International Papers

Powell Outage

The world bids farewell to the secretary of state.

Powell: a mixed legacy

Colin Powell’s resignation from President George Bush’s cabinet earned him many pages of mixed reviews from international observers who, like their American counterparts, could not agree on his record. Powell announced the move on Monday, while the subsequent nomination of Condoleezza Rice to fill his place led commentators to ponder what sort of administration to expect for the next four years.

For many editorialists, Powell’s performance as secretary of state was defined by his speech to the United Nations during the lead-up to the Iraq war, in which he outlined the government’s evidence of Iraqi WMD. Many papers suggested that this was, in effect, the beginning of the end for Powell’s leadership within the cabinet. The Daily Timesof Pakistan defended Powell’s actions, arguing that “as far as he was concerned he was simply being obedient to his Supreme Commander.” The article went on to argue that, whatever his other failings, Powell’s diplomacy in Pakistan was a success. An op-ed in the Scotsman, on the other hand, did not forgive Powell for the speech or his stint as secretary, calling him “a disturbing but unsackable influence.” The piece went on to nail shut the coffin of Powell’s reputation in posterity: “Saddled with a policy with which he did not agree, he had two options: resign with dignity or sell the president’s policy abroad with conviction. He did neither.”

Some observers took less time wondering at Powell’s retirement than wondering how he managed to hang on so long. A Guardian editorial titled “The good soldier’s lonely war” bid farewell to Powell, marveling at his fortitude. “Mr Powell’s positions on US foreign policy fell with such thudding regularity that a secretary of state with less philosophical detachment might have resigned long ago.”

By far the most popular international opinion, however, was wariness at the prospect of a new Bush cabinet without Powell to rein in the feistier members. An editorial in the Asahi Shimbun suggested that his departure “has left the world worrying” about where the United States will go without Powell’s pacifist voice amongst the “hawkish” conservatives. “Leading the administration’s campaign to seek international support for the war, which was driven by flawed intelligence, must be a matter of deep regret for Powell.” The Australian had none of it, running an op-ed with the headline “Condi’s crystal ball holds key to Bush vision.” The largely pro-administration article suggested that Powell was not nearly so opposed—or ineffectual—as detractors imply. While the piece applauded Powell as a “man of unquestioned honor,” it argued Condi Rice has something he does not: “her closeness to Mr. Bush. … [T]he views she puts forward will be heard unambiguously as belonging to the Oval Office.”

In much of the world, the retirement of one secretary of state and the arrival of another was seen purely in terms of regional politics. A small op-ed in the Times of India said “Thank you, State Department, but no thanks,” suggesting that Powell or Rice’s fleeting visits to New Delhi are far less important than getting on with business. The piece celebrated the recent visits of American corporate bigwigs and closed with a simple message for political insiders. “Eat your heart out, Beltway babus. Henceforth, nothing’s going to come between India and Calvin Klein.”