Powell, Leave This Administration!
April 30, 2002
article by Alan Sipress in Friday's Washington Post
spoke of a rift within the Bush administration that many people
had suspected for quite some time. State department officials
feel that Secretary Colin Powell is being "undercut" by others
in the Bush administration. The staffers, admirers of Powell
and highly loyal to him felt "discouraged" at the failure
of his recent trip to the Middle East.
They point to the administrations unwillingness to stand
behind Powells efforts to pressure an Israeli withdrawal from
the West Bank and to accelerate peace talks between the two
parties. These same officials feel that their efforts are
still being thwarted as they work toward negotiations to create
a Palestinian state. It seems highly unlikely that such a
story would have ever found its way into the Post unless
some people at State, and perhaps even Powell himself, had
wanted it to be there.
The disagreements between State and Defense are hardly new.
There has been tension almost since September 11 over Iraq
and peacekeeping in Afghanistan but the problems have bubbled
over lately over the Israel-Palestine question.
It was the State Department that had to try to soften the
tone of Bushes bellicose, ill-considered "axis of evil" speech
that unnerved allies and inspired criticism in Congress. Powell
tried to reassure the allies that the administration wasn't
ruling out diplomacy and had made no decisions on invading
Iraq while the hawks in the Defense Department were making
plans to do just that.
When Dick Cheney couldn't build support for an Iraq invasion
on his worldwide trip and the Middle East spiraled out of
control the administration dispatched Powell on a diplomatic
suicide mission that was doomed from the start. And each time
Powell is sent out to play "good cop" he earns more contempt
from right-wing pundits and websites and makes the neocons
in the administration more determined to limit his power.
The extreme right has never forgiven Colin Powell for questioning
the wisdom of the Gulf War and has frequently blamed him for
the failure to press the war to Baghdad and remove Saddam
Hussein (although there is no indication that there was any
intention on the part of the first Bush administration to
The second Bush administration wanted Powell at State because
he was the possibly the most popular man in America and conferred
instant respectability on the Bush team which at the end of
the 2000 election badly needed it. Once he was at State, however,
and especially after 9/11, the Bushies had no further need
for Powell preferring to let Rumsfeld and a collection of
think-tank hawks make foreign policy.
The General, it seems, had too much use for diplomacy and
was too busy trying to make peace.
It's ironic that in an administration dominated by people
who found a way to remain comfortably in the US during the
years when Powell was in Vietnam that the General would be
regarded as some kind of Birkenstock wearing hippie peacenik.
Bush and Cheney and Ashcroft and Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz
all found a dire need for higher education during the Vietnam
draft era and when their student deferments ended they relied
on influence or finagling or luck to stay civilians.
It's even more ironic that the administrations only other
prominent Vietnam veteran is its second most prominent powerless
figurehead. Tom Ridge, the bearer of the useless title of
Director of Homeland Security, holds an occasional meaningless
press conference and color codes alerts while business law
professor (hey, he had to get a deferment somehow) John Ashcroft
wields the real power.
Colin Powell is a good soldier. He does now what he and those
like him have always done. He follows orders, even the ones
he has questions about. But there comes a time when even the
good soldier has to step up and speak out for what he thinks
So, Mr. Powell, I urge you to leave this administration full
of chickenhawks. You have never been anything but a showpiece
to them just like the black speakers and entertainers that
they trotted onto the stage at their convention in Philadelphia
two years ago. They have no intention of using your considerable
expertise and experience to help bring peace to the Middle
East. They view you as window-dressing, a harmless decoy that
they can ignore for the most part and occasionally use to
distract domestic and international attention from their policy
You deserve better and I'm willing to wager that you can
advance the cause of your more reasoned diplomatic vision
by a cleaning out your desk and holding a press conference.
Tell the assembled reporters that you're not going to beat
your head against the Defense Department wall any longer.
I guarantee that those in the administration that never had
any intention of listening to you would be paying attention
then if only because they knew they'd have a whole lot of
questions to answer about your departure.
So leave and give the damn chickenhawks hell on the way out
the door. It would be one more service that you can perform
for America and it might just accomplish more than you ever
could in your present situation.
Quit this administration, Mr. Powell. It would be your finest