The topic was not all that interesting, because I don't believe that either Powell or Adelman's endorsement will have any meaningful impact on this election. Obama will be elected for exactly one reason - the country is in the grip of an economic meltdown and market panic during the last few weeks of the election. A poorly executed McCain campaign did not help, but the economic fear swamps all other considerations. Under this kind of economic cloud the electorate will sweep the incumbent party out and the opposition party in. If McCain had kept it close, these endorsements might have made a difference and been important for Obama. As it is, the endorsements are bringing "coals to Newcastle". Unfortunately, Obama and the Democrats will claim a mandate, and with no meaningful opposition in Washington, we are on a high-speed hell-bound train to the inevitable bad governance, corruption and abuse of power that always accompanies single party rule.
Back to Adelman. Obama supporters have breathlessly covered his endorsement as a shocking validation of everything that is wrong with the McCain campaign. After all, this is a "loyal", lifelong Conservative Republican. I have a couple of problems with that characterization. First, it is astonishing that anyone who believes the Iraq war was a mistake (as do I) would put any credence in Adelman's judgment or take anything he says seriously. Adelman is most famous (infamous?) for his 2002 Washington Post editorial where he pitched the Iraq War as a "cakewalk":
Adelman was a neocon's neocon. And the neocon "might makes right" eagerness to wield the military as a instrument of policy rather than as a last resort, coupled with their willingness to sacrifice the Constitution, rule of law, bill of rights, and common decency on the alter of "security" is the very reason why the Republican Party is about to rendered completely irrelevant.
"In 1991 we engaged a grand international coalition because we lacked a domestic coalition. Virtually the entire Democratic leadership stood against that President Bush. The public, too, was divided. This President Bush does not need to amass rinky-dink nations as "coalition partners" to convince the Washington establishment that we're right. Americans of all parties now know we must wage a total war on terrorism. Hussein constitutes the number one threat against American security and civilization. Unlike Osama bin Laden, he has billions of dollars in government funds, scores of government research labs working feverishly on weapons of mass destruction -- and just as deep a hatred of America and civilized free societies."
As regards his professed "loyalty" to the Republican Party or conservative principles, recall that in a 2006 Vanity Fair article, Adelman was only too eager to hold himself and the Neocon philosophy blameless, while throwing everyone else in the Bush administration under the bus. It stands as one of the most gratuitous examples of craven CYA finger pointing ever committed to print. But hey! This is one of the key architects of the philosophy that may have destroyed the Republican party, or at least rendered it politically impotent for a generation. So why not pay attention to him and his endorsement for Obama? Neocons for Obama!
Colin Powell is a more interesting study. He has been a frequent topic of posts on this blog. Powell is a man I deeply respected in the Bush41 administration, and would have whole heartedly supported for President in 2000. If we had used the Powell Doctrine as a guiding principle in 2003 as we did in the first Gulf War, we never would have gone down the disastrous Neocon path in Iraq.
But the big question about Colin Powell remains - Why did he enable the Bush administration to support a policy he knew to be in contradiction to the successful doctrine that bears his name? Why did he choose loyalty to the administration over loyalty to the American people? I asked this question in an open letter and a 2006 post where I wondered "whether Colin Powell might, in the judgment of history, carry the label of being to Iraq what McNamara was to Vietnam":
Make no mistake. It was a critical decision point, a nexus in history, when in 2002 Colin Powell walked into the Oval office to advise the President. As he related to Tim Russert:
"In 1995, Robert McNamara (widely referred to as "the architect of the Vietnam War") writing in his memoir "In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam", revealed that as early as 1967 (with 25,000 American dead) he no longer believed that America could win the war in Vietnam, and as a direct consequence of expressing that view, resigned (or was fired) from the LBJ administration.... Neither McNamara nor LBJ chose to share that insight with the American public. Ultimately it took 50,000 American lives for a majority of Americans to learn that their government could not be trusted on the reasons for, nor the "light at the end of the tunnel" progress in, Vietnam. It is reasonable to posit, that if McNamara had recognized in 1968 that his loyalty was owed first to the American people, and second to the LBJ administration, had communicated what he knew then to the American people, we might have seen a better end, a quicker end, and fewer deaths and casualties in Vietnam... Colin Powell enabled the GWB administration to garner the support needed to put us on this course. I suspect that Colin Powell, out of misplaced loyalty, like McNamara on Vietnam, failed to be forthright and honest with the American people about Iraq. Should Colin Powell, in future memoirs, like McNamara, proclaim that he knew that the Iraq occupation was a wrong policy, he will, like McNamara, have blood on his hands for every day that passes between the time that he recognized the mistake, and the day he finally comes clean with the American people. It took McNamara 27 years. How long will it take Powell?"
If Powell understood that this was the wrong path, Powell should have told Bush that he did not support the policy and resigned. Colin Powell enabled George W Bush to make the decision to prosecute the occupation. Colin Powell sold the war to the American people. After Cheney and Bush himself, Powell is the man most responsible for the war decision.
"when I took it to the president and said, “This is a war we ought to see if we can avoid,” I also said and made it clear to him, 'If, at the end of the day, it is a war that we cannot avoid, I’ll be with you all the way.' That’s part of being part of a team."
At some level Powell knows this. He is a study in contradictions. As a consequence of failing to act on what he knew to be right in 2002, he has spent years explaining and justifying his actions. I cannot help but feel that this endorsement is yet another attempt to assuage his conscience, rehabilitate his reputation and scrub the blood off his hands.