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While Cameron Defers to Parliament, Obama Locks into Warfare State of Mind

1:06 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The British Parliament’s rejection of an attack on Syria is a direct contrast — and implicit challenge — to the political war system of the United States.

“It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the government will act accordingly.”

“It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the government will act accordingly,” Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday night. At least for now, Uncle Sam’s poodle is off the leash.

Now all eyes turn to Congress, where the bar has suddenly been raised. Can the House of Representatives measure up to the House of Commons?

It’s a crucial question — but President Obama intends to render it moot with unwavering contempt for the war authority of Congress. Like his predecessors.

Even with war votes on Capitol Hill, the charade quotient has been high. The Gulf War began in early 1991 after the Senate vote for war was close: 52 to 47. But, as the PBS “Frontline” program reported years later, President George H.W. Bush had a plan in place: if Congress voted against going to war, he’d ignore Congress.

“The president privately, with the most inner circle, made absolutely clear he was going to go forward with this action even if he were impeached,” said Robert Gates, who was deputy national security advisor. “The truth of the matter is that while public opinion and the voice of Congress was important to Bush, I believe it had no impact on his decision about what he would do. He was going to throw that son of a bitch [Saddam Hussein] out of Kuwait, regardless of whether the Congress or the public supported him.”

By the Pentagon’s estimate, the six weeks of the Gulf War took the lives of 100,000 Iraqi people. “It’s really not a number I’m terribly interested in,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Colin Powell, said at the time.

Eight years later, the War Powers Act’s 60-day deadline for congressional approval of U.S. warfare expired on May 25, 1999 — but large-scale U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia continued. Bill Clinton was unable to get authorization from Congress but, like other wartime presidents before and since, he ignored the law that was passed in 1973 to constrain autocratic war-making. Republican Rep. Tom Campbell said: “The president is in violation of the law. That is clear.” Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich said: “The war continues unauthorized, without the consent of the governed.” And President Clinton said, in effect, I don’t care.

In October 2002, President George W. Bush won congressional approval for an invasion of Iraq, waving the fig leaf that passage would strengthen his hand at the bargaining table. Of course Bush got what he wanted — a full-scale war on Iraq.

“The president’s ability to decide when and where to use America’s military power is now absolute,” pundit Michael Kinsley observed, writing in Time magazine in mid-April 2003, just after the U.S. occupation of Iraq began. “Congress cannot stop him. That’s not what the Constitution says, and it’s not what the War Powers Act says, but that’s how it works in practice.”

That’s how it works in practice.

We’ve got to change how it works in practice.

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Washington’s War-Makers Aren’t “in a Bubble,” They’re in a Bunker

12:45 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

With the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion coming up next month, we can expect a surge of explanations for what made that catastrophe possible. An axiom from Orwell — “who controls the past controls the future” — underscores the importance of such narratives.

Cement bunkers

Fernando Andres Torres: An impenetrable bunker protects war-makers from accountability.

I encountered a disturbing version last week while debating Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Largely, Wilkerson blamed deplorable war policies on a “bubble” that surrounds top officials. That’s not just faulty history; it also offers us very misleading guidance in the present day.

During our debate on Democracy Now, Wilkerson said:

What’s happening with drone strikes around the world right now is, in my opinion, as bad a development as many of the things we now condemn so readily, with 20/20 hindsight, in the George W. Bush administration. We are creating more enemies than we’re killing. We are doing things that violate international law. We are even killing American citizens without due process. . .

But why does this happen?

“These things are happening because of that bubble that you just described,” Colonel Wilkerson told host Amy Goodman. “You can’t get through that bubble” to top foreign-policy officials, “penetrate that bubble and say, ‘Do you understand what you’re doing, both to American civil liberties and to the rest of the world’s appreciation of America, with these increased drone strikes that seem to have an endless vista for future?’”

Wilkerson went on: “This is incredible. And yet, I know how these things happen. I know how these bubbles create themselves around the president and cease and stop any kind of information getting through that would alleviate or change the situation, make the discussion more fundamental about what we’re doing in the world.”

Such a “bubble” narrative encourages people to believe that reaching the powerful war-makers with information and moral suasion is key — perhaps the key — to ending terrible policies. This storyline lets those war-makers off the hook — for the past, present and future.

Hours after my debate with Wilkerson, I received an email from Fernando Andres Torres, a California-based journalist and former political prisoner in Chile under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Referring to Wilkerson as “that bubble guy,” the email said: “Who they think they are? No accountability? Or do they think the government bubble gives them immunity for all the atrocities they commit? Not in the people’s memory.”

Later in the day, Torres sent me another note: “Not sure if we can call it a bubble, ’cause a bubble is easy to break; they were in a lead bunker from where the bloody consequences of their action can pass unnoticed.”

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Old Hands Ready for More Blood, 10 Years After Colin Powell’s U.N. Speech

3:13 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

When Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke to the U.N. Security Council on February 5, 2003, countless journalists in the United States extolled him for a masterful performance — making the case that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The fact that the speech later became notorious should not obscure how easily truth becomes irrelevant in the process of going to war.

Colin Powell

Ten Years After Powell Beat the War Drums for Iraq Invasion

Ten years later — with Powell’s speech a historic testament of shameless deception leading to vast carnage — we may not remember the extent of the fervent accolades. At the time, fawning praise was profuse across the USA’s mainline media spectrum, including the nation’s reputedly great newspapers.

The New York Times editorialized that Powell “was all the more convincing because he dispensed with apocalyptic invocations of a struggle of good and evil and focused on shaping a sober, factual case against Mr. Hussein’s regime.” The Washington Post was more war-crazed, headlining its editorial “Irrefutable” and declaring that after Powell’s U.N. presentation “it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.”

Yet basic flaws in Powell’s U.N. speech were abundant. Slanted translations of phone intercepts rendered them sinister. Interpretations of unclear surveillance photos stretched to concoct the worst. Summaries of cherry-picked intelligence detoured around evidence that Iraq no longer had WMDs. Ballyhooed documents about an Iraqi quest for uranium were forgeries.

Assumptions about U.S. prerogatives also went largely unquestioned. In response to Powell’s warning that the U.N. Security Council would place itself “in danger of irrelevance” by failing to endorse a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the adulation from U.S. media embraced the notion that the United Nations could only be “relevant” by bending to Washington’s wishes. A combination of cooked intelligence and geopolitical arrogance, served up to rapturous reviews at home, set the stage for what was to come.

The invasion began six weeks after Powell’s tour de force at the United Nations. Soon, a search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was in full swing. None turned up. In January 2004 — 11 months after Powell’s U.N. speech — the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace released a report concluding that top officials in the Bush administration “systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq’s WMD and ballistic missile programs.”

Left twisting in the wind was Powell’s speech to the U.N. Security Council, where he’d issued a “conservative estimate” that Iraq “has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent.” The secretary of state had declared: “There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.”

Nineteen months after the speech, in mid-September 2004, Powell made a terse public acknowledgment. “I think it’s unlikely that we will find any stockpiles,” he said. But no gingerly climb-down could mitigate the bloodshed that continued in Iraq.

A decade ago, Colin Powell played a starring role in a recurring type of political dramaturgy. Scripts vary, while similar dramas play out on a variety of scales. Behind a gauzy curtain, top officials engage in decision-making on war that gives democracy short shrift. For the public, crucial information that bears on the wisdom of warfare remains opaque or out of sight.

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