November 16, 2004

Bye, Colin!

At the risk of pointing out the nudity of yet another monarch, I'm not one of those who is distressed by the departure of Colin Powell. Long overdue, if you ask me. The man is a model of rectitude, no doubt, and a poster boy for American opportunity. He also wasn't much of a Secretary of State, as Christopher Hitchens points out here with his usual iconoclasm.

Here's a Hitchens sampler:

"There would be no need to mention the “Quartet”—the all-inclusive Powellite force that comprises (or comprised; it’s hard to say) the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia—if its utter failure had only involved that cemetery of diplomacy, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. More important to us is the question, does the dogma of multilateralism outweigh all experience? Recent history suggests an answer. 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. On the issue of the former Yugoslavia, he had a celebrated confrontation with then U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright, who accused him of being unwilling to employ military superiority in any circumstances."

Powell was no great shakes as a diplomat, didn't like to travel, and leakily sniped at his Administration rivals.

His caution about using power unless one is using enough, reasonable on its face, sometimes did seem to be a refusal to use it at all. The self-censoring caution of a man of color rising in a white society in difficult circumstances, à la LA Mayor Tom Bradley? Or a lesson of Vietnam learned too well?

Whatever my criticism, I thank him for his efforts at a very difficult job and his years of service, and salute his gravitas.

As for Condi Rice, this wasn't supposed to be the job she wanted, but if, like Porter Goss may be doing over at CIA, she jerks chains that have long since needed jerking, she may surprise and delight us all.

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