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The Shame of Colin Powell

There are few spectacles more sad than to see a man burn down his own integrity. Watching someone who has lived their life according to a certain ethos, in this case I will be referring to “Duty. Honor. Country.”, and callously cast that lodestar aside for no discernable reason other than to settle a score shames those who witness the act nearly as much as it shames the perpetrator. Nearly.

Some very few times we are given the opportunity to appropriately redress a wrong. I say appropriately because a wrong needs to be righted in the same manner in which it was inflicted. A private apology never atones for a public insult. When that opportunity presents itself and is declined one is left with no other possible conclusion than one is dealing with a person devoid of honor and integrity.

This past weekend retired general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell was presented with the golden opportunity to right a grave injustice he inflicted upon colleagues, upon the man to whom he owed his loyalty, and upon his nation.

He not only declined to do so, he dismissed the notion that he had anything to do with the wrong.

Of course I’m referring to the infamous Valerie Plame Affair wherein a CIA employee operating in deep cover at CIA headquarters in Langley had her cover accidentally “blown” by the late Robert Novak after her blowhard husband wrote an op-ed about what he may or may not have learned while “drinking sweet mint tea” with various kleptocrats in Niger. We all know the story on that. The source was Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff was eventually and shamefully convicted of having different recollections of a conversation than did Tim Russert.

The Plame Affair re-entered the news this week with the publication of Vice President Cheney’s (say it again and savor the way it rolls off the tongue… Vice President Cheney, Vice President Cheney) memoir, “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir.”

In his memoir, Vice President Cheney has this to say (by way of Politico)

Cheney recalls that during the CIA leak investigation, Deputy Secretary of State Rich Armitage stayed silent: “And, it pains me to note, so did his boss, Colin Powell, whom Armitage told he was [Robert] Novak’s source on October 1, 2003. Less than a week later, … there was a cabinet meeting. … [T]he press came in for a photo opportunity, and there were questions about who had leaked the information that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. The president said he didn’t know, but wanted the truth. Thinking back, I realize that one of the few people in the world who could have told him the truth, Colin Powell, was sitting right next to him.”

There is the Plame Affair in a nutshell.

All Colin Powell had to do to stop the budding scandal is stand up and tell the truth. Whether in private to his boss, President George Bush, or in public is immaterial.
On Sunday, Powell was invited on to Face the Nation to talk about Cheney’s book.  This is what he had to say about his role in the Plame Affair.

Then he goes on to talk about the Valerie Plame affair, and tries to lay it all off on Mister Rich Armitage in the State Department and me. But the fact of the matter is when Mister Armitage realized that he was the source for Bob Novak’s column that caused all the difficulty and he called me immediately, two days after the President launched the investigation and what we did was we called the Justice Department. They sent it over the FBI. The FBI had all the information that Mister Armitage’s participation in this immediately. And we called Al Gonzalez, the President’s counsel, and told him that we had information. The FBI asked us not to share any of this with anyone else, as did Mister Gonzalez. And so, if the White House operatives had come forward as readily as Mister Armitage had done, then we wouldn’t have gone on for two more months with the FBI trying to find out what happened in the White House. There wouldn’t have been special counsel appointed by the Justice Department who spent two years trying to get to the bottom of it. And we wouldn’t have the mess that we subsequently had. And so if the White House and the operatives in the White House and Mister Cheney’s staff and elsewhere in the White House had been as forthcoming with the FBI as Mister Armitage was, this problem would not have reached the dimensions that it reached.

From this point on I’ll borrow heavily from the Washington Post’s housebroken conservative, Jennifer Rubin.

The extent of the dishonesty is quite stunning. In a Cabinet meeting on October 7, 2003, the White House press corps bombarded President George W. Bush with questions about who the leaker was. Bush said he didn’t know, but there would be an investigation to get to the bottom of it. Powell, who had been told by Armitage just days earlier that Armitage was the leaker, sat there next to the president, stone silent. Not very loyal or honest, was it?

Moreover, the notion that Armitage’s slip was somehow inadvertent is belied by Bob Woodward’s taped interview in which Armitage repeatedly mentions Joe Wilson’s wife, evidently doing his best to get Plame’s identity out there. This was no slip of the tongue. Woodward testified that when he spoke to Libby sometime later that Libby never said anything about Plame.

At issue here is not simply Powell and Armitage’s deception and undermining of their commander in chief. There was a victim, one whom neither Powell or Armitage has ever apologized to. The person who ultimately paid the price for this was Scooter Libby. Had the president and the country known about Armitage, a special prosecutor would never have been appointed. Libby was eventually convicted on the basis of a he-said-he-said dispute between his recollection and that of the late Tim Russert. (Charges concerning Libby’s alleged comments to Judy Miller were dismissed, and he was acquitted on the count involving Matt Cooper.) A compelling case for Libby’s innocence can be found in this account by Stan Crock.

I never had a problem understanding Powell’s discomfiture with the Bush Administration. If Powell was ever an actual Republican, he was of the Nelson Rockefeller variety. He was not up to competing with Donald Rumsfeld for influence, especially in the aftermath of 9/11. He was brought into the administration to give it credibility in foreign policy — and one can hardly recall without pain the image of him appearing with then-candidate George Bush on the campaign trail and looking like he’d rather be having a root canal — and found foreign policy playing the role of horse-holder to two wars. Having said that, he owed a debt of loyalty to the President who appointed him and to the nation. He also owned common courtesy to a fellow human being, Scooter Libby, whose career and reputation he helped destroy to settle some perceived slight. Last Sunday, he owed us all the candor he failed to deliver back in 2003.

He didn’t and in the process has proven himself to be a petty and inconsequential man.

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