10.21.08 Raining on the Colin Powell Lovefest

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m delighted Colin Powell finally had the guts to stand up in public and do the right thing (by endorsing Barack Obama).  It’s just his repeated failure to do so in the past that weighs on my mind.

Powell, more than any other individual, could have prevented the war in Iraq or, once that opportunity had passed, could have assured that the aftermath of war was conducted with basic competence and without shredding the Geneva Convention.  How?  Merely by speaking out, using his enormous prestige and credibility to put spine into those who knew better and open the eyes of those who didn’t.  (I believe that Powell himself did know better.)

Instead, Colin Powell chose loyalty to evil people over the good of our nation and the world.  And I believe there is a special place in hell for those who see evil, know it is evil, have the capacity to stop it, and fail to do so.

Apart from the moral question, Powell was an utter failure as secretary of state: he presided over the greatest loss of power and prestige this nation has probably ever suffered.  May that be his epitaph.

Perhaps Powell’s endorsement of Obama is his attempt to make amends.  It is welcome.  But it is a very, very small deed in comparison to the catastrophe he failed to do anything about.

©2008 Keith Berner

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4 Comments on “10.21.08 Raining on the Colin Powell Lovefest”

  1. Leon Morse Says:

    Colin Powell had an opportunity to prevent one of the worst mistakes in the history of American foreign policy and did not. However, you can’t lay it all at his doorstep. He didn’t push the policy and we don’t know exactly why he chose to not object openly.

    Maybe because he is so otherwise intelligent (your point about his overall record as Sec. State notwithstanding), people want to endow him with powers that few others had at the time. Perhaps, like Dick Armey, he was just BS’d to death–to his face–by Cheney. Maybe he thought it was a mistake, but for different reasons that made objecting vehemently not seem seem like the right course; in other words, he saw going in to not have the consequences it really had.

    I think he should still be remembered well for what he did right (although the diplomoatic side of the Gulf War, to the extent he was invovled in that, was not a long-term success) and I think the endorsement will, in fact, sway some doubters to Obama’s side. Probably not a ton, but some.

    In Congress and elsewhere, people who could have done something rolled over. This reluctance to use declarations of war is idiotic. While it may seem so old fashioned to declare war, the mamby-pamby way that Congress authorizes the president to use force allows members to get out of any sort of collective accountability; it allows them to get out of their constitutional duty, in fact. If things go well, woo hoo! If not, they weasle out of it. Misled or not, Congress gave W a blank check and he, of course, took advantage of it.

    I am concocting the Morse Doctrine on use of force against a country, and here is what I have so far: There is no sense trying to use force to maintain or return a status quo. Once the military force genie is out of the bottle, there is no looking back to the good old days. If some government so pisses us off, threatens us so much, or is so out of line that we need to attack their country, we ought to do so with regime change in mind. In other words, we are saying they are criminal (the government, not the citizens) and the penalty is forefeiture of power. That must have a declaration of war from Congress. We were naive in Iraq 1991 and lucky with Serbia. If we can’t stomach the war, we deal with the new reality. (This is not to include peacekeeping between two fighting sides under international auspices, but would if one side started provoking our peacekeeping troops: we leave or we declare war.)


  2. tgibson24 Says:

    I thought the Morse Doctrine was “lets club some seals!”. It is more succinct anyway, and any Doctrine has to be able to be summed up in one sentence, not one paragraph Mr. Morse. Monroe Doctrine: Don’t fuck with us” Bush Doctrine “We will fuck with you first” etc.

    On Powell, endorsement might have some impact on some voters, best part of it was that it took up two more days of media time with positive Obama love fest at a time when we only have a few more days to go.


  3. Keith Berner Says:

    I think you let Colin Powell off way too lightly. While I think it is likely that he believed what he presented to the UN, he still had it in his power after that to make a huge difference. Instead, he cowered in silence. Also, I challenge you to list anything that he “did right.”

    As for your Morse Doctrine, I have real problems with declaring a right to change regimes abroad. In theory, I agree it may be necessary from time to time, but can’t think of any international power that could possibly be trusted with that right. The American record of international intervention, with the exception of the World Wars and the Balkans, shows that the world is better off when we stay home.


  4. Leon Morse Says:

    Well if you believe in the right to use military force to begin with, what would prevent you from thinking it right to use that force to change regimes if you have to resort to it? It seems incongruous to say we can use force against a country but then have to stop short of getting rid of the root cause of the problem: the regime that caused us to act in the first place.

    Bottom line for me is that the US is in some ways too willing use force, but then not use it all the way. So we intervene half way to restore some situation, but then make a permanent enemy that we have to contain.

    So by restoring the use of declarations of war, we raise the bar and make it more difficult to use force, and hopefully less often. If we do, we have both the executive and legislative fully behind it (and by extension in theory the people).

    If, in 1990 when we were building a coalition against Saddam, we had told our partners that we were only going to participate if we all agreed that Saddam had acted criminally and needed to be removed as a result, maybe we could have had a much different situation. Back then, there were no elusive WMDs. Iraq had invaded Kuwait and everyone knew Saddam had played a dangerous game. Perhaps our unwillingness to do so was proof that we had given Saddam mixed signals?


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