"The question of interrogation of detainees is not the only issue where your opinion could be influential. Since resigning as Secretary of State, you have maintained a low public profile, choosing to either reserve judgment or simply not to share your thoughts with American public at large regarding the war in Iraq... Quite frankly, you are doing the American people a great disservice by not sharing your detailed views on the war in Iraq. From my perspective, there are disturbing similarities between your words describing Vietnam and the current conflict in Iraq, and even more disturbing similarities between McNamara’s public silence in 1968 and your public reticence on the war now... Permit me to be blunt. As an American citizen that supported this war to a large extent because of your support of it and your eloquent argument before United Nations in January of 2003, I do not find it acceptable for you to withhold your assessment of the status and outlook for this war. You owe this country the benefit of your honest assessment now. You owe us your complete, unexpurgated, unvarnished view."I have no way of knowing whether Mr. Powell ever read or received the letter. I suspect it never made it past the flak catchers. Regardless, I was delighted to see that Sunday last, on CBS News' Face the Nation, Mr. Powell delivered the goods. Some quotes from the show (transcript here):
Predictably, Powell takes shots from both wings of the political bird, and stimulated comment across the political spectrum. From the right, Cassandra at Villainous Company posts "Why Colin Powell is impractical" saying this is "just more of Powell's woolgathering disguised as stunning feats of insight". From the left, David Mark at Jabbs is equally dismissive in his post "Good Soldier Powell" claiming "it's same old, same old." And from the unrepentant center, Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice, notes that the "Isolation Of Bush Administration Over Iraq Apparently Widens".
"I agree with the assessment of Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton. It's grave and deteriorating. And as Secretary-designate of Defense Bob Gates said at his confirmation hearing, we're not winning. So if it's grave and deteriorating, and we're not winning, we are losing."
"I see a situation where the government is having difficulty extending control...and nothing seems to be improving. It seemed to me that this looks like a civil war, and we ought to call it that."
"I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purpose of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work... There needs to be a clear mission that these additional troops are going to be performing."
"...I think you have to talk to a country like Syria. It's a little--not--it's a little discordant to see that we're not talking to them, but the Iraqis have just opened their embassies in Damascus and Tehran."
"Iran is a little difficult... they're difficult to deal with, and they're acting very, very badly. But at the same time, I think that low-level conversations of the kind we had earlier might give us some channels of communication..."
"I'm suggesting that what General Schoomaker said the other day, before a committee looking at the Reserve and National Guard, that the active Army is about broken. General Schoomaker is absolutely right, and all of my contacts within the Army suggest that the Army has a serious problem in the active force, and it's a problem that will spread into the Guard and Reserves: Backlog of equipment that is not being repaired, soldiers--especially officers and noncommissioned officers--going on repetitive tours."
"The current active Army is not large enough, and the Marine Corps is not large enough, for the kinds of missions they're being asked to perform. And we need to let both the Army and the Marine Corps grow in size, in my military judgment."
"... we are a little less safe in the sense that we don't have the same force structure available for other problems. I think we have been somewhat constrained in our ability to influence events elsewhere."
"But sooner or later, you have to begin the baton pass. Passing it off to the Iraqis for their security and begin the drawdown of US forces. I think that's got to happen sometime before the middle of next year, at least the beginning of this. You cannot--we cannot walk away."
McQ at the QandO Blog takes a reasoned approach, linking Powell's comments to the the IPB (Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield), a prerequisite to defining any military mission, in his post "Why Colin Powell is concerned":
"Unless we give them the "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" mission, this may be mission impossible, militarily speaking. And given that, you have to then question the utility of more troops. That's precisely where Colin Powell is coming from. So when I see Powell talking like this, I'm not at all put off by it, nor do I hear "defeatist talk". I hear a commander who, during his entire time in the service, demanded answers to those very questions and ensured that they were answered satisfactorily before he ever approved an operation. In fact step 2 in the Powell Doctrine asks "do we have a clear attainable objective?" That is the same question as that found in his quote. At this point, unless I've missed it, the answer is no."
In the mainstream media, the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson used Powell's comments as a platform to also decry the lack of clarity on the mission in Iraq in his column "A Surge in Wasted Sacrifice":
Powell's unique perspective has moved the debate in a positive direction. As I said in the 9/25 letter:
"Here's an idea: Let's send more U.S. troops to Iraq. The generals say it's way too late to even think about resurrecting Colin Powell's "overwhelming force" doctrine, so let's send over a modest "surge" in troop strength that has almost no chance of making any difference -- except in the casualty count. Oh, and let's not give these soldiers and Marines any sort of well-defined mission. Let's just send them out into the bloody chaos of Baghdad and the deadly badlands of Anbar province with orders not to come back until they "get the job done."
"You were in Vietnam. You shaped our victory in Desert Storm. You participated in and argued for the decision to occupy Iraq in 2003. Your experience with the military, with this administration, with the field of conflict in Iraq, with both failed and successful US wars, makes you uniquely qualified to help the American people find the right path by shedding some light on the problem."The reaction to Powell's statement show why we need to continue to hear his clear, strong perspective. Doubtless, my letter was never read. Powell's likely motivation to speak out now is to serve as a public proxy for his friends and colleagues in active service that are legally constrained from publicly airing their concerns. Whatever the motivation, his reappearance on the national stage is reason for me to say once again:
Thank you Mr. Powell. You are at least two years later than I would have liked, but still in time to make a difference.