Colin Powell's Vanishing Credibility

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To: Tim Russert, Meet the Press
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Your Powell interview

It has been a week since I watched you interview Secretary of
State Colin Powell on Meet the Press June 13, but I did want to
calm down before I wrote some complaints in this space. I think
you know I almost never miss your show and that I admire you greatly
for your willingness to tackle sacred cows, but I think you came
up short with Powell, perhaps because he has been so lionized
of late. He no longer deserves any lionizing. Here are excerpts
from the show, with my insertions added almost as if I were on
the show.

Meet the Press (NBC News)

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the situation in Iraq and discussions
the president and you have had with leaders of European nations.
This is how Charles Kupchan, who works for the Council on Foreign
Relations, put it the other day. “No WMD, no link to al-Qaeda,
no progress on the [Israeli-Palestinian] peace process –
the region has been essentially stirred up, not tamed, and al-Qaeda
recruitment has picked up. So [Europeans] generally feel that
their assessment of the war going into the conflict was accurate.”

SEC’Y POWELL: Well, there’s also no Saddam Hussein. There is no
dictatorial regime. There is a new Iraqi interim government that
is about to take over. There is a new U.N. resolution that was
approved unanimously that approves the way going forward, and
so while we do have challenges ahead – and the principle challenge
is one of security, stopping these attacks, stopping this insurgency
in Iraq, and once we can get that security situation under control,
the combination of our troops, coalition troops and Iraqi forces
being built up, then you will see reconstruction take off. You
will see a better life for the Iraqi people being created. You
will see elections. You will see a new constitution, and you will
see something far better than the regime that is no longer there.

WANNISKI: There are Iraqis who are better off without Saddam Hussein
and the status quo ante but the number only includes those who
are still alive and have their families intact. There have been
at least 16,000 Iraqi civilians killed since the war began with
an estimate of one anti-Saddam political party estimating 36,000.
The U.S. military estimated between 40,000 and 60,000 Iraqi soldiers
and militiamen killed in the war, according to numbers cited in
Bob Woodward's new book. It also should not be forgotten that
the civilian population lived under very poor conditions prior
to the war only because the UN Security Council kept an economic
embargo on Iraq for 12 years with the argument that for all that
time Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction — which we now
know was not true. Because of the embargo, the U.N. itself estimated
that more than a million civilians died, half of them children
and elderly, primarily because of diseases resulting from the
dictatorial regime's inability to import chemicals need to purify
water and sewer systems. Those who are still alive will be better
off if everything goes well as Secretary Powell indicates, but
they would have been much better off if the UN inspectors completed
their work and the embargo was lifted without the war….

MR. RUSSERT: The cost of the war – this was on the Associated Press
wire the other day. “Cheap gas from the war only for Iraqis, not
Americans. While Americans are shelling out record prices for
fuel, Iraqis pay 5 cents a gallon for gasoline, a benefit of hundreds
of millions of dollar subsidies bankrolled by American taxpayers.
A three-month supply costs American taxpayers more than $500 million,
not including the cost of military escorts to fend off attacks.”

SEC’Y POWELL: This is the nature of the economy that we inherited
from this regime, a regime that was bankrupting itself by providing
these kinds of subsidies for gas, for food, and for other necessities,
which they control. It was a way in which they controlled the
population. As the new government takes over and as the economy
settles down and it becomes more market-based, you will start
to see all of these prices start to go up to market level conditions
or certainly not at the current subsidized level. Even electricity
was free and we have to change all of that as we bring this country
along and bring it into the 21st century and into an integrated
economic world.

WANNISKI: Iraq was bankrupted by the embargo, which kept the economy
at a subsistence level. Iraq could not export its state-owned
energy because of the embargo, but it could ease the distress
of the economy by u201Cselling energyu201D at its bare cost of production.
Secretary Powell seems unaware of the conditions imposed on Iraq
at the conclusion of the Gulf War in 1991.

MR. RUSSERT: But psychologically the American people see their
gasoline over $2 a gallon and they see the Iraqis paying a nickel
and they say what is this about?

SEC’Y POWELL: Well, what it’s about is a broken system that we
are trying to fix.

WANNISKI: Tim Russert also has no understanding of why the Iraqi
people pay almost nothing for gasoline. There is no one in the
government to explain it to him, but he and others in the press
corps should have figured this out for themselves. Saddam and
his regime could have explained why this has been the case, but
they are all under arrest and kept far away from journalists and

MR. RUSSERT: We turn over the keys, if you will, on June 30, just
two weeks from now, but the American people should not think that
it’s the end of the violence. It could potentially still be a
long, hot, bloody summer.

SEC’Y POWELL: Yes, it could be, and it’s long and hot and bloody
right now. We see that these people don’t want a better life for
the Iraqi people, and we’re going to have to stay the course and
show the kind of determination, patience that we have shown in
previous conflicts.

WANNISKI: u201CThese peopleu201D of course want a better life for the
Iraqi people or they would not have the support of the Iraqi people,
91% of whom view the USA as an u201Cunwelcome occupying power.” Secretary
Powell sounds more like a General – with the perspective of a
military man – than a diplomat – who must put himself in the
shoes of the other side.

MR. RUSSERT: [Secretary Powell]… as you try to oversee our foreign
policy, the president oversee the war in Iraq, this is the Gallup
poll about U.S. attitudes on war. Whether the war was just, World
War II, overwhelmingly, 90 percent to 7 percent; Iraq, 49 to 49.
How much does that affect your ability to conduct policy?

SEC’Y POWELL: It makes it more difficult because we have to explain
to the American people and explain to the world why it was a just
war and what it’s all about and what we’re trying to accomplish.
And when you have difficult situations, as we’re having now with
officials being assassinated and bombs going off, people see this
on television, they begin to question. And we have to keep reinforcing
to the American people and to the rest of the world why this was,
one, a just war, why it makes sense for us to stay the course
and keep reminding people that a very tyrannical, terrible regime
that filled mass graves, that did terrible things to its own people
and that was a destabilizing influence in the region is gone,
and let’s not forget that. They are gone….

WANNISKI: General Powell has been so disoriented by the disinformation
fed to him by Iraqi exiles who promised that weapons of mass destruction
and ties to Al Qaeda would be found that he does not realize the
information about u201Cmass graves and u201Cterrible thingsu201D Saddam did
were supplied by the same exiles. I do hope Mr. Powell realizes
that while quite a few graves have been found, none of the mass
graves that would prove u201Cgenocideu201D have been located. The press
corps, including Tim Russert, has still not taken this into account,
but it is one of the facts that will further embarrass the administration,
and the press corps.

MR. RUSSERT: Some observers, Mr. Secretary, will say the primary
rationale for the war, weapons of mass destruction, have not been
found; we were supposed to be greeted as liberators, which is
not the case; that a lot more than just the 130,000 troops are
truly necessary; that General Shinseki, the Army chief of staff,
who said we needed hundreds of thousands, was probably more correct.
Why shouldn’t people say that this war has been mismanaged from
the very beginning?

SEC’Y POWELL: Well, it’s succeeded in its principal objective
of eliminating this regime and the intention and capability that
this regime had to have weapons of mass destruction. Even though
we haven’t found actual stockpiles, we now don’t have to worry
about that intention or capability anymore. It’s gone….

WANNISKI: This may be the first time Mr. Powell has identified
the government's u201Cprincipal objectiveu201D as being u201Cregime changeu201D
and not the u201Celiminationu201D of its weapons of mass destruction.
President Bush only had congressional authority to war with Iraq
if he could assure the Congress that the UN inspections had failed.
Mr. Powell surely knows President Bush gave these formal assurances
to the Congress on the eve of the war even though the UN inspectors
indicated Iraq was cooperating and could be cleared of all WMD
questions in two months. Tim Russert seems unaware of this time

MR. RUSSERT: When you look at the CIA information on the weapons
of mass destruction, former President Clinton said Saddam had
weapons of mass destruction, as well as current President Bush.
The U.N. inspectors. The Russian, French and German intelligence
agencies said he had weapons of mass destruction. What happened?
How could there have been such a colossal intelligence failure?

SEC’Y POWELL: Well, maybe because what we were all looking at
was a body of evidence that gave you every reason to believe that
he did have weapons of mass destruction. He had the intention.
He used them. He stiffed the U.N. for 12 years. He had the infrastructure.
He had the capability. The only thing we haven’t been able to
find are actual current stockpiles of such weapons. Everything
else was there. Everything else was there with respect to capability
and intention. And any reasonable person looking at this regime,
looking at the threat inherent in that intention and capability
would have come to the conclusion based on unanswered questions.
Remember, the basis for the stockpiles were unanswered questions
about what he had had in the past and what happened to it, and
some inferential evidence we had with respect to bunkers and other
information we had that gave any reasonable person basis to believe
that there were stockpiles, in addition to capability and intention.
We haven’t found those stockpiles. But there’s no doubt in my
mind that he never lost the intention or the capability. If he’d
ever been freed from international inspection or the pressure
of the international community and just left alone and we hadn’t
acted, you would see Saddam Hussein still there still, now developing
stockpiles with the freedom to do so.

WANNISKI: The only body of evidence that Saddam had WMD was supplied
by the Iraqi exiles who were dismissed as unreliable several years
ago by the intelligence agencies. Mr. Powell knows this, but apparently
chooses to be a good solider one more time. When he says u201CIf he'd
ever been freed from international inspectionu201D he would have done
terrible things, Powell is either totally ignorant of the fact
that Saddam could NEVER have been freed from international inspections
or he is now prepared to out-and-out prevaricate. In either case,
it is clear to me that my confidence in Powell's integrity has
now dissolved.

21, 2004

Wanniski [send him mail]
runs the financial/political advisory service
(If you subscribe,
and check
in the referring website pull-down,
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