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Jewish World Review Feb. 5, 2002 / 23 Shevat, 5762

Robert W. Tracinski

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The Powell Problem -- AMERICA'S war policy faces a deadly roadblock. The problem is partly the recalcitrance of our so-called allies, from the quavering Europeans to the increasingly hostile Saudis. Most of our "coalition" wants us to declare victory in Afghanistan and go home. They want us to abandon the War on Terrorism when it has only begun.

But that is not the real roadblock. The real problem is the representative of that viewpoint within our own government, indeed, within the Bush administration itself. The problem is Colin Powell.

Powell is one of the men responsible for ending the Gulf War before it was won, erasing gains that we will have to spend much blood and treasure to reclaim. He is the man who tried to welcome Iran, probably the world's largest sponsor of terrorism, as a member of the anti-terrorism coalition. He helped launch our war against terrorism by undermining Israel's war on terrorism, and when a ship was caught smuggling Iranian arms to the Palestinian Authority -- proving that Yasser Arafat plans to intensify his terrorist war -- Powell is the one who urged the president not to denounce Arafat.

Most recently, Powell tried to set loose a gang of al-Qaeda terrorists. In an internal memo leaked to The Washington Times, Powell asked Bush to designate captured al-Qaeda as POWs -- which would require that we release these murderous fanatics to their home countries when the war in Afghanistan is over.

In this, as in most of his official actions, Powell is reversing the proper role of the secretary of state. As the nation's chief diplomat, Powell is supposed to be America's advocate in dealing with the rest of the world. It is his job to stand up for America, to insist on our essential interests, to make our case to the world, and, if necessary, to make our threats.

Instead, Powell has consistently acted as the world's advocate in America, representing the views and demands of our European and Arab "allies." Sure, it is his job to know what our allies want and to report their requests to the president; but it is not his job to go to bat for them. His job is to advise the president on how to achieve our interests, not how to placate our allies and enemies.

I don't think Powell deliberately means to undermine America. His positions on domestic issues, which can only be described as fanatically middle-of-the-road, brand him as a habitual compromiser, who believes he can split any difference and straddle any fence. But there is a name for compromise when it comes to America's essential interests. It is called appeasement. The Powell problem has now reached a crisis point.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush finally declared a policy that, if he executes it consistently, would lead to a sweeping victory in the war. He singled out three state sponsors of terrorism: North Korea, Iran and Iraq. (He neglected, alas, to include the Palestinian Authority.) He branded these countries with a phrase that I hope will stick: they are, he said, an "axis of evil." Then came the bombshell: "(T)ime is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. ... The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

Taken seriously, this means a series of military campaigns to destroy all three regimes. Yet Bush stopped just short of that, refusing to name a single specific action he will take against these countries. No, he does not have to name the date that bombing will begin or the beach on which our Marines will land. But he does need to tell the American people that we will fight.

Why didn't he say it? According to reports from White House insiders, the reason is the continuing split between Powell and the Rumsfeld-Cheney camp. Powell wants to use a pathetic strategy of containment, fighting the war with the paper bullets of U.N. sanctions and diplomatic "pressure." He is on the side of those who want to "wait on events."

Thankfully, Powell does not make any final decisions, and President Bush has been leaning toward the policies of his better advisers. But it is imperative for him to make a decisive break. Bush needs to fire Colin Powell. Doing that will send a message to the "axis of evil" that America is serious -- and that they have lost their only friend in the White House.

Comment on JWR contributor Robert W. Tracinski's column by clicking here.

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