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Jacobin - October 18, 2021

In his way, Colin Powell was actually worse than Donald Rumsfeld. He made it appear that even the most murderous and indefensible decisions of our elites, however distressing, are reasonable and inevitable, the result of sober deliberation. He made the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians look justified. He enjoyed the trust of millions, yet he lied. I’m inclined to agree with al-Zaidi: The only sad thing about Colin Powell’s death is that he’ll never be punished for his crimes.

Some of those in the George W. Bush administration who were most responsible for starting the Iraq War were obvious sickos — the kind of operatives who can make bloodthirsty policy in a democracy, but could probably never get elected to anything because their public statements cause decent humans to cringe in horror.

Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld wanted to go to war with Iraq even though the administration had no good reason for doing so, because, he said, Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, had “a lot of good targets.”

Deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, similarly, argued for the invasion because it was “doable,” at one point saying he didn’t care about “allies, coalitions, and diplomacy.”

Dick Cheney was literally the mastermind of a global torture apparatus, which is not something your average evil psychopath can say. In 2006, Cheney shot one of his hunting buddies in the face, permanently disfiguring and disabling him, an accident for which he has apparently never apologized.

These ghouls exuded what we now call “toxic masculinity,” and hating them has always been easy. Bush’s secretary of state, Colin Powell, who died today at eighty-four of complications of COVID-19, had quite a different vibe, exuding quiet dignity, deliberative reason, and calm. Yet he was also a war criminal responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of human beings. In that way he was no better than Rumsfeld, Cheney, or Wolfowitz.

Powell, who served in the army for thirty-five years and was national security adviser to Ronald Reagan, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George H.W Bush, and George W. Bush’s secretary of state, was so popular that people in both parties begged him to run for president for decades. Powell has also been celebrated by liberals because, even though he served in Republican administrations, he welcomed the presidency of Barack Obama as “transformative” and opposed Donald Trump, correctly believing him a dangerous racist.

All this is true, but Powell presided over — and used his tremendous credibility to legitimate — a war that he almost certainly knew was wrong. As a result, about half a million people died. ...
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