The Rosett Report

Obama Is Just Powell's Latest Mistake

Having watched Colin Powell’s enraptured endorsement of Obama on Meet the Press, I got to thinking about Powell’s track record of judgment calls.

That took me back to memories of Powell’s performance during the debate at the UN over the Iraq War — not his presentation at the on WMD (which reflected available intelligence on WMD at the time) but his strange omission of something I think was highly germane. As the U.S. Secretary of State, responsible for U.S. dealings with the UN, Powell was probably best placed — after maybe Kofi Annan and Saddam Hussein — to know that the UN’s corrupt Oil-for-Food program had deeply compromised the integrity of the UN Security Council itself (at least, to the extent it had any integrity to begin with). With UN approval, Saddam Hussein had thrown massive, lucrative business to veto-wielding Russia, France and China. They had stakes in billions worth of deals with UN-sanctioned Baghdad; they also had an interest in covering up the graft that had become the norm within the program.

Colin Powell had privileged access to details and documentation which could have shown this. He never brought it into the public debate, and his State Department refused to release it to the public. While intent on taking Iraq’s case to the UN, Powell apparently failed to alert President Bush, and certainly failed to alert the American public, to the corrupting influence of billions worth of Oil-for-Food dollars on the UN debate itself.

That, in my view, was a cover-up that helped Saddam’s pals and business partners, hurt America, and demonstrated lousy judgment on the part of Secretary of State Colin Powell. So, in light of Powell’s Obama endorsement, on Monday I wrote a column about all this, in which you can find more details, dollar amounts and a fuller explanation, on National Review Online, “General Blind Spots.”

NRO does not post reader comments, but does forward them. And in the stack of messages I received, from various quarters, the basic message was that in focusing chiefly on Powell’s odd handling of Oil-for-Food, I had produced far too kind an appraisal of his record.

The notes were addressed to me, not to the public, so to avoid violating the confidentiality of those who wrote in, I will paraphrase. But here’s the gist, in some cases combining a number of comments:

1) Although Powell claims to be friends with McCain, he did not so much as give him a call before endorsing Obama on Meet the Press. That is underhanded.

2) Don’t forget, in the 1991 Gulf War, Powell was one of the influences behind the decision to stop the war before Saddam was completely defeated. That, plus America’s abandonment of the Iraqis who rebeled after the first Gulf War were serious mistakes, with deadly results for many.

3) During the tempest over the “outing” of Valerie Plame, Powell and his deputy at State, Richard Armitage, kept silent about the real source, leaving the White House to take the heat. 

4) In 2005, Powell called his own 2003 speech at the UN, making the case for invading Iraq, a “blot” on his record. So he would have preferred to leave Saddam in power, to be succeeded by his sadistic sons, running a regime that cut off hands, cut out tongues, ripped out nails with pliers, and butchered its own people?

5) A yen for bureaucratic revenge? (This one is a bit complicated, but an interesting conundrum): Obama argues that the Bush administration and its Iraq war, in which Powell played a major role, was dishonorable. Powell, who left office on a sour note, is now lending his honor to Obama. Just how much honor can a man afford to lend to the idea that he was dishonorable, before he is actually dishonoring himself in the process?