Bull. I don't buy it. Instead I think the decent, capable leader fostered the worst crime of all, serving as the grease on which we slid off the tracks of the earth And why? The seduction of being the insider. The survival instinct of a man clinging to a slippery slope. The hubris of believing that no system is so corrupt that your purity can't outlast it. A medieval theologian would call it what it was: the deadly sin of pride. Powell would have been better with a dollop of Thomas More's humility, understanding that the highest art of serving your country can mean letting your king kill you instead of sacrificing your most sacred principles.
Powell was, for my money, a most dangerous element in the early Bush kleptocracy. He was the calming presence who muffled outrage, the moderate voice who silenced critics, the symbol whose blackness was held up to mask dripping white fangs. When we needed our rage, our criticism, our bright lights of journalism and fair play, Powell was there to bury them all alive.
He compounded his mealy-mouthed role by failing to quit at an early time when it could have made a difference. In fact, the principled resignation seems to be a lost art in politics. What greedy, fearful piggies we are, clinging to phantom powers and hiding in our own moral shadows. At one time American power and splendor was defined by our dreams and unified principles. We wanted to save the world, and we had an idea how to do it. Now we find glory only in grotesque excesses. We've taken the world's huddled masses and spit them back out as shock and awe.
Our best ideas about the right way to live are long since stolen, and our chief desire, as we reach the saturation point of pure materialism, is to save ourselves. We are a sad, haunted and uninspiring people. Our compromised rectitude has withered us into a claustrophobic nightmare, Mrs. Haversham in her attic. We seem eager only to suck the life out of more vital, youthful countries.
And when the histories are written by those young successors in decades to come, they won't be written in American English. But in any language Powell's role and reputation in this administration of mass destruction will sink deeper. As long as I live I will not forget the lie-the desperate, defeated lie-in his eyes as he made a miserable and now-long-discredited case for war in front of the credulous U.N. Security Council. He knew exactly what he was doing, but he had persuaded himself that keeping his chair was worth losing his soul. He was and is a victim only of his own self-delusion.
Burn, buddy, burn.