The New Republic’s Colinoscopy

Most Americans want Colin Powell to be president. Lawrence Kaplan, who writes on foreign policy for the NewRepublic, would seem to prefer that he die, or at least just fade away. When Powell was nominated for secretary of state, Kaplan wrote a long TNR cover story that lit into the Powell Doctrine and into Powell himself. Since then, Kaplan has continued to develop his Powell-hating mania, playing the general as the villain in four more pieces, about topics ranging from sanctions and China to Israel and the bureaucratic jockeying among foreign policy elites.

This week has Powell selling out Israel: He takes his cues from “Arabists” in the State Department. Who bears responsibility for last month’s shameful retreat in the face of Chinese aggression? Powell, next to whom Condi Rice “sounded like Jesse Helms.” (In another anti-Powell piece, Rice “sounds like Curtis LeMay” compared to Powell.) Who led the humiliating charge to roll back sanctions against Iraq and North Korea? Powell, with help from his policy director Richard Haass (another Kaplan hobbyhorse), who makes “quintessential Arabist” Edward Djerejian “sound like Golda Meir.” Give Kaplan a foreign policy decision that strikes the hawkiest of the hawks as tepid, and he’ll give you a reason to blame Powell for it.

OK. Kaplan is an interventionist. Powell isn’t. In the post-Cold War world, we need to have these debates, and they belong in magazines such as TNR. But Kaplan despises Powell, and he apparently has carte blanche to grind his ax.

In the profile that kicked off the orgy, Kaplan called the Powell Doctrine–wage war only when it serves vital interests, and never half-heartedly–“irrelevant” and “next to useless.” Fine. But the rest of the piece, and the subsequent pieces, degenerated into an internal disagreement about whether Powell’s worst flaw is that he’s a wuss or that he’s a bully.

Wuss Powell never wanted to invade Iraq in the first place and stopped Desert Storm “after only four days of fighting,” and then he had the audacity to leverage the victory into personal glory. Wuss Powell deserves the blame for ethnic cleansing the world over. (“America would have to wait for Powell to retire before it put a halt to the killing.”) Wuss Powell let Defense Secretary Les Aspin take the fall for Somalia even though the cautious general engineered the debacle. Wuss Powell is not one of “the administration’s vertebrates,” Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz.

But Bully Powell “skirted the edge of subordination” by questioning President Clinton’s stance on gays in the military. Bully Powell “distinctly lacks loyalty.” He excels at “cowing his bureaucratic [adversaries].” He “does not advise. He insists.” Bully Powell views Condi Rice, who should be his ideological soul mate, “less as an ally than as a competitor” and has made Bush promise to rein her in.

In the sanctions story, Kaplan goes after Powell through his subordinate, Haass. He describes Haass’s anti-sanctions point of view–that sancitons breed contempt for America, that they don’t work, that they punish innocent civilians–but dismisses it effortlessly as cover for his pecuniary interest in Iraqi oil (he consults for Arco and Conoco). The Haass connection to oil companies also explains his “collusion” in the Israel rebuke.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, whose bellicosity runs more to Kaplan’s tastes, embarrassed himself earlier this week by disavowing a Pentagon announcement that the United States would suspend military ties with China. Apparently the White House forced him to lie on his sword. Which pushy chicken do you think convinced Bush to make us lose face with China again? Surely the answer will come in Kaplan’s next TNR piece.