Monday, November 15, 2004

You won't be Missed

Colin Powell won't be part of the last (that has a nice sound) Bush administration and it won't matter one bit.  The man who four years ago joined a President with an assumed weak mandate was widely regarded as the Walter Cronkite of American public life.  If Bush unnerved many of us, and Cheney scared us half to death, Powell promised to be the saving moderating voice.  And, given the trust most of the country had in him, we wrongly assumed his views would prevail, at least most of the time.  These many years later Walter Cronkite is still missed, still trusted.  Colin Powell is unlikely to benefit from a similar legacy.

Powell it turns out, photo ops at the ranch notwithstanding, was a pretty weak player in the Administration from day one.  Despite tours in Viet Nam and leading the military at NATO and at home, he turned out to be inept in the trenches.  Draft evader Dick and "oh things happen" Rummy beat him at every turn.  The only time it seems that they passed him a bone was when it was clear that he would embarrass himself, not to mention his country, and forever tarnish his reputation before the UN and the world community. 

Walter Isaacson points out in a Times Op Ed that George Marshall, another General turned statesman, is Powell's hero.  Marshall didn't step aside when he disagreed with Truman and Powell followed his example even in the face of both foreign policy and military missteps.  Good soldiers both of them.  Marshall at least has left the Western World with concrete accomplishments – think about Europe without the life-regenerating Marshall Plan.  The Powell Doctrine has already been trashed, if it were ever really employed.  No, my guy is the late Cyrus Vance who quit Jimmy Carter's cabinet after the aborted attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran.  He did so on principle (remember that antiquated concept), something that seems to have eluded the general.  Soldiers may salute the Commander and Chief, but apparently Mr. Powell forgot that Secretary of State is a civilian diplomatic post, not another military assignment.

Some people will try to put a good face on the Powell tenure, speaking of the frustrations and valiant behind-the-scenes efforts.  They see his UN appearance as a tragic moment, an aberration in an unblemished career.  All of this doesn't cut it.  People who have reached Powell's level (achieved with considerable systematic planning and personal ambition) don't get free passes.  If George Bush squandered the good will that followed 9/11, Powell squandered what may well have been the myth of his public career.  Good bye Colin Powell, you won't be missed.  Don't get me wrong, Condi won't be welcomed.

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