[[T U B E]] * Excuse me if I don’t turn all warm and forgiving when I hear former Secretary of State Colin Powell say, as he is supposed to do again tonight on ABC-TV’s 20/20 program, that he regrets making his February 5, 2003, presentation to the United Nations--the speech in which he sought to convince defiant members that making war on Iraq was essential, based on “proof” from U.S. intelligence sources that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. It was supposed to be Powell’s “Adlai Stevenson moment,” recalling the former UN ambassador’s powerful 1962 presentation before the Cuban missile crisis to an emergency session of the Security Council. But, as we know now, Powell’s “intelligence” was deceptive--and perhaps deliberately so. Twenty months later, in February 2004, the Iraq Survey Group reported that Saddam neither had stockpiles of WMDs when U.S. forces invaded his country in March 2003, nor had he initiated any program to produce such weapons.
Asked whether he believes that this notorious appearance soiled his rep, the general-turned-statesman tells 20/20’s Barbara Walters, “Of course it will. It’s a blot. I’m the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It’s painful now.” (This echoes the mea culpas delivered by Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell’s former State Department chief of staff, who in August called his involvement in the UN presentation “the lowest point in my life.”)
Yet, despite the bloody fiasco that’s come of the war in Iraq, Powell continues to insist that attacking Saddam Hussein’s homeland in the first place was the right thing to do. “Who knew what the whole mess was going to look like?” he tells Walters.
I’d have a lot more sympathy for Powell, had he done anything to let the American public know, back in 2003, that there were legitimate doubts about the veracity of the intelligence he was receiving regarding Saddam’s WMDs, and--finally being unsatisfied with the available information and unable to turn the administration from its bellicose path--had resigned, citing his misgivings. Instead, he allowed Bush to commit the nation to a battle against Iraqi troops and later insurgents, which has already claimed the lives of 1,895 U.S. servicemen and -women and could drag on for many years to come.
Heck, I would have more compassion for Powell if he simply said that, looking back now, knowing all he knows today, he thinks Bush made a mistake in attacking Iraq. But he refuses to do even that; instead, he continues to act like the loyal soldier he prides himself on being, regardless of how his association with Bush and the prez’s neoconservative compatriots has destroyed his own standing and credibility around the world. Like U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), whose willingness to support Bush--even though the then-Texas governor’s henchmen had sought to eviscerate him during the 2000 presidential primary with questions about his fitness to serve and his commitment to veterans--makes him an unreliable candidate for any higher office, I see Colin Powell as an ostensibly strong man made weak by ambition and misplaced loyalties. He allowed Bush to corrupt him, to end his career in shame, rather than renown. Too bad. He had more potential than that.