Politics & Policy

Obama, Powell, and Popularity

America doesn't need to rehabilitate itself in the eyes of the world.

Among all the people who are now scrambling to get on the Obama bandwagon, none is likely to impress more people than Colin Powell — especially people who know no more about the specifics of Colin Powell’s actions than the specifics of Barack Obama’s.

Like Ross Perot, Colin Powell once had such support from the American people that there was nothing to stop him from going all the way to White House — and beyond to greatness — except his own shortcomings. Both squandered historic opportunities.

#ad#One of the first signs of those shortcomings was Powell’s flip-flop on the issue of racial quotas and preferences. In his memoirs, he opposed such policies. But at the Republican convention, he loudly demanded them, complete with a raised fist, which was hardly his usual style.

What he was trying to prove, we may never know. What he did prove was how unreliable he was.

More recently, Colin Powell sat silent while two lives were ruined in a special prosecutor’s zeal to get a conviction in a case involving a non-crime: telling columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.

The full story is told in Novak’s book, The Prince of Darkness. What is relevant here is that a New York Times reporter went to jail for refusing to tell who had revealed Ms. Plame’s occupation to her, and White House aide Scooter Libby was convicted of perjury because his memory of what he said did not match the memories of some reporters — whose memories did not match each other’s.

All the while Colin Powell knew that his own subordinate, Richard Armitage, was the one who had told Robert Novak that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA. Neither Armitage nor anybody else was convicted for that because there was no crime to convict them of.

The only crimes were those created in the course of the investigation, unless the silence of Richard Armitage and Colin Powell are regarded as moral crimes.

Among the reasons given by Secretary Powell for supporting Barack Obama is that Obama can restore America’s standing with foreign countries.

The idea that the United States must somehow rehabilitate itself in the eyes of the United Nations or NATO or “world opinion” is staggering, even though it is an idea very popular in the mainstream media.

The first duty of a President of the United States is to protect American interests — of which survival is number one — regardless of what others may say.

Virtually the whole world condemned Israel when it bombed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear facilities back in 1981. But Israel understood that its survival was more important than international popularity.

Let us hope that today’s Israeli government understands that issue the same way as regards Iran, since ours may not.


Despite the media hype that we need to rehabilitate ourselves in the eyes of the world, the United States of America remains the number one destination of immigrants from around the world, some of whom take desperate chances with their lives to get here, whether across the waters of the Caribbean or by crossing our dangerous southwest desert.

Even when dozens of governments around the world join the United States in coordinated efforts to fight international terrorism, the media will call our actions “unilateral” if some demagogues in France or Germany spout off against us.

#ad#The American nuclear umbrella has enabled Western European nations to escape responsibility for their own military survival for more than half a century.

Lack of responsibility has bred irresponsibility, one sign of which are unionized troops in NATO and NATO bomber pilots who have office hours when they will and will not fly, not to mention NATO troops letting American troops handle the really dangerous fighting in Afghanistan.

Maybe the time is overdue for NATO to try to rehabilitate itself and for Americans to stop trying to be “citizens of the world.”  

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.


Thomas Sowell — Thomas Sowell is an American economist, social theorist, political philosopher, and author, whose books include Basic Economics. He is currently senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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