Sometimes it is worth writing someone's obituary
ahead of schedule. In the case of politicians, the
purpose of an obituary is to serve as a warning against
the political zombies those politicians who are politically
spent or have lost their souls. There are many of
them around today, e.g., Jose Maria Aznar, Tony Blair,
Jack Straw, Kofi Annan, Javier Solana... and Colin
Powell, the US Secretary of State.
One could almost feel
sorry for General Powell. In 2000, Powell had the
useful face and the useful stars, attractive attributes
required for electoral purposes. Recruited into office
amidst much fanfare, he has duly proven a useful political
fig leaf over a foreign policy determined by others.
Today he is a discredited spokesman of a bankrupt
foreign policy, a token captain remote from the rudder
of a foundering ship.
Early on in his career,
Powell specialized in whitewash and ass-cover-up operations.
Remember My Lai? Well, in 1968 Major Powell was instrumental
in whitewashing that sordid episode. During his stint
at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell was responsible
for pressing ahead with the 1991 Gulf War, a war that
was entirely avoidable and against the judgment of
the general staff. We know the disastrous consequences
of that operation and much has been revealed of his
murky past. This article will focus on his record
as Secretary of State. (For critical background, see
Parry and Solomon's excellent "Behind Colin Powell's
Big Lie unravels
Powell's recent admission
that the evidence he presented in front of the UN
Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003 had not been "solid"
was the nadir of an increasingly pathetic career.
For Powell to admit that there were flaws in his presentation
at this late stage of the game, after thousands lay
dead and Iraq had been ravaged, is like someone caught
in a lie a mighty big lie and then only sheepishly
admitting that it may have been false. Powell has
proven that he doesn't just have thick skin, but skin
calloused by experience into a carapace.
The admission by David
Kay, the US chief weapons inspector, that Iraq did
not possess any WMD pulled the rug right out from
under Powell's feet. Before this, Powell had insisted
that his accusations leveled against Iraq in front
of the UN Security Council had been based on sound
intelligence . As late as
the end of Feb. 2004, Powell was still defending his
position and reacted angrily when he was challenged
in front of a Congressional hearing concerning his
claims of Iraqi WMDs. What made this event memorable
was his angry outburst, punctuated by a disaffected
pimp scowl, against a Congressional staffer who had
been shaking his head. At that time, Powell was still
bluffing it out.
But Kay's revelation
made Powell's position untenable, and admissions of
error had to be made. On April 2nd, in what turned
out to be an exercise in minimalism, Powell finally
admitted to having relied on evidence that "was
not solid" . This admission
is curious; it refers only to a small fraction of
the litany of accusations he had leveled in front
of the Security Council. The "mobile factories"
claim officially hit the dust, but the remaining claims
(many of which were by now also discredited) were
not mentioned. In fact, the veracity scorecard of
all the accusations has proven to be abysmally low:
many were just transparent lies, and even the smallest
details were either false or deliberately distorted.
Even at the time, only the most gullible would have
thought that Powell's presentation contained a smoking
gun, let alone a justification for war .
It is unimaginable that Powell made this presentation
without realizing that most of his statements were
lies or fabrications. Never mind, it is part of the
job, and it has been part of General Powell's job
description for the past few decades; selling and
pushing wars has been his specialty.
admission of having relied on shaky intelligence was
calculated to signal to the media to lay off this
issue. Any further questions about Powell's testimony
will be met with hostility and the questioner will
be referred to the previous admission about the dubious
evidence. The public at large was put on notice: they
too would be expected to move on and ignore the gaping
omissions in this sordid chapter.
rats are masters of the ship
Powell should have
held ultimate authority over foreign policy, yet he
was not allowed the final say in the appointment of
reputable diplomats nor to develop a coherent foreign
policy. The Secretary of State should also have played
an important role in moderating Bush's rash impulses
the man demonstrates a weaponized obtuseness and requires
constant monitoring. Instead, Powell has been relegated
to a secondary role and merely mouths policy concocted
by others. Paul O'Neill, the former Secretary of Treasury,
recently described the cabinet meetings chaired by
president Bush as ones chaired by a mute and attended
by the deaf. A compliant Powell fits in perfectly.
It is clear that Powell
didn't have much voice in the appointment of the neocons
to policy positions. Appointing the arch-Zionist Elliot
Abrams to oversee Middle East policy was as appropriate
as appointing a pyromaniac to the fire brigade .
The same can be said about John Bolton, Roger Noriega,
John Negroponte and other Cheney cronies who can only
be described as a wrecking crew, as Powell must have
been aware. In addition, Powell faced the ultimate
indignity when, for crucial negotiations and foreign
policy advice, James Baker, the former Secretary of
State, was given an office in the White House.
Powell has often uttered
statements about US policy only to be contradicted
by one of the rats aboard his ship. Immediately after
the coup in Haiti, Powell uttered some statements
about respecting a democratically elected government,
only to be contradicted the same day by Roger Noriega.
Despite Powell's statement, a death squad leader was
appointed to head the new Haitian government.
Only indirectly, via
rumors, or through the Woodward exposé, does
one hear that Powell had no input in these appointments,
and disagreed with the selection of these people,
but yet he continues in his token post .
A principled response would have required blocking
such appointments or resigning; yet, his clinging
on to the job is revealing.
War is Necrophilia by Robbie Conal (www.robbieconal.com)
Powell's term as Secretary
of State has produced some searing memories. His role
in putting the US on course for a war against Iraq,
pushing (or not opposing) the neocon agenda, the undermining
of international law, and the signaling of "green
lights" to whatever Ariel Sharon sought to do,
are infamous for the craven and callous role the "head
diplomat" chose to play.
Green light #1: Ariel Sharon crushes Jenin
In April 2002, Ariel
Sharon sought once again to smash any possibility
for the emergence of a Palestinian state in the West
Bank and Gaza. This was accomplished by a massive
military onslaught against Palestinian cities in the
West Bank and Gaza. Throughout the Occupied Territories,
the Palestinian Authority was uprooted, destroyed,
and its security apparatus dismantled. The operation
culminated in the bloody siege of Jenin where an unknown
number of Palestinians were killed, and significant
portions of the Jenin refugee camp were flattened.
Prof. Ilan Pappe called this onslaught "an unprecedented
episode of cruelty in the unsavory history of the
outcry about the Israeli offensive against the civilian
population forced the United States to react, but
only in a way that made it abundantly clear that it
had granted a de facto "green light".
Instead of proceeding to Jerusalem immediately and
firmly, Powell proceeded at a snail's pace, taking
a circuitous route via Morocco, Egypt... and only
arrived in Jerusalem after Israeli troops had flattened
Jenin and killed many throughout the occupied territories.
The King of Morocco even asked Powell why he was visiting
him instead of going straight to Jerusalem! Once in
Jerusalem, Powell didn't demand a cessation of hostilities,
and his cordial public relations with Sharon signaled
no opprobrium. In a grotesque gesture, Powell even
suspended his mission for some days following a suicide
bombing. Powell's role was not one aiming to constrain
America's client or one that would have given credibility
to Bush's call for restraint. Powell was playing the
role that has served him so well over the years, that
is, whitewashing and covering up the Israeli depredations.
To make matters worse,
the US effectively sabotaged the UN commission charged
with investigating the mass killings at Jenin. First,
the US attempted to stack the commission in such a
way that it would be favorable to Israel, e.g., appointing
military experts and some dubious diplomats. Finally,
it vetoed the commission altogether. Powell thus signaled
that no one would have legal recourse or even obtain
an investigation into Israeli mass human rights abuses.
Thus, once again, Israel obtained a "green light"
and a free "get out of jail card".
More ass-cover-up operations.
The US has sanctioned
the building of the massive land-grab wall inside
the West Bank, even funding most of its construction.
When international outcry protested the wall as a
violation of basic international law, Israel did its
best, with American assistance, to stop the International
Court of Justice (ICJ) hearings about it. Powell's
role in sabotaging the ICJ hearings and the eventual
muzzling of these proceedings are another dark blot
on the American reputation. First, the US sought to
pressure many countries to submit advance objections
to the ICJ hearing on the specious grounds that this
would "politicize" the issues surrounding
the construction of the wall. Second, Israel requested
a delay in the issuance of the State Dept.'s human
rights report until after the ICJ hearings. Israelis
feared that the report could contain criticism of
the wall, and sought to prevent this information's
inclusion in the proceedings. True to form, Powell
was complicit in delaying the publication of the report;
it was finally released a weekafter the ICJ
hearings, more than a month after it was originally
scheduled for publication. Finally, the US is currently
attempting to delay the ICJ's rulings on the matter
until it will be useless, i.e., months after the wall
has been completed.
Blessing Sharon's unilateral plan, and the second
On April 14, 2004,
Sharon's unilateral "disengagement" plan
received Bush's official blessing. Bush accepted Israel's
unilateral annexation of West Bank land, the removal
of the Palestinian refugees' right to return, and
veto power over future negotiations with Palestinian
representatives. Furthermore, although Israelis will
claim to "withdraw" from Gaza, the proposals
are nothing of the sort. Gaza will remain the world's
largest concentration camp, with no access to neighboring
countries, no ports, no airports, and even an Israeli
veto on the Palestinian leadership.
The Washington meeting
of Bush and Sharon must be viewed in the context of
the assassination of Sheik Yassin, Hamas' quadriplegic
spiritual leader, on March 22, 2004. Sharon personally
directed the assassination! No problem, the US vetoed
a very mild UN rebuke against the assassination, and
Sharon was still welcome in Washington a few days
later. With Washington's official blessing for his
unilaterally imposed plan, Sharon returned to Israel
on April 16, 2004; the next day the newly appointed
leader of Hamas, Dr. Rantisi, was assassinated. Nothing
could make clearer the tacit collusion between the
US and Israel in elimination of the Palestinian leadership.
Powell signaled a green light and warded off any UN
and/or international condemnation.
Once again, Powell's
role in these events has been appalling. Intermittently
before and after Bush's blessing of Sharon's unilateral
plan, Powell berated Palestinians for not clamping
down on "terrorism". Arafat and his cronies
barely control one outhouse in Ramallah, so any demand
to clamp down on "terrorism" is exceptionally
cynical. Powell also stated that the Palestinian Authority
should not share power with Hamas. Given that Hamas
is a legitimate political group that may now represent
the views of the majority of the Palestinians, it
is callous for Powell to threaten a veto of the composition
of Palestinian representation.
Powell's dismal performance
continued early in May seated next to the insufferable
Kofi Annan and Javier Solana. This "Quartet"
meeting was meant to revive the defunct "road
map", but from Powell's statements, it is clear
that this is another cruel hoax. Powell suggested
that Palestinians should view Sharon's plan as an
opportunity, and that they should embrace it. NB:
Powell was suggesting that Palestinians should see
the bright side of unilateral annexation of their
land, the construction of the land-grab wall, the
forfeiture of the refugees' right to return, and the
imposition of a malevolent apartheid solution! Powell
revealed a few more details about the Sharon's US-anointed
plan. Israel and the US would from now on negotiate
with Jordan and Egypt about control over Palestinian
interests and affairs. These countries would be drawn
in as partners in the imposition of the new plan,
and they would supplant Palestinian representation.
Finally, with a straight face, Powell concurred with
Kofi Annan's statement that UNSCR 242 and 194 would
remain the basis for the "road map" negotiations.
However, one can only interpret Annan and Powell's
statements to be correct in the following perverse
sense. While previous attempts at negotiating peace
between Israel and Palestinians suggested that UNSCR
242 (1967 occupied areas) would be a minimum
basis for a solution, the current suggestion by US/Israel
is that the West Bank and Gaza will represent a maximal
solution to the "Palestinian question".
Powell's statements are steeped in hypocrisy.
It seems that every
time president Bush utters the word "vision"
he chuckles. It must be a private joke similar to
Bush Senior's disdainful reference to the "vision
thing". Some months ago Bush stated that he had
a "vision of a Palestinian state". Given
his endorsement of the unilaterally imposed plan,
Bush stated on May 8th that his vision had slipped
a bit behind schedule, and of course, this was due
to the Palestinians' own fault, i.e., due to "terrorism".
Taking Powell's statements into account one can only
infer that a Palestinian state, or any meaningful
rights for the Palestinians, is permanently off the
agenda. Another vision postponed permanently.
A Black man promoting apartheid
Last month some black
Brazilian students traveling through Europe were astonished
to find out that Powell is an African American, and
one of them asked if he had been afflicted by Michael
Jackson's skin disease. Perhaps even more astonishing
is that a black man has been instrumental in giving
the green light for an extreme apartheid solution
to be imposed on the Palestinian people. As Ronnie
Kasrils, the South African Minister for Water, stated
recently, South African apartheid seems benign when
compared to the Israeli occupation and the dispossession
of the Palestinians throughout the area. What Israel
is currently implementing is a malevolent apartheid
solution. That is, though the walls are meant to demarcate
Palestinian areas, their intent is to create such
harsh conditions that they will drive people off the
land . When Ranaan Gissin,
Sharon's spokesman, was asked about the wall recently,
he laughed while suggesting that this was "a
temporary measure." It can only be interpreted
as temporary, if the wall will be torn down after
the Palestinian population has been driven off the
Oh, he favors democracy!
The neocons have suggested
that Middle Eastern countries have to modernize, and
to become democracies. Powell also played along with
this charade and the State Department issued a report
on what countries in the Middle East need to do, and
US officials attended a meeting in the area to push
the same theme. The State Dept. even coined a grand
title for this rather empty initiative, i.e., the
Greater Middle East Initiative. Note, that while the
US was "encouraging" Middle Eastern countries
to democratize the US was involved in the overthrow
of the democratically elected government in Haiti.
It is clear the US armed and trained a Haitian gang
led by notorious death squad leaders of yesteryear.
How could Powell square the US's desire for "democracy"
in the Middle East when it is at the same time promoting
coups against democratically elected governments in
And now the Europeans must shut up!
The US recently instigated
an OSCE meeting, and on April 29, 2004, it issued
a call to fight anti-Semitism in Europe. Of course,
Powell was on hand to reinforce the message that criticism
of Israel may be construed as anti-Semitism. Mr. Powell
stated: "It is not anti-Semitic to criticize
the state of Israel, but the line is crossed when
the leaders of Israel are demonized or vilified by
the use of Nazi symbols." It seems that pointing
out serious Israeli crimes against Palestinians, and
Ariel Sharon's role in directing them may come under
the OSCE's scrutiny. But what is worse, for president
Bush to call Sharon a "man of peace" or
for critics to call Sharon a war criminal?
Most of the OSCE countries
have become ethnically diverse, and it is likely that
in many of the member countries racism, religious
intolerance, and even violence may be manifest. It
is also likely that the discrimination and violence
against Muslim/Arab people is rife and more acute
than anti-Semitism. So, it is odd that the OSCE meeting
focused on discrimination and violence that may be
less acute and chronic than that directed against
Muslim/Arab minorities. In the very least, the OSCE
working group should have demanded an inclusion of
all groups that are currently threatened in the coverage
of its statement. However, due to US pressure, the
OSCE has focused exclusively on anti-Semitism, and
European critics of Israeli depredations have been
put on notice that their condemnation of Israel could
one day be labeled anti-Semitism. Powell delivered
this veiled threat against those opposed to the Israeli
occupation and its violence against Palestinians.
The token captain attacks a fat rat!
The occupation of
Iraq is a major disaster and the situation is unraveling
before our eyes. Of course, the justifications for
the war were absurd, and now the cost of the occupation
is becoming astronomical. Add to this an unprecedented
level of hostility against the US throughout the world,
and suddenly the position of the promoters of this
war is becoming increasingly tenuous. We already detect
infighting among the cheerleaders of the war, and
Powell even attacked Wolfowitz, albeit indirectly.
Of course, any critical statement must be deniable,
and it was up to one of Powell's aides to compare
Wolfowitz to "Lenin"! 
It seems that Powell wants to dissociate himself from
the neocon warmongers, but it may be a little too
aren't trained in the intricacies and nuances of diplomacy
which comprises a very different form of warfare.
The military are trained to follow orders and accomplish
tasks that are very narrow in scope. It is for this
reason that military officers, not withstanding the
brilliance of their careers, must not be appointed
to the top diplomatic post. In Powell's case, one
must remember that his only contribution to military
doctrine was to advocate the "overwhelming use
of force" notice the genius required to
suggest such a strategy! His background certainly
didn't indicate that he would be a suitable candidate
for the top foreign policy position. His appointment
may have much to do with the subsidiary role given
to diplomacy during the current Bush regime.
Just like the previous
General appointed as a Secretary of State, Alexander
Haig, Powell's term in office has been a disaster.
Instead of leading and creating a coherent foreign
policy, working actively within a multilateral framework,
Powell allowed himself to be dragged along into a
policy of confrontation, unilateralism, disdain for
international law, and predisposed to engage in "preventive
wars". The consequence is evident for all to
see. At the UN, the only countries siding with the
US at the General Assembly are Israel, Nauru and the
Marshall Islands (even Dominica abstains these days!).
Now, any architect of American diplomacy must be proud
of this accomplishment! Fairly soon, Americans will
not be able to travel in the Middle East and significant
portions of Africa without an element of fear.
On April 27th Powell
stated that he was not going to resign, but his aide,
Mr. Wilkerson, revealed that Powell is unlikely to
seek a second term if Bush is reelected, and "said
the Secretary of State had spent much of his time
doing damage control around the world for the actions
of his colleagues [...] and he was physically and
mentally tired" . Powell
went from presidential hopeful to a faded star in
less than four years. What is in store for him now?
Sell armaments for the Carlyle group; write another
tome of his memoirs receiving a handsome sum in advance;
or will he go on the lecture circuit to receive a
If Powell had played
a part in a tragicomedy, then one would at least have
found something to laugh about. Alas, there is nothing
comical about Powell's entire career, and the man
can best be described as a tragipathetic character.
That is, the tragedy has to do with the many corpses
in Vietnam, Iraq, Palestine and Haiti; the pathetic
part has to do with Powell's willingness to play along
in these sordid affairs. One would almost like to
say 'R.I.P.', though this would not be well deserved,
especially since he was D.O.A, dead on arrival.
1. It is difficult
to know what to make of Woodward's books. He is
certainly used by the major players to spin their
side of the story, and any attribution that may
cause trouble can be denied. As an historical record
Woodward's books are of questionable value.
2. Robert Parry and
Norman Solomon, Behind Colin Powell's Legend, ConsortiumNews
3. Powell even stated
that he had spent days at the CIA obtaining a thorough
4. Powell admits
Iraq evidence mistake, BBC Online, April 3, 2004.
Note that Powell is only referring to a few elements
of his presentation. The "mobile factories"
part was "not solid", but by implication
that leaves the rest of accusation untouched.
5. If proof is needed,
see my comments on Powell's accusations on Feb.
6, 2003. Paul de Rooij, A Riposte to Gen. Powell:
Where are the incubators?, Feb. 6, 2003. This essay
was written immediately after Powell's UN performance,
and published three hours afterwards. Even early
on, it was evident that most of his statements were
to use diplomatic terminology baloney.
6. A charge often
leveled against the neocon Zionists (an admitted
pleonasm) is that they have a "dual loyalty"
or that they are "Israel Firsters". This
would imply that they would uphold US interests
to the same or to a similar degree as their defense
of Israeli interests. However, it is increasingly
evident that a better label for this gang is "Israel
exclusivists", implying that they will manipulate
US political process to push Israeli interest first.
It is difficult to imagine that their pursuit of
a US-Iraq war and occupation has fostered American
interests in the area. However, it is clear that
in their calculus Israel's interests have been promoted.
7. About Bolton,
see Uri Avnery, Vanunu: The Terrible Secret, April
8. Ilan Pappe, As
long as the plan contains the magic term 'withdrawal',
it is seen as a good thing, London Review of Books,
May 6, 2004.
9. Noam Chomsky,
The Wall as a Weapon, New York Times, 23
10. John Leyne, Powell
aide takes swipe at rivals, BBC Online, May 6, 2004.
Paul de Rooij
can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org (NB: all attachments will
be automatically deleted). ©2004 Paul de Rooij
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