Pitiful Colin Powell

Colin Powell on Meet the Press 2-Jan-05

Alas, he had such promise

At the end of the first Gulf War, Colin Powell — who had served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs — was one of the most respected men in America. He was seriously considered by many as a potential presidential candidate. He was held in high esteem around the world. Then he took the job of Secretary of State in the George W Bush administration, and that was the ruin of him.

In the Bush administration, Powell was always odd-man out, trying to be the voice of reason among the belligerents who surrounded Bush: Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, and Cheney. He put his enormous prestige and credibility on the line at the United Nations to make "the case for war" against Saddam Hussein and his supposed weapons of mass destruction, a case now known to be mostly wrong. No matter how self-evidently the administration had screwed up, Powell always stood up and put the best possible face on it, with a straight face.

Powell, Meet the Press, 2-Jan-05

He did the same again this morning on Meet the Press when he valiantly defended the indefensible, namely that it took Bush more than three days to say something about the horrible devastation wrought in South Asia by the earthquake and resultant tsunami.

MR. RUSSERT:  As you well know, there's been a lot of discussion about the administration and its response to this crisis.  The New York Times on Thursday wrote this editorial.  "We hope Secretary of State Colin Powell was privately embarrassed when, two days into a catastrophic disaster that hit 12 of the world's poor countries and will cost billions of dollars to meliorate, he held a press conference to say that America, the world's richest nation, would contribute $15 million.  That's less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities."

It's now up to $350 million, but was the initial response too timid?

SEC'Y POWELL:  No, I don't think so.  These things have a life cycle.  Last Sunday we all started to receive word of this tragedy, and it looked like several thousand lives were lost.  The enormity of it had not yet hit.  But what we do in circumstances such as this is our ambassadors on the ground immediately offer aid, which they did.  It's not much, $100,000 in each of the countries, but it shows that we are committed and engaged.  By last Sunday afternoon, evening, I had started calling all the foreign ministers of the immediately affected nations and on Sunday evening, and then getting them all finally on Monday morning with time changes, I said to them the United States was following; "Let us know what you need.  Please let our embassy know what you need," and reached out to them.  So they knew we were committed right away, on Sunday afternoon.

The president then, Monday and Tuesday, called heads of government and state, said the same thing.  The first request we got for aid was from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.  On Sunday they asked for $7 million.  The United States immediately gave them $4 million of the $7 million.  That's a pretty good start.  On Monday we upped it to $15 million.  By Tuesday, when things were starting to jell a little more with respect to what was needed, we upped it to $35 million.  And then we waited to get some assessments in.  But while waiting, we dispatched teams, we diverted ships with food, we launched our military forces from our Pacific Command. The Bonhomme Richard has been launched.  The Abraham Lincoln carrier was launched.  So we really started to move out.

We began working with the international community.  The president made a statement on Wednesday which demonstrated his concern and also created a core group to begin making sure that all of our efforts were aligned.  The president was kept informed constantly from Sunday afternoon on.  I spoke to him on Monday, noon, before I went out and made my first press statement.  And as we got our assessments in and as the magnitude of this really hit us, then the president decided, based on a recommendation from me and administrator of the AID, Natsios, that we should go to $350 million.

This is also consistent with what other nations had been doing.  I'm so pleased the Japanese have gone to $500 million, but they also started out at a much lower number, as did so many other nations.  After you see the impact of this and the enormity of it, then you scale up your efforts.  But it is not just a matter of money.  It's a matter of getting supplies to the region and then, once you get these supplies to airports and ports, how do you make retail distribution out to the people in need?  And this is where trucks, helicopters, C-130 aircraft, they come into play.  There's no point spending a lot of money to put all of these supplies in the region unless you can distribute these supplies.

So one of the things that I will be looking at on my trip with Governor Bush and our FEMA director and other people is, is there anything we can do to help these countries, which have never been exposed to this kind of catastrophe, to help them organize themselves to deliver the aid, and also to consider the reconstruction effort that's going to be required?

I might add two other points, if I may, Tim.  One:  Our Defense Department is spending a great deal of money, which doesn't count as part of the $350 million, to put our assets in the region and to fly our helicopters and other aircraft and ships to assist with this.  And the other thing that's so exciting is the response from the private sector of America.  I mean, companies are matching the contributions of employees.  I know that you're doing things right here at your network, so many other networks.  Amazon.com is allowing you to one-click a contribution to the American Red Cross.  So tens and tens of millions of dollars are being raised within the private community, which suggests the nature of our society, the compassion that we have for people in need.

So I think the American response has been appropriate.  It has been scaled up as the scale of the disaster became more widely known.  And the reason I want to linger on this a bit is I want the American people to understand that their government and our society has responded appropriately.  I will tell you who is not churlish or disappointed in our response, and that's the nations who are receiving aid.  They have been very thankful and very appreciative of what we have done, and we will do more.

Meet the Press, 2-Jan-05

Talk about being on the defensive: Over 800 words, answering a different point than the one asked about! Of course, Powell is trying to defend the indefensible by distracting us with a litany of things being done. That was never the issue. The issue was, why did it take Bush 3 days to get in front of a camera to say "We don't yet know the full scope of the disaster, but our compassionate conservative hearts go out to the people who have suffered, and the US stands ready to do what it can to help them recover"? After 9/11, it didn't take the three days for foreign leaders to make very public statements deploring the tragedy; even the French declared, "We are all Americans." There can be no doubt that if the tidal wave had washed over the shores of England Bush would have been on the air within the hour.

The unavoidable conclusion is that Bush doesn't much care what happens to other people, all the more so if they are not Europeans. He's very conservative with his compassion, not a compassionate conservative.

A bit later in the interview, Powell was asked about a plan reported on the front page of the Washington Post (Long-Term Plan Sought For Terror Suspects ) to build prisons to house "detainees" that the US doesn't want to release or put through the US courts. According to the Post, this plan originated in the State Department! Yet here was Powell:

MR. RUSSERT:  There's a front-page report in The Washington Post today that the administration is considering a prison to detain alleged terrorists where they do not have enough evidence to bring them to prosecution.  What's your role in that and do you seem...

SEC'Y POWELL:  I am not familiar with that and I can't talk to it.

MR. RUSSERT:  The State Department is involved.

SEC'Y POWELL:  I just don't have the facts on that one.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why would the United States detain people for life without bringing them to trial?

SEC'Y POWELL:  I have no information on this one, Tim.

Powell has clearly adopted the motto, "Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil." And the mere existence of this proposal shows the administration learned nothing from the chastisement they received last summer from the Supreme Court.

Powell has obviously sold his soul to the devil. I hope he thinks about this while he and first brother Jeb are on their road trip to disaster area.

By the way— Where's the nominee for Secretary of State, Ms Condoleezza Rice? She was all over the TV during the campaign, but she can't manage even one interview to express sympathy and compassion and offer to help?