(Host) Commentator Barrie Dunsmore reflects on the resignation of Secretary of State Colin Powell.
(Dunsmore) Colin Powell was probably the only man in the country who could have stopped President George W. Bush from his determination to invade Iraq. At several times he tried to slow up the rush to war. But when crunch time came and he was told to put his own prestige on the line by making the case for war to the United Nations, instead of resigning, which would have forced the President to reconsider his plans — Powell saluted his Commander-in-Chief and followed orders. He told the world that Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were a threat to international stability — even when he strongly suspected that was not true, a suspicion he has since admitted publicly.
As someone who has dealt with Powell, I have great respect for him. I regret very much that he did not resign rather than provide credibility to an Iraq war that has turned out to be a horrendous mistake. I believe that he did not resign because of his background as a military man — and the fact that he was the first African-American to hold the highest cabinet office in the land. Neither of those facts of his life equipped him to publicly challenge his President.
By all accounts, Colin Powell has been a good Secretary of State. He has gone out of his way to establish good relations with the American Foreign Service and is very well liked by his department’s professionals. He is also respected by the foreign diplomats he has dealt with for the past four years and is recognized for having a pragmatic — which is to say common sense approach to the issues of the day.
Powell was a combat veteran with two hitches in Vietnam. He served as National Security advisor and then as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Gulf War One. He at one time was one of the most trusted men in America, black or white, and once considered a run at the Presidency himself. If Powell had declared himself a Democrat instead of a Republican in 1995 — he might even have had a shot at the Presidential nomination. But given his moderate views on issues like abortion and affirmative action, he probably had no chance to ever be the Republican nominee.
When he was chosen by Bush to be his Secretary of State, Powell enjoyed much more respect — inside or outside the country — than the President himself. But the sad truth is that Powell and his advice were regularly ignored on a wide range of issues about which Powell had great knowledge and experience — because the Bush White House was a lot more ideological than it was pragmatic.
It is not clear who might succeed Powell. None of the successors I’ve heard about brings as much experience or prestige to the job as Powell did. But as we saw during the past four years, those qualities did not seem to matter.
This is Barrie Dunsmore.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.