Monday, November 15, 2004

Bye-bye Colin

So, Colin Powell has resigned. I'm trying to think back to four years ago, when he was named Secretary of State, and what we thought that would mean for the Bush Administration. There was the hope that his nomination, when paired with that of Norman Mineta, a Democrat, as Secretary of Transportation, that Bush, who gained the Presidency under a cloud, just might govern humbly from the center. It's mighty hard to remember that now, isn't it?

Despite the fact that Bush and most of his administration turned out to be far more extreme than all but the most cynical of us thought possible, there was still the hope that Colin Powell might serve as a moderating influence. If he was, it was in ways that were neither very visible nor consequential. There does not appear to have been a significant policy fight over foreign affairs in which Powell prevailed over Rumsfeld or the neo-cons. Failing as a moderating influence within the administration, Powell served as its moderate face for the world. It was in that role that he performed his greatest disservice to his nation and the world. It was in that role, as the Administration's voice of reason, that he went before the United Nation and followed the script, using his satellite photos and his pointer to describe the chimerical horrible arsenal Saddam Hussein was prepared to loose upon the Middle East.

I cannot refer to Powell's service in the Bush Administration as a tragedy, for you need in a tragedy to have a hero, a man extraordinary in some way who is brought low by his weakness. Powell turned out to be extraordinary only by his unsurpassed mediocrity, his now legendary weakness. The full measure of his weakness, of his lack of character was revealed later, when we discovered that he made that presentation despite remaining unconvinced himself. The war he sold to the American people that day has split this country and devastated the people and nation of Iraq. It has brought the credibility of our country to an historic low. And for that, Colin Powell is owed as much credit as anybody else. How different might the world be today if, when told to take the case to the United Nations, he had served his Constitution rather than his President and said no.
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