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By David Podvin
Throughout his career, Secretary of State Colin Powell has been the sacred cow of American politics. Liberals have been reluctant to attack Powell because they perceive him as being that rare Republican who is almost civilized, while conservatives consider him to be a useful racial implement with which to establish their humanitarian credentials among voters. As a result of being spared the harsh scrutiny that usually accompanies political life, Powell is one of the most widely admired men in America.
An examination of his behavior, however, reveals that the former general’s favorable reputation is undeserved. Far from being the noble statesman portrayed by the mainstream media, Powell is an amoral minion, someone who has succeeded spectacularly by doing evil things on behalf of powerful patrons. Over the decades, whenever he has had to choose between honor and expediency, Powell has opted for the latter.
During the debate leading up to the conquest of Iraq, Powell argued privately that an occupation of the country would be a nightmare for America. Publicly, he rallied support for the invasion with false claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and was aiding the terrorist group al Qaeda. By lying to facilitate a war that he knew would end in disaster, Powell placed his desire to remain part of the Bush administration above the national security interests of the United States.
Deceiving the American people on behalf of his benefactors is a Powell tradition. As an officer in Vietnam, he was assigned to investigate allegations that the U.S. Army had murdered the residents of My Lai. Without interviewing the soldier who reported witnessing the murders, Powell issued a finding that exonerated the military. Even after it was proven that he had perpetrated a cover-up, the whitewash was greatly appreciated by his superiors. Subsequent to lying about the My Lai massacre, Major Powell was promoted.
During the Iran Contra scandal, Major General Powell was an aide to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Weinberger testified before the Senate that he had instructed Powell to arrange the sale of TOW missiles to Iran for the purpose of subsidizing the Contras in Nicaragua. Although the scheme illegally bypassed Congressional opposition to funding the Nicaraguan terrorists, Powell’s involvement resulted in his promotion to National Security Advisor.
Over the next two years, Powell supervised the campaign that was designed to subvert popular support in Nicaragua for the Sandinista government. The Contra strategy was to rape, torture, and murder civilians, thereby creating such intense misery among the peasants that they stopped supporting the Sandinistas in exchange for an end to the violence. Powell threatened to cut off aid to any Central American country that opposed Contra terrorism. The Sandinistas fell, and the replacement regime immediately announced land reforms that took from the poor and gave to the rich. From his new position as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell enthused, “It is a great day for democracy.”
After vanquishing the Nicaraguans, Powell was entrusted to coordinate the invasion of Panama, where he again demonstrated his indifference to the murder of civilians. During the blitzkrieg that resulted in the capture of General Manuel Noriega, thousands of unarmed Panamanian citizens were killed in the streets, their bodies were burned, and the remains were dumped in mass graves. At a press conference, Powell announced, “Justice has been served.”
In 1991, Powell directed the Gulf War. That conflict not only resulted in more mass graves brimming with civilians, but also produced “Gulf War Syndrome”. It has been established that the illness is a byproduct of Powell’s illegal decision to drop tons of uranium-tipped missiles across the country. Exposure to the radioactive uranium has resulted in permanent brain damage comparable to that found among victims of Lou Gehrig’s Disease and multiple sclerosis. Powell proudly proclaimed, “The Gulf War has been conducted more humanely than any war ever,” and was championed by the corporate media for yet another promotion – this time to the presidency.
Realizing that he was insufficiently Caucasian to gain the presidential nomination of his chosen party, Powell decided not run for the White House. In 2000, he aggressively pursued the job of secretary of state, ingratiating himself to candidate George W. Bush by repeatedly assuring African Americans that the former Texas governor had their best interests at heart.
Consumed with the desire to influence foreign policy, Powell remained silent as Bush illegally disenfranchised African American voters in Florida. Powell knew that Jeb Bush had ordered the voter rolls in the state to be cleansed of tens of thousands of “felons”, the majority of whom turned out to be law-abiding black Floridians. He also knew that the G.O.P. had intimidated black voters at polling places, and that Republicans had invalidated legally cast ballots in predominantly African American precincts.
The vulgar racism of the Republican Party did not motivate Powell to speak out in condemnation. Just as he subordinates the well being of his country to his own agenda, the same is true with the well being of his race. Once again, Powell had prioritized self-interest over integrity, and once again he was rewarded, this time with his cherished cabinet post.
As a member of the current administration, Powell has witnessed Bush surrogates impugning the patriotism of John Kerry. They have circulated a doctored photograph purporting to show Kerry consorting with Jane Fonda at anti-war rallies. There have also been scurrilous coordinated attacks on the validity of Kerry’s military record.
In the past, Powell has insisted that it is “intolerable” for the patriotism of combat veterans to be questioned. This time, however, his response has been quite different. Rather than repudiating the defamation of a war hero, Powell has chosen to watch quietly while the Bush slander machine seeks to recast Kerry from being a three-time Purple Heart winner into a latter day version of Benedict Arnold.
Powell has spoken eloquently about the compelling need for a humane foreign policy and the moral imperative of social justice. He has demonstrated the rhetorical capacity to empathize with the underprivileged, and has stressed his strong desire to create a more equitable world. Unlike so many in the Bush administration, he possesses the ability to distinguish between right and wrong.
Yet this quality makes him all the more loathsome. Powell is one of those truly despicable people who have deliberately harmed this nation for personal benefit. He is not a religious nut wracked by the compulsion to conquer the world because God said so, or an ideological true believer dazed by right-wing dogma, or a corporate whore pathologically obsessed with accumulating wealth. He is a highly rational man who has made the contemptibly rational decision to do whatever it takes to advance the career of Colin Powell, no matter how much it damages the United States of America.
While engaging in this destructive behavior, he has successfully cultivated the image of a selfless public servant through the masterful use of media leaks designed to distance him from the consequences of his actions. Recently, his friends have contacted journalists to insist that Powell is “distraught” over the turn of events in Iraq, and that the problems there have occurred because other cabinet members have made egregious mistakes. Powell is again seeking to have it both ways by facilitating an atrocity and then disclaiming any personal responsibility.
But it won’t work – not this time. Powell was an essential advocate for invading Iraq; without the stature he lent to the false presentation in favor of the war, Bush could not have deceived most of the American people and much of the world. Powell’s fingerprints are all over the current catastrophe, and as the situation continues to deteriorate, he is going to be implicated as an accomplice to one of the most malevolent foreign policy decisions in this nation’s history.
If history is true to reality, Colin Powell will be remembered as an able practitioner of the philosophy that the ends justify the means, even when the ends are merely self-serving. It is a disgraceful legacy of all-consuming ambition, but one that Powell has selected for himself by choosing to betray the country he was sworn to serve.
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