Bush’s Foreign Policy: Isolate Colin Powell
          by Joe Conason

          Let us hope that Colin Powell has the courage to insist on his convictions,
          even if that should result some day in his resignation as Secretary of State.
          Although unnamed “White House aides” reassuringly insist that the former
          general’s public disagreements with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are
          nothing worse than an early policy shakeout, the truth is that Mr. Powell holds
          an entirely different (and considerably saner) world view than
          that of the Vice President and the Defense Secretary.

          Were it not so, the embarrassing reversals suffered by Mr.
          Powell in recent days, on matters ranging from Korea to
          Kosovo, would have been avoided. After all—as we are
          constantly informed by the admiring Washington press
          corps—this second Bush Presidency is a very, very tight ship
          indeed. Preserving that image has always been among the
          highest priorities of George W. Bush and his aides. So their
          repeated put-downs of Mr. Powell before the entire world must
          have involved at least a degree of calculation.

          Now the former warrior appears to be quarantined politically. He finds himself
          under attack from conservatives allied with the Cheney-Rumsfeld faction. Armchair
          militarists at The Weekly Standard warn that the Secretary of State is a closet
          Clintonite, for example, while former fringe Presidential candidate Gary Bauer
          suggests that any cabinet official, such as Mr. Powell, who dares to dissent from
          right-wing orthodoxy might be “taken to the woodshed.”

          Interesting advice, but who would take him out there—this callow President? A
          more incongruous scene is hard to imagine. Actually, Mr. Bush seems intent on
          placating Mr. Powell with a billion-dollar increase in the State Department budget.

          Despite that fiscal consolation, however, there is already ample reason for Mr.
          Powell to wonder why he took this job in the first place. In fact, there have long
          been plenty of reasons to wonder why a man with his moderate views should cling
          to a party that has veered so far rightward. The current chill between him and his
          fellow Republicans echoes his scolding speech at the G.O.P. convention in
          Philadelphia last summer. (He probably didn’t appreciate the entertainment value of
          that strange event.)

          As a Bronx native who earned his rank in combat and worked his way up through
          the ranks, Mr. Powell has never fit in too well with tough-talking cowboys, like Mr.
          Cheney, whose perennially hawkish views never prevented them from wangling a
          draft deferment. It is the difference between real toughness and its unreasonable
          facsimile that defines the debate between the Powell and Cheney factions.

          Pseudo-toughness requires hard-line posturing rather than prudent policy. The
          pseudo-tough position on North Korea is to repudiate former President Clinton’s
          diplomatic efforts on the peninsula, even if that means undermining the democratic
          government in South Korea. The pseudo-tough position on Iraq is to continue the
          current sanctions despite their inhumanity and ineffectiveness, while pretending that
          somebody is going to overthrow Saddam Hussein someday. The pseudo-tough
          position on Kosovo is to promote conflict rather than cooperation with our
          European allies, regardless of the damage to important multilateral relationships. The
          pseudo-tough view of nuclear peril is to insist on building an outrageously expensive
          “national missile defense” which won’t work, casually wrecking the arms-control
          regime constructed with immense difficulty over the past three decades.

          The results are likely to be bad news for everyone except Mr. Bush’s friends and
          contributors in the defense industry. Pseudo-toughness encourages similar attitudes
          elsewhere, such as the announcement by the Russians that they have stopped
          dismantling strategic weapons as agreed under current treaties with the United

          It was predictable that Mr. Powell would take exception to this kind of contagious
          idiocy, if only because he has done so in the recent past. He was among the few
          courageous Republicans to endorse the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty two years
          ago, when Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Bush were helping to insure that the agreement
          was stymied by their friends in the Senate.

          That was one of the grossest acts of irresponsible isolationism committed in
          Washington since before World War II. It revealed divergent perspectives about
          America’s role in the world that seem impossible to reconcile, with Mr. Powell
          taking sides against nearly everyone who would later become his colleagues (and
          antagonists) in this administration.

          No doubt the Secretary of State has convinced himself that his pragmatic
          internationalism will ultimately prevail. But his role within the Republican Party has
          been less that of a leader than of a good soldier and handsome object for display.
          Unless he is willing to speak out loudly and often, he will finally be forced to
          harmonize with the hard-right choir.

          It is Mr. Powell’s duty to himself and his country to avoid that fate.

            You may reach Joe Conason via email at: jconason@observer.com

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