(Washington, D.C.): Every skilled government official knows the
magic words: "What the President meant to say is...." And with good reason.
This turn of phrase allows any presidential policy pronouncement with which
the unelected, unaccountable and generally faceless bureaucracy disagrees to
be subverted, if not undone.
Over the years, this practice has been raised to an art form in the State
Department, particularly when the President in question was of a relatively
conservative stripe, like Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. The permanent
government types over in Foggy Bottom are much given to explaining to their
foreign interlocutors statements and policies of which they disapprove in
terms that contradict the clear meaning of the President's words.
Rarely has that tendency been on more regular, public and troubling
display, however, than under Colin Powell's tenure at State. This case of
what might be considered chronic insubordination is put in the most
flattering, indeed fawning, light in an 8,000-plus word paean to the
Secretary of State published in Sunday's New York Times Magazine.
The essay by Times columnist Bill Keller was headlined "The World According
to Colin Powell" and based on several lengthy interviews with the Secretary
of State. The main thrust of the piece is that Mr. Powell's view of the
world is a lot more to the liking of the New York Times than is George W.
Bush's. It is described as one "comfortable with alliances, treaties and
international institutions, less assertive in the promotion of American
values abroad, more Realpolitik in its judgments, more 'sandpapered' in its
language as one aide put it. Powell is the standard-bearer for this camp,
which includes most of the upper ranks of the State Department and some
sympathizers in the White House, along with an outside chorus that notably
includes the President's father."
This "camp" unmistakably applauds Secretary Powell's efforts to
recast and, in some cases at least, to redirect the President's policies.
Consider the following illustrative examples:
* Missile Defense: When Mr. Bush says the 1972 Anti-Ballistic
Missile (ABM) Treaty is "outdated," "obsolete," "dangerous" and something we
need to "move beyond," what he means -- according to Mr. Powell -- is that
it should be preserved for the foreseeable future. As the Keller article
reports, "The important thing, [Powell] said, was to avoid abandoning the
treaty altogether, with the probable high price in Russian, European and
congressional good will. He argued that a concession to the Russians on the
formalities of the ABM Treaty would be more than repaid in other ways...."
Of course, President Bush is not the first occupant of the
Oval Office to find Mr. Powell a determined opponent of missile defenses and
advocate for preserving the ABM Treaty. Keller recounts how Secretary
Powell mockingly "rolled his eyes" as he recounted how Mr. Reagan -- for
whom then-General Powell worked as the National Security Advisor -- actually
believed that the Strategic Defense Initiative could transform the nature of
the security threat we faced from the USSR. Never mind that silly old
Ronald Reagan actually succeeded in doing just that, despite Colin Powell,
by using his SDI to accelerate the demise of the "Evil Empire."
* The War on Terrorism: When Mr. Bush declares that if you
"harbor...train or arm...or feed or fund a terrorist, you're a terrorist,"
what he meant to say -- according to Secretary Powell -- is that you are
not a terrorist if you are "on" our side. Thus, nations that the State
Department itself lists as sponsors of terrorism, such as Sudan, Syria and
Iran, are not terrorists; at the very least they must be "good terrorists"
(a status the President also clearly didn't mean to say didn't exist).
As with missile defense, Secretary Powell continues to
exhibit the bad judgment with respect to Iraq that caused him to be on the
"wrong side of history" in an earlier administration. Though "Bush 41"
heatedly denies it in the Keller piece, his Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, Colin Powell, was influential in arguing against going to war with
Saddam Hussein in 1990 and in leaving him in place at the end of hostilities
in 1991. Now he is assiduously sowing confusion about whether warnings from
"Bush 43" to take the war to each and every terrorist-sponsoring nation
actually applies to one of the most dangerous, namely Saddam's Iraq.
* 'Solving' the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: Secretary
Powell is working hard to arrange a similar pass for Yasser Arafat. If Mr.
Powell succeeds in transforming the proto-state Palestinian Authority --
which harbors, trains, arms, feeds and funds terrorists every day -- into an
actual terrorist-sponsoring state of "Palestine," President Bush will be
surprised to discover that his commitment to an Israel living as a "Jewish
State" "in peace and security" in the Middle East will be rendered
The irony is that President Bush has been, by and large, saying all
the right things and engendering the popular support he needs and deserves
for doing so. While the Foggy Bottom bureaucrats, the media elite and the
so-called "international community" might prefer Secretary Powell's
interpretations, the Nation's interests -- to say nothing of the President's
credibility -- demand that what Mr. Bush says and what he means be the same