The Powell Trap
by Norman Solomon
The Progressive magazine,
There's something pathetic-and dangerous-about
the crush of liberal commentators pinning their hopes on Colin
Yes, the secretary of state is a "moderate"-compared
to the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. But that's not
saying much. History tells us, even if the press won't, that Powell
does not have a record as a person of conscience. Media coverage
is portraying Powell as a steady impediment to a huge assault
on Iraq. But closer scrutiny would lead us to different conclusions.
Instead of undermining prospects for a
military conflagration, Powell's outsized prestige is a very useful
asset for the war planners. The retired general "is seen
by many of Washington's friends and allies abroad as essential
to the credibility of Bush's foreign policy," the French
news agency AFP noted as September began. Avid participation in
deplorable actions has been integral to Powell's career. A few
Serving as a top deputy to Secretary of
Defense Caspar Weinberger, Powell supervised the Army's transfer
of 4,508 TOW missiles to the CIA in January 1986. Nearly half
of those missiles became part of the Reagan administration's arms-for-hostages
swap with Iran. Powell helped to hide that transaction from Congress
and the public.
As President Reagan's national security
adviser, Powell was a key operator in U.S. efforts to overthrow
the elected government of Nicaragua. When he traveled to Central
America in January 1988, Powell threatened a cutoff of U.S. aid
to any country in the region that refused to go along with continued
warfare by the contra guerrillas, who were in the midst of killing
thousands of Nicaraguan civilians. Powell worked to prevent the
success of a peace process initiated by Costa Rica's president,
When U.S. troops invaded Panama on December
20, 1989, Powell was chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He had
"emerged as the crucial figure in the decision to invade,"
according to British newspaper reporter Martin Walker. Hundreds
of civilians died in the first hours of the invasion. Powell declared
on that day: "We have to put a shingle outside our door saying,
'Superpower lives here'."
In late 2000, while Bush operatives went
all-out during the Florida recount to grab the electoral votes
of a state where many thousands of legally qualified African Americans
had been prevented from voting due to Republican efforts, Powell
went to George W. Bush's ranch in Texas to pose for a photo-op
and show support for his presidential quest.
Now, journalists tell us that the latest
manifestation of Colin Powell's "moderate" resolve is
his stance on Iraq. But the Powell rhetoric about the need for
allied support and UN Security Council backing can be understood
as a fervent desire to line up as many ducks as possible before
the shooting starts.
"Access to Qatar's al Udeid Air Base
will be essential to an Iraq invasion," a Wall Street Journal
story reported on September 3. Big deals are being cut. "Qatari
officials have told U.S. officials that they want a guarantee
that the U.S. military presence in Qatar would be permanent. They
also want the U.S. to assume a greater portion of the $400 million
cost of upgrading al Udeid air base for the U.S. Air Force."
As for reluctant members of the UN Security
Council, some bloody quid pro quos are on the horizon. In the
Journal's words, Moscow " is expected to seek an understanding
with the U.S. that it will have a freer hand in putting down its
rebellion in Chechnya and that it will get a portion of the postwar
contracts for rebuilding Iraq. "
Powell's "moderate" approach
is in sync with the outlook of Fareed Zakaria, former managing
editor of the elite periodical Foreign Affairs, who shares Powell's
interest in urging the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq-a
PR step in the quest for a confrontation leading to war. "
Even if the inspections do not produce the perfect crisis,"
Zakaria wrote in a September 2 Newsweek column, "Washington
will still be better off for having tried because it would be
seen to have made every effort to avoid war."
Along similar lines, CNN reports, Powell
"is working to convince the president of the need to build
a strong coalition, similar to the one that existed during the
1991 Gulf War, and win the support of the UN Security Council
through a new resolution."
Hawks come in many styles; some have polished
Norman Solomon's latest book is The Habits
of Highly Deceptive Media. His syndicated column focuses on media