Time for Colin Powell to Retire
Jude Wanniski
September 29, 2003


Memo To: General Colin Powell
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Being a Good Soldier

Over the last few years, Mr. Secretary, several times in this space I have suggested the need for major changes in the President’s national security team. When I have, it has always been because I believed individuals on that team were purposely misleading Mr. Bush on what was going on in the Middle East. I’ve never included you in that “Cabal,” which is what the neo-conservatives have labeled themselves. In fact I think you know I have been supporting you at every twist and turn of the road. This support has come chiefly from my wishful thinking that what you have done and said as Secretary of State has been the result of your political maneuvering against the Pentagon intellectuals who have been so eager for war. I was not happy with your public positions, but always believed you were suppressing your true feelings and playing “the good soldier.” There may have been a point where that applied, General Powell, but it has now past. It is now my best judgment that as good as you were as a military man, you have been a failure as a diplomat and that there is little chance you will improve if continued to stick around.

If anything, you seem to be moving toward a vanishing point in effectiveness. The situation in Iraq is of course your biggest failure, as it is becoming clearer as days and weeks pass that the war was unnecessary. Now we have both North Korea and Iran reacting to our foolish pre-emptive war in Iraq by threatening to develop nuclear weapons, in order to protect themselves from an unpredictable Pentagon and President. You began your diplomatic service in 2001 by showing a willingness to engage Pyongyang at a time when it showed every sign of finally opening up. But that did not fit with the Pentagon’s aim of tackling “The Axis of Evil,” a term you should have never permitted to go into the President’s State of the Union address. The President himself went even further with his gratuitous personal insults of North Korea’s president. It has been downhill ever since. Every opportunity Pyongyang has offered for peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue has been shot down by your neo-con “minder” at State, John Bolton, who clearly works for the Defense Policy Board, not you. It has been embarrassing to hear you defend Bolton’s belligerent blusterings when you should have been telling the President you want him replaced.

As for Iran, given the continued antagonisms it faces from the Pentagon, it would be surprising if there were not contingency planning in Tehran to quit the Non Proliferation Treaty as North Korea has done and get to work on a nuclear deterrent. Now we have Israel threatening to bomb Iran’s nuclear power plants in a repeat of its 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak plant outside Baghdad; Iran promises to “react” if that happens. And where is the Secretary of State? I’m afraid, General Powell, that you have spent the last three years getting whipped by the neo-cons and their Likudnik allies in Tel Aviv. The end of Saddam’s regime in Baghdad was supposed to have opened the way to an Arab/Israeli “two-state solution,” according to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. But the “road map” is now a dead letter, and once again you have egg all over your face. All you can do is accept the neo-con party line and blame Yasir Arafat for the failure, when the whole world can see Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has not the slightest intention of moving toward a Palestinian state and need not do so as long as President Bush is in his back pocket. He’s there because you allowed it to happen. Instead of putting up a fight when your initiatives with the Palestinians and Arafat were undermined by the Pentagon and the Israeli Lobby, you shrugged and walked away, always the good soldier, the team player, the feckless diplomat.

In your recent public appearances, you come back again and again to saying how everything that has happened on your watch comes down to the success in removing Saddam Hussein from power. That alone justifies all the costs, all the diplomatic failures. Each time, whether it is on a Sunday talk show or on David Letterman’s show, you cite your recent visit to the Kurdish town of Halabja. It was at Halabja, you say, that Saddam 15 years ago bombed his own people, with sarin and VX poison gas, killing “5,000” in one day. You saw the “mass graves” of these Iraqi Kurds and realized the extent of Saddam’s evil. How pathetic, General Powell, that you still believe that neo-con propaganda. It is now well established that insofar as there were Iraqi deaths at Halabja, they were in the “hundreds,” civilians who were caught in the crossfire between the Iraqi and Iranian armies, with the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency agreeing that many were killed by Iranian gas. There was no genocide. The “mass graves” you said you saw were cemeteries. Don’t take my word for it. You’ve made a big deal out of going to the CIA headquarters for three days before the war, to ask questions about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Why didn’t you ask George Tenet about Halabja? Or why didn’t you ask for an independent review of Halabja by the House Intelligence Committee? The committee has now reported on the utter uselessness of the information it got from Iraqi defectors on WMD -- which is precisely the bum dope you swallowed at Langley.

On yesterday’s talk shows, you were asked if you would be staying around after the first of the year. Each time you said you serve at the pleasure of the President. Which means, you will insist that Mr. Bush let it be known – as he did with Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill – that you are no longer needed. You know, of course, the President could not dispose of you as he did O’Neill, no matter how much your service might displease him. What I suggest is that you take a good long look at yourself in a mirror and see a man who may be terrific at leading men into battle, but who can’t play the diplomatic chess game. Nobody else has suggested you quit, because the hawks are happy to have you eating out of their hands, and the doves are afraid the President would replace you with an out-and-out hawk. If I were you, General Powell, I wouldn’t worry about how that would play out. I’d swallow hard, recognize my shortcomings and failures, and just quit. Let the President pick a replacement and live with the consequences, good or bad.