- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

In the U.S. military an organization Colin Powell knows well actively defying the commander-in-chief has a name. It is called "insubordination," and an officer who engages in it can incur a court-martial and involuntary separation from the armed forces, or worse.
Of course, things are different at the State Department. In Foggy Bottom, undermining presidential policy not favored by the career bureaucracy is pretty much a full-time job.
Thus we have the spectacle of Secretary of State Powell taking to the airwaves publicly to disagree with the core strategic decision enunciated twice in a week by Mr. Bush's top surrogate, Vice President Richard B. Cheney. Mr. Cheney declared forthrightly, "A return of inspectors [to Iraq] "would provide no assurance whatsoever of compliance with U.N. resolutions. On the contrary, there is a great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam [Hassam] was somehow 'back in his box.'"
We know, as does Mr. Powell, that the Cheney text was personally vetted, edited and approved by President Bush.
Yet Mr. Powell told the BBC last week that "the president has been clear that he believes weapons inspectors should return. Iraq has been in violation of many U.N. resolutions for most of the last 11 or so years. And so, as a first step, let's see what the inspectors find."
Now, this is not a matter of some small tactical disagreement, let alone as White House spokesman Ari Fleischer would have us believe one of no disagreement at all. The question of whether the return of inspectors to Iraq must be a "first step" toward resolving the issue there or whether it would amount to a march into a diplomatic cul-de-sac from which there would be no exit for the president's policy of regime change is a first-order strategic one. And it is, at root, a question of judgment.
Unfortunately, it is not the first time Mr. Powell's strategic judgment has been wanting.
Most relevant to the present strategic decision, he repeatedly and assiduously asserted in 1990 that economic sanctions were the appropriate policy response to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. When Mr. Bush's father determined otherwise and took the United States to war, then-Gen. Powell was a prime-mover behind the decision to allow Saddam's praetorian Republican Guard to escape the killing fields of the so-called Highway of Death. Many Iraqi units were then allowed to avoid capture and forcible disarmament.
To be sure, Mr. Powell was not alone in adopting these stances. In each case, he had plenty of company, particularly among the foreign policy, political and media elite. The same is true today, not only concerning the idea that inspectors can meaningfully contribute to a resolution of the danger posed by Saddam's regime, but that the United States can nay, must secure U.N. support one last time before taking steps to bring down that regime.
The verdict is pretty much in on the previous Powell judgments. With the advantage of hindsight, they are now widely, if not universally, recognized as mistakes. For those who failed to perceive them as such at the time, the equally obviously flawed nature of his present stance may be no more clear. But it should be to the rest of us.
The issue now, however, is not one simply of bad judgment. Rather, it is a question of how a Cabinet member who disagrees with the president's judgment should conduct himself. It is simply not acceptable for one to be engaged in trying to "delay or derail" the implementation of his president's policy the words an unnamed "source close to Powell" used in Time magazine to describe how the secretary of state has "fought" Mr. Bush's determination to use force if necessary to effect "regime change" in Iraq.
Such activity, which has been going on for most of the Bush presidency, has the effect of seriously impeding the articulation and implementation of policy. Worse yet, it calls into question the coherence of the policy-making process itself, inviting attacks at home and abroad on the president's competence, vision and leadership. That has a far more pernicious and corrosive effect.
Lyndon Johnson, with characteristic color, once expressed a preference for having his critics inside the tent urinating out rather than doing so from outside the tent inwards. A similar logic evidently causes his successor from Texas, George W. Bush, to refrain from asking for Mr. Powell's resignation or, it would appear, even disciplining him.
A time of war is, however, no time for the commander-in-chief to have insubordinate subordinates. Mr. Powell should take it upon himself to choose as Mr. Bush has asked others to decide in this conflict: He is either with the president or against him, a key part of his team or part of the opposition to it. But he can't be the latter from inside the administration.
It is to be hoped that Colin Powell will get with the program and use his considerable abilities fully to support his boss in liberating Iraq and ending Saddam's malevolence the old fashioned way by force of arms.
If, as they say in the military, his judgment prevents him from "shaping up" in this fashion, he should do the right thing and "ship out."


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