Skip to main content

In all Honesty, Colin Powell Should Step Out


Citing great lack of "situational awareness," the influential and
independent Army Times newspaper last week called for "accountability" for
"a failure that ran straight to the top." "Even if it means relieving top
leaders from duty in a time of war," the army admonished itself, the
scandal was deep and upsetting, amounting to "professional negligence."

Serious and necessary words about a trouble that could be seen coming,
considering the men and women George W. Bush enlisted to help him run the
most partisan and ideologically driven administration since Reagan's men
fashioned the Contra War. The circle of Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense
Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice
and of course, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, along with their
disciples, is finding out that the world responds in its own dimension to
war and hostility, regardless of imperial or utopian theories. Command
breakdown is the major cause but the posturing of righteous revenge is what
begets the wanton use of deviant torture on prisoners by soldiers bent on
violence. America has been ill represented and led by people of high
posture and ego but who lacked the strategic thinking of a Franklin
Roosevelt, a John Kennedy or even a Richard Nixon (in foreign affairs),
all, unlike George W. Bush, who were pragmatic geo-political statesmen
first and ideologues second.

Consider the Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, realistically the
only possible candidate for statesman within the Bush Administration. In
the final analysis, what is an honest, intelligent and decent man, a man of
conviction to do when confronted by such arrogance - posturing as
competence - as that of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, always
Powell's nemesis. Rumsfeld is increasingly a proven over-reacher whose
formalized self-importance has the country mired in a nightmarish death
trap no one yet knows how to actually exit. Bush pointed the way to Iraq
and Rumsfeld led America's Armed Forces there, where they are dying daily
in a mission poorly conceived to begin with, still misunderstood, and even
more horribly planned.

The proof of the dismal and incompetent planning - beyond the unanticipated
general rebellion still growing a year after "Mission Accomplished" - is in
the photos of deviant sexual physical and mental abuse of Arab men and
women by young American men and women soldiers. This is a stain so deep and
glaring on the American military that no amount of apology or transparent
court proceedings can adequately restore or cleanse it. Rumsfeld's military
and mercenary consultants working as interrogators and intelligence
gatherers may not and should not escape prosecution; intelligence officers
needed to be trained and managed. In Iraq, this president picked a war with
no clear purpose beyond striking a completely unrealistic blow for an
idealized democracy. It is a war whose goals seem as elusive now as they
were ill-conceived in late 2002 and early 2003.

As the only would-be statesman in the shoot-from-the-hip Administration of
George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell must be reeling in
frustration and indignation. At some points in the trajectory of apologies
and fence-mending to which poor Colin Powell has been relegated since the
Iraq fiasco began, the hero general must have wondered with just what kind
of people he has found himself associated, if not surrounded. The national
icon of Desert Storm and later political hope for many Americans who still
sympathized with his potential for representing integrity and intelligent
moderation in government, is clearly one victim of the radical Bush
administration. Certainly, Secretary Powell's heretofore highly credible
stature and exemplary career has been seriously diminished by his
participation, defense and support of the decisions that have resulted in
the fiasco that is present-day Iraq.

When Harry Belafonte taunted Colin Powell for being committed to serving in
the house of the master for the Bush family, we wished for a more temperate
discussion among African American leadership. While we still reject the
tone and the premise we understand Belafonte's perception. The time is now
for Colin Powell to signal his independent departure from the mess of an
obstinate war policy that has made shambles of international alliances and
made the United States a detested country to the masses of nations around
the world.

Colin Powell's greatest asset, his unflinching loyalty and duty to chain of
command, has now become his greatest liability. As good soldier, the still
popular general must know that he has traveled the extra thousand miles for
this Commander-in-Chief; but duty and what can be salvaged of his honor now
dictates a decisive departure. Commander-in-Chief Bush made a huge wrong
turn in his conduct on the war on terror by invading Iraq. It was just one
of several potential approaches and the facts now clearly reveal it was the
wrong one - premature, unnecessary, vengeful without a realistic purpose -
and in one long year, it has turned America from true world leader into the
world's superpariah - a shameful result of arrogant bravado over pragmatic

We implore Colin Powell to embrace his own conscience and to respectfully
acknowledge and deeply consider the contributions of those who built the
foundation that helped make his successful life possible. When Martin
Luther King Jr., a hero to many American Indians, led the movement to free
African Americans and other peoples of color from this country's lingering
policies of institutionalized discrimination - a dream that visualized all
Americans having fair access to America's public schools and institutions
and workplaces (not to mention access to public restrooms and drinking
fountains) - his call was for more than physical liberation. It was also a
call to free the minds and empower the full conscience of those who were
oppressed. Dr. King's eloquence resonated well with tribal peoples who
placed a high regard on oratorical skill. American Indians like to hear the
truth and like to hear it told well.

We appeal to Secretary Powell to summon the courage and make a principled
decision about his continued association with an administration that has so
badly misinformed and misguided the American people. Several years ago
Powell abandoned the opportunity to chart his own course, choosing not to
run for the Presidency himself, but instead return as a subordinate within
another Bush administration. As a result, a tremendous opportunity was lost
both to Colin Powell himself, who could have promoted pragmatic policy
ideas based on his own valuable and worldly life experiences, and to the
country, which could have benefited greatly from his leadership. Instead,
during these intervening years witness Secretary Rumsfeld publicly mocking
the "Powell Doctrine" on military strategy (Powell was of course correct)
and yet Powell himself making the Bush administration's now discredited
case against Iraq before the UN Security Council and the world.

Only an active global diplomacy based on hearing the prescriptions of other
countries can prepare and deploy willing alliances that can subdue terror
tactics. Only a U.S. president intent on seeking a just solution for the
Palestinian people can hope to stabilize the Middle East. Colin Powell must
know this. His strategic circle is encouraged to consider an ethics-based
decision to depart the State Department - say, for a major think-tank or a
university presidency - before the election. Such a move would go a long
way toward signaling to the American people that scrutiny of leadership is
of essence at this dangerous time in history. Policy refinement
internationally and nationally is sorely needed if American leadership
would again be welcome around the globe.