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Colin Powell’s sterling reputation was forever damaged by disingenuous Republican warmongers

… “A blot on my record”

The headlines about the death of former general, Secretary of State, and National Security Agency director Colin Powell earlier this month contained three words that his reputation could not recover from: “… stained by Iraq.”

Gen. Powell rose from the streets of Harlem to become a four-star general in the U.S. Army and the first African-American to become U.S. Secretary of State. He was also the only African-American to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

His reputation was superb until 2003 when he was asked to justify the American attack on Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

George W. Bush sought credibility because the intelligence on whether or not Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction was spotty. In fact, it was simply wrong, and the U.S. Vice-President’s office wrote a speech that was simply a pack of lies.

Here is that story.

No program to develop WMDs

As a PBS Frontline show explained in 2016, Powell went to his grave regretting his role in lying to the world about the existence of the weapons in Iraq. He called it a “blot” on his record, but it was more than that.

It destroyed the reputation of a man who had served his country honorably and had always chosen the right path,

Colin Powell has called his 2003 speech to the United Nations, laying out the Bush administration’s rationale for war in Iraq, a “blot” on his record. The speech set out to detail Iraq’s weapons program, but as the intelligence would later confirm, that program was nonexistent.

More than 13 years later, the speech continues to haunt the administration — not just for what it got wrong, but for the unintended consequences it may have set in motion.

Jason M. Breslow, “Colin Powell: U.N. speech ‘was a great

intelligence failure’,” PBS, May 17, 2018

How was he deceived?

The first part of the problem was that people were not believing the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld rationale for war. With Powell’s sterling reputation, having him deliver a speech at the United Nationals advocating for war would seal the deal. The problem was that what he said was a pack of lies,

Powell was exploited by the Bush White House for his credibility among the world’s diplomats and his reputation for caution, and he was comprehensively misled. He was told for example that his speech had been prepared by the national security council under Condoleezza Rice, but it was actually written by Vice-President Dick Cheney’s office, which had led the charge in browbeating CIA analysts into coming up with evidence and when that failed, going around the CIA altogether.

Powell had only four days to prepare the speech, but walking into the security council chamber, he said he felt confident. The main claims about biological warfare vans and chemical weapons had been in the president’s State of the Union speech, and he had the CIA sift through the text throwing out “a lot of stuff that was not double- and triple-sourced”. He made the director of central intelligence, George Tenet, sit behind him, in line of sight of the cameras, when he sat before the council.

Julian Borger, “Colin Powell’s UN speech: a decisive moment in

undermining US credibility,” The Guardian, October 18, 2021

Just two years later, he renounced the actions of Cheney and the neocons who conned him. Should he have been more careful?

Yes, but he was limited by time, and he trusted those who have provided him with the fabricated information.

This was indeed the greatest foreign policy error in American history, and Powell’s role bothered him for the remainder of his life,

In an interview with Barbara Walters of ABC News in 2005, just two years later, he said,

“I’m the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It’s painful now.”

ABC News, 2005

Powell’s error: Believing the CIA

The problem for Powell, then the leader of the Department of State, was that chose to ignore the findings of his department and instead align himself with the nefarious Central Intelligence Agency — and with two disingenuous politicians, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush,

“There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good, and shouldn’t be relied upon, and they didn’t speak up. That devastated me,” Powell said in his 2005 ABC interview.

Powell however, had made the decision to believe the CIA over the state department’s own office of intelligence and research (INR), which submitted two intelligence reports before the speech questioning the solidity of the evidence.

Asked about Powell’s decision to ignore the INR’s findings, one of its senior analysts, Greg Thielmann, told the CBS News show 60 Minutes: “I can only assume that he was doing it to loyally support the president of the United States and build the strongest possible case for arguing that there was no alternative to the use of military force.”

Julian Borger, The Guardian, October 18, 2021

Estranged from the Republican Party

Powell ultimately left the Republican Party after the ascension of Donald Trump, and he condemned it over the Jan. 6 terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol.

However, his heart was broken over the loss of the one thing that he had spent his life trying to build: An impeccable, sterling reputation for doing the right thing.

That is very, very sad.

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