Column mischaracterized Gen. Colin Powell’s record
November 23, 2008
To the Editor:
I would beg to differ with Bill Hamilton’s characterization of Gen. Colin Powell in his column of Nov. 12. (I think it’s interesting to note that another reader disputed Hamilton’s characterization of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf in the same column.)
Hamilton says of Powell: “You also learn that if JCS Chairman Colin Powell had had his way, Saddam would still be occupying Kuwait while Powell argued for diplomacy.”
It just so happens I have read excerpts of Powell’s memoirs and the memoirs of Gen. Schwarzkopf. And after reading Hamilton’s comment I was struck by how, well, wrong it seemed. So I did some other research. It just so happens Gen. Powell has been interviewed more than once on the very point Hamilton asserts. Powell counseled then-President George H. Bush on three options for the first Iraq War. Sanctions, bombing or outright full assault as ways to get the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait. As Gen. Powell reiterates and as others have corroborated, Gen. Powell was merely making the president fully aware of all the options. He was not urging the president in any one direction or the other. Because of this balanced approach to policy (after all, the president is the Commander in Chief, not generals or admirals), Gen. Powell is being characterized by Hamilton as not wanting to invade Kuwait. Hamilton might just as well have called him a “peace-nik,” the ultimate insult in the narrow world of a particular ilk of right wing military types.
Gen. Powell is hardly a peace-nik. Once President Bush stated that “this cannot stand,” (referring to the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait), Powell knew the direction to pursue: Outright assault of Kuwait in order to oust the Iraqi army. With that clear-cut mission in mind, Gen. Powell carried out his mission with fervor. So much fervor, in fact, that he got in a shouting match with Gen. Schwarzkopf because Schwarzkopf couldn’t invade Kuwait fast enough. The U.S. won that war, decisively, in a few days. This is hardly the record of a man who would want Saddam to still be occupying Kuwait.
Surely Bill Hamilton is aware of this since, as letter writer (William R. Westlake) claims in that same issue, he does his research, despite his conservative leanings. So why would Hamilton write such a thing that seems so clearly to be, well, wrong? I think it’s no coincidence that only 10 days before that column appeared Powell came out publicly for Barack Obama.
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Perhaps this is another attempt at swift boating? Bitter Republican operatives, ironically enough, also tried to swift boat John McCain during the South Carolina primary in 2000 when McCain was running against George W. Bush for the Republican nomination. Anonymous and false assertions were made then that McCain had been “disloyal” to the U.S. during his incarceration in Vietnam. McCain lost that state and the race. And then there were the pack of lies from Navy veterans about John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign, from which the “swift boating” term was coined.
What is it about this camp of arch-right, conservative writers that makes them want to demean the military records of Americans who have fought for our country? And fellow veterans, at that. They do it all in the name of extreme ideology, from what I can tell.
Hamilton’s points about the “split personality” of the U.S. military missed the point. The most significant split isn’t over a Special Forces mentality versus traditional, as he asserts, although that exists. I think it’s over a war-first, talk-later approach to international relations versus a talk-first, war-later mentality. Hamilton’s bias in this regard reflects this split rather well.
Hamilton states at the end of his column that “our troops” need grassroots support now. But in his column he can’t even express honest and fair respect for those who have already served. Does anyone else see the contradiction here?