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The French and the Germans'
bad mistake in undermining
Colin Powell




Jonathan Power

January 31, 2003

LONDON - The continental Europeans, Germany and France in particular, made a grave tactical mistake last week in making it clear to Washington that they felt the UN inspections were working and that the inspectors should be given a lot more time. They appear to have undermined one of two people who have some chance of bending President George Bush's ear on the subject of going to war- Secretary of State Colin Powell. (The other is British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.)

They should do some homework- and not depend on filtered reports from advisors- and read for themselves Powell's autobiography. Colin Powell's deepest roots are not in Harlem where he was born but in Jamaica from whence came his parents. He remains the quintessential outsider. His music is calypso and reggae, not Motown and soul; his favourite drink is Appleton's rum, not beer or whiskey and comfort food for him is not chitin and greens, but roast goat meat, plantains, peas and rice.

Colin Powell when he looks at a problem looks through both ends of the telescope. He sees the big picture with his Washington eye, but also the little man's with his Jamaican other eye- the stubborn pride of resisting being humbled too casually by big-picture forces.

He is without doubt the most independent-minded man in the current American establishment. When he accompanied the then president, Ronald Reagan, to Moscow, to meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev, he became one of the first to believe Gorbachev's statements that he wanted to end the Soviet Union's antagonistic relationship with America. He was the first four-star military man to take a public stand on the need to shrink the military establishment and its budget.

Nevertheless, Powell is reported as being "incandescent" at the new loud German and French stance. And with good reason. Associates have made it clear that he feels personally undermined to the point of losing his leverage with the White House. It has been known for some weeks what Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, was going to say when he finally formally briefed the Security Council on Monday (today). Besides arguing that the inspectors needed more time, he concluded that thus far Iraq had not cooperated sufficiently. Iraq's declaration of December 7th, had failed to answer questions about anthrax and nerve-gas programs and the government has blocked private interviews with Iraqi scientists and has placed unacceptable conditions on surveillance over-flights. This is truly a damning indictment.

There are two important points to be made. France and Germany although they have long expressed their doubts about war, are also committed publicly to the vigorous implementation of Security Council Resolution 1441 that mandates thorough inspections and the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Second, if they have serious reservations about the efficacy of a war and the dangers of sparking terminal upheavals in the Muslim world that could re-charge the batteries of the hard-line fundamentalists, wobble the regime in Saudi Arabia and destabilise nuclear-armed Pakistan, throwing it into the arms of the Taliban-friendly militants, then they aught to realize from circumstantial evidence that Powell is their friend, not an antagonist, in this debate.

Mr Powell is never going to say this out loud today but it is in his book that at the time of the first Gulf War he was worried about similar destabilising issues way back in 1991.

There is in fact only one way to avoid war. Mr Bush will not be shifted on this whatever the allies say or do or don't do. That is for Iraq to implement resolution 1441. It is in fact a reasonable request and fits exactly with what the UN was set up to do when its first members agreed its Charter in San Francisco in 1945, even though one may wonder about the motives and hidden agenda of the Bush administration on what led it at this particular juncture to want to crack the whip.

Yet France and Germany have reduced Saddam Hussein's incentive to comply with the Security Council resolution. They have given him hope he can forestall a February or March invasion by spinning the inspection process out at least until the fall, when the temperature will again start to fall in the desert and make fighting for an American army more feasible. In our fast changing world, Saddam may well reason that anything can happen in nine months. Other crises, North Korea for one, may divert America's attention.

Mr Powell is determined to avoid a war. If Iraq complies and reveals to the inspectorate its obvious stock of biological and chemical weapons and any efforts- probably not so advanced- to make a nuclear weapon, he probably believes he can persuade Mr Bush to call off the attack, even if it leaves Saddam still in the saddle. And if the war goes ahead Mr Powell wants to remain on the inside track so he can make sure, as he did last time, that Vice-President Dick Cheney doesn't succeed in arguing for the use of nuclear weapons.


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Copyright © 2003 By JONATHAN POWER


Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the

40th Anniversary of Amnesty International

"Like Water on Stone - The Story of Amnesty International"






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