Saturday, September 30, 2006
The Good Soldier Got Snookered
The Sad Story of General Colin Powell
ON WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2004, eight days after the president he served was elected to a second term, Secretary of State Colin Powell received a telephone call from the White House at his State Department office. The caller was not President Bush but Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and he got right to the point.
"The president would like to make a change," Card said, using a time-honored formulation that avoided the words "resign" or "fire." He noted briskly that there had been some discussion of having Powell remain until after Iraqi elections scheduled for the end of January, but that the president had decided to take care of all Cabinet changes sooner rather than later. Bush wanted Powell's resignation letter dated two days hence, on Friday, November 12, Card said, although the White House expected him to stay at the State Department until his successor was confirmed by the Senate.
He artfully brushed aside inquiries about the many published accounts of deep ideological schisms that had rent Bush's national security team throughout the first term and the private humiliations he reportedly had endured at the hands of powerful colleagues.
Audiences often asked about his public role in promoting and defending what many now consider to be the most ill-advised act of Bush's presidency: the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Powell usually offered a tepid defense, allowing only that he wished there had been more troops committed to the war and its aftermath, and a better plan to rebuild the country.
Powell had thrown his considerable personal and professional reputation behind the administration's charges that Iraq possessed chemical, biological and perhaps even nuclear weapons, and posed an imminent threat to the United States. In a crucial speech to the United Nations Security Council six weeks before the invasion was launched, he had single-handedly convinced many skeptical Americans that the threat posed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was real.
No one in his legions of admirers wanted to believe that Powell had been duped by the White House -- or, worse yet, that he had knowingly betrayed the nation's trust. Many assumed that he had privately argued against such a clearly misguided adventure and been overruled.
In fact, Powell had never advised against the Iraq invasion, although he had warned Bush of the difficulties and counseled patience. He had no reason to resign over Iraq, he told questioners. But the larger mystery of his tenure as the nation's chief diplomat, fourth in line for succession to the presidency, remained.