In a forthcoming memoir, Colin Powell will describe the speech he gave at the U.N. justifying the U.S. invasion of Iraq on the basis of bogus evidence that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons as “a blot, a failure will always be attached to me.”
As far as I can tell by the preview of the book published by Bloomberg, Powell does not suggest that he knew that was he was saying was false.
“I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem,” Powell writes about his role. “My instincts failed me.”
From the excerpt, I also can’t tell whether Powell discusses political pressure within the Bush administration that may have helped his instincts to fail. In the last days before the U.S. attack on and invasion of Iraq, U.N. weapons inspectors — who at that point were getting full cooperation from the Saddam Hussein government — were strongly signaling that they could find no evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons stockpiles or ongoing programs to develop them. It’s impossible to say what might have happened if someone with Powell’s credentials and credibility had broken ranks with the administration’s push for war, but it’s possible the long, costly, unnecessary war could have been averted.
Here’s a chunk of the Bloomberg piece that covers the “blot:”
Powell’s UN speech, part of the Bush administration’s public case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, with its unsupported assertions of mobile Iraqi biological-warfare labs and a “sinister nexus” between Iraq and al-Qaeda terrorists, was based on “deeply flawed” evidence, Powell writes.
“So why did no one stand up and speak out during the intense hours we worked on the speech?” Powell writes. “‘Some of these same analysts later wrote books claiming they were shocked that I have relied on such deeply flawed evidence.”
Powell, who has quarreled over policy for years with former Vice President Dick Cheney, writes that Cheney had his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, make the case for Iraq having weapons of mass destruction “as a lawyer’s brief and not as an intelligence estimate.”
Because Libby’s material was “unusable,” Powell writes, he enlisted the help of the Central Intelligence Agency to prepare for his UN speech. Powell didn’t know that “much of the evidence was wrong,” he says.
While Powell returns to Iraq repeatedly in the book, he advises leaders to “try to get over failure quickly. Learn from it. Study how you contributed to it. If you are responsible, own up to it.”
In some ways, this still raises question that it doesn’t answer, although perhaps the full book sheds more light. Powell still wants to share the blame with others who should have told him he was making a mistake.