Colin Powell still wants answers
Over the next decade and a half, Powell’s and Bush’s worlds intersected only at the margins. The secretary is careful not to speak badly of the president he once served, even when he announced in 2008 that he would support Barack Obama as Bush’s successor. He was present for the opening of the Bush Presidential Library in 2013. But he did not attend the annual gatherings of administration alumni, and since leaving office he has refused to defend the decision. Bush’s determinant of invading Iraq.
On another occasion, I interviewed Powell, while he was gathering material for a book on the Bush presidency in 2006, he was suspicious and unwilling to speak officially; it was a time of chaos in Iraq and of settling memories in Washington. A dozen years later, however, most of that caginess was gone. Some of the main mysteries that still hung over the most important US foreign policy decision in half a century, I found, remained mysteries even to Powell. At one point during our first conversation in 2018, he paraphrased a line about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction from the intelligence assessment that informed his speech at the UN, which officials of the Intelligence had assured him to be rock solid: “‘We estimate that they have 100 to 500 metric tonnes of chemical weapons, all produced in the last year.’ How could they have known? He said with caustic disbelief.
I told Powell that I intended to track down the authors of this review. With a smirk, he replied, “You could tell them I’m curious about this.”
Shortly after meeting Powell, I managed to speak to several analysts who helped produce the classified assessment of Iraq’s supposed weapons program and who had never spoken with reporters before. In fact, I learned that there was exactly no evidence that Hussein had a stockpile of chemical weapons. CIA analysts only knew that he once had such a stock, before the Persian Gulf War of 1991, and was thought to weigh up to 500 metric tons before the weapons were destroyed. Analysts had noted what appeared to be a recent suspicious movement of vehicles around suspected chemical weapons factories. There also seemed to be signs – but again, no hard evidence – that Iraq had an active biological weapons program, so, they thought, the country was probably making chemical weapons as well. This was, I learned, typical of pre-war intelligence estimates: they boiled down to semi-educated guesses built on earlier, rarely challenged guesses that always assumed the worst and imagined deception in everything. the Iraqi regime was doing. Analysts knew not to present these judgments as facts. But that distinction was lost by the time Powell spoke to the UN
Additionally, circular reasoning guided the intelligence community’s pre-war estimates. As an intelligence official – one of many who spoke to me on condition of anonymity – said: “We knew where we were going, and it was war. Which, ironically, made it even more difficult to change the analytical line we had stuck with for 10 years. For 10 years, we felt pretty strongly that Saddam had chemical capabilities. Whether that’s still true or not, “with American soldiers about to come in, we weren’t going to change our mind and say, ‘Whatever. “
” I’m capable of self-pity, “Powell wrote in” My American Journey, “his 1995 memoir.” But not for long. ” In his rise to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George HW Bush, the Harlem-born son of Jamaican immigrants had triumphed over racism, tough army generals, and right-wingers who did it. found insufficiently hawkish. His appointment by Bush and Cheney, then Secretary of Defense, also proved to be a stroke of political genius. During the Gulf War, his composure and determination on television rallied Americans to distrust of foreign entanglements after the horror of Vietnam. It was absolutely no surprise when Bush’s son appointed Powell his secretary of state.
But their relationship was strained from the start. Bush was not at all like his father, whom Powell had greatly admired. The new president was much more conservative, much less respectful of international alliances. Bush also understood the power that Powell’s popularity gave him, and he knew that Powell, who had already considered and decided not to run for president, could change his mind at any time.