19 October 2008


The shocking clarity of Colin Powell

In the upcoming American election, it's a pretty big deal to have former Secretary of State and general Colin Powell, a Republican, endorse Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, for president:

Of course it's all over the news. But I'd like you to watch the video of his speech or, even better, read the transcript, then think about it a minute.

Notice how straightforward Powell's answers are. He doesn't dodge or prevaricate. He doesn't try to spin talking points or fire out sound bites, even about the Iraq War. When a reply needs detail, he provides it, and talks for some time, making an argument. When it needs simplicity, he offers it without extra padding. At the end, when a reporter asks if he's still a Republican, what is his answer—in its entirety? "Yes."

Such clarity in political speech is so rare that it is actually shocking. That people must be out of politics before they can really speak their minds this way is shameful. I'm sure many U.S. Democrats will applaud Powell for it, and many Republicans will excoriate him. But I'm glad he is self-secure and well respected enough that, to him, that obviously doesn't matter.

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I loved his responses. Thanks for this, Derek.
I would like some clarification on this comment. "I wanted to avoid a war. The president agreed with me. We tried to do that. We couldn't get it through the U.N. and when the president made the decision, I supported that decision. And I've never blinked from that. I've never said I didn't support a decision to go to war." He was the key speaker on going to war which went against U.N.. This comment makes it seem the the UN wanted to go to war and he and the president were forced into it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_UN_Security_Council_and_the_Iraq_war
"On February 5, 2003, Colin Powell appeared before the UN to "prove" the urgency to engage a war with Iraq. Although the presentation failed to change the fundamental position of the UN Security Council -- mainly France, Germany, Russia and the People's Republic of China, Powell succeeded in hardening the overall tone of the United Nations towards Iraq. Powell also claimed that Iraq harboured a terrorist network headed by al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab Zarqawi (in a small region controlled by Ansar al-Islam), despite much evidence to the contrary. Powell also showed photos of what he said was a poison and explosives training camp in north-east Iraq, operated by the group. When this camp was visited by a British journalist two days later, all that was found was a few dilapidated buildings and no evidence or signs of any terrorist activity, chemical or explosives. Powell alleged that these training camps had been operating with help from Iraqi agents, despite them being in the northern Iraqi Kurdistan "no-fly zone", and thus outside of de facto Iraqi control. Powell also claimed that Iraqis visited Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and provided training to al-Qaeda members, although thousands of Arabs from many countries did the same. US intelligence agencies have found no evidence of any substantive collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. "
You're right, that is obfuscatory -- there's some huge stuff in the "it" he couldn't get from the UN. He and Bush weren't getting what they wanted from the UN, so they used fudged and made-up intelligence at Powell's presentation to obtain an authorization for war. And I think he finds that the most embarrassing event of his political career, even if he says he "never blinked" from what turned out to be a mistake.

His endorsement of Obama is an attempt to move beyond that. Yes, Powell is trying to save face. But he is also widely respected, despite his justifications for the Iraq War. His clear words on that endorsement continue to mean much.
Here's something else important that Powell said:

"Well, the correct answer is: [Obama] is not a Muslim. He's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is: What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is: No, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing he or she can be President?"

Why is it that Powell is one of the very few people making that point, from either the Democrat or Republican side?
"Why is it that Powell is one of the very few people making that point, from either the Democrat or Republican side?"

The answer is because anyone but a straight, White, Christian, male is less than ideal in Western culture. It is true in the United States and it is true in Canada. That is one reason we have to have all these laws mandating equality.

With 9/11 still salient in the minds of many Americans, embracing the Muslim community while morally correct, is not likely to generate votes.

It is politically wise for Obama to stay away from the Muslim community. It is politically wise for his opponents to try and exploit his nontraditional name.

That said, in 2006 the first Muslim-American was elected to Congress and in about 15 days we will elect a truly transformational politician for the presidency who happens to be Black.

Love your blog; follow it closely. As a fellow cancer survivor I pray for you and your family.
I thought his honesty and sentiments were great, but he was pretty inarticulate and rambling. I guess he was put on the spot, though.
Good on him!
I guess one person's "not talking in sound bites" might be another's "inarticulate and rambling."