignored and their work products trashed in favor of his own fantasies. We're living with the results today.

Or the way Bush brought in Jim Baker to go door to door around the world for Iraqi debt relief/reconstruction funds. There is no other way to view this than as a direct insult to the Sec. of State.

Or Bush's "Middle-East Initiative" that was formulated without consulting State, then sprung as a surprise on Powell.

In a way, you almost have to feel sorry for Powell. However, he is apparently perfectly willing to accept this abuse and insult, thus meriting no sympathy from me. If he really were the man of integrity and principle that he wishes us to believe he is, he would have resigned 15 minutes after losing the war to Rumsfeld.

Posted by: Derelict on March 17, 2004 07:14 AM


My top 10:

10. Whether the US should always have a clear exit strategy.
9. Whether the US should not get involved in conflicts which are not a direct threat to our interests.
8. Whether the Secretary of State, or the Political Director of the Re-election campaign is constitutionally 4th in line to sucede the president, and the chief diplomat of the US.
7. Whether lying and getting caught is a good idea.
6. Whether doctoring intelligence is a good idea.
5. Whether the US should adhere to treaties it has signed.
4. Whether the US continues to assure democratically elected nations in the Western hemisphere their security.
3. Whether the US is a member of NATO.
2. Whether we should go in with massive force (the Powell Doctrine).
1. Whether English should continue to be the official languge of the US government.

Posted by: Stirling Newberry on March 17, 2004 07:18 AM


"The Triumph of Politics"
"The Price of Loyalty"
There is real meaning behind these titles.

Powell was never more than "the loyal soldier". His reputation was based on his fidelity to Bush and Cap and his refusal to betray their personal trust. Powell is maintaining his reptutation for duty and loyalty and willingness to accept personal sacrifices to protect his superiors. Is there some other reputation that Powell once had that is now tarnished? Or did people project onto Powell qualities he never possessed?

Posted by: bakho on March 17, 2004 07:22 AM



When policy is handed down from the top, it may well be the role of the cabinet members and department heads to play the "good soldier" role, but are you suggesting that the president creates policy in a vacuum, without input from his cabinet? The cabinet helps to form policy, and those cabinet members who have a lesser ability to shape policy are, by definition, marginalized.

Posted by: chabo on March 17, 2004 07:34 AM



Surely you were joking in mentioning Bremer. It is true that he was in the State Deepartment at one time. But for the past several years his affiliation has been with Kissinger's lobbying firm.

Posted by: Roger Bigod on March 17, 2004 07:38 AM


Colin Powell will go down in history as the worst Secretary of State n United States history (so far). Even the detestable Dulles ran a competent shop. Our diplomacy is a disaster. We are neither feared (our troops tied down and no fiscal will to increase their number), nor liked. We are throwing away bargaining chips like an addict at Las Vegas. Thanks to the Neocons that he failed successfully to thwart the rest of the world is making its moves on the basis of our being an unreliable friend or potential rival.

When it comes to be written his biography will not be pretty. Unless there is a lot we don't know, he seems to have been a gifted suck. When the people he was sucking up to were competent he looks good, because he is gifted. When they are incompetent he looks bad.

All the reports on him are that he has an extraordinary ability to summarize and bring to a point complex points of information and argument. He couldn't have lost that ability. No one listened to him. He should have resigned when his value added dropped to zero. Instead he stayed on and watched it go negative.

It's sad, but as the conservatives are fond of saying, he made his bed.

Posted by: knut wicksell on March 17, 2004 07:42 AM


I just posted this to Kos, simply because I scanned there first. Jumping to the top o' the charts...potential nuclear tech/know-how in the hands of Hamas/Islamic Jihad. Not AlQ? Those secularists, Sunnis, Shi'ites all look the same from a distance.

Financial Times
US stalls on Iranian offer of reform deal
By Guy Dinmore in Washington
Published: March 16 2004 21:57
Last Updated: March 16 2004 21:57

The US has for 10 months been stalling over an Iranian offer of landmark talks that would see the Islamic republic address Washington's concerns on nuclear weapons, terrorism and Israel - because of divisions within the Bush administration.

US officials and go-betweens say the talks, which could in return establish normal diplomatic relations between the countries, have been resisted by hawks in Washington who adamantly oppose opening a dialogue with the clerical regime in Iran, which George W. Bush, the US president, branded part of the "axis of evil".
Washington hardliners wary of engaging with Iran

However, Colin Powell, the secretary of state, recently told an internal meeting that Mr Bush was looking for an "opening" with Iran, raising the possibility of a positive reply. The recent example of Libya has shown how some countries that Washington has labelled "rogue nations" can begin to rehabilitate themselves in US eyes.

What has become known in diplomatic circles as Iran's "grand bargain" was first communicated to the US State Department through the "Swiss channel" on May 4 last year. Switzerland represents US interests in Iran. The communication quoted a senior Iranian official as laying out a "road map" to normalise relations, which have been hostile since the Iranian revolution of 1979.

Under the plan, Iran would address US concerns over nuclear weapons and terrorism, co-ordinate policy on Iraq and consider a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In return, Iran expected a lifting of sanctions, recognition of its security interests, dropping of "regime change" from the official US lexicon and eventual re-establishment of relations. "There was a lot of detail to be worked out," said one American familiar with the proposal. "They proposed concrete steps on how to work on this. The substance of the agenda was pretty reasonable."

However, Washington has given no formal response to the offer. Instead, the Swiss foreign ministry received a rebuke from the US for "overstepping" its mandate. Nonetheless, unofficial contacts have continued with Iran through various channels.

Even those "realists" in the Bush administration, who believe it is in the US national interest to talk to Tehran's hardline clerics, perceive that Iran's behaviour is getting worse on issues such as its suspected nuclear weapons programme, support for "terrorist" groups and its human rights record.

One high-level figure involved is Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser and retired general, who has held talks with Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations. Both men declined to comment.

Divisions within the administration over Iran make it likely that Republicans will try to keep the subject off the agenda for the US presidential election this November. The Democrats have accused Mr Bush of weakening Washington's position by "contracting out" its diplomacy, giving Europe the lead in negotiating Iran's nuclear compliance, and China the lead on North Korea's nuclear weapons.

Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential challenger, says he would deal with Iran directly and hinted at talks on restoring relations. The Bush administration is holding out the prospect of "grand bargains" with Libya and North Korea, but there is powerful opposition - led by Dick Cheney, the vice-president, and Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary - to a deal with Iran.

Posted by: SkipWalkDC on March 17, 2004 07:51 AM


There were a couple of reasons to respect Powell. One is that he was a mamber of a generation of career officers who were disgusted by the poor management and lack of integrity characteristic of the Vietnam-era military. We are better off for their reforms. The other reason is the Powell Doctrine (which has other names) that was applied in the Gulf War. Of its six or eight points, we observed the first (overwhelming force) but have trashed most of the rest, including specified objectives and a clear exit strategy.

If Powell had quit while he was ahead, he'd be an admired, but somewhat obscure reformer. Who remembers the name of ta Chairman of the Joint Chiefs during Nam? But now Powell will be subjected to the same kind of psychological analysis that Robert McNamara has received.

Posted by: Roger Bigod on March 17, 2004 07:56 AM


"are you suggesting that the president creates policy in a vacuum, without input from his cabinet?"


"The cabinet helps to form policy, and those cabinet members who have a lesser ability to shape policy are, by definition, marginalized"

TRUE FOR CLINTON BUT NOT TRUE FOR BUSH. It is very clear that top down is the MO of W Bush. I don't suggest this as the optimal way to run either a company or a country. However, this is how this administration operates.

Those that are cabinet heads should be happy to be cabinet heads and cheerfully and doggedly pursue the course their CEO has charted for them. Those that cannot or will not like Whitman or O'Neill will be replaced. Is there a way to be more marginalized than to be replaced? Not a player at all? Either you work for Mr Bush or you don't work. Why criticize Mr Powell for playing by the rules of the game?

Those of you who would prefer our government to be run in a different manner should vote for Mr. Kerry.

Posted by: bakho on March 17, 2004 07:57 AM


no. 6: Canada is your largest trading partner by far. Plenty of prosperity and comfort on both sides of the border is a product of this relationship.
Powell could not possibly help improve the American image on Iraq. Seventy percent of the public opposed Canadian participation, and an equal proportion wish to see John Kerry elected president. Perhaps Powell could secretly help Kerry by cleverly greasing the skids under Dubya!
But note that Canadian troops are defending Kabul, and with strong public support. They have their priorities straight. Maybe Powell can find a wedge here.

Posted by: gb on March 17, 2004 08:02 AM


How about:

American foreign policy.

That just about sums it up, doesn't it?

Posted by: solar on March 17, 2004 08:05 AM


"Of its (Powell Doctrine) six or eight points, we observed the first (overwhelming force) but have trashed most of the rest..."

But we did not observe overwhelming force in Iraq. Shinseki said a minimum of 250K troops. The civilians overruled him. All our current problems in Iraq stem from failure to bring overwhelming force and to augment that overwhelming force with additional personnel that could have been bought within the country. Bremer dismissed the Iraqi army against the advice of the military and all the planners. Who thought dismissing thousands of armed young into the streets to fend for themselves was a good idea? We currently have underwhelming force in Iraq.

Posted by: bakho on March 17, 2004 08:07 AM


But his support for massive tax cuts and media monopolies has been government policy. Perhaps Powell should be in charge of the FCC!

Posted by: Stirling Newberry on March 17, 2004 08:09 AM


knut wicksell,

It's the nature of the nillitary as an institution that to get anywhere you have to be a suck, preferably gifted. It's something you sign on for if you make a career out of it. I greatly admire Eisenhower, but he had to play the game for 20 years or so in order to be in position as a General at the onset of WW II. In particular, he was Macarthur's immediate subordinate in the Phillipines, and he got along with him,, although he despised the man. After the beginning of the war, he was on the small list of officers that Marshall kept an eye on, so he could save the sucking for churchill and De Gaulle.

Posted by: Roger Bigod on March 17, 2004 08:13 AM



We did have overwhelming force for the invasion. Shinseki's estimate of several hundred thousand was for the occupation. And Wolfowitz effectively slapped him in the face and stated he "couldn't imagine" that the occupying force would need to be larger than the invasion force.

Posted by: Roger Bigod on March 17, 2004 08:19 AM


the problem is in giving Powell too much credit to start with. he has proved himself to be an unmitigated liar quite comfortable with his position in bed with far-right policy makers. i guess it does not seem to me that he is marginalized; instead it seems he should be attacked for his lies and his policies (from which if they prove to be as disastrous as they appear to many he will disassociate himself in his usual mealoymouthed sycophantic way). i think the "real" powell is the arrogant offensive jerk who attacked a congressional aide for shaking his head during the great powell's congressional testimony (read: Lies).

Posted by: dellaRovere on March 17, 2004 08:25 AM


With all the hand wringing about the destruction of Powell's reputation, let us remember that it was never really deserved.

His record:

* Conducting an investigation of atrocities in Viet Nam (including My Lai) which consisted entirely of character assassination against the whistle blower.

* Lying about the illegal behavior of Weinberg in Iran Contra.

* Covering up civilian casualties in Panama.

* Covering up Gulf War syndrome.

* Gross insubordination against his C-in-C.

He is, as my dad so deftly put it, the most overrated man in America.

Posted by: Matthew Saroff on March 17, 2004 08:26 AM


wcw: "sbw, any time you cite the WSJ editorial page you should scrap your thinking and start over."

Dang. And I thought that content was more important than presentation.

If presentation is more important, then you certainly have to compliment Powell. He's better on stage than either Bush or Kerry ever thpught of being.

Posted by: sbw on March 17, 2004 08:55 AM


The tragic flaw of Colin Powel is simple:

As a briliant soldier, he is loyal first and foremost to the chain of command, and only second to his country.

Posted by: Nicholas Weaver on March 17, 2004 09:36 AM



One of the basic skills of an officer is giving a briefing. Giving good briefing requires organization, preparation and theatrical skills. Done correctly, it leaves the audience with some information and the strong impression that the briefer deserves a speedy promotion. Powell's preformance for UN was the equivalent of Horowitz playing Scarlatti, a pinnacle of the art form. (A problem with this analogy is that there is no such thing as totally false Scarlatti.)

Posted by: Roger Bigod on March 17, 2004 09:39 AM


The Bush administration seems to make a lot of formerly well regarded people look like fools. At the top of the list: Colin Powell and Alan Greenspan.

Posted by: Vicki Meagher on March 17, 2004 09:52 AM


Once Colin Powell starts being "interviewed" by people like Sean Hannity you know that there's something wrong.
It's about 5:00 a.m. in Australia and I'm watching events unfold in Iraq. Flicking between the cable channels you see CNN looping footage, Fox desperately trying to put the usual spin on it by calling in "experts" like David Hunt, even getting the opinion of one of the "Beltway Boys" who had his dinner interrupted . . . nobody really able to explain what happened yet.
Maybe a Kerry administration wouldn't make things better quickly, but how could it make anything worse?

Posted by: Steve Birdsall on March 17, 2004 10:06 AM


sbw, glad to see that by your silence you concede that your containment aspersion was pure trollery. less glad about the rest. baby steps.

Posted by: wcw on March 17, 2004 12:08 PM


As far as I'm concerned, Michael Powell is the best player on the best lacrosse team in the world. Princeton fans will differ.

Posted by: Robert on March 17, 2004 12:21 PM


SBW: There is no "Balfour Decision." I mean, I think he made some, but none about Zionism and Palestine made a "Declaration" in a letter to Lord Rothchild in 1917, which included the phrase "it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine." Powell seems to have gotten that end of the message, alone among the Bushkudniks.

that the

Posted by: Brian C.B. on March 17, 2004 12:26 PM


wcw: "sbw, glad to see that by your silence you concede that your containment aspersion was pure trollery. less glad about the rest. baby steps."

Somebody want to translate this for me. [BTW: Some of us have to work. ;-)]

Posted by: sbw on March 17, 2004 06:25 PM


"SBW: There is no "Balfour Decision."

Yer right. Brain fart. Meant his 1922(?) letter... the Declaration. Thnx for the correction.

Just meant the sometimes it pays to look at how things came about in the first place, because, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but you don't have to know anything to have one.

Posted by: sbw on March 17, 2004 06:29 PM


"The Bush administration seems to make a lot of formerly well regarded people look like fools. At the top of the list: Colin Powell and Alan Greenspan."

Shilling for the killing, shilling for the killing, shilling for the killing there is *bleep* all else to do.

Posted by: Stirling Newberry on March 18, 2004 04:00 AM


Granted that Powell's earlier heroic reputation was inflated, projected, propped up, distorted, but still--
Playing out this grand opera would make Bush, Cheney, Rumfield, Wolfiwitz, Perle, and the rest of the band look like villains--and the fifth act would have them justly punished. (Dreams of Hamlet...)
Even if Powell's bio wouldn't match the persona, I'd give that storyline an ovation.

Posted by: ML on March 18, 2004 05:19 AM


He has just come totally unglued as of late.

Posted by: Daryl on March 18, 2004 12:43 PM


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