May 09, 2004

Decline and Fall

GQ, of all places, just put out a fascinating profile of Colin Powell. Read it. Not only does it offer a cute little anecdote about island disputes in Morocco, but it really describes quite nicely some of the tensions brewing in the Bush administration. For those much fogged by hindsight, the article reminds that, prior to 9/11, Powell was the undisputed heavyweight in the Bush administration:
Sure enough, from the early days of the Bush term, Powell cut a wide swath. When an American spy plane went down in China just two months into his tenure, when the air crew was taken into custody and the neocons at the Pentagon went ballistic, acting as if it were proof positive that China was the next Soviet Union, it was Powell who worked the phones night and day, negotiating, soothing, nudging, assuring the Chinese that although the United States would not formally apologize for the spies or the plane, he was willing to use the word sorry in a formal statement, and when that wasn't good enough, offered the words very sorry, which, almost unbelievably, worked, becoming the key to the lock that opened the door and brought the prisoners home eleven days after the crash. Powell kept on. By August his stature was difficult to deny; you could measure his influence in direct proportion to that of his counterpart in the Defense Department, a geezer named Rumsfeld whose last significant job in government had been under Gerald Ford and who had spent the first eight months of the new administration fading into oblivion, harping about the need for a missile-defense shield.
After 9/11, as we know, it was all sidelines, all the time for Powell. Nothing new there. Still, the GQ article really highlights just how alienated from the rest of the administration Powell has become. When his closest aides will happily go on record and heap imprecations on Rice and Cheney, we can safely say things are falling apart. Here's Powell's chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson:

"I call them utopians," he said. "I don't care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz. Utopians, I don't like. You're never going to bring utopia, and you're going to hurt a lot of people in the process of trying to do it."
Yikes. Also interesting is the fact that Powell-- as one of the few grown-ups in the administration-- really has made himself indispensible, often in very low-key ways. His friendship with Musharraf, for starters, has helped keep Pakistani-Indian relations at a low simmer. His efforts (since before 9/11) to engage Muammar Qaddafi in negotiations were a major factor in Libya giving up its weapons program. Losing Powell really will hurt in a lot of crucial yet hard-to-pin-down ways.
-- Brad Plumer 1:21 AM || ||