Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Team Powell and "the Gestapo"

From Vanity Fair's massive and often astonishing, if one-sided, Oral History of the Bush White House: contemplate this double-edge assessment of Colin Powell's legacy by Lawrence Wilkerson, first Powell's top aide and later his chief of staff:

I’m not sure even to this day that he’s willing to admit to himself that he was rolled to the extent that he was. And he’s got plenty of defense to marshal because, as I told [former defense secretary] Bill Perry one time when Bill asked me to defend my boss—I said, Well, let me tell you, you wouldn’t have wanted to have seen the first Bush administration without Colin Powell. I wrote Powell a memo about six months before we were leaving, and I said, This is your legacy, Mr. Secretary: damage control. He didn’t like it much. In fact, he kind of handed it back to me and told me I could put it in the burn basket.

But I knew he understood what I was saying. You saved the China relationship. You saved the transatlantic relationship and each component thereof—France, Germany. I mean, he held Joschka Fischer’s hand under the table on occasions when Joschka would say something like, You know, your president called my boss a fucking asshole. His task became essentially cleaning the dogshit off the carpet in the Oval Office. And he did that rather well. But it became all-consuming.

I think the clearest indication I got that Rich [Armitage] and he both had finally awakened to the dimensions of the problem was when Rich began—I mean, I’ll be very candid—began to use language to describe the vice president’s office with me as the Gestapo, as the Nazis, and would sometimes late in the evening, when we were having a drink—would sometimes go off rather aggressively on particular characters in the vice president’s office.

The Gestapo? This is not Daily Kos. This is Daily Colin -- or team Colin, anyway, after four years of working in this Administration. And yet he stayed on - they all stayed on. They countenanced the founding of Guantanamo, the torture memos, the interrogation techniques, the shift of resources from Afghanistan to Iraq, the cooked intelligence. Imagine the impact if Colin Powell had resigned in protest rather than make that speech before the U.N. And yet, and yet... as Wilkerson says, imagine the Cheney-Rumsfeld White House without Powell. Would it have been the Gestapo for real?

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