"I wish I had not been involved in it,"
That is how Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, described the events leading up to and following Powell's speech to the United Nations on February 5, 2003. Wilkerson then went on to say that it was "the lowest point in my life." The full interview with Wilkerson will be on a CNN special next Sunday evening. I won't be able to see it, but I hope that CNN makes the transcript available.
Powell's speech, which laid out in front of an international audience the 'evidence' that Iraq's Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and claimed that there was no other option left other than war, is his lasting legacy, the moment which more than any other defined Colin Powell for both America and the world.
It is a tragic legacy. Colin Powell was always a just and honorable man, yet he gave a speech riddled with inaccuracies, distortions and outright lies.
How did it happen? Wilkerson gives some hints:
"(Powell) came through the door ... and he had in his hands a sheaf of papers, and he said, 'This is what I've got to present at the United Nations according to the White House, and you need to look at it,'...It was anything but an intelligence document. It was, as some people characterized it later, sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose."
David Kay, who was once the CIA's chief weapons inspector in Iraq, says it even more bluntly: "In fact, Secretary Powell was not told that one of the sources he was given as a source of this information had indeed been flagged by the Defense Intelligence Agency as a liar, a fabricator..."
To this day, I believe that Colin Powell believed what he said, and if one could ask him I believe he would regret his propagation of a lie. As Secretary of State, he had an absolute right to know what anyone else in the administration knew, yet they knowingly fed him lies, and therefore fed him to the wolves.
Colin Powell always was a good soldier, so I wouldn't expect him to come out and criticize his commander in chief, even in the face of such an outright betrayal. But the biggest mistake that he ever made, and I suspect that he even realizes it now, deep down inside, was to join the Republican party. A party who eats their own (see my post on Katherine Harris from a couple of days ago to get an idea of how fast they can turn on you).
To paraphrase MacArthur, a man who could have been anything, even the President (and Lord knows he would have chased bin Laden to the ends of the earth after 9/11 before anything else became a higher priority), is now just an old soldier fading away.