Sunday, September 11, 2005

Powell: the buck stops with some other guys

I just watched Barbra Walters' interview of Colin Powell and was sadly not too shocked to see that the supposedly honorable former Secretary of State has the same attitude toward responsibility that the President and his top aides have: shifting it away when something bad happens.

Walters asked Powell about his embarassing speech to the United Nations, when he presented information about Iraq's supposed possession of and work on weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be wrong. According to the article on the interview, here are the two main things he said: "George Tenet did not sit there for five days with me misleading me. He believed what he was giving to me was accurate. … The intelligence system did not work well" and "There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good, and shouldn't be relied upon, and they didn't speak up. That devastated me."

While Powell did admit it was "painful" to be so wrong, it's so very instructive that he's shifting the blame to unnamed lower level people in the CIA. Now I thought that one of the main tenets of the military is that officers have to take responsibility for the behavior of soldiers under their command. Powell was obviously no longer in the military as SoS, but it would be great if that same philosophy of responsibility held. But clearly it doesn't. When Colin Powell agreed to make this presentation to the U.N. and spend five days pouring over the intelligence, he was choosing to take responsibility for what he said. But he's not taking responsibility and he's not holding the person who ran the CIA responsible. It's just some unnamed low level guys that they never even bothered to identify.

So Colin Powell ended up playing a key role misleading Americans and some of the world into war. Oh well.

Let's also keep in mind that, as we showed in All the President's Spin, some pieces of evidence in Powell's speech are things he should have known were wrong at the time. He used a photo of an ammunitions storage site that the Iraqis supposedly cleaned up before U.N. weapons inspectors arrived, when the photo was actually taken before inspectors arrived. Similarly, he used video of Iraq's supposed unmanned aerial vehicles that could deliver biological weapons, but the video was shot before the first Gulf War. And the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002 (four months before Powell's speech) said that the Air Force intelligence director believed the UAVs were not beling developed primarily for biological and chemical warfare.

So, you know, out of some combination of dishonesty, negligence, and trust of others who failed him, a supposedly great American leader made a thoroughly dishonest case for a war that has so far killed nearly 2,000 young Americans, seriously injured nearly 10,000, killed tens of thousands of Iraqis, done little to nothing to make our country safer, and distracted us from much more important priorities like hunting Al Qaeda, stabilizing Afghanistan, and responding to national disasters at home.

But what's he supposed to do? Accept some personal responsibility? Don't be silly. Anybody who works for more than a year for George W. Bush, the most immature and irresponsible president we have ever had, clearly doesn't believe in the concept.

1 comment:

rone said...

Forgive me for playing devil's advocate here, but it's possible (and even plausible) that he's not allowed to take responsibility, because that makes it one step closer to Teh Dubya. See, for example, Rumsfeld's claim that he's tried to resign twice, only to be rebuffed.