Colin Powell should have paid attention to the smell – instead of the words from George W. Bush


Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Colin Powell says his erroneous address to the United Nations about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction provides a lesson to business leaders on the importance of staying skeptical and following their intuition.

“Yes, a blot, a failure will always be attached to me and my UN presentation,” the former U.S. secretary of state writes in a new book of leadership parables that draws frequently on his Iraq war experience. “I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me.”

Powell, 75, laments that no intelligence officials had the “courage” to warn that he was given false information that Iraq had such weapons during preparations for his February 2003 speech before the U.S. invasion the following month. Regrets are sprinkled through “It Worked For Me,” along with lessons gleaned from a career that carried him from foxholes in Vietnam to senior positions at the Pentagon and the State Department…

“So why did no one stand up and speak out during the intense hours we worked on the speech?” Powell writes. “Some of these same analysts later wrote books claiming they were shocked that I have relied on such deeply flawed evidence.”

Powell, who has quarreled over policy for years with former Vice President Dick Cheney, writes that Cheney had his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, make the case for Iraq having weapons of mass destruction “as a lawyer’s brief and not as an intelligence estimate.”

Because Libby’s material was “unusable,” Powell writes, he enlisted the help of the Central Intelligence Agency to prepare for his UN speech. Powell didn’t know that “much of the evidence was wrong,” he says.

While Powell returns to Iraq repeatedly in the book, he advises leaders to “try to get over failure quickly. Learn from it. Study how you contributed to it. If you are responsible, own up to it.”

Bush wanted to keep lower-level officials and workers in Iraq who had the education, skills and training needed to run the nation even though he wanted the U.S. to dissolve the ruling Baath party after Saddam Hussein’s fall, Powell writes.

“The plan that the president had approved was not implemented,” Powell says. Instead, he writes, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority, eliminated all the officials and institutions “we should have been building on, and left thousands of the most highly skilled people in the country jobless and angry — prime recruits for insurgency.”

Powell says that violated the leadership lesson that has become known as his “Pottery Barn Rule.”

“If you break it, you own it,” Powell said in cautioning Bush about the consequences of invading Iraq and its aftermath.

Nowadays, the Republican Party is so accustomed to telling a “lie du jour” that this advice will mean nothing. They will continue backwards, making it up as they proceed on their strategy of blocking any programs offered by Barack Obama – even if they are identical to proposals they have previously offered themselves.

Witness Obamacare identical to Romneycare. Any number of tax proposals previously offered by Congressional Republicans. They even vote against bills they sponsor – if they can make it appear to be a defeat or an impediment to the White House.

The smell gets worse!

One comment

  1. moss

    This one gave way to some serious conversation in the extended family, tonight.

    That came down to who was the most corrupt prick in the Bush cabal? I think folks are coming to a gradual understanding of old George as ineffectual against Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. With special focus falling on Bremer as probably the biggest thief in the crowd – since he managed to make pallet-loads of American currency disappear from Bagram.

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