Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, November 15, 2004

POWELL: ON BALANCE, GOOD RIDDANCE

So Powell will resign. And Condi will replace him.

I keep changing my mind about Colin Powell. I like him in a lot of ways. And I know people in the State Department and the military like him. He cares about the troops. That matters.

At one point, I hoped he would become Secretary of Defense in place of Rumsfeld, to set a new tone for the second Bush term. At another time, I thought he should take the fall for feeding false intelligence to the UN.

A Christopher Hitchens article last week turned me against him. For example, I didn't realize this:

The Europeans failed their very first post-Cold War test, in directly neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina, and had to implore American help. The Gulf Arabs, and their partial allies in Egypt and Syria, could not have recovered statehood for Kuwait on their own, and had to beseech the help of the United States, which—on that basis—was able to recruit an overpowering majority in the United Nations. Colin Powell as national security advisor and Colin Powell as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff sternly opposed both rescue operations until the balance in Washington shifted decisively against him.


Sounds like John Kerry. And this sounds like MoveOn:

In addition to this, we gathered from Wilkerson, it had been a bit much putting up with all the neoconservatives the president had also seen fit to hire. A bit more than a bit much, to judge by this remark: “I don’t care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz.” (This allusion to Washingtonian Bolshevism is eclipsed in an undenied remark in Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, in which the secretary himself refers to Dick Cheney supporters in the Pentagon as the “Gestapo office.”)


Was it useful to have someone, so to speak, "soft" fronting the administration's policy? Or would it have been better to have a true believer in Bush's strategy of freedom preaching it to the world? Who knows.

The Economist, whose coverage of world affairs has many virtues but astuteness is not one of them, entitles their article "Farewell to Powell and his doctrine." That doctrine being:

"America should only use force in defence of its vital national interests; when it does so, it should use force overwhelmingly and should have a clear exit strategy. A corollary of this is that the building of multilateral alliances and the use of “soft” power (ie, diplomatic and economic pressure) should be preferred to unilateralism and “hard” power (ie, military muscle). "


Ironically, I think the Bush administration will have to follow the Powell doctrine in its second term. Even the neocons don't have the stomach for new liberations at the moment. Condi Rice will preach the forward strategy of freedom and vindicate the war in Iraq, while America takes a more laid-back approach. There's a weird, slightly disturbing logic to this pattern of appointing secretary of states who are out of sync with the Zeitgeist. To do one thing and say the other is a sort of compromise: each side gets a little of what they want.

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