Let us hope that Colin Powell has the courage to insist on
his convictions, even if that should result some day in his resignation as
Secretary of State. Although unnamed “White House aides” reassuringly insist
that the former general’s public disagreements with Dick Cheney and Donald
Rumsfeld are nothing worse than an early policy shakeout, the truth is that Mr.
Powell holds an entirely different (and considerably saner) world view than
that of the Vice President and the Defense Secretary.
Were it not so, the embarrassing reversals suffered by Mr.
Powell in recent days, on matters ranging from Korea to Kosovo, would have been
avoided. After all-as we are constantly informed by the admiring Washington
press corps-this second Bush Presidency is a very, very tight ship indeed.
Preserving that image has always been among the highest priorities of George W.
Bush and his aides. So their repeated put-downs of Mr. Powell before the entire
world must have involved at least a degree of calculation.
Now the former warrior
appears to be quarantined politically. He finds himself under attack from
conservatives allied with the Cheney-Rumsfeld faction. Armchair militarists at The Weekly Standard warn that the
Secretary of State is a closet Clintonite, for example, while former fringe
Presidential candidate Gary Bauer suggests that any cabinet official, such as
Mr. Powell, who dares to dissent from right-wing orthodoxy might be “taken to
Interesting advice, but
who would take him out there-this callow President? A more incongruous scene is
hard to imagine. Actually, Mr. Bush seems intent on placating Mr. Powell with a
billion-dollar increase in the State Department budget.
Despite that fiscal consolation, however, there is already
ample reason for Mr. Powell to wonder why he took this job in the first place.
In fact, there have long been plenty of reasons to wonder why a man with his
moderate views should cling to a party that has veered so far rightward. The
current chill between him and his fellow Republicans echoes his scolding speech
at the G.O.P. convention in Philadelphia last summer. (He probably didn’t
appreciate the entertainment value of that strange event.)
As a Bronx native who earned his rank in combat and worked
his way up through the ranks, Mr. Powell has never fit in too well with
tough-talking cowboys, like Mr. Cheney, whose perennially hawkish views never
prevented them from wangling a draft deferment. It is the difference between
real toughness and its unreasonable facsimile that defines the debate between the Powell and Cheney factions.
Pseudo-toughness requires hard-line posturing rather than
prudent policy. The pseudo-tough position on North Korea is to repudiate former
President Clinton’s diplomatic efforts on the peninsula, even if that means
undermining the democratic government in South Korea. The pseudo-tough position
on Iraq is to continue the current sanctions despite their inhumanity and
ineffectiveness, while pretending that somebody is going to overthrow Saddam
Hussein someday. The pseudo-tough position on Kosovo is to promote conflict
rather than cooperation with our European allies, regardless of the damage to
important multilateral relationships. The pseudo-tough view of nuclear peril is
to insist on building an outrageously expensive “national missile defense”
which won’t work, casually wrecking the arms-control regime constructed with
immense difficulty over the past three decades.
The results are likely to
be bad news for everyone except Mr. Bush’s friends and contributors in the
defense industry. Pseudo-toughness encourages similar attitudes elsewhere, such
as the announcement by the Russians that they have stopped dismantling
strategic weapons as agreed under current treaties with the United States.
It was predictable that Mr. Powell would take exception to
this kind of contagious idiocy, if only because he has done so in the recent
past. He was among the few courageous Republicans to endorse the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty two years ago, when Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Bush were helping to
insure that the agreement was stymied by their friends in the Senate.
That was one of the grossest acts of irresponsible
isolationism committed in Washington since before World War II. It revealed
divergent perspectives about America’s role in the world that seem impossible to
reconcile, with Mr. Powell taking sides against nearly everyone who would later
become his colleagues (and antagonists) in this administration.
No doubt the Secretary of State has convinced himself that
his pragmatic internationalism will ultimately prevail. But his role within the
Republican Party has been less that of a leader than of a good soldier and
handsome object for display. Unless he is willing to speak out loudly and
often, he will finally be forced to harmonize with the hard-right choir.
It is Mr. Powell’s duty to himself and his country to avoid
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