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Jewish World Review Jan. 31, 2002 / 18 Shevat, 5762

Michael Ledeen

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Consumer Reports

The truth behind the Powell play -- IT'S surprising, really, that nobody's noticed the brilliant bit of political misdirection flowing almost daily from the Bush administration on the subject of the Great War Against Terrorism. Indeed, it's so magnificently conceived, and so well executed, that I hesitate to point it out, because it might lose its effectiveness. But passion for the truth simply grabs me by the throat - as the Achilles once put it to the Tortoise - and makes me do it.

W.'s strategy in the Great War is by now clear to anyone who cares to see: We're going to attack terrorists and those who harbor or support them, which means we're going after al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the various Islamic Jihads, and whatever new names these creeps invent for themselves. We're not going to be gulled by Arafat. And, as soon as the guys in uniform get their act together, we're going after Iran, Iraq, Syria, and anyone else who doesn't shape up.

W. has said that from the first minute, and he's said it whenever anyone asks.

His political/diplomatic problem is that, as he might put it, various folks wander off the ranch and start complaining. The Europeans complain that we're being a bit too aggressive. The Arabs complain that we're not catering to their tender sensitivities. The human-rights crowd complains that we're being too mean to our prisoners. Defense lawyers complain that we're not playing by San Francisco rules. If W. actually listened to all these complaints, he wouldn't have time for anything else.

So what does he do? He dumps it all on the poor secretary of state by ordering Colin Powell to pretend that he's in favor of everything the complainers say they want. You think we're too aggressive? Go talk to Colin, he thinks so too. In fact, he doesn't want to kill anyone, he even wants to extend the Great War Alliance to Iran and Syria. And he certainly doesn't want to fight Iraq again, after his bad experience ten years ago. You think we don't spend enough time holding the hands of the moderate Arabs? Just call up Colin, he loves holding hands with them, loves flying off to talk to them, loves discussing the finer points of Islamic lore with them. You think we're being too mean to the al Qaeda bunch in Cuba? So does Colin. Talk to him.

It's a marvelous variation on the old "Good Cop, Bad Cop" routine, and the latest improvement - the careful leak of a "document" suggesting that the secretary of state doesn't think the Guantanamo prisoners should be treated as "detainees" subject to strict military standards, but perhaps "prisoners of war" entitled to free cigarettes under the Geneva Convention written in the middle of the last century, is a masterpiece.

That "document," said to be a communication from the chief White House counsel to President Bush, reported that Secretary Powell felt that the prisoners in Cuba should be considered "prisoners of war," and hence should be protected by the Geneva Convention. By the time all the players had been interrogated by our alert pack of journalists, Powell had denied it, and the whole thing blamed on some loose-cannon lawyer who apparently couldn't take a joke.

But look at the political effect: Nobody could get exercised at the administration, because the whole issue appeared to be under heated debate. And in the meantime, serious interrogation of the prisoners moved ahead quite nicely. True, Powell will take a few hits from hard-liners who are always ready to believe the worst about him, but they are certainly confused. This is a military man who is used to saluting sharply and carrying out orders. He's heard the president more often than we have, and so he can't be in any doubt about the mission.

Don't believe all these stories that claim Powell is somehow a drag on the prosecution of the Great War. Just nod knowingly, and give credit where it's due: to the supremely cunning folks at the White House, and that master actor in the state department.

What a performance he's giving!

JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Tocqueville on American Character . Comment by clicking here.


01/29/02: My past with "Johnny Jihad's" lawyer
01/21/02: It's Munich, all over again
01/08/02: What's the Holdup?: It's time for the next battles in the war against terrorism
12/11/01: We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless
12/06/01: Remembering my family friend, Walt Disney
11/28/01: The Barbara Olson Bomb: Understanding the war
11/13/01: How We're Doing: The Angleton Files, IV
11/06/01: A great revolutionary war is coming
10/25/01: How to talk to a terrorist
10/23/01: Creative Reporting: Learning to appreciate press briefings
10/19/01: Not the Emmys: A Beltway award presentation
10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
10/04/01: What do we not know?
09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen