By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Hiding away dead soldiers is business as usual for this White House, which holds fast to Tartuffe’s dictum that to sin in secret is no sin at all. Until lately, Bush bashers have blamed such furtiveness on loyalty-mad Dubya and his cloven-hoofed Richelieu, Dick Cheney. But this spring, attention briefly switched to Condi Rice, who, in doing the 9/11 dirty work for her superiors, became a new lightning rod. While the right admired her talent for righteous stonewalling (if nothing else), the left disliked her for not telling the truth — that gap-toothed grin didn’t fool anybody. Condi is lousy at being reassuring, perhaps because she always seems wound so tight. You feel that if she ever tried to relax, her brain would go off like a car alarm. Once The Apprentice rose atop the ratings, it became hard not to see her as the Bush team’s equivalent of grandiose, condescending Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth. Condi may be less skillful at telling whoppers than The Donald’s would-be protégé, but she’s also less nuts — you could hit her with a ton of plaster and she’d still keep saying that Clinton’s people had left no plan to fight al Qaeda.
Still, for all her unpopularity, Rice believes in the policies she’s supporting. For all his popularity, Colin Powell does not. One lasting truth to emerge from the kerfuffle surrounding Bob Woodward’s best-seller Plan of Attack is the extent to which the secretary of state takes care to have things both ways. In early 2003, he used his sterling reputation to back the Iraq war; when he addressed the U.N., many Americans were swayed by belief in his integrity. Now, he wants us to know that he had doubts about the invasion urged by Cheney and his so-called “Gestapo.”
Such slipperiness should come as no surprise, for Powell, an African-American forced to maneuver in bureaucracies run by whites, has spent his career as a supremely adept company man. He’s learned how to protect the people and institutions he’s serving, whether overlooking allegations of massacre in Vietnam, playing along with Iran-Contra while doing nothing illegal himself, or giving earnestly insincere speeches to promote an Iraq war he privately thought risky. Even when Powell disagrees with a policy, he always follows his commander’s orders. This has made him what’s called, too often admiringly, “a good soldier.”
Of course, a truly good soldier doesn’t do as he’s ordered, then cover his ass by whispering to the media — off the record, of course — that he questioned the policy but lacked “influence.” That’s the sort of thing Powell has been doing for years. Never one to go to the wall for any idea, he has learned to play both sides of every street with an ease that’s positively Clintonian, being both for and against war in Iraq, being for affirmative action but not too much, convincing both liberals and conservatives that, deep down, he’s actually one of their own. Now, neither side trusts him.
To be fair, Powell’s caution and finesse would have made him a pretty fair diplomat. But as James Mann notes in Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet, this White House has no time for diplomacy. Powell’s only true power as secretary of state would have lain in pointedly resigning. Such is his appeal that a few skeptical words about the Iraq war might well have turned public opinion against it. But unlike Pat Tillman, Powell is not one to give up everything, not even to stop a war he feared would be a colossal blunder. He’s too practiced a careerist for that. I eagerly await this good soldier’s inevitable memoir distancing himself from the deadly mistakes those other guys made on the road to Baghdad.