Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo
To make up for his lack of gravitas, as well as his self-admitted shortcomings in the realm of foreign policy expertise, George W. Bush and his senior advisors have made it clear that Colin Powell is going to be their choice for Secretary of State and Powell has signaled that he just might accept. There is even some talk of Dubya announcing his Cabinet picks during the Democratic national convention: if Powell is among the designees then this is sure to steal the spotlight at a crucial moment. Not only that, but it is virtually certain to provoke hosannas from Republicans of the "responsible" right as well as the moderate, Ripon-ish center: for Powell-mania transcends political categories and ideologies. It doesn't matter that Powell supports a whole panoply of proposals that are anathema to conservative Republicans. The General is virtually immune to all criticism from Republicans, even though he favors affirmative action, as he stated clearly in his speech to the 1996 Republican convention, and is so mired in black victimology that when a predominantly black jury let off O. J. Simpson, Powell was quick to come to the jury's defense:
"People will try to suggest that because there were nine blacks on the jury, it was a racial judgment. I think that's unfair. These are people who can understand the facts put before them."
Many blacks, in openly celebrating Simpson's acquittal, were quick to state the real rationale behind the verdict: that, as several put it in news interviews, "it's payback time." In other words, if we think of Nicole Brown Simpson as a human sacrifice to the god of black victimology made in payment for the injuries inflicted on blacks by racist whites then her murder was justified. The jurors understood the "the facts" and ignored them. Powell's defense of their verdict was outrageous, and if such a ridiculous explanation had come out of the mouth of, say, Louis Farrakhan or Lenora Fulani, it would have been roundly condemned. But the revered Powell gets a free pass, where others are held accountable: the man is an icon, widely seen as living evidence that we can, after all, live in a multi-cultural society. Or, as Bruce Llewellyn, Powell's business partner and cousin, puts it:
"Have you ever heard [Powell's] speeches? He gives a great speech. He gets all of them white people coming up off the chairs, clapping and feeling good about themselves. He talks about America, the great land of opportunity, and how a poor West Indian kid with Jamaican parents and living in the south Bronx can work his way to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. . . . . They all love this shit. They all love the idea that "Gee, we weren't prejudiced.' . . . White people love to believe they're fair. One of the things that upsets the living shit out of them is when you confront them with the fact that they are really a bunch of racist, no-good motherfuckers." [Cited in Henry Louis Gates, "Powell and the Black Elite," The New Yorker, September 25, 1995; p. 70.]
The great wave of Powell-mania that swept the country in 1996 included all too many conservatives who didn't care that their candidate's views were considerably to left on many key issues the sight of Bill Kristol and Arianna Huffington jumping on the Powell-for-President bandwagon presaged the later defection of these two intellectual lightweights to the McCainiac camp and the wacko Left respectively. Still, many veteran conservative leaders, such as Phyllis Schlafly, Paul Weyrich, and others declared their opposition. This year, with the Republican hard right taking a back seat to the party's moderate-to-liberal wing, putting Powell on the ticket, albeit in a secondary spot, would have been provocative, to say the least. So it's the Secretary of State's office, and not the White House or the Vice-Presidential Residence, for Powell where his views on affirmative action won't rub conservatives the wrong way. But what kind of a Secretary of State would he make? What are his foreign policy views? In light of Bush's pre-election appointment, such questions need to be asked. The inspiring saga of the Powell Myth, the General's by-his-bootstraps bio, is a personal narrative with little relevance to the qualifications for the Secretary's job. What are his qualifications, anyway, aside from his immense popularity and his usefulness in giving the GOP a (completely phony) multicultural gloss?
What really scared the Republican right, back in 1996, when it looked as if Powell might run for and take the White House, was his self-designation as a "Rockefeller Republican." Phyllis Schlafly was particularly perturbed by this, and wrote:
"It is a puzzlement why Colin Powell identified himself as a 'Rockefeller Republican,' when Nelson Rockefeller was the quintessential representative of the eastern liberal establishment. To the grassroots conservatives who are now the dominant majority in the Republican Party, Rockefeller Republicanism means 'in your face' Big Government liberalism."
Powell's identification with "Rockefeller Republicanism" is not just ideological: Joseph Persico, who ghostwrote the General's best-selling memoir, My American Journey, was one of Nelson Rockefeller's speechwriters, and author of The Imperial Rockefeller (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), a hagiography of his former employer. In the days leading up to Powell's anticlimactic announcement that he would not run, an organization pushing his candidacy seemed to spring out of nowhere, led by Eisenhower biographer and internationalist blowhard Steven Ambrose. I remember seeing a television interview at the height of the Powell boomlet in which a GOP political consultant who claimed to have been in touch with Powell casually brushed aside the question of how to raise enough money so late in the political season: "Money," he averred, "is no problem." Being a Rockefeller Republican has certain inherent advantages.
This identification of Rockefeller Republicanism as the political arm of the Money Power was the theme of Schlafly's classic 1964 book, A Choice, Not an Echo, the seminal manifesto of the Goldwater movement: that the struggle for the soul of the Republican party between Goldwater and his enemies in the Eastern Republican Establishment, which dates back to the dark days of the New Deal, pits "the grassroots Republicans, Main Street Americans, who labor in the precincts to elect candidates they hope will be faithful after election" against
"the powerful people who fancy themselves as kingmakers, the wheelers and dealers of the proverbial smoke- filled rooms, also known as the New York or Wall Street or eastern liberal establishment. They include the multinational corporations (whose most recent accomplishment was the Mexican bailout) and the Business Roundtable types, whose fingers of control slither through what is called the media elite."
With Dubya as its standard-bearer, this wing of the GOP is clearly in the saddle and the choice of Powell for State, in this context, makes perfect sense. As a good Rockefeller Republican, Powell's commitment to continuing and expanding our policy of global interventionism is unquestioned. The extra added attraction is that Powell's internationalism comes wrapped in the packaging of the "reluctant warrior." Super-hawks like William Safire suspiciously note that the General favored sanctions over war with Iraq. But as he makes clear in My American Journey, Powell favored sanctions as a prelude to an all-out attack: he argued that we needed more time to build up an overwhelming force. When President Bush declared that this was not a war for oil, or glory, but a struggle to create a "New World Order," his clarion call was echoed by Powell, who, in January of 1993, favored the midshipmen at the US Naval Academy with the following exhortation:
"You are carrying the culture and the spirit and the lifeblood of America. You are carrying it out to new generations of Americans and you are carrying it out to help a new world order get underway."
The big problem of the New World Order crowd has always been that its constituency has been necessarily limited to a very select group of people those who directly benefit in terms of corporate profits and political power (the two being inextricably intertwined). The elevation of Powell to head up the State Department will give the policy of internationalism a human face and widen its constituency considerably. As a replacement for Madeleine Albright, with her overblown rhetoric and overbearing arrogance, Powell will be a stylistic improvement as what wouldn't? In terms of policy, however, Powell could be even more dangerous than Mad Madeleine when it comes to the question of when (and how) to intervene militarily.
To begin with, Powell's criteria for calling out the troops, enumerated in his book, are prefaced by an all-purpose escape clause: "There is . . . no fixed set of rules for the use of military force. To set one up is dangerous." So much for the Christian concept of "just wars" versus wars of conquest: the moral dimension, here, is entirely missing a disturbing omission, to say the least. But Powell claims there is a tactical reason for not setting up such a standard: "it destroys the ambiguity we might want to exist in our enemy's mind regarding our intentions." Here is the mentality of globalism on display for all to see: the whole world must live in fear of the United States. Haunted by the possibility that the Americans might strike at any time, the rest of the world must quake in awe and constant terror, groveling before our terrible majesty.
While abjuring any truly definitive criteria, Powell list four questions that must be asked before the decision to send in the troops is made, starting with: "Is the political objective we seek to achieve important, clearly defined and understood?" But this begs the question: important to whom? It also leaves out the key element of what is in America's national interest as opposed to the corporate and other interests that traditionally have determined the course of our foreign policy. Powell wants to know if "all other nonviolent policy means [have] failed" before he send is the troops but every foreign policy disaster of recent years meets this criteria. In the cases of Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, and Somalia, military intervention was preceded by lengthy negotiations, during which the US asserted its alleged right to intervene anywhere and everywhere in the name of "human rights." When this conceit was resisted, military action followed a course of action completely consistent with Powell's criteria.
Powell asks: "Will military force achieve its objective? At what cost? Have the gains and risks been analyzed?" Coming from someone who endorsed our intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo, one can only wonder how Powell would answer his own inquiries. "How might the situation that we seek to alter, once it is altered by force, develop further and what might be the consequences?" As the Kosovo "Liberation" Army rampages through the volatile Balkans, unleashed by the forces of NATO, the disastrous consequences of that war are all too obvious to a growing number of Americans. Powell not only supported the Kosovo war, but he took the McCainiac view that we should have sent in the ground troops. During the war, Powell argued that by only punishing the Serbs, instead of completely annihilating them and marching into Belgrade, we were "holding back" a threat that was liberally broadcast by the Voice of America.
The much-heralded "Powell Doctrine" was contrasted, during the Kosovo war, with NATO's all-air-strikes and no ground troops strategy, which was dubbed the "Anti-Powell Doctrine" by Clintonista wags. This is an argument over means, not ends: in terms of broad policy objectives, the Powell Doctrine is only stylistically distinguishable from the madcap Wilsonianism of the so-called Clinton Doctrine, which exhorted us to intervene everywhere on behalf of the worldwide struggle against "racism" and "intolerance." As the Brookings Institute's Ivo Daalder and Michael E. O'Hanlon put it in their essay, "Unlearning the Lessons of Kosovo":
"The Powell Doctrine is often mentioned in the same breath as the Weinberger Doctrine. However, even though General Colin Powell had a hand in drafting both, they are not the same. Caspar Weinberger, secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan, insisted that force should be used solely in defense of vital US interests. Powell was less concerned with limiting the objectives than with defining them clearly and using force decisively to achieve them. He vigorously defended the Bush administration's uses of force to remove Manuel Noriega from power in Panama and to protect democracy against coup attempts in the Philippines. He also supported humanitarian relief missions in Bangladesh, Bosnia, Iraq, Russia, and Somalia, as well as the Clinton administration's later intervention in Haiti." [Foreign Policy, Fall 1999]
Powell argued against our initial intervention in the Balkans, then later came out in favor of it: he has since taken the McCainiac "since we're in it, we've gotta win it" line, which is why, during the GOP primaries, McCain announced that he would appoint Powell secretary of state. So much for the much-vaunted policy differences between the two former rivals: there was no more difference between the two GOP contenders on the vital foreign policy issues of the day than there now is between the Republican and Democratic nominees. For that matter, I wouldn't rule out Al Gore declaring that he, too would appoint Powell secretary of state.. It doesn't matter whom we elect we still get the very same foreign policy. Isn't democracy wonderful?
With Bush in the White House, Powell at State, and McCain at Defense, you can bet that we will not be out of Kosovo any time soon. In a 1992 article published in Foreign Affairs, the prestigious journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, Powell declares "We are obligated to lead." But whom are we leading? The General does not elaborate, but presumably the answer is: the world. Powell lays out a blueprint for American foreign and military policy in the post-cold war world that greatly expands the role of the US as the nexus of an evolving world authority. According to Powell, we must be ready not only to fight major wars on two fronts, the Atlantic and the Pacific, but US forces must also be prepared to fight and die putting out minor brush-fires in Africa, Latin America, and other trouble-spots. "I believe peacekeeping and humanitarian operations are a given," writes Powell. "Likewise our forward presence is a given to signal our commitment to our allies and to give second thoughts to any disturber of the peace."
The Pax Americana, eternal and inviolable, an empire in everything but name: for Powell and cheerleaders, this is "a given" and woe unto the "rogue nations" of the world who dare to disturb the peace of US hegemony. Archaic claims of sovereignty, either national or personal, have no place in the New World Order. As the conqueror of Panama, and the triumphant hero of the Gulf War, Powell will glamorize the office of secretary of state and swathe it in military glory. Even more valuable, from a public relations point of view, is his ethnicity, which we aren't supposed to mention but which has significance beyond his personal narrative: Powell's is the multicultural face of Imperial America and what could be more multicultural than a world-spanning empire?
To Powell, and Team Bush, our "forward position" is most certainly "a given," as the would-be secretary of state avers and this is precisely what has to be challenged, this election year. We are provoking a backlash of global proportions, a "blowback" (as Chalmers Johnson puts it) of such potential deadliness that we are seriously contemplating a National Missile Defense to guard against the threat of nuclear terrorism from our accumulating enemies. Is this how we want to live? We vaunt our power and claim with reckless arrogance to be "the indispensable nation." But is this the kind of nation we want to be-one that must keep the rest of the world in a state of fearful suspense? Garet Garrett called our foreign policy of global intervention "a complex of vaunting and fear" a description that fits the Powellian policy, in style and content, to a tee.
Is Powell qualified to be secretary of state? Certainly he is from the point of view of our ruling elites, who have built up his career and his reputation to the status of a living legend. They have backed him all the way, and at every step of his career: it is a story too long to tell in a column. Which brings me to the subject of my book: Colin Powell and the Power Elite was written at the height of the Powell-for-President hysteria, when Bill Kristol and Arianna Huffington were in ecstasies at the thought of Powell in the Oval Office, and this hot-air balloon desperately needed a little puncturing. It is a short book, some 140 pages, that traces his rise as a public figures and charts the development of his views on a wide range of subjects; given my own interest in foreign policy, and Powell's key role in virtually every major US military intervention of the Reagan and Bush years, a good part of this book analyzes his foreign policy views. Those books were gathering dust in storage, but I guess now, in view of recent developments, is the time to break them out.
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And here I thought that Colin Powell and the Power Elite was no longer all that relevant! I couldn't have been more mistaken. If the polls stand up through Election Day 2000, this little book just may come in handy. Get your copy now, while the supply lasts.
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