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2004-11-16

Colin Powell Resigns From Bush Cabinet

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Secretary of State Colin Powell announced his resignation yesterday. Powell was the first African American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State. He was the military architect of the 1991 Persian Gulf War and made the case for the 2003 Iraq invasion before the United Nations. We speak with TransAfrica president Bill Fletcher and John Brady Kiesling, a 19-year Foreign Service veteran who resigned in 2003 in protest over the invasion of Iraq. [includes rush transcript]

Secretary of State Colin Powell announced his resignation yesterday. He is the top official to quit since President Bush’s reelection and was one of four Cabinet resignations announced by the White House on Monday. The others include Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Education Secretary Rod Paige. Six members out of the 15 positions in the Bush Cabinet have resigned so far.

Today, we spend the hour taking a look at the latest resignations from Bush’s Cabinet. We begin with the most notable: Colin Powell.

In a one-page resignation letter released by the White House, Powell wrote "I am pleased to have been part of a team that launched the Global War Against Terror, liberated the Afghan and Iraqi people, brought the attention of the world to the problem of proliferation, reaffirmed our alliances, adjusted to the Post-Cold War World and undertook major initiatives to deal with the problem of poverty and disease in the developing world."

After the White House made the announcement, Powell spoke to reporters in Washington.

  • Colin Powell, Secretary of State speaking to reporters, November 15, 2004.

Secretary of State Colin Powell speaking to reporters yesterday. Administration officials say National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice–one of President Bush’s closest and most trusted confidants–will replace Powell. Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley, will replace her as National Security Adviser. An official announcement is expected later today. The Washington Post calls the Cabinet shake-up "the triumph of a hard-edged approach to diplomacy."

Powell is a retired four-star general who rose to become the first African American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State. He developed what is known as the "Powell Doctrine"–using overwhelming force in military interventions. As head of the Joint Chiefs, Powell was the military architect of the 1991 Persian Gulf War; a war in which Iraq’s civilian infrastructure was systematically targeted and more than 100,000 Iraqis were killed.

His turbulent four years as secretary of state were marked by the September 11, 2001 attacks and the invasion of Iraq. Washington-based investigative journalist Bob Woodward has reported that in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Powell was a lonely voice in the Bush administration counseling restraint and the pursuit of diplomacy. His position reportedly put him at odds with other top administration officials, notably Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

But in February 2003, it was Colin Powell who made the case for invading Iraq in an appearance before the United Nations Security Council. In his 70-minute presentation, he used satellite photographs, tapes of intercepted conversations between Iraqi military officers and information from Iraqi defectors to argue that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Such weapons have not been found. This is an excerpt of Powell at the UN on February 5th 2003.

  • Colin Powell, Secretary of State speaking before the United Nations Security Council, February 5, 2003.
  • Bill Fletcher, President of TransAfrica.
  • John Brady Kiesling , spent 20 years in the U.S. Foreign Service before resigning in protest on the eve of the war in Iraq.
  • Ann Wright, former U.S. Diplomat who resigned over the administration’s handling of the Iraq war. We spoke to her at the Democratic National Convention in Boston on July 26, 2004.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: After the White House made the announcement, Powell spoke to reporters in Washington.

COLIN POWELL: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. As you know from the White House announcement earlier today, I submitted my resignation as Secretary of State to President Bush on Friday. It has been my great honor and privilege to have been once again given the opportunity to serve my nation, and I will always treasure the four years that I have spent with President Bush and with the wonderful men and women of the Department of State. I think we have accomplished a great deal. My purpose here today is not to give you a listing of what we have done over the last four years, but to just take note of the fact that in recent weeks and months, President Bush and I have talked about foreign policy and we have talked about what to do at the end of the first term. It has always been my intention that I would serve one term. After we had had a chance to have had wholesome discussions on it, we came to a mutual agreement that it would be appropriate for me to leave at this time.

AMY GOODMAN: Secretary of State Colin Powell speaking to reporters on Monday. Administration officials say National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, one of President Bush’s trusted and closest confidants will replace Colin Powell. Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley, will replace her as National Security Adviser. An official announcement is expected later today. The Washington Post calls the cabinet shakeup, quote, "the triumph of a hard-edged approach to diplomacy." Powell is a retired four-star general who rose to become the first African American chair of the joint chiefs of staff and Secretary of State. He developed what’s known as the Powell Doctrine using overwhelming force in military interventions. As head of the joint chiefs, Powell was the military architect of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, a war in which Iraq civilian infrastructure was systematically targeted. More than 100,000 Iraqis were killed. His turbulent four years of as Secretary of State were marked by the September 11, 2001, attacks and the invasion of Iraq. Washington-based investigative journalist, Bob Woodward has reported that in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Powell was a lone voice in the Bush administration counseling restraint and pursuit of diplomacy. His position reportedly put him at odds with other top administration officials, most notably, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But in February 2003, it was Colin Powell who made the case for invading Iraq in an appearance before the United Nations Security Council. In his 70-minute presentation, he used satellite photographs, tapes of intercepted conversations between Iraqi military officers and information from Iraqi defectors to argue that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Such weapons have not been found. This is an excerpt of Powell at the U.N. on February 5, 2003.

COLIN POWELL: Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemicals weapons agent. That’s enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets. Even the low end of 100 tons of agent would enable Saddam Hussein to cause mass casualties across more than 100 square miles of territory, an area nearly five times the size of Manhattan. Let me remind you that of the 100 22-millimeter chemical warheads that the U.N. inspectors found recently, this discovery could very well be, as has been noted, the tip of a submerged iceberg. The question before us all, my friends, is when will we see the rest of the submerged iceberg? Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein has used such weapons. Saddam Hussein has no compunction about using them again, against his neighbors, and against his own people. We have sources who tell us that he recently has authorized his field commanders to use them. He wouldn’t be passing out the orders if he didn’t have the weapons, or the intent to use them.

AMY GOODMAN: Secretary of State Colin Powell addressing the United Nations, making the case for war February 5, 2003. When we come back, we’ll be joined by several people to talk about Powell’s record and also the ascension of Condoleezza Rice.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by several people to talk about this resignation. We’ll begin with Bill Fletcher. He’s President of TransAfrica. Your response to the resignation and Secretary of State Colin Powell’s record?

BILL FLETCHER: Amy, thanks for having me on the program. I have actually two immediate thoughts. One is that he should have resigned sooner; and the second is, that this is an individual who had the one iota of credibility internationally that is now gone from this administration. This — you know, Powell was respected by many people. But the reality is that after February, 2003, after his performance at the United Nations and after the revelations of the lack of weapons of mass destruction, his credibility plummeted; and, at that point, people justifiably asked the question: Why didn’t he step down if he had been made to look the way he did? He then went on to engage in activities that helped in the ouster of President Aristide in Haiti, which, you know, was just — was horrendous activity. So, again, I ask the question: Why didn’t he resign earlier?

AMY GOODMAN: What is your response to those who say he was the moderate voice in the Bush administration?

BILL FLETCHER: I think it’s like that song by Les McCann and Eddie Harris, "Compared to What?" I think that, you know, when we’re talking about the real deal, yes, in a very right-wing administration, he probably was a more — more or less a voice of some level of moderation; but the moderation, we have to keep in mind, he was no dove. As you were talking about in terms of the 1991 Gulf War, the activities there in planning that out; but again, I keep coming back to Haiti. I mean, if this was the voice of moderation, why was he leading the charge, pushing President Aristide out the door? Why was he not instead using the — his office as a way of stabilizing the situation, and bringing about peace. And I don’t see that. I see something that was directly the opposite.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Fletcher, President of TransAfrica. We’re also joined by John Brady Kiesling, who spent twenty years in the U.S. Foreign Service before resigning his post on the eve of the invasion. Welcome to Democracy Now!

JOHN BRADY KIESLING: Thanks very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the tenure of Colin Powell as Secretary of State?

JOHN BRADY KIESLING: Really disappointing. He should have been one of the greatest Secretaries of all time. He’s got the personal characteristics, the personal stature, the commitment to the job; basically the set of values to have been phenomenally successful; and perhaps working for a better president, he would have been that great one. But as it is, I agree that he should have resigned. Early.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we have reports from the Washington Post of Colin Powell actually not necessarily wanting to resign. The Washington Post is reporting: "Powell considered staying and had prepared a list of conditions under which he would be willing to stay." The list included, quote, "greater engagement with Iran and a harder line with the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon." Well, needless it say at this point, Powell was not asked to stay on board after he distributed the conditions for staying. Your response to that, John Brady Kiesling?

JOHN BRADY KIESLING: That’s very interesting. I hadn’t heard. Thanks for telling me. It’s quite characteristic, however. Colin Powell was not a successful fighter in the bureaucratic game of Washington. The only way that he could win battles was when he convinced the President, and his rivals in the process knew how to get around him, and get the President to decide things before he was ever consulted. He found himself permanently playing catch-up with decisions already taken and then feeling that, as a team player, his job was to implement those decisions, even though he was in a position to know that the decisions were wrong, that they were detrimental to U.S. interests. And in that sense of being a team player, he did his country something of a disservice; because, fundamentally, when it comes down to it, the only part of the U.S. government whose job it is to understand the real world outside our borders is the State Department. If the State Department is not effectively communicating that real world to the rest of Washington, it might as well not exist. And, unfortunately, though Powell, you know, personally did what he could, he was not effective enough at doing that job.

AMY GOODMAN: John Brady Kiesling spent twenty years in the U.S. Foreign Service in the State Department and quit under Colin Powell. We were not able to reach another one of the three high profile resignations during the invasion (leading up to it and during) but I did get a chance to speak to Ann Wright, who had also worked in the State Department for many years, most recently serving in Mongolia. I caught up with her at a — at the Democratic National Convention. It was an event of women for Kerry, and she talked about why she had resigned.

ANN WRIGHT: Well, I wrote a letter, or sent by cable a letter of resignation to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you say, and what was his response?

ANN WRIGHT: Well, I gave the reasons for my resignation, and the first one was going to war in Iraq. The second one was that I felt that the Bush administration should have done more in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that they should be doing more for resolving the North Korean situation, and I felt that the unnecessary curtailment of civil liberties under the Patriot Act was something that I couldn’t live with, and could not represent America as a diplomat with all of my concerns about the direction the administration was leading the country.

AMY GOODMAN: How did people respond to you? For example, in Mongolia. In Afghanistan, you opened the U.S. Embassy there?

ANN WRIGHT: Yes. Well, it was overwhelming. Within the first three days of my resignation, I had over 400 emails from colleagues in the State Department and colleagues that were in the diplomatic corps of other countries who had heard about my resignation and had taken the time to express their concern about the direction of American foreign policy and expressed concern that I was resigning from the foreign service on one level, that they kindly said that they hated to see me go, but on the other side, that they were glad that I along with two other people, had resigned to show that there was great concern within the ranks of the federal government about the direction of these policies.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the response of the Secretary of State, General Colin Powell?

ANN WRIGHT: Well, Secretary of State Powell did send a cable about three days, four days later, and it was short and sweet, but it kind of hit the high points. It said: "I am sorry that you disagree with the policies of this administration, but I want to thank you for your service to our country, both in the diplomatic corps and in the military."

AMY GOODMAN: Former Army Colonel, Ann Wright. She served in the Foreign Service for sixteen years, most recently, Deputy Chief of Mission in Mongolia, one of those who resigned under Colin Powell at the State Department. I wanted to ask Bill Fletcher, President of TransAfrica, I know you have to leave, but about the reports that it looks like Condoleezza Rice will be named to replace Colin Powell. It was reported that she wanted to be the Defense Secretary, with a much larger budget, but it does look like she will become Secretary of — she will be nominated as Secretary of State. Your response.

BILL FLETCHER: Internally, for symbolic purposes, it’s a very good move for President Bush. Substantively, it’s a horrible move, because we’re now introducing someone who does not seem to have the capacity to listen, and to consider alternative points of view. I have watched her in responding to interviews, congressional testimony, and what you don’t get a sense of is any level of flexibility. She truly believes the dogma of the Bush administration unapologetically. And I think that from the standpoint of the world’s peoples, we’re looking at some very difficult times. I cannot imagine her helping to shift the United States from the bullying posture to any notion of global partnership.

AMY GOODMAN: John Brady Kiesling, your response? Did you have dealings with Condoleezza Rice in your time in the State Department?

JOHN BRADY KIESLING: Not directly, but I agree with the overall conclusion. Her job, as she saw it, was to make her President feel comfortable with the decisions that he was making, not to challenge him to think more deeply. The job of a Secretary of State is largely to go out and fight within the U.S. bureaucracy for the interests of our partners. If we do not do that as well as fight for our own interests overseas, we find that the interests of our partners and broader, longer term U.S. interests are sacrificed to American domestic politics. Powell made a reasonable effort and failed. I can not imagine her making any effort at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both, John Brady Kiesling, and Bill Fletcher, of Transafrica for joining us.

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