October 20, 2008

The Colin Powell Myth

I was planning on refraining from commenting on Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama for the simple reason that I don’t find it particularly surprising—just another member of the establishment center endorsing the “establishment messiah.” Rush is, of course, right that race probably played a key factor—Powell hasn’t endorsed any “inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates” recently. But then again, nothing new here. 

There is one aspect of the Powell “defection” that hasn’t been brought up yet, however. From all outward signs, Powell doesn’t seem to be endorsing Obama on the basis of any newfound opposition to Republican foreign policy. Indeed, in making the case for Obama, Powell talks about “judges,” McCain’s supposedly “hateful” campaign tactics, Palin’s “not being ready,” and McCain’s awkward suspension of his campaign during the economic crisis. Lots of boring, conventional opinions are on offer, but foreign policy doesn’t seem to be in the mix—outside a few vague gestures towards “working with our allies” (towards what?) and the like. 

Larison mentions that Powell “fits the profile of a moderate Republican foreign policy ‘realist’ pushed away by the aggressive posture of McCain and his advisors and the social moderate alienated by social conservatism and vulgar Americanism.” True. But then I wonder how much Powell actually opposes McCain’s foreign policy, or indeed, has much of a foreign-policy philosophy at all. Among the Left, and many on the Right who’ve soured on the war, Powell is viewed as a kind of tragic figure, a martyr even, who always opposed the the Iraq war in his gut, foresaw that it’d be a fiasco—“you break it, you own it”—and spoke before the UN security council with a heavy heart, motivated only by patriotism and loyalty to the president. Bob Woodward’s bestsellers fortified this impression with some evidence. In Oliver Stone’s W. (which I’ll be reviewing here, once I recover from a bad case of writer’s block), Jeffrey Wright’s “Powell” is a sage who makes sarcastic comments towards Cheney, Wolfowitz, and the rest of the hawks and looks on with dismay as they push the country towards war.

Without question, Powell was less gung-ho then the rest of Bush’s cabinet, but then doesn’t this guy actually get far too much credit for being some of kind of brave, independent voice? If he knew the war was so bad, why not resign before we went in? If he reluctantly supported Iraq, then why doesn’t he seem to have learned much since? Powell gets constantly promoted by the Republican establishment, but then also lauded by the liberals as a voice of opposition. He seems to accomplish this less through cunning and more by the sheer fact that, well, there just isn’t a lot of there there.

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