Politics & Policy

A Hawkish Powell

The U.N. will fall behind or be left behind.

After Secretary Powell’s speech to the U.N. Security Council, Bob Woodward remarked that the United States still had not provided a “smoking gun.” This of course misses an important point, indeed the only one that really matters. Under the U.N. resolutions presently in force, the United States is not required to prove that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. Saddam is obligated to prove that he doesn’t.

But the comment reveals something else that those who seek unanimity are just going to have to accept. There are people out there who would not be convinced of what Sec. Powell called the “nexus” of Iraq, terror, and poisons if they saw a photo of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Mohammed Atta sipping tea together at an Iraqi chemical plant.

But the professional deniers were not the target of Secretary Powell’s speech. The target was instead what an old document called a “candid world,” that part of mankind that is open to reasonable discourse and which can be convinced by reasonable evidence (it is instructive to note that when this old document first employed the phrase “candid world,” the French were included). And it seems to me that a candid world would have to agree that the secretary’s evidence was overwhelming.

The details of Sec. Powell’s speech are available elsewhere, so I will only make a few points. First it did effectively illustrate the Iraq-terror-poison nexus. As the vernacular would have it, he “connected the dots.” But he went farther in an attempt to shame the U.N. into standing up for the principles people attribute to the organization. He invoked Saddam’s record on human rights. It seems to me that the countries in the U.N. will fall in behind the United States when it comes to war, or it will lose what little legitimacy and credibility it has remaining.

There was an unmistakably important visual aspect of the speech. Sitting behind Sec. Powell was none other than DCI George Tenet, whose CIA has been portrayed as skeptical of the link between Iraq and terror. This coupled with the fact that Sec. Powell has sounded more “hawkish” of late (having been sandbagged by his pals, the French and Germans, who could blame him) sends an important message to Iraq and the ditherers of the world who support it: Your time is up.

— Mackubin Thomas Owens, an NRO contributing editor, is a professor of strategy and force planning at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. His observations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Naval War College or the Department of Defense.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is senior national security fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia, editing its journal Orbis from 2008 to 2020. A Marine Corps infantry veteran of the Vietnam War, he was a professor of national-security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College from 1987 to 2015. He is the author of US Civil–Military Relations after 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain.


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