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Jewish World Review July 25, 2001 / 5 Menachem-Av 5761

Don Feder

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Powell would be at home in Clinton cabinet -- SECRETARY of State Colin Powell has the finely honed instincts of a Madeleine Albright. Yes, it's that bad. Powell's latest bit of pinch-me, did-he-really-say-that came in an interview last week.

The decision to award the 2008 Olympic games to China "will serve a useful purpose," the secretary of state told USA Today. Beijing will be under "seven years of supervision." "Anytime there is a problem that draws the attention of the international community in a negative way toward China, the Olympics will come up," Powell promised. Boy, that should certainly make China's communist rulers think twice about torturing dissidents, persecuting scholars and selling the organs of executed prisoners. But, wait a minute, none of that stopped the international community from giving the games to China in the first place. Why should more of the same cause a reassessment?

When corporate America argues that trade will politically transform Beijing, it's absurd. When Powell suggests the Olympics will have a humanizing effect on the gulag state, it becomes surreal.

In the interview, Powell was full of opinions on the People's Republic -- which would have been better left unspoken.

China "is not a democratic nation, but it is changing." (Right, it's becoming more powerful, aggressive and repressive.) The United States has "no interest in turning China into an enemy" -- as if we had knocked down one of its planes and held the crew hostage for 11 days.

Speaking of which, Powell said our relationship with the China won't be "stalled by haggling over motel fees on Hainan island."


That was his gutsy response to Beijing's demand that we fork over $1 million to cover its expenses in the hostage-taking. The House of Representatives felt differently and voted 424 to 6 last week not to "allow a single dollar to be used to compensate the perpetrators of international aggression," in the words of Majority Whip Tom DeLay.

Practically every time he opens his mouth, Powell destroys any lingering hope that the administration of George W. Bush will put us back on the path of foreign-policy sanity. Testifying before a House subcommittee in April, Powell allowed its chairman, Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., who tries to understand Fidel Castro, to elicit from him praise for the Cuban dictator.

Castro is "an anachronism," but "he's done good things for his people" in health care and education, the secretary suggested. Jose Cardenas of the Cuban American National Foundation countered that inmates in U.S. prisons get medical and educational benefits too, but no one's lining up for voluntary incarceration.

In the Middle East, Powell has continued Bill Clinton's policy of evenhandedness, treating the Israelis and Yasser Arafat as moral equivalents. On his first trip to the region as secretary of state, Powell called on Jerusalem to end its economic "siege" of the Palestinians (not allowing them to enter Israel for employment).

He explained that when West Bank Arabs can't get to their Israeli jobs, it causes frustration, which leads to rioting, as if the Palestinians were stoning to death 14-year-old boys to achieve a higher standard of living.

In April, when Israel re-occupied a mile-long area in Gaza to silence Palestinian mortars, Powell described the response as "excessive and disproportionate." He did not suggest a proportionate response to Arafat's terrorism -- such as a protest to the World Court or a stern warning that mortar attacks on civilians are unacceptable behavior.

While dealing decisively with those obstreperous Israelis, Powell has moved to weaken sanctions against Iraq, a retreat he rationalizes as "smart sanctions." But in 1990, before the Gulf War, as chairman of the joint chiefs, Powell thought sanctions would eventually drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

Powell is the very model of a modern establishment Republican. His opinions could be stamped "Made by" the Council on Foreign Relations.

Tentative in his dealings with tyrants and firm in his faith that evil can be reformed through diplomacy, Powell would have been right at home in the Clinton Cabinet. But in a perilous world, we need the vision of a George C. Marshall and the determination of an Alexander Haig (also ex-generals who served as secretary of state), not the soothing illusions of Colin Powell.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate