Washington should return to diplomacy.
A change at the post of U.S. secretary of state is always big news. But Colin Powell's resignation as America's top diplomat has delivered a greater shock and deeper anxiety to the world than any other replacement at this position in recent years.
Powell consistently preached the importance of international cooperation and diplomacy within the administration of President George W. Bush. The administration, however, has been marked by unilateralism, as symbolized by the war against Iraq, and dependence on the nation's overwhelming military power. Powell's departure has left the world worrying about where the United States is heading without this counterbalance to the hawkish conservatism during Bush's second term.
Powell's intention to leave the administration had been an open secret. He reportedly told a friend that he had suffered a wound that would never heal, a reference to his famous speech before the U.N. Security Council in February last year, in which he strongly argued the case for the war by showing ``evidence'' that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
The powerful speech firmly set the United States and its allies on a course toward war. As it has turned out, however, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, has found that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, forcing Powell to admit he had been wrong.
Half a year before the U.N. speech, Powell told Bush that attacking Iraq would be a very costly venture both for the United States and the rest of the world. His words to the president are quoted in ``Plan of Attack,'' a book on the Bush administration's rush to the war written by Bob Woodward of The Washington Post.
According to Woodward, Powell asked Bush, ``Are you aware of the consequences? You know, you're going to be owning this place,'' trying to convince his boss that he would have to assume responsibility for Iraq and its people with all their hopes and problems once the United States occupied the country.
Despite Powell's cautioning, Bush waged war against Iraq, embracing the calls from the dominant hard-liners among his aides, including Vice President Dick Cheney. Powell and other moderate voices within the administration, who tried to direct the White House policy toward cooperation with the international community even if the war was inevitable, were defeated. Leading the administration's campaign to seek international support for the war, which was driven by flawed intelligence, must be a matter of deep regret for Powell.
Powell's disagreements with people like Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also emerged in other key diplomatic issues, such as North Korea's nuclear ambitions and the Palestinian conflict.
Powell pulled off some important diplomatic achievements, including the six-country talks over Pyongyang's nuclear program and improvement in U.S. relations with China following a midair collision between U.S. and Chinese military aircraft. More often than not, however, Powell's multilateralist opinions failed to set the tone for the administration's policy.
A child of a Jamaican immigrant, Powell embodies the American dream, rising to the post of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest rank in the U.S. military, and becoming a national hero as the commander of the American forces during the Persian Gulf War. Powell's enormous popularity among the American public was probably one of the factors behind Bush's decision to appoint him to the top diplomatic post.
Ironically, Powell, as the U.S. government's international face, contributed to softening the U.S. administration's hard-line image.
Powell's successor, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, was a political scientist and the first black woman to get a key post in the White House.
While she is a longtime Bush confidant, Rice is not known as a person with great influence over the administration's policy or as an astute policy coordinator. If many of the hard-liners with a penchant for unilateralism remain in the administration, Rice may have a hard time trying to establish her clout.
Second-term presidents focus more on efforts to leave their marks on history, or so they say. In his victory speech after the election, Bush reiterated his determination to continue his war on terror. But his unilateral approach in the first term did not help the United States win the war by itself.
Today's world is more confused and chaotic than before the war. If Bush really wants to clean up the mess in Iraq and heal America's rift with Europe, there is no choice for him but to return to diplomacy more in harmony with the international community. Let the new secretary of state not experience the feeling of regret Powell suffered.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 17(IHT/Asahi: November 18,2004)