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Americans don’t trust anyone today the way they trust Colin Powell | Editorial


WASHINGTON – Guess I knew that day would come.

Twenty years after the first rumblings started on Pennsylvania Avenue about an invasion of Iraq, the news of Colin Powell’s death finally made me open the drawer where I keep a thick notebook full of justifications for and against. this war.

Like so many Americans, I was deeply torn by WWII in response to the September 11 attacks that started in Afghanistan. I studied hard. I interviewed dozens of people, listening to all sides of the discussion, especially those who opposed the war.

A thick notebook section contains a long essay on the morality of any war. Hundreds of other pages reflect the thinking of everyone from Tony Blair to Christopher Hitchens and dozens more from various disciplines and perspectives.

I reread the work of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and I looked at his thoughts on non-violence and pacifism in the face of an unjust state. The Nazis changed their minds on this point. In one of the most famous transformations in history, Bonhoeffer became a vocal anti-Nazi dissident and was ultimately arrested, jailed and executed by hanging.

I’m no Bonhoeffer, but I’m a realist when it comes to necessary war. Our attack on Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban and root out Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida seemed necessary to me.

But in the case of Iraq, a temporary (well, maybe not so temporary) madness took hold over our country that did not blow my house. I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror bubbling with vengeance.

Unlike Afghanistan, the reasons for invading Iraq were obscure at best. Saddam Hussein was not involved in the September 11 attacks, but George W. Bush made it clear that countries that supported terrorism would also be on his target list.

There was no smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaida, and the links that did exist did not seem convincing.

After the war, a report by the Institute for Defense Analyzes based on documents recovered after Hussein’s death concluded that “the [Hussein] The regime was prepared to co-opt or support organizations it knew to be part of Al-Qaida, as long as that organization’s short-term goals supported Saddam’s long-term vision.

Worrisome, yes, but it is not the same as conspiring to destroy the United States.

The most convincing argument was that Hussein, who had gassed his own people, was developing weapons of mass destruction. It was not conclusive either. Both Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Richard B. Cheney were firm on this, and few dared doubt such seasoned government veterans. If you didn’t trust those two, there was always the eloquent and handsome British Prime Minister Tony Blair making the same case. Blair could have dissuaded Mother Teresa from losing her habit.

Slowly, I walked around. But the moment when I convinced myself that the invasion of Iraq was justified came on February 5, 2003, when then Secretary of State Powell addressed the United Nations Security Council.

“We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction; he’s determined to do more, ”said Powell. “Given Saddam Hussein’s history of aggression, given what we know of his grandiose plans, given what we know about his terrorist associations, and given his determination to take revenge on those who oppose him, should we take the risk that he will not one day use these weapons when, where and how he chooses, at a time when the world is in a much greater position? weak to react? “

After September 11, the “no” seemed to me a rational answer.

Why take Powell’s words on everyone else? Because I trusted him above all.

Powell was everything we admire in a human being: a soldier of conscience, courage, honesty, scholarship, loyalty and courteous demeanor. In fact, as of February 2003, he was the most trusted man in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center.

If Powell said so, it had to be true. Americans of all shapes and sizes believed in Powell in ways they could not imagine now. There is not one person in whom, divided as we are, so many Americans would invest their trust today.

Journalists quickly learn that you are as good as your sources.

There were serious problems with the intelligence upon which Powell relied. And part of that intelligence was extended – and then part of it – to accommodate what had become a feverish mission of the Bush administration.

Bonhoeffer said, “We have to learn to view people less in light of what they do or fail to do, and more in light of what they are suffering. I suspect Powell suffered greatly for his role in the Iraq debacle. But the sum of his life – what he stood for, what he inspired, and how he instilled confidence – is what people celebrate and mourn for. His departure is a terrible loss for our country and the world.

We don’t trust anyone today like we trusted Powell – and that’s the saddest of all.