CSotD: Dissenting from the praise

Jeff Stahler (AMS) wins the day for dissenting from the fulsome praise being ladled out for Colin Powell without going too far in the other direction.

There is an absolute flood of cartoons mourning his death, and it is a death to be mourned. But let’s not be guilty of reversing Marc Antony’s dictum (okay, Shakespeare’s dictum) that “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones,” by forgetting that sour note.

It was, granted, a bad moment in a brilliant career, and one that Powell regretted.


However, as Clay Jones points out both in his cartoon and in his essay, it was a bad moment that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Jones was kind in not including the 4,507 young Americans who died in the search for weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.

It can be argued that the good Powell did vastly outweighed the bad, but that might also be said of the hero who led the charge at Saratoga and ended Burgoyne’s invasion.

And after all, Arnold’s plan to turn over West Point failed. No harm, no foul, right?

There is something particularly painful in being disappointed by someone whom you trust and respect, and Powell was both.

The question for cartoonists being how to eulogize somebody whose one sour note did so much damage?

Honestly. As with all your commentary.

By that measure, Stahler’s cartoon is the best standalone.

Jones, by contrast, does better as a rebuttal to those who praise Powell uncritically.

I include in that number those who have praised Powell for having regretted his speech to the UN, and those who praise him for being more honest than other Republicans.

“The best of a bad lot” is not praise, and, if you have to look that hard for something nice to say, you should reconsider your task.

Let’s look back at that ghastly moment in an otherwise brilliant career.


His speech was influential, certainly: Condi Rice could talk of aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds, but, while a lot of people liked her, she was seen as a Bush loyalist — indeed, his “work wife” — as Jeff Danziger suggested a few years later, when she had to take the lead over a reluctant W in opening nuclear talks with Iran.

But, while Powell’s assurances most definitely moved the needle toward invasion, his speech was not met with universal approval.


The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction, Colorado) trumpeted the proof — the bottle of anthrax, the photos of missile bases and truckloads of chemical weapons, along with Powell’s declaration that the facts were clear, the proof was absolute and that removal of Saddam Hussein was necessary.


However, they weren’t as firmly convinced at the Austin (TX) American-Statesman.


Rex Babin added his own skepticism, and his certainty about who Powell was following into the breach.


JD Crowe at first scoffed at Powell’s evidence …


… but, within days, leveled his scorn at the French refusal to take the words of Powell and Rice over the assurances of the UN Inspectors, a lack of faith that spawned our “Freedom Fries” moment.


And Mike Luckovich was unimpressed with offers to let others in to have a look around.


While, a few weeks later, Tom Toles criticized the US’s continuing resistance to Hans Blix and his team of inspectors.


Nor was the fellow in this Ben Sargent piece willing to trust Saddam Hussein’s assurances that there were no WMDs.

Perhaps he trusted Colin Powell as well.


Still, Jim Morin warned — perhaps presciently, perhaps just practically — about the entanglements inherent in a war in Iraq.


While Jim Borgman focused on the bread-and-butter issues we faced in our own country.


At which point, from whatever cave he was hiding in, bin Laden complicated matters by expressing solidarity with Saddam. As Pat Oliphant suggested, it certainly wasn’t out of any affection they held for each other, but was strictly a bit of posturing over their shared hatred of the United States.

Which might have passed unnoted in the West, had Powell not picked it up in a second speech, this one before the Senate Budget Committee, as noted in a column by Richard Cohen.

The Sacramento Bee coupled that opinion piece with another by James Pinkerton, and the pair together indicate the notes that Powell’s loyal assurances were sounding at the time.