One thing you have to say about Colin Powell: He’s an extremely “impressive” public figure. Handsome, magnetic, and glib (not to mention “eloquent” – a quality attributed most often nowadays to his fellow African American Barack Obama), he’s the guy they go to when the Obama administration wants to anoint someone whose character has been questioned; if he’s good enough for the General… As Joe Biden might say about Colin Powell as he actually did say about his now boss, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” Come to think of it: Wasn’t Powell the first “mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”? Joe must have forgotten.
I bring this up in reference to Powell’s very impressive and articulate, if not eloquent, performance on last Sunday’s Meet the Press. I used to be one of those folks, like, say, Meet the Press host David Gregory, who found Powell’s magnetism (and presumed military-based reputation for honor and integrity) irresistible. That is, until the Joe Wilson-Valerie Plame scandal in which George Bush was brow-beaten by the media and the Democrats to appoint a “special counsel” (Patrick Fitzgerald) to investigate who leaked Plame’s CIA employment to journalist Robert Novak. (No such brow beating has occurred as a result of the Benghazi attack in which 4 Americans died, but I digress.)
Although leaking Plame’s CIA employment was not a crime, Fitzgerald pretended he did not know the identity of the leaker, Powell sidekick Richard Armitage, despite the fact that he was told it was Armitage from the get-go. Eventually he found a politically acceptable scapegoat named “Scooter” Libby who worked for the arch-villain Dick Cheney. Fitzgerald was, not suprisingly, able to convince a jury of 12 Washington, D.C. Democrats that Libby was guilty of a crime for contradicting the contradictory testimony of the late Democratic TV “personality” Tim Russert.
What’s Colin Powell have to do with this? Powell knew that Armitage was the leaker from the beginning but refused to prevent the ruin of Scooter Libby’s life by revealing the truth. Powell’s excuse was that Fitzgerald had ordered him to remain silent while Fitzgerald looked for someone politically acceptable to take the fall.
My conclusion: If Colin Powell were really a man of honor and integrity, as he obviously expects everyone to believe, he would have told Patrick Fitzgerald to go fuck himself and brought the witch hunt to an abrupt end. Is it a crime to disobey a “special counsel”? And more importantly, would Fitzgerald have had the guts to even contemplate prosecuting the great African American war hero Colin Powell?
But despite my current estimation of Powell as just another political hack, I must say I found myself falling under his spell during his Meet the Press appearance, that is, until he started in about “a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the [Republican] party,” after having excused Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s remarks about the “Jewish lobby” and how he wasn’t when he was in the Senate an “Israeli senator.”
Wall Street Journal columnist Brett Stephens describes it well by quoting and commenting on Powell’s remarks:
…”There’s also a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party. What do I mean by that? I mean by that is they still sort of look down on minorities. How can I evidence that? When I see a former governor [Alaska’s Sarah Palin] say that the president is shuckin’ and jivin,’ that’s a racial-era slave term. When I see another former governor [New Hampshire’s John Sununu] say after the president’s first debate when he didn’t do well, he said he was lazy. Now it may not mean anything to most Americans but to those of us who are African-Americans, the second word is shiftless and then there’s a third word that goes along with it.”
So let’s get this straight. Mr. Powell holds it “disgraceful” to allege anti-Semitism of politicians who invidiously use the phrase “the Jewish lobby.” But he has no qualms about accusing Mr. Sununu—along whose side he worked during the George H.W. Bush administration—of all-but whispering the infamous N-word when he called Mr. Obama’s first debate performance “lazy.”
It’s hard to decide whether Mr. Powell is using a double standard hypocritically or inadvertently. I’ll assume the latter, since he seems to have missed the reason why Mr. Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense has run into so much opposition.
Consider the following hypothetical sentence: “The African-American lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.” Would this pass Mr. Powell’s smell test?
Or this: “I’m a United States senator, not a Kenyan senator.” Such a statement would be considered as so weird and unwonted that no amount of spinning (let’s say it was uttered in the context of a discussion of U.S. policy toward Africa) would have saved the person making it from immediate disqualification.
Now maybe someone can explain how that’s materially different from Mr. Hagel’s suggestion that “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here” and “I’m a United States senator, not an Israeli senator.”
One of the arguments I’ve come across recently is that there’s nothing unwarranted about using the word “intimidate” and that it’s something all lobbies do. Remarkably, however, a Google search yields zero results for the phrases “the farm lobby intimidates,” “the African-American lobby intimidates,” or “the Hispanic lobby intimidates.” Only the Jewish lobby does that, apparently…
Earlier in his column, Stephens notes that Powell may have questioned, Hagel-style, the loyalty of Jewish political appointees:
…according to Bob Woodward, Mr. Powell accused Douglas Feith, one of the highest-ranking Jewish officials in the Bush administration and the son of a Holocaust survivor, of running a “Gestapo office” out of the Pentagon. Mr. Powell later apologized personally to Mr. Feith for what he acknowledged was a “despicable characterization.”
Or the time when, according to George Packer in his book “The Assassins’ Gate,” Mr. Powell leveled another ugly charge at Mr. Feith, this time in his final Oval Office meeting with George W. Bush. “The Defense Department had too much power in shaping foreign policy, [Powell] argued, and when Bush asked for an example, Powell offered not Rumsfeld, the secretary who had mastered him bureaucratically, not Wolfowitz, the point man on Iraq, but the department’s number three official, Douglas Feith, whom Powell called a card-carrying member of the Likud Party.”…
And he concludes:
…In the meantime, maybe Mr. Powell could show that he’s as sensitive to the whiff of anti-Semitism as he is to the whiff of racism. If George Packer’s description of Mr. Powell’s last meeting with President Bush is inaccurate, he should publicly disavow it. If it’s accurate, he should publicly apologize for it. Nobody questions where Mr. Powell’s loyalties lie. If he has called the loyalties of other patriotic American public servants into question, that would be, to use his word, disgraceful.