Former Secretary of State Colin suddenly popped up in the news again this past weekend. This hero of the Gulf War and quasi-villain of the invasion of Iraq will probably always stick in my mind for his infamous disclaimer used in his justification for the invasion of Iraq: "These are not assertions." From the White House transcript of Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003:
My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources.
I did not see the live presentation on TV, but I did review the transcript and slides shortly after the actual presentation. As soon as I read that seemingly innocent disclaimer, "These are not assertions", it was if Powell had instead jumped up and waved a giant red flag and loudly screamed that everything he is saying should be taken with a huge grain of salt. After all, if the presentation consisted solely of "facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence", why the need for such a prominent and forceful disclaimer? Why not let the facts speak for themselves? I finished reading the transcript and viewing the slides, but I felt that he completely destroyed his own credibility by resorting to such a disclaimer and then proceeding to lay out a crazy-quilt patchwork of "facts and conclusions" that seemed too disjointed and stretched to justify strong conclusions used as the basis for invading Iraq.
As if that disclaimer was not enough, Powell felt the need to re-issue it a second time in his presentation:
Ladies and gentlemen, these are not assertions. These are facts, corroborated by many sources, some of them sources of the intelligence services of other countries.
I am still patiently waiting for Powell to come clean on this whole sordid episode and lay out the full tapestry of logic and illogic and political pressure that lead him down the garden path to such a travesty.
Fast forward to the present, Powell makes the following claim that race apparently had no role in his decision to endorse Barack Obama for president, as shown in the transcript of his interview on Meet the Press on October 19, 2008:
MR. BROKAW: And you are fully aware that there will be some--how many, no one can say for sure--but there will be some who will say this is an African-American, distinguished American, supporting another African-American because of race.
GEN. POWELL: If I had only had that in mind, I could have done this six, eight, 10 months ago. I really have been going back and forth between somebody I have the highest respect and regard for, John McCain, and somebody I was getting to know, Barack Obama. And it was only in the last couple of months that I settled on this. And I can't deny that it will be a historic event for an African-American to become president. And should that happen, all Americans should be proud--not just African-Americans, but all Americans--that we have reached this point in our national history where such a thing could happen. It will also not only electrify our country, I think it'll electrify the world.
Once again, he raises a disclaimer in a way that undermines himself, much as his infamous Iraq WMD "assertion" disclaimer did over five years ago.
Actually, if you parse his disclaimer, he does not actually deny that race had a role, as he prefaces his reply with "If I had only had that in mind", leaving it unsettled whether or not he had race in mind as a significant factor as well as the other factors.
In fact, he then goes beyond the question that was asked and talks about how it will be "a historic event for an African-American to become president" and that it will "electrify our country." This is hardly the kind of language one would expect if the interviewee was truly neutral on the issue of race in his choice.
Personally, I found that Powell's disclaimer had an air of deception to it, starting out with such conditional language such as "If" and "could", when a simple "No" would do.
Why did he feel the need to dance around the issue in such an evasive manner? Maybe for the same reasons that even today as he endorses Mr. "Let's leave Iraq in 16 months" while at the same time refusing to admit that the invasion was a really bad idea. Part of it is probably ego. Part of it is probably pride. And part of it is probably simply the mind-set that he developed over the decades that worked for him in his climb through the ranks. We may never know what its really was, or maybe Powell will eventually have an epiphany and tell all.
Ultimately, I believe that racial pride was a significant factor in Powell's decision to choose to endorse Barack Obama, but by no means the only or necessarily the primary reason. I do in fact believe that Powell is absolutely sincere about generation change and Obama being a transformational leader and the need for significant changes in U.S. policies. Racial pride may or may not have been a trump card, but it sure looks as if it helped to seal the deal.
Finally, I strongly suspect that Powell is very deeply embarrassed about how his own poor judgment allowed himself to be suckered in by the storytelling of the Neoconservatives and the rest of the so-called Pro-Israel lobby into misguidedly justifying the invasion of Iraq.
Put simply, Powell's endorsement of Obama is in some part his own special way of saying "I am sorry" to the American people.
Powell might indeed have endorsed whichever Democratic candidate was nominated, but the racial pride factor made it a very easy slam-dunk decision.
The last thing I want to say about Powell is that since he is now retired from all of it and apparently has no political ambitions, I really do wish he would cease and desist with disclaimers and assertions and all manner of indirect speaking and simply talk straight to the American people. He has earned that right, so he should feel free to exercise that right and even consider it a responsibility and even an obligation after the whole Iraq fiasco.
-- Jack Krupansky