Powell on Iraq: 'It looks like, smells like and ... is a civil war'
Share with others:
Colin Powell speaks last night at Heinz Hall, Downtown.
Click photo for larger image.
On the same day that the Iraq Study Group offered its assessment on the deteriorating conditions in the Middle East, former Secretary of State Colin Powell called the conflict a civil war, joining a growing chorus of those who eschew the more benign-sounding "sectarian violence" terminology preferred by the Bush administration.
"It looks like, smells like and, in my judgment, is a civil war," the retired four-star general said last night. "People have argued with me that it shouldn't be called a civil war. Call it what you want, but what I'm looking at on the ground [is] rapidly undercutting the prospects for success" in Iraq.
In the same breath, Mr. Powell also said that the United States needs to make it clear to Iraq's leaders, its military and its police force that they must quickly learn to stand on their own feet, and that the country's fate is up to Iraqis, not America's troops.
"Sooner or later, we'll have to start drawing down," he said. "My own judgment is that sometime in the very near future, next year -- early next year -- there has to be an understanding that some U.S. troops will have to start to leave." The line drew applause from the packed house at Heinz Hall, where Mr. Powell gave an hour-long lecture as an invited guest of the Robert Morris University speakers series.
His appearance drew a less-than-warm welcome from about a dozen protestors, who marched in a circle at the entrance to Heinz Hall, decrying Mr. Powell's February 2003 appearance before the U.N. Security Council. In that address, Mr. Powell sought to persuade skeptics that Iraq was harboring deadly weapons and was trying to deceive weapons inspectors.
The first half of the evening was a trip through Mr. Powell's memoirs, "My American Journey." He shared stories of his early years in the armed forces, his political education as a student of Cold War politics, and the perks of being a high-ranking U.S. diplomat. (After resigning from President Bush's cabinet in 2005 and giving up his private jet, for example, Mr. Powell found he could no longer breeze through airport security.)
But eventually, the conversation turned to Iraq, yesterday's Iraq Study Group recommendations, and a year that began with the February bombing of a revered Shiite shrine known as the Golden Mosque, a year that has gotten progressively worse, both for Iraqis and American soldiers.
Mr. Powell expressed confidence that America had made the right move in toppling the Iraqi dictatorship, despite the power void that has arisen in the absence of Saddam Hussein's oppression.
"I'm glad Saddam Hussein is gone, he's standing trial and he's about to get his justice," he said.
But Mr. Powell also said that the Bush administration was unprepared for the post-invasion occupation and the violence that continues today.
"We were not quick on the uptake in imposing order," he said. "We did not have enough troops there at that time. [Disorder] is what happened ... We pretended, tried to look away, and say there was no insurgency, but there was. And we never finished that part of the battle."
He never took any direct swipes at President Bush, or anyone else in the current administration. But several times last night, Mr. Powell made reference to his partiality to international diplomacy, maintaining friendly economic relationships and "reaching out to the rest of the world." And at least twice, on a day when President Bush was said to have been splashed in the face with the cold waters of Iraq's sad reality, Mr. Powell expressed his admiration for leaders who trust realism over idealism.
Speaking of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and his acknowledgment of the U.S.S.R.'s untenable economic situation, Mr. Powell said:
"That's what great leaders do -- act on reality." Earlier on, talking about an encounter with Japan's former prime minister, he said Junichiro Koizumi "faced reality and didn't turn away."
Despite all of the depressing talk, Mr. Powell reassured the audience that the world is much safer now than it was when he began his military career.
"We're going to be OK," he said, "because people still look to us for inspiration."
At the end of the lecture, Mr. Powell fielded questions from the audience. One questioner wondered if Mr. Powell, 69, had a future in elected politics. He said he did not, but offered to give his guidance to Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, or Republican John McCain. Mr. Powell, a moderate Republican, mulled a presidential run of his own 1996, but opted against it.John Heller, Post-Gazette
Gail Austin, a member of Black Voices for Peace, and others protested in front of Heinz Hall last night as Colin Powell spoke inside.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published December 7, 2006 12:00 am