Colin Powell’s Legacy

Colin Powell struck me as a decent, principled, and extremely thoughtful man before his years in the Bush administration. Actually, even in the first half of the Bush administration I definitely had the sense that he provided a rare voice of reason and statesmanship in an administration by-and-large driven by domestic politics and ideology.

For me, that all changed with Powell’s February 2003 speech to the UN about Iraq. That speech contained much ‘evidence’ about Iraq that was simply untrue. Much more significantly, that speech contained much that was even known to be untrue at the time. I’m not sure that there’s ever been a definitive reckoning of exactly who bears what responsibility for including facts that were known to be false in one of the most important presentations made to the UN in recent history… but there can be no doubt that Colin Powell certainly bears some responsibility, as the head of the State Department and as the man asked by Bush to sell an invasion of Iraq to a skeptical world.

Colin Powell’s tattered reputation can be repaired, at least to some degree, and the first step is an open admission of his mistakes. I’m glad to see that he’s not shirking from doing just that. From today’s New York Times:

Powell Calls His U.N. Speech a Lasting Blot on His Record

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 – The former secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, says in a television interview to be broadcast Friday that his 2003 speech to the United Nations, in which he gave a detailed description of Iraqi weapons programs that turned out not to exist, was “painful” for him personally and would be a permanent “blot” on his record.

“I’m the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world,” Mr. Powell told Barbara Walters of ABC News, adding that the presentation “will always be a part of my record.”

He could have been a great statesman, and began his stint as Secretary of State with promising signs. Colin Powell’s subjection to the ideological whims of the Bush administration is a sad episode in our nation’s recent history. While I personally will never forget the fact that he turned off his mind and his willingness to think independently and critically about policy during the Spring of 2003 and thereafter, I do wish him the best of luck in rehabilitating his reputation.