“History is often best served cold.” That’s how former Secretary of State Colin Powell answered PBS interviewer Charlie Rose’s question about whether Powell would one day write a book on his service to George W. Bush. Secretary Powell’s paraphrase of “revenge is a dish best served cold” foretold the other observations he would reveal for the first time regarding the Bush Administration’s handling of the war in Iraq. Admitting that the nation is going through a “rough spot,” Powell defended the White House’s reliance on intelligence that led up to the Iraq War while appearing to lay blame on the intelligence community for any inaccuracies. He did, however, directly criticize the White House’s planning and execution of the war. No one currently in the Bush leadership has yet to admit any failures in this area.
Powell’s criticism comes at a time when President Bush and Vice President Cheney are personally engaged in direct attacks on anyone who questions the war. In Korea on Wednesday, President Bush fired another shot when he accused his critics of rewriting history, calling them irresponsible.
On intelligence, Secretary Powell dynamited the White House’s apparent pre-war certainty about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam’s Iraq. He admitted that the conclusions about stockpiles of WMDs were only “inferential” because, he explained, the government had no one on the ground in Iraq. Regarding his own famous 2003 testimony before the United Nations Security Council, Powell asserted that he felt at that time that all of his testimony was credible because each piece of evidence he presented was backed by several sources.
Powell offered that the President did get more daily intelligence information than the Congress – despite current protestations by the White House to the contrary – though he said that this additional information would not have led to different pre-war conclusions about the existence of the stockpiles. Powell laid the blame squarely outside Bush’s war cabinet, saying, “I think the intelligence community let us all down.” Yet he also defended the integrity of the intelligence operatives, “These are dedicated people who mean nothing but the best for our country.”
On Iraq, Powell was less circumspect. He stated unequivocally that the United States did not have enough troops to impose order after Saddam Hussein’s overthrow and that the White House should have been more aggressive in going after the insurgents early in the conflict. Powell also took issue with the elimination of Iraq’s military, questioning specifically the dismissal of the officer corps in the process known as de-Baathification.
On the torture issue, Powell expressed support for John McCain’s anti-torture legislation (passed 90-9 by the Senate two weeks ago) that the White House is currently threatening to veto. The White House, led by Cheney, has fought against this legislation and aggressively sought an exception for the CIA. Powell said that the U.S. cannot start “cutting corners” when it comes to finding and eliminating terrorists and their leaders. Not only would this compromise some of our nation’s own deeply held ideals, he said, but a no-compromise policy on torture “also protects our soldiers” when they themselves are taken prisoner. Senator McCain’s legislation, Powell insisted, “says to the world … we’re now making a moral statement.”
The White House Cabal
By Lawrence B. Wilkerson, The LA Times (October 25)
LAWRENCE B. WILKERSON served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell from 2002 to 2005.