Former Secretary of State Colin Powell believes the U.S. might have been a bit too forceful in selling the case for military action against Iraq. In an interview with a German magazine, General Powell opined that we were too loud, too direct, perhaps we made too much noise. "That certainly shocked the Europeans," he continued.
Wait a minute. Reviewing the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, I don't recall U.S. officials being too direct or overbearing in advocating the removal of Saddam Hussein. Of course, I'm a bit prejudiced (being an American and a former military officer) but I recall the case for war developed over many months, after failed UN resolutions and endless diplomatic efforts. If that can be construed as "too loud," or "too direct," perhaps Foggy Bottom is operating under a different definition.
The interview also highlights the well-known struggle within the Bush cabinet over military action against Iraq. General Powell told the German publication that he argued for a diplomatic solution in Iraq, opposing other Administration officials (notably Vice-President Dick Cheney) who advocated a military solution. Powell also observed that Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld's comments about "old Europe" did not ease European concerns about U.S. policy in Iraq.
While I respect and admire Colin Powell, his comments suggest an undue influence from the diplomatic elite at the State Department. As described in the late, lamented "Diplomad" blog, the foreign service corps were, by in large, opposed to the Bush Administration and its policies. Given this political bias, it is no suprise that the "career professionals" at State favored a continuation of diplomacy, despite its dismal record in Iraq.
Not surprisingly, the German interviewer apparently fails to ask what diplomatic solution might have worked? The road to war with Saddam Hussein was papered with failed UN resolutions and other diplomatic initiatives. Saddam made it very clear that the only "acceptable" solution was an end to economic and military sanctions, positions supported (to some degree) by the Russians, Chinese and the French. Was Mr. Powell prepared to support that approach, which would have virtually guaranteed a resurgent Iraqi military and WMD programs? Once again, the interview fails to answer that essential question.
Always the loyal soldier, perhaps General Powell feels a sense of loyalty to the State Department he ran for the past four years. Perhaps his world view changed during his time at Foggy Bottom, like that of another general-turned-diplomat, George C. Marshall. But General Powell's belief that diplomacy could have solved the Iraq crisis in 2002 is a bit simplistic, even naive. We should wish him a prosperous and happy retirement, and be thankful that Condolezza Rice is now running the State Department.