Barbara Boxer

Colin Powell: Biggest Pantload In State Department History?


Reason has never had any kind words for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, so it may be superfluous to revisit, at this late date, the topic of what a failure he was. Certainly, earning the title of Biggest Flop in the history of the Department of State would take quite an effort, requiring the candidate to beat out such stalwarts as Dean Rusk and William Rogers, Robert Lansing and Cyrus Vance. The notoriously retiring Powell, a man clearly more comfortable munching shrimp cocktail at some function for D.C. swells than putting in the long hours required to fail spectacularly, doesn't seem like a good prospect for such an honor.

But Powell has an unusual advantage in that he's been immediately succeeded by an obviously more capable S.O.S.—and in the same presidential administration, thus making invidious comparison easier. Condoleezza Rice has been on fire since taking over at Foggy Bottom, and if her performance has the special benefit of making Sen. Barbara Boxer look like an even bigger blockhead than she normally does, it also puts Powell's tenure solidly in the shade. Just before the invasion of Iraq, I floated the idea that the travel-averse Powell might be responsible for Bush 43's failure to reconstruct the All-Star Team of allies Bush 41 assembled for the first Gulf War. Now Powell's out, the trans-Atlantic rift is mending (despite America's jittery checkpoint troops), and the ivory-tickling Condi is playing her way into the coeurs of all France.

That's quite a turnaround from the days of the Powell State Department—and Powell was supposedly the guy the Europeans liked. Plenty of ink has been spilled over America's supposed diplomatic isolation, and it would shoot all kinds of pet theories to hell if we found out the Elevator Killer was…Merv Griffin! But maybe the tortured diplomacy of the first Bush administration was never really about Bush's rashness or European perfidy. Maybe it was Powell all along.