Behind Colin Powell's Legend
by Robert Parry & Norman Solomon
The Consortium online
December 17, 2000
Behind Colin Powell's Legend Part One
On a sunny autumn afternoon, Sept. 25, 1995, hundreds lined
up on a sidewalk in San Francisco to grab a glimpse of a national
Indoors, dozens of reporters and photographers packed into
a room baking under the hot lights of television cameras.
An electricity filled the air, as if the crowd were waiting
for a TV actor or a rock star, some super-hot celebrity. In a
sense, they were. That day, on a mega-successful book tour, retired
General Colin L. Powell was scheduled to answer a few questions
and sign a few hundred books.
Preparations for the news conference were going smoothly,
too, until two minutes before Powell was to appear.
Then, the bookstore managers fell into in a small panic over
an intruder who was holding forth at the back of the room.
"How did he get here?" one manager asked the other.
"I don't know," the other answered. "I don't
know how he got in here."
"He slipped in," said the first.
Their fretting focused on a middle-aged man in a wheelchair
who was speaking to a cluster of reporters. He was hunched inside
his silvery metal contraption. His jeans-clad legs dangled as
if inert. His clothes were tidy but informal. His thinning hair
was slightly unkempt.
The man spoke quietly, at a deliberate pace. He paused occasionally
to search for and capture an elusive word. The reporters, most
younger than he was, leaned over him with microphones and note
pads. They seemed intrigued, but uncertain of his news value.
The bookstore managers did not have a quick solution to the
intrusion, so they drifted back to their anticipation of Powell's
arrival. "I have so much respect for this man," bubbled
the store's director of sales.
The Hero Arrives
Moments later, San Francisco's mayor swept into the room.
A wave of excitement followed as Colin Powell arrived and strode
to the rostrum. He was the picture of confident authority, in
his wire-rim executive-style glasses, a well-tailored pinstripe
black business suit, a crisp pastel-blue shirt, a tasteful burgundy
The mayor pumped Powell's hand and proclaimed a formal welcome
for the first African-American to serve as chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff. Reporters competed to toss some softball questions
that the general smoothly swatted over the fence. Powell offered
only a well-rehearsed glimpse into his private side.
"Writing the book," the retired general explained
about My American Journey, "you learn a lot about yourself,
you learn a lot about your family, you learn a lot about people
who helped you along the way that you have forgotten about. So,
it was very introspective for me, and I came away with a deeper
appreciation of my own family roots, but an even greater appreciation
of the nation we live in, the society we are a part of, and a
faith in this society that I hope, as a result of this book and
whatever I might do in the future, faith that I hope we can continue
to pass on to new generations."
The second query was a self-help question about race: "What
do you say to all the kids from all the Bronxes around this country
who say, 'race is a stumbling block, poverty is a stumbling block?'"
"Race is a problem," Powell responded firmly. "Let
it be someone else's problem. What you have to do is do your very
best, study, work hard, believe in yourself, believe in your country."
As the news conference rolled on, Powell showed off the qualities
that had set so many political hearts aflutter in fall 1995. But
Powell encountered some friction when he started explaining why
Americans were dazzled by the military again, a quarter century
after the disastrous Vietnam War.
"Why that comes about," Powell said, "because
of the superb performance of the armed forces of the United States
in recent conflicts, beginning with the, I think, Panama invasion,
and then through Desert Shield and Storm. And Americans saw that
these young men and women were competent, proud, clean, patriotic,
and they kind of fell in love with them again. And so it's not
so much I think what--"
The voice from the back of the room suddenly broke in, an
accusatory voice belonging to the man in the wheelchair. "You
didn't tell the truth about the war in the Gulf, general,"
the man shouted.
Powell first tried to ignore the interruption, but the man
persisted, hectoring Powell about the tens of thousands of civilian
dead in the wars in Panama and Iraq, conflicts that brought Powell
his national fame. Finally, Powell responded with a patronizing
tone, but he called the dissenter by name.
"Hi, Ron, how are you? Excuse me, let me answer one question
if I may."
"But why don't you tell them, why don't you tell them
"The fact of the matter is--"
"I think the American people are reflecting on me the
glory that really belongs to those troops," Powell continued,
brushing aside the interruption.
Then, Ron Kovic's voice could be heard only in snippets beneath
Powell's amplified voice. "General, let me speak--"
"I think what you're seeing is a reflection on me of
what those young men and women have done in Panama, in Desert
Storm, in a number of other places--"
"A hundred-and-fifty-thousand people, the bombing--"
"So it's very, it's very rewarding to see this change
in attitude toward the military. It's not just Colin Powell, rock
star. It's all of those wonderful men and women who do such a
Born on the Fourth
Ron Kovic, a veteran of the Vietnam War, a soldier paralyzed
in combat, was one of the few dissident voices at the bookstore
that day. Kovic, author of the autobiography, Born on the Fourth
of July, which was later made into a movie, tried to warn reporters
not to swallow Powell-mania.
As Powell moved off to sign copies of his own book and the
reporters began to depart, too, Kovic pleaded, "Colin Powell
is not the answer. He sets a very dangerous precedent for this
From his wheelchair, Kovic had struggled to make that case.
"I want the American people to know what the general hid
from the American public during the Gulf War," Kovic said.
"They hid the casualties. They hid the horror. They hid the
violence. We don't need any more violence in our country. We need
leaders who represent cooperation. We need leadership that represents
peace. We need leaders that understand the tragedy of using violence
in solving our problems. We have enough violence in this country."
To Kovic, Powell lacked a truly critical eye toward war.
"Did Colin Powell really learn the lessons of the Vietnam
War? Did he learn that the war was immoral? I think that he learned
another lesson. He learned to be more violent, to be more ruthless.
And I've come as a counterbalance to that today. I've come as
an alternative voice. And I think I speak for many, many people
in this country when I say that General Colin Powell is a detriment
to democracy; he's a danger to our Constitution; he's a danger
to our democracy."
Kovic tried to persuade the journalists that the United States
should confront its Cold War past, the way other nations, both
right-wing and left-wing, have begun to do.
"America has got to go through its own perestroika, its
own glasnost," Kovic continued. "I came down today because
I just can't allow this to continue -- this honeymoon, this love
affair with someone who was part of a policy which hurt so many
But few Americans listened to the advice of Ron Kovic that
day or since. Hundreds of thousands bought Powell's 1995 memoirs,
My American Journey, and the national press corps accorded the
retired general near-unanimous acclaim. Besides being a hero for
his accomplishments as the first black American to lead the nation
into war, Powell became the most celebrated U.S. military officer
since Dwight Eisenhower.
In the early days of the 1996 presidential campaign, journalists
pined openly for Powell's candidacy. Liberals and centrists saw
Powell as a role model for young blacks. Many conservatives admired
Powell's success despite his humble origins. What slight criticism
there was came mostly from the far right because of Powell's avowal
that he was a "Rockefeller Republican" who supported
abortion rights and affirmative action.
Still, what about Kovic's questions? What is Colin Powell's
What did Powell do in Vietnam? What was his role in the Iran-contra
scandal? How did he rise so smoothly as a black man in a white-dominated
Republican national security establishment? Were Powell's victories
in Panama and Iraq excessively violent and insufficiently concerned
with civilian dead?
These are questions perhaps even more relevant today as Colin
Powell stands as President-elect George W. Bush's first Cabinet
choice, the man who would be the nation's first African-American
secretary of state. Given Bush's inexperience in foreign affairs,
the former general likely will wield broad power over U.S. foreign
Many Americans see Colin Powell as a reassuring figure on
the national stage. Yet, the accolades have prevented any balanced
analysis of his positives and his negatives. Indeed, Powell's
legend has created its own mystery.
Drawing from the available public record, including Powell's
own memoirs, this series will address that mystery. Who is Colin
On Jan. 17, 1963, in South Vietnam's monsoon season, U.S.
Army Capt. Colin Powell jumped from a military helicopter into
a densely forested combat zone of the A Shau Valley, not far from
the Laotian border.
Carrying an M-2 carbine, Capt. Powell was starting his first
-- and only -- combat assignment. He was the new adviser to a
400-man unit of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Across
jungle terrain, these South Vietnamese government troops were
arrayed against a combined force of North Vietnamese regulars
and local anti-government guerrillas known as the Viet Cong.
The 25-year-old Powell was arriving at a pivotal moment in
the Vietnam War. To forestall a communist victory, President John
F. Kennedy had dispatched teams of Green Beret advisers to assist
the ARVN, a force suffering from poor discipline, ineffective
tactics and bad morale.
Already, many U.S. advisers, most notably the legendary Col.
John Paul Vann, were voicing concerns about the ARVN's brutality
toward civilians. Vann feared that the dominant counterinsurgency
strategy of destroying rural villages and forcibly relocating
inhabitants while hunting down enemy forces was driving the people
into the arms of the Viet Cong.
But as Colin Powell arrived, he was untainted by these worries.
He was a gung-ho young Army officer with visions of glory. He
brimmed with trust in the wisdom of his superiors. Capt. Powell
also felt the deepest sympathy for the ARVN troops under his command,
but only a cold contempt for the enemy.
Soon after his arrival, Powell and his ARVN unit left for
a protracted patrol that fought leeches as well as Viet Cong ambushes.
From the soggy jungle brush, the Viet Cong would strike suddenly
against the advancing government soldiers. Often invisible to
Powell and his men, the VC would inflict a few casualties and
slip back into the jungles.
In My American Journey, Powell recounted his reaction when
he spotted his first dead Viet Cong. "He lay on his back,
gazing up at us with sightless eyes," Powell wrote. "I
felt nothing, certainly not sympathy. I had seen too much death
and suffering on our side to care anything about what happened
While success against the armed enemy was rare, Powell's ARVN
unit punished the civilian population systematically. As the soldiers
marched through mountainous jungle, they destroyed the food and
the homes of the region's Montagnards, who were suspected of sympathizing
with the Viet Cong. Old women would cry hysterically as their
ancestral homes and worldly possessions were consumed by fire.
"We burned down the thatched huts, starting the blaze
with Ronson and Zippo lighters," Powell recalled. "Why
were we torching houses and destroying crops? Ho Chi Minh had
said the people were like the sea in which his guerrillas swam.
... We tried to solve the problem by making the whole sea uninhabitable.
In the hard logic of war, what difference did it make if you shot
your enemy or starved him to death?"
For nearly six months, Powell and his ARVN unit slogged through
the jungles, searching for Viet Cong and destroying villages.
Then while on one patrol, Powell fell victim to a Viet Cong
booby trap. He stepped on a punji stake, a dung-poisoned bamboo
spear that had been buried in the ground. The stake pierced Powell's
boot and quickly infected the young soldier's right foot. The
foot swelled, turned purple and forced his evacuation by helicopter
to Hue for treatment.
Although Powell's recovery from the foot infection was swift,
his combat days were over. He stayed in Hue, reassigned to the
operations staff of ARVN division headquarters. As part of his
work, he handled intelligence data and oversaw a local airfield.
By late autumn 1963, Powell's first Vietnam tour ended.
On his return to the United States, Powell did not join Vann
and other early American advisers in warning the nation about
the self-defeating counterinsurgency strategies. In 1963, Vann
carried his prescient concerns back to a Pentagon that was not
ready to listen to doubters. Then, when his objections fell on
deaf ears, Vann resigned his commission and sacrificed a promising
In contrast, Powell recognized that his early service in Vietnam
put him on a fast track for military success. He signed up for
a nine-month Infantry Officer Advanced Course that trained company
commanders. In May 1965, Powell finished third in a class of 200
and was the top-ranked infantryman. A year later, he became an
In 1966, as the numbers of U.S. servicemen in Vietnam swelled,
Powell received a promotion to major, making him a field-grade
officer before his 30th birthday. In 1968, Powell continued to
impress his superiors by graduating second in his class at Fort
Leavenworth's Command and General Staff College, a prestigious
school regarded as an essential way station for future Army generals.
Recognizing Powell as an emerging "water-walker"
who needed more seasoning in the field, the Army dispatched Powell
to a command position back in Vietnam. But on his second tour,
Powell would not be slogging through remote jungles. On July 27,
1968, he arrived at an outpost at Duc Pho to serve as an executive
Then, to the north, at the Americal headquarters in Chu Lai,
division commander Maj. Gen. Charles Gettys saw a favorable mention
of Powell in the Army Times. Gettys plucked Powell from Duc Pho
and installed him on the general's own staff at Chu Lai.
Gettys jumped the young major ahead of more senior officers
and made him the G-3 officer in charge of operations and planning.
The appointment made "me the only major filling that role
in Vietnam," Powell wrote in his memoirs.
But history again was awaiting Colin Powell. The Americal
Division was already deep into some of the cruelest fighting of
the Vietnam War. The "drain-the-sea" strategy that Powell
had witnessed near the Laotian border continued to lead American
forces into harsh treatment of Vietnamese civilians.
Though it was still a secret when Powell arrived at Chu Lai,
Americal troops had committed an act that would stain forever
the reputation of the U.S. Army. As Major Powell settled into
his new assignment, a scandal was waiting to unfold.
On May 16, 1968, a bloodied unit of the Americal division
stormed into a hamlet known as My Lai 4. With military helicopters
circling overhead, revenge-seeking American soldiers rousted Vietnamese
civilians -- mostly old men, women and children -- from their
thatched huts and herded them into the village's irrigation ditches.
As the round-up continued, some Americans raped the girls.
Then, under orders from junior officers on the ground, soldiers
began emptying their M-16s into the terrified peasants. Some parents
used their bodies futilely to shield their children from the bullets.
Soldiers stepped among the corpses to finish off the wounded.
The slaughter raged for four hours. A total of 347 Vietnamese,
including babies, died in the carnage. But there also were American
heroes that day in My Lai. Some soldiers refused to obey the direct
orders to kill and some risked their lives to save civilians from
the murderous fire.
A pilot named Hugh Clowers Thompson Jr. from Stone Mountain,
Ga., was furious at the killings he saw happening on the ground.
He landed his helicopter between one group of fleeing civilians
and American soldiers in pursuit.
Thompson ordered his helicopter door gunner to shoot the Americans
if they tried to harm the Vietnamese. After a tense confrontation,
the soldiers backed off. Later, two of Thompson's men climbed
into one ditch filled with corpses and pulled out a three-year-old
boy whom they flew to safety.
Several months later, the Americal's brutality would become
a moral test for Major Powell, too.
A letter had been written by a young specialist fourth class
named Tom Glen, who had served in an Americal mortar platoon and
was nearing the end of his Army tour. In the letter to Gen. Creighton
Abrams, the commander of all U.S. forces in Vietnam, Glen accused
the Americal division of routine brutality against civilians.
Glen's letter was forwarded to the Americal headquarters at
Chu Lai where it landed on Major Powell's desk.
"The average GI's attitude toward and treatment of the
Vietnamese people all too often is a complete denial of all our
country is attempting to accomplish in the realm of human relations,"
"Far beyond merely dismissing the Vietnamese as 'slopes'
or 'gooks,' in both deed and thought, too many American soldiers
seem to discount their very humanity; and with this attitude inflict
upon the Vietnamese citizenry humiliations, both psychological
and physical, that can have only a debilitating effect upon efforts
to unify the people in loyalty to the Saigon government, particularly
when such acts are carried out at unit levels and thereby acquire
the aspect of sanctioned policy."
Glen's letter contended that many Vietnamese were fleeing
from Americans who "for mere pleasure, fire indiscriminately
into Vietnamese homes and without provocation or justification
shoot at the people themselves." Gratuitous cruelty was also
being inflicted on Viet Cong suspects, Glen reported.
"Fired with an emotionalism that belies unconscionable
hatred, and armed with a vocabulary consisting of 'You VC,' soldiers
commonly 'interrogate' by means of torture that has been presented
as the particular habit of the enemy. Severe beatings and torture
at knife point are usual means of questioning captives or of convincing
a suspect that he is, indeed, a Viet Cong. ...
"It would indeed be terrible to find it necessary to
believe that an American soldier that harbors such racial intolerance
and disregard for justice and human feeling is a prototype of
all American national character; yet the frequency of such soldiers
lends credulity to such beliefs. ...
"What has been outlined here I have seen not only in
my own unit, but also in others we have worked with, and I fear
it is universal. If this is indeed the case, it is a problem which
cannot be overlooked, but can through a more firm implementation
of the codes of MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) and
the Geneva Conventions, perhaps be eradicated."
In 1995, when we questioned Glen about his letter, he said
he had heard second-hand about the My Lai massacre, though he
did not mention it specifically. The massacre was just one part
of the abusive pattern that had become routine in the division,
The letter's troubling allegations were not well received
at Americal headquarters.
Major Powell undertook the assignment to review Glen's letter,
but did so without questioning Glen or assigning anyone else to
talk with him. Powell simply accepted a claim from Glen's superior
officer that Glen was not close enough to the front lines to know
what he was writing about, an assertion Glen denies.
After that cursory investigation, Powell drafted a response
on Dec. 13, 1968. He admitted to no pattern of wrongdoing. Powell
claimed that U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were taught to treat Vietnamese
courteously and respectfully. The Americal troops also had gone
through an hour-long course on how to treat prisoners of war under
the Geneva Conventions, Powell noted.
"There may be isolated cases of mistreatment of civilians
and POWs," Powell wrote in 1968. But "this by no means
reflects the general attitude throughout the Division." Indeed,
Powell's memo faulted Glen for not complaining earlier and for
failing to be more specific in his letter.
"In direct refutation of this [Glen's] portrayal,"
Powell concluded, "is the fact that relations between Americal
soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent."
Powell's findings, of course, were false, though they were
exactly what his superiors wanted to hear.
It would take another Americal hero, an infantryman named
Ron Ridenhour, to piece together the truth about the atrocity
at My Lai. After returning to the United States, Ridenhour interviewed
Americal comrades who had participated in the massacre.
On his own, Ridenhour compiled this shocking information into
a report and forwarded it to the Army inspector general. The IG's
office conducted an aggressive official investigation, in marked
contrast to Powell's review.
Confirming Ridenhour's report, the Army finally faced the
horrible truth. Courts martial were held against officers and
enlisted men who were implicated in the murder of the My Lai civilians.
But Powell's peripheral role in the My Lai cover-up did not
slow his climb up the Army's ladder. After the scandal broke,
Powell pleaded ignorance about the actual My Lai massacre.
Luckily for Powell, Glen's letter also disappeared into the
National Archives -- to be unearthed only years later by British
journalists Michael Bilton and Kevin Sims for their book, Four
Hours in My Lai.
In his best-selling memoirs, Powell did not mention his brush-off
of Tom Glen's complaint.
Powell did include, however, another troubling recollection
that belied his 1968 official denial of Glen's allegation that
American soldiers "without provocation or justification shoot
at the people themselves."
After a brief mention of the My Lai massacre in My American
Journey, Powell penned a partial justification of the Americal's
brutality. In a chilling passage, Powell explained the routine
practice of murdering unarmed male Vietnamese.
"I recall a phrase we used in the field, MAM, for military-age
male," Powell wrote. "If a helo spotted a peasant in
black pajamas who looked remotely suspicious, a possible MAM,
the pilot would circle and fire in front of him. If he moved,
his movement was judged evidence of hostile intent, and the next
burst was not in front, but at him.
"Brutal? Maybe so. But an able battalion commander with
whom I had served at Gelnhausen [West Germany], Lt. Col. Walter
Pritchard, was killed by enemy sniper fire while observing MAMs
from a helicopter. And Pritchard was only one of many. The kill-or-be-killed
nature of combat tends to dull fine perceptions of right and wrong."
While it's certainly true that combat is brutal and judgments
can be clouded by fear, the mowing down of unarmed civilians in
cold blood does not constitute combat. It is murder and, indeed,
a war crime.
Neither can the combat death of a fellow soldier be cited
as an excuse to murder civilians. Disturbingly, that was precisely
the rationalization that the My Lai killers cited in their own
But returning home from Vietnam a second time in 1969, Powell
already had begun to prove himself the consummate team player.
Those skills were tested again when Powell was drawn into another
Vietnam controversy involving the killing of civilians.
In a court martial proceeding, Powell sided with an Americal
Division general who was accused by the Army of murdering unarmed
civilians while flying over Quang Ngai province. Helicopter pilots
who flew Brig. Gen. John W. Donaldson had alleged that the general
gunned down civilian Vietnamese almost for sport.
In an interview, a senior investigator from the Donaldson
case told us that two of the Vietnamese victims were an old man
and an old woman who were shot to death while bathing. Though
long retired -- and quite elderly himself -- the Army investigator
still spoke with a raw disgust about the events of a quarter century
earlier. He requested anonymity before talking about the behavior
of senior Americal officers.
"They used to bet in the morning how many people they
could kill -- old people, civilians, it didn't matter," the
investigator said. "Some of the stuff would curl your hair."
For eight months in Chu Lai during 1968-69, Powell had worked
with Donaldson and apparently developed a great respect for this
When the Army charged Donaldson with murder on June 2, 1971,
Powell rose in the general's defense. Powell submitted an affidavit
dated Aug. 10, 1971, which lauded Donaldson as "an aggressive
and courageous brigade commander."
Powell did not specifically refer to the murder allegations,
but added that helicopter forays in Vietnam had been an "effective
means of separating hostiles from the general population."
Powell apparently was questioned by Army authorities about
his knowledge of Donaldson's alleged atrocities. But his answers
may be lost to history. In his memoirs, Powell provides a brief
-- and incorrect -- description of the 1971 interview in the context
of the My Lai massacre.
"I was serving in the Washington area, and was called
to appear before a board of inquiry conducted by Lt. Gen. William
Ray Peers at Fort Belvoir, Virginia," Powell wrote. "The
board wanted me to give a picture of fighting conditions in the
Batangan Peninsula in 1968 [where the My Lai massacre had occurred].
I knew it had been a hellhole, a rough piece of territory inhabited
by VC sympathizers."
Powell's account of the interview is itself a bit of a mystery.
While it's true that in 1971, a commission headed by Gen. Peers
was investigating the My Lai cover-up, all the Peers interviews
were conducted at the Pentagon, not at Fort Belvoir.
Also, by 1971, the Army knew a great deal about the "fighting
conditions in the Batangan Peninsula" and would not need
the opinion of an officer who arrived months after the My Lai
massacre. Further, when we examined the Peers Commission records
at the National Archives branch at Suitland, Md., we found no
indication that Colin Powell ever had been interviewed by the
There was, however, an investigation at Fort Belvoir conducted
in the same time frame by the Army's criminal investigation unit.
It was examining the murder allegations against Powell's friend,
The retired Army investigator told us that Powell was questioned
in that case. But the investigator said Powell volunteered little
knowledge about the atrocities. The investigator doubted that
any record was made of the interview.
Nevertheless, the investigator claimed that "we had him
[Donaldson] dead to rights," with the testimony of two helicopter
pilots who had flown Donaldson on his shooting expeditions. Still,
the investigation collapsed after the two pilot-witnesses were
transferred to another Army base and apparently came under pressure
from military superiors.
The two pilots withdrew their testimony, and the Army dropped
all charges against Donaldson. "John Donaldson was a cover-up
specialist," the old investigator growled.
While thousands of other Vietnam veterans joined the anti-war
movement and denounced the brutality of the war, Powell held his
tongue. To this day, Powell has avoided criticizing the Vietnam
War other than to complain that the politicians should not have
restrained the military high command.
With the My Lai cloud dissipated, Major Powell's career advanced
smartly. Powell often says he learned many lessons from Vietnam.
One lesson he doesn't mention is that a military bureaucrat succeeds
best by sidestepping controversy and keeping quiet when superiors
As the years unfolded, that proved to be a very valuable lesson
Behind Colin Powell's Legend: Part Two by Robert Parry &
Norman Solomon The Consortium online December 19, 2000
Powell's Second Scandal
The middle years of Colin Powell's military career bordered
roughly by the twin debacles of My Lai and Iran-contra were
a time for networking and advancement.
The Army footed the bill for Powell's masters degree in business
at George Washington University. He won a promotion to lieutenant
colonel and a prized White House fellowship that put him inside
Richard Nixon's White House.
Powell's work with Nixon's Office of Management and Budget
brought Powell to the attention of senior Nixon aides, Frank Carlucci
and Caspar Weinberger, who soon became Powell's mentors. The high-powered
contacts would prove invaluable to Powell through the 1970s and
1980s as the personable young officer rose swiftly through the
When Ronald Reagan swept to victory in 1980, Powell's allies
-- Weinberger and Carlucci -- took over the Defense Department
as secretary of defense and deputy secretary of defense, respectively.
When they arrived at the Pentagon, Powell, then a full colonel,
was there to greet them.
But before Powell could move to the top echelons of the U.S.
military, he needed to earn his first general's star. That required
a few command assignments in the field. So, under Carlucci's sponsorship,
Powell received brief assignments at Army bases in Kansas and
By the time Powell returned to the Pentagon in 1983, at the
age of 46, he had a general's star on his shoulder. In the parlance
of the Pentagon, he was a water-walker.
On June 29, 1983, Colin Powell's spit-polished shoes clicked
through the Outer Ring power corridors of the Pentagon. Powell
was again in the terrain he knew best, his professional home:
official Washington, what he often called "Ground Zero."
He also was back to his future, once more on the fast track
But Powell had returned to an administration courting danger.
Caught up in an anti-communist crusade around the world, President
Reagan's men were engaged in brush-fire wars against what they
considered the Soviet Union's surrogates. Reagan's operatives
also were battling Democrats in Congress whom the White House
sometimes viewed as little more than Moscow's fellow-travelers.
At the Central Intelligence Agency, the aging director William
J. Casey was pressuring the Soviet Union on all fronts, through
wars that often pitted desperately poor peasants and rival tribes
against one another. Whether in Angola or Mozambique, in Nicaragua
or Guatemala, in Lebanon or Afghanistan, Casey was spoiling for
fights: to finish off the Cold War in his lifetime.
While Casey plotted at CIA, the often inattentive Ronald Reagan
snapped to when battlefield maps were put before him, with pins
representing Nicaraguan contras outmaneuvering other pins for
forces loyal to Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government. Reagan,
the onetime war-movie actor, and Casey, the onetime World War
II spymaster, loved the game of international conflict and intrigue.
But many of their fiercest battles were fought in Washington.
Liberal Democrats, led by old political war-horse, House Speaker
Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, thought that Reagan and Casey
were overly zealous, maybe even a bit crazy. Democrats, as well
as some Republicans, suspected, too, that Casey, the mumbling
dissembler, was treating Congress like a fifth column, like agents
of influence slipped behind his lines to disrupt his operations.
Still, the hub of any American military activity -- whether
overt or covert -- remained the Pentagon. It was from the Defense
Department that the special operations units were dispatched,
that the military supplies were apportioned, that the most sensitive
electronic intelligence was collected. All these military responsibilities
were vital to Casey and Reagan, but came under the jurisdiction
of Defense Secretary Weinberger.
To Casey's and Reagan's dismay, the Pentagon brass favored
greater caution when it came to offending Congress. After all,
Congress held the strings to the Pentagon's bulging purse. Maybe
Casey could blow off a senator or offend a congressman, but the
Pentagon could not detonate too many bridges to its rear.
Onto that political battlefield stepped newly minted Brig.
Gen. Colin Powell, who had been named military assistant to Secretary
Weinberger. It was a position that made Powell the gatekeeper
for the defense secretary, one of Reagan's closest advisers.
Top Pentagon players quickly learned that Powell was more
than Weinberger's coat holder or calendar keeper. Powell was the
"filter," the guy who saw everything when it passed
into the Secretary for action and who oversaw everything that
needed follow-up when it came out.
Powell's access to Weinberger's most sensitive information
would be a mixed blessing, however. Some of the aggressive covert
operations ordered by Reagan and managed by Casey were spinning
out of control. Like a mysterious gravitational force, the operations
were pulling in the Pentagon, whatever the reservations of the
Already, the Democrats were up in arms over military construction
in Honduras, which Reagan insisted was "temporary,"
but which looked rather permanent. In El Salvador, U.S. military
advisers were training a brutal army which was slaughtering political
opponents and unarmed villagers in a bloody counterinsurgency
war. In Costa Rica, the U.S. embassy's "mil-group"
was a bustle of activity as Washington tried to push neutralist
Costa Rica into the Nicaraguan conflict.
Around all these initiatives were U.S. military officers and
non-commissioned trainers who were responsible to Pentagon authority.
The officers reported to the Southern Command in Panama and "Southcom"
reported to the Pentagon, where at the end of the information
flow chart sat the Secretary of Defense and his "filter,"
This expanding super nova of covert operations began to swallow
the Pentagon a few months after Powell's return. On Sept. 1, 1983,
an Army civilian, William T. Golden, stumbled onto billing irregularities
at a U.S. intelligence front company in suburban Annandale, Va.,
which was handling secret supplies for Central America.
The supply operation fell under the code name "Yellow
Fruit," an ironic reference to the region's banana republics.
The billing irregularities seemed modest at first, the doctoring
of records to conceal vacation flights to Europe. But Golden began
to suspect that the corruption went deeper.
By October 1983, Yellow Fruit had turned thoroughly rotten,
and the Army began a criminal inquiry. "The more we dig into
that," Gen. Maxwell R. Thurman, vice chief of the U.S. Army,
later told congressional Iran-contra investigators, "the
more we find out that it goes into agencies using money, procuring
all sorts of materiel."
Reacting to the scandal, Thurman implemented new secret accounting
procedures for supporting CIA activities. "We have tried
to do our best to tighten up our procedures," Thurman said.
But the muck of the Central American operations was oozing
out elsewhere, too, as Casey recruited unsavory characters from
the region to carry out his bidding. One of the worst of these
allies was Panama's Gen. Manuel Noriega, whom Casey found useful
funneling money and supplies to the Nicaraguan contras fighting
to overthrow Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government.
In September 1983, Powell traveled with Weinberger on an inspection
tour of Central America. On that trip, they were accompanied by
an eager Marine major from the National Security Council staff.
His name was Oliver North. "From the moment we were airborne,
he started worming his way into Weinberger's presence," Powell
wrote in My American Journey.
Powell was even more contemptuous of Noriega, "an unappealing
man, with his pockmarked face, beady, darting eyes, and arrogant
swagger," according to Powell. Meeting Noriega, Powell claimed
to have "the crawling sense that I was in the presence of
There was also intelligence that Noriega was working with
Colombian drug traffickers. Still, Powell has made no claim that
he sought Noriega's ouster from the U.S. payroll. "Cold War
politics sometimes made for creepy bedfellows," Powell rationalized.
Powell's retrospective disdain for Noriega also does not square
with the enthusiasm some of Powell's Pentagon friends expressed
for the Panamanian at the time. Powell's pal, Richard Armitage,
the assistant defense secretary for inter-American affairs, hosted
a Washington lunch in November 1983, honoring Noriega. "Pentagon
officials greeted Noriega's rise to power with great satisfaction,"
noted author John Dinges.
Noriega's visit coincided with another growing political problem
for the Reagan administration, the refusal of an angry Congress
to continue funding the contra war in Nicaragua. The rebel force
was gaining a reputation for brutality, as stories of rapes, summary
executions and massacres flowed back to Washington. Led by Speaker
O'Neill, the Democratic-controlled House capped the CIA's contra
funding at $24 million in 1983 and then moved to ban contra aid
Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Reagan's policies were encountering
more trouble. Reagan had deployed Marines as peacekeepers in Beirut,
but he also authorized the USS New Jersey to shell Islamic villages
in the Bekaa Valley, an action that killed civilians and angered
the Shiite Moslems.
On Oct. 23, 1983, Islamic militants struck back, sending a
suicide truck bomber through U.S. security positions and demolishing
a high-rise Marine barracks. A total of 241 Marines died. "When
the shells started falling on the Shiites, they assumed the American
'referee' had taken sides," Powell wrote later, though it
was not clear that he ever actively opposed the ill-fated intervention
After the bombing, U.S. Marines were withdrawn to the USS
Guam off Lebanon's coast. But Casey ordered secret counter-terrorism
operations against Islamic radicals. As retaliation, the Shiites
targeted more Americans. Another bomb destroyed the U.S. Embassy
and killed most of the CIA station.
Casey dispatched veteran CIA officer William Buckley to fill
the void. But on March 14, 1984, Buckley was spirited off the
streets of Beirut to face torture and eventually death. The grisly
scenes -- in the Middle East and in Central America -- were set
for the Iran-contra scandal.
Powell's Iran-Contra Role
Back at the Pentagon, Colin Powell might have felt at ease
in the familiar environs. But Washington was indeed about to become
In 1984-85, as the Iran-contra storm clouds built, one-star
Gen. Colin Powell was the "filter" for information flowing
to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.
After the scandal broke in 1986, Powell managed to escape
its consequences, in part, by claiming that much of what Weinberger
knew about the secret deals had not gone through that "filter."
Powell said he knew next to nothing about unlawful 1985 shipments
of U.S. weapons from Israel to Iran -- or about illegal third-country
financing of the Nicaraguan contra rebels.
But was the general lying?
The documentary record makes clear that his boss, Weinberger,
knew a great deal -- and the evidence suggests that so did Powell.
Weinberger was one of the first officials outside the White
House to learn that Reagan had put the arm on Saudi Arabia to
give the contras $1 million a month in 1984, as Congress was cutting
off the CIA's covert assistance through what was known as the
Handling the contra-funding arrangements was Saudi ambassador
Prince Bandar, a close friend of both Weinberger and Powell. Bandar
and Powell had met in the 1970s and were frequent tennis partners
in the 1980s.
So it was plausible -- perhaps even likely -- that Bandar
would have discussed the contra funding with Powell, Weinberger
or both. But exactly when Weinberger learned of the Saudi contributions
and what Powell knew remain unclear to this day.
The Iran-contra trial of Weinberger for alleged obstruction
of justice -- which was set for early 1993 and was expected to
include testimony by Powell -- was derailed by President George
H.W. Bush on Christmas Eve 1992 when he pardoned Weinberger and
five other Iran-contra defendants.
What is known from the public record, however, is that on
June 20, 1984, Weinberger attended a State Department meeting
about the contra operation. His scribbled notes cited the need
to "plan for other sources for $." But secrecy would
be vital, the defense secretary understood. "Keep US fingerprints
off," he wrote.
In summer 1984, Gen. John Vessey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, learned from a foreign visitor about the Saudi money
for the contras. Vessey told Weinberger, who gave Vessey the impression
of surprise. "I reported it to Secretary Weinberger,"
Vessey said in a deposition. "His reaction was about the
same as mine, sort of surprise first that [Saudi Arabia] would
In 1985, when the Saudis doubled their annual contra gift
from $12 million to $25 million, Vessey quickly passed on word
to Weinberger again. This time, the record is clear that the Defense
Secretary understood that the contribution to buy weapons was
part of the larger contra-aid strategy.
"Jack Vessey in office alone," Weinberger wrote
on March 13, 1985. "Bandar is giving $25 million to Contras
-- so all we need is non-lethal aid."
The Iran Initiative
Meanwhile, the White House was maneuvering into dangerous
geopolitical territory, too, in its policy toward Iran. The Israelis
were interested in trading U.S. weapons to Iran's radical Islamic
government to expand Israel's influence in that important Middle
Eastern country. It was also believed that Iran might help free
American hostages held by Islamic extremists in Lebanon.
Carrying the water for this strategy within the Reagan administration
was national security adviser Robert McFarlane. He circulated
a draft presidential order in June 1985, proposing an overture
to supposed Iranian moderates.
The paper passed through Weinberger's "filter,"
Colin Powell. In his memoirs, Powell called the proposal "a
stunner" and a grab by McFarlane for "Kissingerian immortality."
After reading the draft, Weinberger scribbled in the margins,
"this is almost too absurd to comment on."
On June 30, 1985, as the paper was circulating inside the
administration, Reagan declared that the United States would give
no quarter to terrorism. "Let me further make it plain to
the assassins in Beirut and their accomplices, wherever they may
be, that America will never make concessions to terrorists,"
the president said.
But in July 1985, Weinberger, Powell and McFarlane met to
discuss details for doing just that. Iran wanted 100 anti-tank
TOW missiles that would be delivered through Israel, according
to Weinberger's notes. Reagan gave his approval, but the White
House wanted to keep the operation a closely held secret. The
shipments were to be handled with "maximum compartmentalization,"
the notes said.
On Aug. 20, 1985, the Israelis delivered the first 96 missiles
to Iran. It was a pivotal moment for the Reagan administration.
With that missile shipment, the Reagan administration stepped
over an important legal line. The transfer violated laws requiring
congressional notification for trans-shipment of U.S. weapons
and prohibiting arms to Iran or any other nation designated a
terrorist state. Violation of either statute could be a felony.
A Mysterious Meeting
The available evidence from that period suggests that Weinberger
and Powell were very much in the loop, even though they may have
opposed the arms-to-Iran policy. On Aug. 22, two days after the
first delivery, Israel notified McFarlane of the completed shipment.
From aboard Air Force One, McFarlane called Weinberger.
When Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base outside
Washington, McFarlane rushed to the Pentagon to meet Weinberger
and Powell. The 40-minute meeting started at 7:30 p.m.
That much is known from the Iran-contra public record. But
the substance of the conversation remains in dispute. McFarlane
said that at the meeting with Weinberger and Powell, he discussed
Reagan's approval of the missile transfer and the need to replenish
If that is true, Weinberger and Powell were in the middle
of a criminal conspiracy. But Weinberger denied McFarlane's account,
and Powell insisted that he had only a fuzzy memory of the meeting
without a clear recollection of any completed arms shipment.
"My recollection is that Mr. McFarlane described to the
Secretary the so-called Iran Initiative and he gave to the Secretary
a sort of a history of how we got where we were that particular
day and some of the thinking that gave rise to the possibility
of going forward ... and what the purposes of such an initiative
would be," Powell said in an Iran-contra deposition two years
Congressional attorney Joseph Saba asked Powell if McFarlane
had mentioned that Israel already had supplied weapons to Iran.
"I don't recall specifically," Powell answered. "I
just don't recall." When Saba asked about any notes, Powell
responded, "there were none on our side."
In a later interview with the FBI, Powell said he learned
at that meeting that there "was to be a transfer of some
limited amount of materiel" to Iran. But he did not budge
on his claim of ignorance about the crucial fact that the first
shipment had already gone and that the Reagan administration had
promised the Israelis replenishment for the shipped missiles.
To have admitted that would have been to admit being part of a
This claim of only prospective knowledge would be key to Powell's
Iran-contra defense. But it made little sense for McFarlane to
learn of the missile delivery and the need for replenishment,
then hurry to the Pentagon, only to debate a future policy that,
in reality, was already being implemented.
The behavior of Powell and Weinberger in the following days
also suggested that they knew an arms-for-hostage swap was under
According to Weinberger's diary, he and Powell eagerly awaited
a release of an American hostage in Lebanon, the payoff for the
clandestine weapons shipment to Iran. In early September 1985,
Weinberger dispatched a Pentagon emissary to meet with Iranians
in Europe, another step that would seem to make little sense if
Weinberger and Powell were indeed in the dark about the details
of the arms-for-hostage operation.
At the same time, McFarlane told Israel that the United States
was prepared to replace 500 Israeli missiles, an assurance that
would have required Weinberger's clearance since the missiles
would be coming from Defense Department stockpiles.
On Sept. 14, 1985, Israel delivered the second shipment, 408
more missiles to Iran. The next day, one hostage, the Rev. Benjamin
Weir, was released in Beirut. Back at the Pentagon, Weinberger
penned in his diary a cryptic reference to "a delivery I
have for our prisoners."
But when the Iran-contra scandal broke more than a year later,
Weinberger and Powell would plead faulty memories about the Weir
case, too. Saba asked Powell if he knew of a linkage between an
arms delivery and Weir's release. "No, I have no recollection
of that," Powell answered.
After Weir's freedom, the job of replenishing the Israel missiles
fell to White House aide Oliver North who turned to Powell for
"My original point of contact was General Colin Powell,
who was going directly to his immediate superior, Secretary Weinberger,"
North testified in 1987. But in their later sworn testimony, Powell
and Weinberger continued to insist that they had no idea that
508 missiles had already been shipped via Israel to Iran and that
Israel was expecting replenishment of its stockpiles.
Powell stuck to that story even as evidence emerged that he
and Weinberger read top-secret intelligence intercepts in September
and October 1985 in which Iranians described the U.S. arms delivery.
One of those reports, dated Oct. 2, 1985, and marked with
the high-level classification, "SECRET SPOKE ORCON,"
was signed by Lt. Gen. William Odom, the director of the National
According to Odom's report, a sensitive electronic intercept
had picked up a phone conversation a day earlier between two Iranian
officials, identified as "Mr. Asghari" who was in Europe
and "Mohsen Kangarlu" who was in Teheran.
"A large part of the conversation had to do with details
on the delivery of several more shipments of weapons into Iran,"
wrote Odom. "Asghari then pressed Kangarlu to provide a list
of what he wanted the 'other four planes' to bring. ... Kangarlu
said that he already had provided a list. Asghari said that those
items were for the first two planes. Asghari reminded Kangarlu
that there were Phoenix missiles on the second plane which were
not on the first. ... [Asghari] said that a flight would be made
In 1987, when congressional Iran-contra investigators asked
about the intercepts and other evidence of Pentagon knowledge,
Powell again pleaded a weak memory. He repeatedly used phrases
such as "I cannot specifically recall." At one point,
Powell said, "To my recollection, I don't have a recollection."
When asked if Weinberger kept a diary that might shed more
light on the issue, Powell responded, "The Secretary, to
my knowledge, did not keep a diary. Whatever notes he kept, I
don't know how he uses them or what he does with them. He does
not have a diary of this ilk, no." As for his own notebooks,
Powell announced that he had destroyed them.
Greasing the Skids
In the next phase of the evolving Iran operation -- the direct
delivery of U.S. missiles -- Powell would play an even bigger
Indeed, the disastrous policy might never have happened, or
might have stopped much sooner, except for the work of Colin Powell.
In early 1986, Powell short-circuited the Pentagon covert
procurement system that was put in place after the Yellow Fruit
scandal. Defense procurement officials said that without Powell's
interference, the system would have alerted the military brass
that thousands of TOW anti-tank missiles and other sophisticated
weaponry were headed to Iran, a terrorist state.
But Powell used his bureaucratic skills to slip the missiles
and the other hardware out of U.S. Army inventories.
The story of Powell's maneuvers can be found in a close reading
of thousands of pages from depositions of Pentagon officials,
who pointed to Weinberger's assistant as the key Iran-contra action
officer within the Defense Department.
Powell insisted that he and Weinberger minimized the Pentagon's
role. Powell said they delivered the missiles to the CIA under
the Economy Act, which regulates transfers between government
agencies. "We treated the TOW transfer like garbage to be
gotten out of the house quickly," Powell wrote in My American
But the Economy Act argument was disingenuous, because the
Pentagon always uses the Economy Act when it moves weapons to
the CIA. Powell's account also obscured his unusual actions in
arranging the shipments without giving senior officers the information
that Pentagon procedures required, even on sensitive covert activities.
Weinberger officially handed Powell the job of shipping the
missiles to Iran on Jan. 17, 1986. That was the day Reagan signed
an intelligence "finding," a formal authorization to
pull arms from U.S. stockpiles and ship them to Iran.
In testimony, Powell dated his first knowledge of the missile
transfers to this moment, an important distinction because if
he had been aware of the earlier shipments as much evidence
suggests he potentially would have been implicated in a
A day after Reagan's "finding," Jan. 18, 1986, Powell
instructed Gen. Max Thurman, then acting Army chief of staff,
to prepare for a transfer of 4,000 TOW anti-tank missiles but
Powell made no mention of Iran. "I gave him absolutely no
indication of the destination of the missiles," Powell testified.
Though kept in the dark, Thurman began the process of transferring
the TOWs to the CIA, the first step of the journey. Powell's orders
"bypassed the formal [covert procedures] on the ingress line,"
Thurman acknowledged in later Iran-contra testimony. "The
first shipment is made without a complete wring-out through all
of the procedural steps."
As Powell's strange orders rippled through the top echelon
of the Pentagon, Lt. Gen. Vincent M. Russo, the assistant deputy
chief of staff for logistics, called Powell to ask about the operation.
Powell immediately circumvented Russo's inquiry. In effect, Powell
pulled rank by arranging for "executive instructions"
commanding Russo to deliver the first 1,000 TOWs, no questions
"It was a little unusual," commented then Army chief
of staff, Gen. John A. Wickham Jr. "All personal visit or
secure phone call, nothing in writing -- because normally through
the [covert logistics office] a procedure is established so that
records are kept in a much more formal process. ... I felt very
uneasy about this process. And I also felt uneasy about the notification
dimension to the Congress."
On Jan. 29, 1986, thanks to Powell's orders, 1,000 U.S. TOWs
were loaded onto pallets at Redstone Arsenal and transferred to
the airfield at Anniston, Ala. As the shipment progressed, senior
Pentagon officers grew edgier about Powell withholding the destination
and other details. The logistics personnel also wanted proof that
somebody was paying for the missiles.
Major Christopher Simpson, who was making the flight arrangements,
later told Iran-contra investigators that Gen. Russo "was
very uncomfortable with no paperwork to support the mission request.
He wasn't going to 'do nothin', as he said, without seeing some
money. ...'no tickey, no laundry.'"
The money for the first shipment was finally deposited into
a CIA account in Geneva on Feb. 11, 1986. Three days later, Russo
released the 1,000 TOWs to the CIA. The first direct U.S. arms
shipment to Iran was under way, although the Israelis were still
acting as middlemen.
Inside the Pentagon, concerns grew about Powell's unorthodox
arrangements and the identity of the missile recipients. Major
Simpson told congressional investigators that he would have rung
alarm bells if he had known the TOWs were headed to Iran.
"In the three years that I had worked there, I had been
instructed ... by the leadership ... never to do anything illegal,
and I would have felt that we were doing something illegal,"
Even without knowing that the missiles were going to Iran,
Simpson expressed concern about whether the requirement to notify
Congress had been met. He got advice from a Pentagon lawyer that
the 1986 intelligence authorization act, which mandated a "timely"
notice to Congress on foreign arms transfers, had an "impact
on this particular mission."
Major Simpson asked Gen. Russo, who got another legal opinion
from the Army general counsel who concurred that Congress must
be notified. The issue was bumped up to Secretary of the Army
John Marsh. Though still blind about the shipment's destination,
the Army high command was inclined to stop the peculiar operation
in its tracks.
At this key moment, Colin Powell intervened again. Simpson
said, "General Powell was asking General Russo to reassure
the secretary of the Army that notification was being handled,
... that it had been addressed and it was taken care of."
Despite Powell's assurance, however, Congress had not been notified.
Army Secretary Marsh shared the skepticism about Powell's
operation. On Feb. 25, Marsh called a meeting of senior Army officers
and ordered Russo to "tell General Powell of my concern with
regard to adequate notification being given to Congress,"
Russo later testified. Marsh also instructed Russo to keep a careful
chronology of events.
Army chief of staff Wickham went further. He demanded that
a memo on congressional notification be sent to Powell. "The
chief wanted it in writing," stated Army Lt. Gen. Arthur
E. Brown, who delivered the memo to Powell on March 7, 1986.
Five days later, Powell handed the memo to President Reagan's
national security adviser John Poindexter with the advice: "Handle
it ... however you plan to do it," Powell later testified.
Poindexter's plan for "timely notification" was
to tell Congress on the last day of the Reagan presidency, Jan.
20, 1989. Poindexter stuck the Pentagon memo into a White House
safe, along with the secret "finding" on the Iran missile
While debate over notification bubbled, others in the Pentagon
fretted over the possibly illegal destination of the missiles.
Col. John William McDonald, who oversaw covert supply, objected
when he learned that key Army officials had no idea where the
weapons were headed.
"One [concern] was inadvertent provision of supplies
to the [Nicaraguan] contras in violation of the Boland Amendment,"
which prohibited military shipments to the contras, McDonald testified.
"The second issue was inadvertent supply to countries that
were on the terrorist list. ... There is a responsibility to judge
the legality of the request."
When McDonald was asked by congressional investigators how
he would have reacted if told the weapons were going to Iran,
he responded, "I would have told General Thurman ... that
I would believe that the action was illegal and that Iran was
clearly identified as one of the nations on the terrorist list
for whom we could not transfer weapons."
But when McDonald joined other Pentagon officers in appealing
to Powell about the missile shipment's destination, they again
were told not to worry. Powell "reiterated [that it was]
the responsibility of the recipient" agency, the CIA, to
notify Congress, "and that the Army did not have the responsibility
to do that."
Then, in March 1986, Powell conveyed a second order, this
time for 284 HAWK antiaircraft missile parts and 500 HAWK missiles.
This time, Powell's order set off alarms not only over legal questions,
but whether the safety of U.S forces might be jeopardized.
The HAWK order would force a drawdown of U.S. supplies to
a dangerous level. Henry Gaffney, a senior supply official, warned
Powell that "you're going to have to start tearing it out
of the Army's hide."
But the Pentagon again followed Powell's orders. It stripped
its shelves of 15 spare parts for HAWK missiles that were protecting
U.S. forces in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
"I can only trust that somebody who is a patriot ...
and interested in the survival of this nation ... made the decision
that the national policy objectives were worth the risk of a temporary
drawdown of readiness," said Lt. Gen. Peter G. Barbules.
If there had been an air attack on U.S. forces in Europe during
the drawdown, the HAWK missile defense batteries might not have
had the necessary spare parts to counter an enemy attack.
Implemented by Colin Powell, the Iran initiative had taken
priority over both legal safeguards inside the Pentagon and over
the safety of U.S. soldiers around the world.
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