Tuesday, November 16, 2004
We hate to pinch from Juan Cole twice in one day, but we hope he can live with it. Here's his take on the currently popular argument that, because he was "marginalized" and "ineffective" to begin with, the resignation of veracity-challenged Colin Powell at State (and his replacement by veracity-challenged Condoleezza Rice) isn't really all that big a deal:
[I]nsiders in Washington have told me enough stories about Powell victories behind the scenes that I am not sure the marginalization argument is decisive. Powell had an alliance with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the two of them could sometimes derail the wilder plans of the Department of Defense. Blair, and probably Powell, convinced Bush to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan before going on to an Iraq war. Imagine how dangerous the situation would be if the US were bogged down in Iraq as it is now, but Bin Laden's 40 training camps were still going full steam!
Likewise, I have it on good authority that Powell and Blair derailed a Department of Defense plan to install Ahmad Chalabi as a soft dictator in Iraq within 6 months of the fall of Saddam. Jay Garner had been given this charge, and Powell was able to get Paul Bremer in, instead, with a charge to keep the country out of Chalabi's corrupt hands.
So at some crucial junctures, Powell has played an essential role in ensuring the implementation of a more sensible policy. Without him in the administration, hotter heads may well prevail . . . .
Rice seems to me to have two major drawbacks as Secretary of State beyond her inability to challenge Bush's pet projects. One is that she is an old Soviet hand who still thinks in Cold War terms. She focuses on states and does not understand the threat of al-Qaeda, nor does she understand or empathize with Middle Easterners, about whom she appears to know nothing after all this time. The other drawback is that she is virtually a cheerleader for Ariel Sharon and will not be an honest broker between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Powell was much more fair on such issues, though he wasn't exactly pro-Palestinian either. Of course, with Elliot Abrams as the national security council staffer in charge of Arab-Israeli things, you might as well have Sharon just run US Middle East policy himself.
If the second Bush term is going to be mainly full of Fallujahs, though, I suppose Colin is well out of it. Seeing the iron fist lowered over and over again to little political advantage would be the more depressing the closer you were to the decision-making process.