Powell the “Former Everything” Talks Reality

While you’re over at GQ, do read the interview with Colin Powell as well. Consider it a double-feature of amazingly competent, realistic, and principled men. The Powell interview is so consistently good, I won’t even try to quote or summarize it. Go read.

17 Responses to “Powell the “Former Everything” Talks Reality”

  1. ymatt Says:

    Okay, just to comment a bit: I think this gives some excellent perspective to the hearings going on today. There’s this irritating tendency for people to want Petraeus’ report to be either “good” (vetting the President’s strategy / proving Patraeus’ lapdog status, depending on your dogma) or “bad” (we need to stay the course / we’re all fucked, again depending on dogma).

    What annoys me is that this entirely loses sight of the context of this report. Powell, in this interview, explains how his pre-war military judgment was that invading Iraq would lead to a very long-term, very expensive occupation. That’s where we are today. Petraeus is competently fighting the war he was handed — the surge is doing some good, and he has a long-term strategy to achieve the best possible outcome given his resources.

    His report is useful, but I believe the real debate here is when we decide as a nation that the cost of trying to achieve the best possible outcome in Iraq is no longer worth the expenditure of blood and treasure. It’s not a General’s place to make that decision, and Bush’s continuing cop-out that he prefers to “listen to the generals in the field” is complete foolishness, when it comes to national policy. And it should be a foregone conclusion that the people responsible for ignoring the consequences of their actions should no longer be trusted.

    I suppose this gets off the point of the interview, but it’s Powell’s brand of realistic, contextualized, and long-term thinking that I wish we saw more of today, both in government and in the media. Petraeus’ report answers very limited questions. Let’s stay focused on the big picture.

  2. ymatt Says:

    And actually this article in Time entitled “Hiding Behind the General” says it more clearly:

    The nature of military leadership is congenital optimism; officers are trained to complete the mission, to refuse to countenance the possibility of failure. That focus is essential when you go to war, but it lacks perspective. That’s why civilian leaders—the Commander in Chief—are there to set the mission, to change or abort it when necessary. The trouble is, George W. Bush’s credibility on Iraq is nonexistent. And so he has placed David Petraeus, an excellent soldier, in a position way above his pay grade. He has made Petraeus not just the arbiter of Iraq strategy but also, by default, the man who sets U.S. policy for the entire so-called war on terrorism.

    I don’t see why this isn’t a more important point than anything to be gained by picking apart Petraeus’ powerpoint slides.

  3. enkidu Says:

    I read Powell’s article from stem to stern and while I still think he is lying his @$$ off about his UN performance, I found these bits interesting:

    “Would you be tempted to support Obama, even though he’s a Democrat, because he would be transformational?
    CP He is transformational because he is a black man who has become one of the leading candidates of a major party. That is exciting. It’s transformational. But am I going to support him? I am going to be for who I think is the best person. Not the best Republican, not the best Democrat, not the best black guy or the best woman. I’m going to try to figure out who could best serve this country. And that’s who I will be voting for.

    You did not say that you would be inclined to support the Republican candidate.
    CP That’s right. I did not. Because I’ve been voting now for almost fifty years, and I’ve always supported the person I thought was best. I’ve voted Democratic, I’ve voted Republican. I’m going to vote for the best person.”

    CP I would approach this (global threat) differently, in almost Marshall-like terms. What are the great opportunities out there—ones that we can take advantage of? It should not be just about creating alliances to deal with a guy in a cave in Pakistan. It should be about how do we create institutions that keep the world moving down a path of wealth creation, of increasing respect for human rights, creating democratic institutions, and increasing the efficiency and power of market economies? This is perhaps the most effective way to go after terrorists.”

    Maybe he has moved on from being a Rethuggle™®© mouthpiece, cuz all the kool kidz are pounding the tocsin of bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran.

    lil billy kristol sez teh WMDz!!!1!1!! is in Iran!!1!!1!

  4. ymatt Says:

    I think reducing Powell’s service within the administration to being a “mouthpiece” is very misguided. As this interview makes clear, Powell is the consummate realist. Certainly his performance before the UN was regrettable, but everything I’ve read suggests that he probably did as much as it was possible for anybody to do on the “inside” to guide the administration’s actions away from disaster.

    I’ve been in business situations like this (obviously on a vastly smaller and less important scale). When management is making stupid decisions, you can either fold your arms and not participate (which I can respect), or you can bring your skills to bear behind the scenes to guide things for the better. When it’s clear that no amount of objection is going to fundamentally change the direction, I think those who buckle down and do the difficult thing, and do what they can, deserve a lot of respect as well.

    Given the clarity with which Powell read the situation before the war, wouldn’t you rather have had him working on the inside? From the sounds of it, without him we may have rushed to war even faster and we might be in an even worse situation today.

  5. knarlyknight Says:

    The speed of the rush to war was disturbing, but it was not the mistake. Even with the errors in WMD and lies about ties to AQ, attacking Iraq had a possibility for a positive outcome – had the swift victory been supported by competence in managing the social void and protecting vital and diverse strategic assets (world heritage/cultural sites, armament stockpiles, etc.) and a rapid switching from a military to a governance role, blah blah blah. Powell was a bucket of competence in a sea of ignorance, he probabaly did a lot of good within his significant sphere of influence but “no man is an ocean” (sic).

    Ymatt, for perspective on the Petraeus hearing, take exhibit “a” and exhibit “b”:

    exhibit “a”:

    exhibit “b”:

    General Petraeus committed perjury when he said that the war is going well. While he presented a dazzling array of meaningless statistics painstakingly compiled to distort reality, the relevant number remained unspoken. By the military’s own estimate, there are more terrorists in Iraq today than there were a year ago or two years ago or three years ago or before we invaded. That is a trend line slanting ominously towards defeat. There were fewer Nazis in 1945 than in 1941 because we were winning. There are more al-Qaeda now than in the past because we are losing. The Chinese… …Petraeus knew that he was deceiving Congress with his upbeat testimony.

    The general also lied when he said, “We have never given weapons to tribals. What we have done is applaud when they ask if they can point their guns at al-Qaeda.” This whopper represents the brazen deceit of someone who knows that being caught lying incurs no consequences. Petraeus had already acknowledged in June that he was arming Sunnis to combat al-Qaeda…

    actually you need to read the whole thing to understand exhibit “b”:

    So ymatt, if you had the time or the inclination to scan “a” and read “b”, what’s your conclusion?

  6. shcb Says:

    So there are more Al Qaeda in Iraq now than before, can we make the assumption they are not native expatriated Iraqis? Since I just scanned the Tighman piece, did he break down Al Qaeda into its ethnic and national divides or did he just lump them all together, does that mean he is understating the number if Iranian Al Qaeda, while overstating the Swiss contingent? Perhaps we should investigate this obvious distortion of the truth. Again I ask, if Al Qaeda hated Sadam as you guys have said repeatedly, why are they pouring resources in there to save the poor Iraqis from those rascally Republican Americans.

  7. NorthernLite Says:

    Because they have a chance to kill American soldiers who invaded an Arab country.

  8. shcb Says:

    Precisely, making my point that we are fighting a war against a substantial portion of the Arab population, if we were only fighting a bunch of radicals that have no connection to Iraq and Sadam, why would they care if we invaded there. The reason of course is because they risk losing a portion of the world they command with an iron fist while they are trying to conquer more of the world so they can rule it in a like manner.

  9. ymatt Says:

    Who exactly is “they” who enjoy this iron fisted command of the middle east? Last time I checked, the region was comprised of an incredible tangle of ethnic and racial groups, local governments, militias, and insurgent groups that ally themselves together only long enough to beat one another down.

    There I go violating my shcb debate ban again.

  10. knarlyknight Says:

    it’s okay ymatt, just pretend you were reminding me of that, I haad nearly forgotten what with the idiocy of the 6:11 pm post still making my head swim with its insane irrelevance.

  11. shcb Says:

    Ah, hell Matt, if you didn’t debate me every now and then you wouldn’t need that high blood pressure medicine, the pharmaceutical companies would lose that revenue, an executive would have to trade in his Porsche for an Oldsmobile… we’re just doing our part for the American dream.

    The answer to your question is yes, all of the above. Everyone from the Saudi royal family, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the Ayatollahs in Iran, and on and on. There is a culture of repressive totalitarian governments and factions in that area just as there is a socialistic culture in Europe and a capitalistic culture in America. At this point they may like fighting each other as much as they are fighting us but that just makes them vulnerable now. If we want to defeat them we should exploit that weakness.

    We were perfectly happy to let them live in their feudal empires where women’s rights were nonexistent, where punishment for minor crimes could result in the death penalty etc. as long as they pretty much left us alone and sold us their oil. We were even satisfied to take an occasional hit like a plane going down over Scotland or an exploding embassy, but 911 went too far.

    I’m going to regret using this example, but this is similar to the Indian wars, as long as they were as busy fighting each other as they were fighting us they were defeatable. The one time they all put their differences aside and banded together Custer got his ass handed to him.

  12. NorthernLite Says:


    If America was attacked by, oh let’s say, Greece, would you invade Brazil?

    Doesn’t make any sense, does it? Are you able to comprehend that yet?

    And if a bunch of foreign soldiers kicked down your door at 4 in the morning, ransacked your home, terrified your children and took yer daddy away, would you be okay with that?

    Would those soliders have won your heart and your mind?

  13. shcb Says:

    If Greece and Brazil were allies, yes. And what is more, I would invade which ever of the two is the weakest.

    I wouldn’t be happy if they took Pappy, but I would be happier when he returned than I was when the guys who used to run the country took my uncle and fed him to the plastic shredder while his kids watched, those kids still aren’t right.

  14. knarlyknight Says:

    See, there is no reasoning with these goons. They’re so indoctrinated they don’t even realize what they have become.
    YMATT is right, they should be excluded from civilized discussion.

  15. shcb Says:

    That would make winning the debate easier, actually, I guess then it’s more of a speech, you won’t win, but you won’t lose either, kind of a tie.

  16. knarlyknight Says:


    Israel recently attacked Syria (e.g. http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=371 )

    America is ipso facto Israel’s ally. Ergo shcb acknowledges Syria’s right to attack America.

    Fox News Headline: Syria attacks Langley Air Force Base 100’s Die, Bush says its Okay we had it coming ever since our Ally attacked Syria

    At least that partly explains why Israel consulted with USA before their attack: http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0%2C%2C2174292%2C00.html

    Can’t you Americans bring the world to total all out warfare any faster than this? I’m getting tired of waiting to be turned into a crispy pile of radioactive carbon so I can join in the rapture.

  17. shcb Says:


    We have declared war on any nation that supports terrorism. That certainly describes Syria. As such they don’t need one of our allies to attack them to justify attacking us or we them, but yes they would be justified. This of course brings up this whole “legality of war” thing. We have debate clubs like the UN and we regulate the brutality of war with things like the Geneva conventions, but in the end once you cross line of armed hostilities civility has lost. We keep warfare as civil as possible only so those countries sitting on the sidelines won’t join with your enemy, no matter which side you’re on. This is why it is so important to win wars decisively and quickly. You mentioned Sun Tzu earlier that was his philosophy. Avoid war at all costs, lie, cheat, engage in espionage, sanctions, form unholy alliances, whatever it takes to avoid war, but if that fails, destroy your enemy as quickly as possible using deception and attacking the enemies weak points.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.