Colin Powell Gaining Acolytes As Bush Doctrine Fails


My colleague Michael Lind — author of the recently released The American Way of Strategy — has an interesting Financial Times piece on the “Powell Doctrine” outflanking the “Bush Doctrine” today and in the years ahead.
I once wrote about the pre-9/11 factions in Bush administration foreign policy. I suggested that there were three groups in competition around Bush:

1. neoconservatives allied with pugnacious nationalists under the guidance of Wolfowitz, Feith, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others — and there was a large populatiion of these “types” throughout the administration;
2. a small group of neo-realists under Condi Rice who did very little to build a roster of followers
3. Secretary of State Colin Powell — who was a movement unto himself but who had no real followers beyond a few key loyalists. Powell tended to matter significantly when he was in the room when decision making was going on but didn’t matter when he wasn’t there (Americans should be thankful that Colin Powell was in the room frequently and decided to travel infrequently so as to try and keep GW Bush on some sort of track early in the administration — or we would be in even worse shape today)

But now Powell’s Gulf War guidance on fundamental interests, overwhelming force, narrow objectives, and exit strategies are going to haunt this Bush administration for all time.
Michael Lind is correct that the disaster that has become the Iraq War will compel every future President to have close at hand some reminder of the Powell Doctrine.

— Steve Clemons


20 comments on “Colin Powell Gaining Acolytes As Bush Doctrine Fails

  1. Alex says:

    About CP,
    “He’s a “house boy”.”
    And let me add about the “house girl”, she probably gets a new pair of knee pads every month.
    Both of them are a disgrace.
    On the other, hand there was hardly a mention about the passing of Pic Botha of South Africa anywhere.


  2. Rich says:

    People in the military regard Powell as “potician”, which is probably the strongest epithet w/o four letter words among folks in uniform. His administrative strengths at State, aside, he’s always been a good soldier from My Lai to the present. I wish him well giving after dinner speeches and fading into obscurity where he belongs.


  3. WTF? says:

    Please explain how the Secretary of State is responsible for the Order of Battle, which is the responsibility of the SecDef. If Powell had implimented an OoB like Rumsfeld’s, then he would have trashed his own doctrine. But he didn’t, so he hasn’t, and, in fact, his doctrine is specificly designed to minimize troop deaths with overwhelming force, as well as spelling out political preconditions that make troop sacrifices worth the cost in terms of national security. And if his love of power were “so great”, he would have run for president instead of settling for a Cabinet job. So you’re pretty much wrong on every point.


  4. Jim S says:

    Colin Powel is a Shakespearean figure, laughed at by the Greek Gods. The man love of power so great, he trashed his own Doctrine and killed his fellow soldiers, for a never ending war of aggression.


  5. ted says:

    CP had the opportunity to speak out and call out the liars!
    he didnt!!
    end of story!!!!


  6. WTF? says:

    “Clue the congress in”? Um, the congressional intel commitees had acess to the same info that Powell had, if they had really bothered to dig around in it. The republicans weern’t interested in more info, seeing how they thought it was a political winner, and apparently the dems didn’t have the sack to raise a stink.
    “House boy”? Why not say “porch n*****” since that’s what you really mean — at least be honest. Never mind that he rose to high rank through distinguished service before executing the most successful military operation since WWII.
    Re: resigning before the invasion. Say your house is burning down and you have time to save only one of your children before it collapses. Are you a hideous person for recognizing a bad situation and saving only one, or should you walk away after concluding the arsonist is just too smart?


  7. Homer says:

    2. a small group of neo-realists under Condi Rice who did very little to build a roster of followers
    Please explain.
    Are you not trying to `put lipstick on a pig’ so to speak.
    As her own history shows quite clearly, Dr Rice was trained and has acted as a `Realist’ for almost all of her career.
    Dr Rice then became a Neo-neocon as evidenced by her apocalyptic post-9/11 warnings which were based on irreality.
    Perhaps Mr Scrowcroft would scoff and shake his head at your “Neo-Realist”?
    (Bush drank from the same LSD laced punch bowl as Rice. Those Neocons sure know how to GET HIGH.)


  8. Alex says:

    I’ll echo Harry Belafonte’s words about CP.
    He’s a “house boy”.
    And people need to remind CP every chance that it was him delivering Bush’s message to the UN about WMD as a reason to invade Iraq and tell him to take the MacArthur-route and “like a good soldier, just fade away” and STFU.
    He has no credibility for being servile to the Georgie and Dick. He’s damaged goods.
    He didn’t say anything when it counted. And history will not be kind to him.


  9. Chris says:

    How can one read this and not laugh?
    It reads as if this is a new development, a new concept shaped by Iraq that arises to displace the status quo.
    The Powell Doctrine was more in-line with American policy across previous administrations, with the exception of debated actions like Somalia. Its the Bush radicalism that is the true exception.
    We didn’t need Iraq to foment a new direction, the Powell doctrine arises directly out of the experience of Vietnam.
    Only in some alternate universe of hell that we’ve slipped into as a country, can the men who avoided Vietnam service get in charge, and have to learn these lessons all over again for themselves while better men in this country already knew what the results would be. And we get dragged along for the ride.
    You don’t even need to call it the Powell doctrine, its the common sense consensus that a few nuts managed to trash.
    That’s the final irony of the stabbed-in-the-back post-Vietnam wingnuts. We came right back to where we started thanks to them, Vietnam is as relevant as in 1975.


  10. rapier says:

    There are doctrine s and there are actions. There are words and there are deeds. There are followers and there are leaders.
    What does it say that Powell had to be in the room to prevent the worst impusles of the president? It says what was apparant in 1998, that Bush was a foreign policy disaster waiting to happen. Where was Powell then. At Bush’s side. That’s all one needs to know really.
    Without Powell there Bush doesn’t win the election. He probably wouldn’t have won the nomination. Bush’s presidency was an impossibility without Powell. Enabler is a word that hardly covers Powell’s role. I’ve been seeking the right word for 5 years and can’t find it. I’m looking for a word that combines opprotunist and actor with quisling.


  11. Richard W. Crews says:

    WoW! I was going to give Powell hell, but that would just be piling on. I had enough respect for him that I would accept profound and very EXPLICIT apologies.


  12. Carroll says:

    I do garee with the Powell Doctrine of last resort…..
    BUT… ALL still depends on who is going to decide …”Is a vital national security interest threatened?”..that’s the kicker.


  13. Carroll says:

    Well I am torn on the Powell subject. Did he stay because he thought he could minimize the damage? Did he stay because he really always has been a suck up where it concerns his personal career?
    One thing we know is, Powell “knew” something was fishy “before’ we ever invaded Iraq.
    I’d like to know if he ever tried to get word of his doubts to anyone in congress who might have been able put some brakes on or talk to Clueless-in Chief. If he didn’t, well then let him sleep with the fishes.
    And this may have some truth to it, I don’t know, but it might have helped…because he knew before the 2004 election Iraq was going all wrong. So I am somewhat thumbs down on Powell. And his little squirt son’s position at the FCC makes it look like Powell really was looking after his own family interest, not the country.
    “How would it have made a difference if Powell had resigned in protest? The war would have gone on, but in 2004 Bush would have soundly lost the election.
    Posted by Marky at November 6, 2006 10:59 PM


  14. Marky says:

    You have it backwards, Steve.
    Colin Powell and C. Rice made it worse.
    If it weren’t for Powell’s backing of the war, more people would have seen it as a reckless stunt from the very beginning. Many, many public figures claim that the support of Powell was crucial to convincing them of the need for war.
    How would it have made a difference if Powell had resigned in protest? The war would have gone on, but in 2004 Bush would have soundly lost the election. The country would have been better able to hear the message of Howard Dean that the war was a failure.
    It is the centrists that killed the debate on Iraq, Powell foremost among them.
    We pay a heavy price now for what the craven suck-ups of the middle did in 2002-2003.


  15. Arun says:

    The most charitable interpretation one can give of Colin Powell is that he let his sense of personal loyalty overcome loyalty to the good of the country. Now he is off the stage, and should remain there forever.


  16. dahreese says:

    Sorry, Steve, but you’re letting Powell off too easily. To wit; if the US war plan in Iraq had gone according to the predictments of Wolfowitz, Perle, Rice, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush, Powell would still be as guilty of attacking Iraq without provacation as are the others, and he would be a war criminal just as they are today. This Iraq war had/has nothing to do with defending the country nor “spreading democracy”. This invasion was about oil, nothing else. And you know that, too.


  17. Pissed Off American says:

    Colin Powell is just as responsible for this mess in Iraq as any of the key players are. He KNEW we were being lied to, therefore he was complicit in it. Steve can laud Powell all he wants, but it won’t wash the blood off. Powell once had promise, but now he is just another framer of the worst foreign policy blunder in our nation’s history. As far as I am concerned he can share a cell with Bush and that satanical beast Cheney.


  18. weldon berger says:

    Steve, you’ve used this “things could have been worse but for …” formulation with both Powell and Rice, but so far as I recall you’ve never actually articulated **how** things could have been worse. Do you have any concrete examples of horrors either prevented?
    Nothing will haunt the Bush administration and none of them, including Powell, will ever take responsibility for anything they’ve done, but the Bush administration will certainly haunt us. Not to mention the millions of Iraqis whose lives we’ve ended or ruined, ’cause, you know, we’re not supposed to mention them.


  19. profmarcus says:

    no amount of acolytes or post-coup d’etat rehabilitation can undo the damage caused by powell not speaking out forcefully against a criminal administration when he had the opportunity, and then compounding matters by keeping his silence ever since… nobody expects anybody to keep up the facade of a “good soldier” in the face of manipulative, lying, criminal activity by a president, vice president, and assorted others… if larry wilkerson could have an epiphany, why can’t colin powell…? and, in true bipartisan spirit, i feel exactly the same way about bill clinton… anybody in a position to have really seen and understood what’s been happening to this country is complicit…


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