February 19, 2004

Topping Metternich...

This has got to be the stupidest article of the week, by Fred Kaplan, in Slate. The author thinks Colin Powell is falling apart because he has failed as Secretary of State.

Is Colin Powell melting down?

It's hard to come up with another explanation for his jaw-dropping behavior ...last week before the House International Relations Committee. There he sat, recounting for the umpety-umpth time why, back in February 2003, he believed the pessimistic estimates about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. "I went and lived at the CIA for about four days," he began, "to make sure that nothing was�" Suddenly, he stopped and glared at a Democratic committee staffer who was smirking and shaking his head. "Are you shaking your head for something, young man back there?" Powell grumbled. "Are you part of the proceedings?"...

First of all, what Powell was doing was acting like a grownup. The staffer was performing with childish discourtesy and deserved a much worse spanking than he got.

When I was growing up, if I or any other child were to mouth-off in public, any nearby grown-up would have squelched us immediately. And gone to our parents if it seemed necessary. Nowadays they probably wouldn't dare, for fear of a rebuff or a lawsuit. When your lefty pals talk about the "conformist 1950's," and how pleased they were to trash them, this community support for good manners and behavior is a lot of what they were jettisoning. If bad manners and a general coarseness are the norm today, you can, as they say, thank a Liberal.

Anyway, back to Powell.

...As George Bush's first term nears its end, Powell's tenure as top diplomat is approaching its nadir. On the high-profile issues of the day, he seems to have almost no influence within the administration. And his fateful briefing one year ago before the U.N. Security Council�where he attached his personal credibility to claims of Iraqi WMD�has destroyed his once-considerable standing with the Democrats, not to mention our European allies, most of the United Nations, and the media...
You've noticed, I'm sure, that we haven't invaded anyone for almost a year now. Pretty much everything that the Administration is doing out in the world is diplomacy. And our diplomacy has been very successful so far, and looks to be in good shape for bigger triumphs in the future. Colin Powell may end up in the history books looking like the greatest foreign minister since Metternich. This is failure?

To a lefty-pundit, of course, it is. To him, Powell is the only hope within the Administration of blocking the bloody march to "war-after-war" planned, supposedly, by the Neocons. His job is to thwart the President's policy, to sabotage it, to force it to be more Clintonian. The thing is never expressed so baldly of course�the conflict is always described as being with Rumsfeld or Cheney. But people in the know always report that GWB is the one who makes the decisions, and he's really the one who people like Kaplan want to stymie.

It probably never even occurs to Mr Kaplan that success for a Secretary of State should lie in loyally implementing the President's policies. Not when the President is a Republican and a Texan. "Success" is being popular with pundits and Europeans and those who cherish the UN. Just as it probably never occurs to him that Congressional staffers should not be making mock of the President of the United States, even if they disagree with him. (And, I'd guess, it doesn't occur to him that children who are impolite should be reprimanded. Pope's line pops into my head: " This painted Child of Dirt that stinks and stings...")

The whole point of the so-called Neocon plan was diplomacy. The whole point was avoiding wars. And now that we've cleaned Saddam's clock, diplomacy is working like it hasn't done in decades. Every week seems to bring some new tale of a tyrant suddenly grown more reasonable, or some regional conflict newly amenable to negotiation. Colin Powell is an important member of an extremely successful team. Therefore he is a success. I don't know what he would personally like to see happen; I find him very opaque. But it doesn't matter! His duty is to give the best advice he can, and then support whatever decision is made.

Posted by John Weidner at February 19, 2004 5:09 PM
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