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“I would never, for example say anything for domestic consumption and ignore its impact on Iraq, or vice versa. I knew we had won the battle for public opinion… I criticized the pseudo policy of establishing a U.S. ‘presence’ without a defined mission in trouble spots.”
-Colin Powell, writing about his military leadership in connection with the First Gulf War; after which he was criticized for not removing Saddam Hussein as Iraq’s leader. The reasons he cited were:
- Iraq was a stabilizing force in the Middle East against Iran.
- Prolonging the war was not worth the additional American casualties that would result.
- The U.S. was leading an international coalition through the UN.
- Prolonging the war would result in another Vietnam; and
- America had already achieved its mission of forcing Iraqi troops to leave Kuwait.
The Book of the Week is “My American Journey” by Colin L. Powell with Joseph E. Persico, published in 1995. This large volume was released at a time when Powell was still a highly regarded war hero of the First Gulf War, prior to historical revisionism and 20/20 hindsight on America’s post-9/11 policy on Iraq.
Born in April 1937 in West Harlem in New York City, the dark-skinned Powell, whose ancestors were multi-ethnic (Jamaican, English, Scottish, African, and probably Arawak Indian), grew up in a multi-ethnic neighborhood. His parents worked in the garment industry.
Powell began his military career in the late 1950’s. He was stationed in Germany, where there was no segregation between dark-skinned and light-skinned people, as Western Europeans were thankful that the Americans were defending them from the Soviets.
In 1962, the U.S. government’s propaganda led ordinary Americans (including Powell) to believe that the United States had to stop Communism– which was evil– from spreading to all the freedom-loving, good countries of the world. Powell eventually did two tours of Vietnam as a military adviser and officer; he learned that the presence of both “enforcers” and “chaplains” was necessary in order to achieve the best outcome. The enforcers disciplined the troops so that they stayed focused on the vision of their mission, while the chaplains attended to the troops’ psychological needs. In all the military actions the U.S. was considered to have bungled– through the decades after WWII– the enforcers were lacking.
According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked a detailed list of Notes, Sources, References, and Bibliography), Caspar Weinberger, a secretary of defense who served during the Reagan Era, theorized that there were certain conditions to be met if America expected to have successful military involvement in conflicts. If the country (this includes the American people and Congress) feels a cause is vital to its welfare, it should (but only as a last resort!) dedicate troops and resources sufficient to achieve clear political and military objectives— which need to be flexible with changing situations.
In 1981, Powell learned from an experiment, that better leadership of commanding officers (rather than whether troops practiced with real or simulated ammunition) led to military victory more often. As is well known, ordinary Americans and foreign countries viewed the American military (and the U.S. government) as imperialist after the Vietnam Era.
After the Iran-Contra scandal, the American government (which many still viewed as imperialist) reorganized its national-security hierarchy through a bill passed by Congress called Goldwater-Nichols. Powell was named National Security Advisor in 1988. But he was an active-duty officer, so there was kind of a conflict with his new job. His bosses at the Pentagon controlled his promotions, but the president was a civilian whose interests might clash with theirs. Powell would be advising them both. In autumn 1989, Powell was named chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In that job, the new law meant that the advice Powell gave to the president and Secretary of Defense, received top priority over all others in national-security related jobs.
Theoretically, the American president, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, has ultimate authority to decide on military deployment. However, if the president has sole control over the military and it obeys only him, is loyal only to him, including in connection with all top-secret foreign policy matters– THERE IS POTENTIAL FOR THE PRESIDENT TO BECOME A DICTATOR.
However, Powell contended that Reagan’s pro-military attitude restored the proud reputation of America’s armed services. He quoted Michael Korda on how the president became so popular: “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand…” Be that as it may, times have changed, and the Internet has shown the dangers of such activity from everyone who wants to be a great leader: oversimplification and the absence of sound argument, debate and doubt. There might exist solutions (to the country’s complex problems) everybody can understand, but they’re never simple.
And yet, Powell naively wrote, “The SDI [Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative; aka Star Wars] ‘umbrella’ was intended to make nuclear weapons obsolete.” The surrounding text indicated that he truly believed the arms race would magically cease when the U.S. was done constructing this fantastical war toy. It was in the military’s best budgetary interest to convince the (by then-senile president) that the U.S.S.R.’s nuclear weapons would be useless because SDI would protect the earth from detonation of the weapons altogether (similar to the myth that 1950’s schoolchildren who hid under their desks with their hands over their heads would survive a nuclear attack).
Anyway, in early 1988, Powell met with Anatoly Dobrynin, who was heartened that because Mikhail Gorbachev had a law degree, he was able to introduce rule of law to his country. The Soviet leader wanted to end the arms race and stop the international adventures of his military.
Powell gave a detailed history of the shenanigans (misnamed “Operation Just Cause”) through which the U.S. ousted Panama strongman Manuel Noriega: “Twenty-four Americans gave their lives in Panama to achieve this victory for democracy.”
Read the book to learn a wealth of additional information on Powell’s involvement in the above, and his many other adventures.