Published April 8, 2004
Not so long ago, critics of the Bush administration believed they had an ally in Secretary of State Colin Powell. During the run-up to war in Iraq, the critics spoke conspiratorially of rifts in the administration between the so-called "neocons," such as former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and the "moderate" Mr. Powell. Rumors of a Cabinet-level civil war between Mr. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also spread, causing not a few pundits to speculate that a disillusioned Mr. Powell would resign in the event of a Bush re-election. Whether by choice or by force, a Powell resignation, said the critics, would all but prove that this is "the most radical administration" in recent history. We ask now that such rumors finally be put to rest.
Since the beginning of the year, Mr. Powell on no fewer than three occasions has stepped outside his capacity as secretary of state to denounce the outlandish criticisms and often flagrant insults that have been leveled against Mr. Bush and his administration. First in February, during a House International Relations Committee hearing, Rep. Sherrod Brown, in questioning Mr. Powell, found it relevant to address the AWOL allegations surrounding Mr. Bush's time in the National Guard. Before he could finish his partisan attack, Mr. Powell said, "First of all, Mr. Brown, I won't dignify your comments about the president, because you don't know what you are talking about." Then, when Mr. Brown insisted that Mr. Bush's time in the Guard was a reasonable committee topic, Mr. Powell fired back (in one of our modern era's more colloquial rebukes): "Mr. Brown, let's not go there." Next, in March, speaking on Fox News Sunday, Mr. Powell challenged Sen. John Kerry's unsubstantiated assertions that there were foreign leaders who supported his candidacy: "[I]f [Mr. Kerry] feels it is that important an assertion to make, he ought to list names." Mr. Kerry, for his part, has yet to answer the challenge. Most recently, on Tuesday Mr. Powell rebuked Sen. Ted Kennedy's statement that Iraq is "George Bush's Vietnam." Speaking on the "Tony Snow Program," Mr. Powell responded, "Senator Kennedy, I think, should be a little more restrained and careful in his comments because we are at war." Inside the Beltway, that translates into "Don't go there, Mr. Kennedy."
If we concede, for a moment, that Mr. Powell is, as the critics say, the "moderate" in the administration, we can't help but wonder what this says about these sorts of attacks. The critics were right about one thing, though. Mr. Powell is indeed frustrated, but not with his boss.