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COMMENTARY:

Heroes and Rogues

by J. Russell Tyldesley
Lest we forget, Powell was, arguably, the only person who could have derailed the Bush-Cheney march to war in Iraq.
Perhaps Barack Obama should have rejected General Powell's endorsement. Lest we forget, Powell was, arguably, the only person who could have derailed the Bush-Cheney march to war in Iraq. In insurance parlance, he was "the last clear chance." Powell must have known the evidence for WMD was weak, and he also knew that Bush was itching for the chance to prove his mettle and avenge his father or "finish the job," as he was often wont to say. It is also reported that the night before his important speech before the U.N., Powell argued vociferously against the speech he was ordered to give. Nevertheless, Powell played the dutiful servant or loyal soldier, depending on your point of view.

People close to him throughout his career claim that he was inclined to curry favor with his white superiors due to an inferiority complex, and he never rocked the boat. So, he went before the U.N. and paraded a pile of raw sewage, cherry picking the skimpy evidence provided by the CIA , while ignoring their caveats, and embracing the nonsence produced by the notorious flake, "Curveball." This "tour de force" was, undoubtedly, a low point of his career, but, perhaps, not the lowest.

Powell betrayed his own heart (I think he has one) and the faith of the American people in their expectation of truth and integrity from their highest sworn leaders. Well.... perhaps not—at least not anymore.

Had he resigned in protest then, instead of at the end of Bush's first term, millions of lives and trillions of dollars could have been saved. Instead, the General was able to keep his stars, his maximized pension, and his currency as a dinner speaker. In doing so, of course, he betrayed his own heart (I think he has one) and the faith of the American people in their expectation of truth and integrity from their highest sworn leaders. Well.... perhaps not—at least not anymore.

Unfortunately, there was precedent to take Powell's testimony with a large dollop of salt. The good General also participated in the Iran-Contra crime. In fact he arranged for the shipment of Army materials to another country to be used in the arms-for-hostage deal. His testimony before a Congressional committee investigating this crime was anything but convincing. However, he avoided the fate of Weinberger and Ollie North.

Even that episode was not out of character. He was the Major charged with investigating alleged attrocities in Vietnam—most notably, the My-Lai massacre. In a perfunctory whitewash job, he failed to find anything and so reported, along with the fatuous lie that the American soldiers and the Vietnamese were getting along famously.

Despite this sordid history, which would have ruined the carreer of many lesser luminaries, he seemed to have guardian angels in high places. The press decided that we needed this kind of Horatio Alger story. And so the narrative continues. According to the mainstream media, Colin Powell is the most revered and respected voice in America today; hence, the immense impact his endorsement is likely to have on the Presidential contest. We as a people have always wanted to believe in invented heroes while missing or ignoring the real ones.

We are always blinded by the charisma as we sip the Kool Aid.


J. Russell Tyldesley, a retired insurance executive, writes from Santa Fe, NM.


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This story was published on October 21, 2008.