Remembering Colin Powell

Colin Powell’s death from the Wuhan coronavirus evoked dueling liberal mainstream media thoughts. On the hand, Powell rose to heights never before reached by an African-American military leader/statesman. This made him an American hero in the thinking of the liberal MSM.

On the other hand, Powell publicly advocated war against Iraq in 2003, most notably in a speech at the UN, and cited intelligence that proved to be faulty as the centerpiece of his advocacy. This undercut the case for Powell as a hero, in the MSM’s view.

Thus, the liberal mainstream media settled on this narrative: Powell is an American hero whose record is “blotted” by his support of the second war against Iraq.

Is Powell a hero? I guess the answer resides in the eye of the beholder.

Tevi Troy’s obituary of Powell for the City Journal paints the picture of an above-average bureaucratic in-fighter and a world class leaker. My sense is that these traits, rather than heroism or greatness in any traditional sense, explain Powell’s ascent. (Tevi, by the way, is an expert on the history of White House in-fighting under recent presidents, having published an outstanding book on the subject).

What about the claim that Powell’s statements in support of going to war in Iraq are a “blot” on his record? On the one hand, the claim lacks merits. On the other, Powell arguably deserves the tag because he subscribed to it — maybe out of a genuine sense of guilt, maybe in order to regain good standing with his friends in the liberal MSM and the rest of the liberal establishment.

In his UN speech, Powell relied, in general, on the same intelligence that persuaded nearly everyone who saw it that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It has been “suggested” (to use the word employed by the Washington Post) that intelligence officials had cautioned then-CIA Director George Tenet before Powell’s speech about “concerns” over some of the specific evidence Powell cited in the speech.

Tenet has denied this, but let’s say it’s true. I’ve seen no suggestion that Powell knew about the alleged doubts. He was not an intelligence specialist, and neither anything on the face of the intelligence nor anything he was told should have raised “concerns.”

Thus, it is not a “blot” on Powell’s record that he relied on the CIA’s intelligence and presented it in a speech.

But the U.S. didn’t find substantial WMD and the war in Iraq went badly for a few years. Thus, Powell chose to view his pre-war record as a blot, or at least to accept that characterization. He had no alternative if he wished to be other than a pariah in the eyes of those whose favor he desired in retirement from public office.

By accepting the “blot” theory and endorsing a series of Democrats for president, Powell regained much of his stature in those eyes. The man who, as Tevi describes, was mostly successful in gaining favor with influential Republicans, including at least two Republican presidents, was mostly successful in regaining favor with the liberal D.C. establishment.

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