Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Silence of Colin Powell

As George Tenet has gone about hyping his $4 million heap of self-pity, the TV screen has been repeatedly showing him at the UN sitting behind the only truly tragic figure in the bloody drama of how Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al took us into Iraq.

A decade ago, Colin Powell was the one of the most admired men in America, who might have been nominated for President in 1996 if he agreed to run. Today he is remembered for that February 2003 speech that misled Americans into believing Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

It was no accident that Tenet was in camera range. As Secretary of State, Powell had to rely on the CIA for proof. He insisted Tenet be there and, on the morning of the speech, picked him up at his hotel to make sure he would be.

Powell had spent the previous week wrestling with Tenet and the White House staff, discarding what Dick Cheney had called “Scooter’s stuff” and other “garbage” from the likes of Ahmed Chalabi.

Earlier Cheney had made it clear he and Bush were using Powell’s credibility to sell the war. Poking him in the chest, the Vice President told Powell, "You've got high poll ratings, you can afford to lose a few points."

In the end, Powell lost much more--his reputation as a man of honor after a lifetime of public service.

In interviews now, Tenet is being asked why, in the face of all the deception to take the country into an unjustified war, he didn’t resign and tell the truth.

The answer to asking a lifelong toady like Tenet that question is obvious. But why didn’t Powell?

The reason may be summed up in a Washington Post headline about Powell’s Bush years, “Falling on His Sword.” Good soldiers don’t retreat under fire, and they certainly don’t write self-serving, score-settling memoirs after they leave the battlefield.

I must admit bias here. Colin Powell started life in Harlem and the Bronx of poor immigrant parents, as I did. and was given an education at the City College of New York, as I was, by the American people. He spent his working life serving them with honor and valor.

In the final days of that career, he deserved better than Bush.

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