Man Without Qualities

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Trending Away In Iraq

Senator Tom Daschle has infamously and intemperately blasted the President's diplomacy. But New York Times columnist Bill Keller today locates the real target of that criticism: Colin Powell.

Mr. Keller writes:

This war — undertaken at such cost to America's own interests — is specifically a failure of Colin Powell's politics. Even if you believe that this war is justified, the route to it has been an ugly display of American opportunism and bullying, dissembling and dissonance. The administration has neglected other lethal crises around the world, alienated the allies we need for almost everything else on our agenda and abandoned friends working for the kind of values we profess to be exporting. .... [O]n the battleground of ideas — on the issue of how America uses its power — Mr. Powell seems to me to have been defeated already. When the war is over, when his departure will not undermine the president during a high crisis, he should concede that defeat, and go. .... As Mr. Powell was deployed time and again to dispense credulity-straining information about our intelligence, about our purpose, I kept thinking of the wised-up passages in his autobiography, when he deplored the way Vietnam had eroded America's national conviction with "euphemism, lies and self-deception." .... Not much ... finesse has been in evidence as our leaders have cast about desperately for followers, shifting from one rationale to another, bribing and browbeating, citing questionable intelligence and dubious legalisms. When I put the question of resigning to Mr. Powell yesterday, he was, characteristically, showing no signs of surrender.

Mr. Powell is right not to resign. He is a strong, competent secretary of state whose personal progress in this crisis is fairly transparent: An initial desire to give diplomacy and international organizations a chance was transformed by Iraqi menacing intransigence and the dishonesty of international "leaders" - Messrs. Chirac, Blix and Annan being among the most prominent - into a reluctant understanding that direct United States military force was needed. Mr. Keller's asserts that the Secretary has been forced to lie and demean himself by presenting phony positions in which he does not actually believe. Such a view of the Secretary - that simultaneously criticizes him and depicts him as a mere conduit of the decisions of others - is nothing short of disgraceful.

Disgraceful, but necessary for Mr. Keller. Such blasting of Mr. Powell is a necessary step for anyone who wants to advance Mr. Daschle's argument that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war. It is just not possible to criticize the President's diplomacy without savaging the Secretary of State.

And not just the Secretary of State. Condi Rice must also expect to be hit with a variation on this meme.

And those necessities create an interesting problem for Democrats: Mr. Powell and Ms. Rice have done a sensational job - especially in the last few weeks. They have rightly been presented to the American public as key decision makers in the build-up to the war.

And they happen to be African-Americans.

They are African-Americans who have obtained vastly more power and decision making authority in time of national crisis than ever before. And, contrary to Messrs. Daschle and Heller, Mr. Powell and Ms. Rice have not proved themselves wanting. Their competence and easy authority is so powerful that most in the media have apparently ceased to even think about their race. But I'll bet minority voters know what's going on. Donna Brazille notes: "The GOP is making inroads in the black vote. It's trending away. Groups of [minority] voters are hearing the Republican message."

And my guess is that there's no message minority voters are hearing more loudly or clearly than the one that acknowledges the contributions of these two great Americans in solving the Iraq crisis and advancing the war on terror.

Blast that, Mr. Daschle.

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