Ultimately, the tenure of Colin Powell was a long, rarely interrupted series of disappointments for moderates who thought they had a strong friend in the administration. Powell was the most popular person in the administration (at times, more popular than Bush himself) and seemed to enter his job with a reasoned world view.
At any time over the past four years, if Powell had made a strong public stand on an issue, he could have changed public opinion dramatically. Instead, he found himself being a weakened voice of the administration and will forever be remembered for his delivery of the case against Saddam to the U.N. and the world. There were two reasons that Bush chose Colin Powell to deliver that evidence. First, he knew people would be more likely to believe Powell than anyone else in the administration. Second, he knew that Powell would perform his duties as ordered.
Take a look at this excerpt from an American Prospect piece from last April:
His troubles with Cheney and Bush have rendered Powell a sympathetic figure outside conservative circles — a tragic figure in the minds of many liberals. In fact, though, Powell has mostly been hobbled by his own liabilities. He came into office without a strong and specific idea either of what he wanted to accomplish at Foggy Bottom or of what America’s role in the world should be. At heart he is a functionary, not a visionary, a doer rather than a thinker. Unfortunately for him, he is serving a president who likes to throw bombs (the metaphoric and occasionally the literal kind) at a moment in history when big thinking and bold action have been required. The neocons, for better or worse, had a vision, and something usually trumps nothing…
If there’s a tragedy here, it’s one mostly of Powell’s making. For all their success in cutting Powell down to size, Cheney and company have not altered one basic fact: Bush needs Powell more than Powell needs him. Powell could have crippled the administration had he quit at any point in the last two years. Given his immense clout, he was in a position to raise important doubts about the administration’s course on Iraq. In choosing not to confront Bush with his concerns, he not only failed his president; he failed the country. But even if Powell had spoken up, it’s not clear what he could have offered Bush beyond procedural advice and critique.
When it comes to vision, “something usually trumps nothing.” Perhaps, when all is said and done, Powell serves a perfect metaphor for Democrats themselves. Didn’t we often wonder why no Democratic leaders emerged to challenge an increasingly extreme administration? And aren’t we sort of still waiting to hear what they would have said had they spoken up? Didn’t our candidate run against the President’s management of the Iraq war and not his vision?
If Colin Powell had jumped ship on any of the major issues of the past four years, he would’ve landed in open waters.
The transition from Powell to Rice is like removing padless breaks from a runaway truck. The Dems are left with two choices. They can keep building little speed bumps or they can get their own truck.