Capital Watchers Say Powell May Bail on White House


The biggest guessing game in Washington during these dog days of August is how long Secretary of State Colin Powell can stand to play Stepin Fetchit to George Bush’s stumblebum foreign policy team. Despite Powell’s lofty title and global reputation, he has largely operated at the fringe, leaving the spotlight — and the power — to an inner circle of real players like VP Dick Cheney, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

“I’ve heard rumors he’s unhappy over there,” says one Senate Foreign Relations Committee source. “He’s not the kind of person you would expect to hang around if he’s simply the messenger boy. He has too much international stature in his own right than simply to carry out odd jobs for Karl Rove or Dick Cheney.”

In an article on Sunday, The New York Times took note of Powell’s low profile, noting that Rice has been the one making diplomatic trips to places like Russia and justifying White House strategy in public speeches, while the secretary of state “has yet to give a major address laying out his vision for America’s role in the world.”

A former chairman of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell has been made to look like a fool on several occasions since Bush took over. After Powell announced that the dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea begun by Clinton would continue, he was swiftly overruled by the White House. That was a dreadful embarrassment, since the decision was made while South Korean president Kim Dae Jung — who wants to keep talks open — was in D.C.

Powell is the only member of the Bush team to support the nuclear-test-ban treaty, which has been nixed by Bush. Rice has said it’s time to disengage from the Balkans. Powell told NATO the U.S. would tough it out in Bosnia and Kosovo. Powell thinks Israel has gone too far in its policies toward the Palestinians, while Cheney has openly sympathized with Israel. This spring, Powell supported having international observers help stabilize the conflict, but the White House summarily reversed his position.

Time and again Powell says there are no real differences between himself and the rest of the administration. “Do we have differences? Sure,” Powell told the AP. “Do we argue about things? Sure. Do we have to debate issues from time to time? Yes.”

But everybody else in the capital is wondering just how long Powell can be the fall guy for the Bush clique. Christie Whitman appears to have survived a similar hazing, in her role as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Whitman, a rising star in the GOP, found herself hung out to dry by Bush on issues ranging from global warming to arsenic in drinking water.

Now the resignation watch once focused on Whitman has shifted to Powell, who has more to risk. A potential contender for the White House himself, Powell can ill afford to have people in his own State Department or on Capitol Hill — not to mention the American public — questioning his authority. A shift may be inevitable, but seasoned observers say it won’t come suddenly. “There appears to be a bit of a divide developing,” says Richard Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, who adds that no one expected the general to back Bush’s agenda 100 percent. “It would be difficult to get Powell out, but there is an uneasy relationship behind the tenure.”

U.S. War Sickens Iraqi Kids

America the Vicious

Doubts that the U.S. sanctions against Iraq were intended to wreck the civilian infrastructure have been dispelled by declassified government documents reaching back to 1991.

In the September Progressive, Thomas Nagy cites a January 22, 1991, Defense Intelligence Agency report entitled “Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities.” It states, “Iraq will suffer increasing shortages of purified water because of the lack of required chemicals and desalination membranes. Incidences of disease, including possible epidemics, will become probable unless the population were careful to boil water.” The document calculates that “it probably will take at least six months [to June 1991] before the system is fully degraded.”

And then, matter-of-factly, the Defense Intelligence people list off the maladies that may come from ruining the water supply: cholera, diarrhea, diphtheria, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, kwashiorkor, measles, meningitis, pertussis, and typhoid.

As we know, a brutal war was launched against Iraq anyway. Bare statistics suggest the attack on the civilian population enjoyed considerable success. Richard Walton, in the May/June issue of Dollars and Sense, points out, “In 1989, just before the Gulf War began, there were 7110 deaths of children under five from respiratory infection, diarrhea, gastroenteritis, and malnutrition. Within a year of the war and the imposition of sanctions, the number of deaths had risen to 27,473. By 1994, the figure stood at 52,905, and in the first 11 months of 1999, it soared to 73,572. That’s a ten-fold increase over ten years.”

As everyone knows, international law exists only to be broken, and the victors get to determine the spoils of war. But is this not a bit much? Is this not verifiable evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity? Here’s what the 1979 protocol to the Geneva Convention says: “It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works.” So who’s going to arrest George Bush Sr., who oversaw this war? Not his son, that’s for sure.

Condit Stitches Career Back Together

On the Mend

Fueled by more comments from Vince Flammini, the babbling former bodyguard who last week recalled Gary Condit once telling him a woman Flammini believed was Chandra Levy had “breasts like melons,” the case of the congressman’s missing girlfriend totters along. Condit, who has been lying low in California, reportedly now thinks the coast is clear enough for him to run again. He’s got the backing of House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, who on Sunday came to Condit’s defense with a couple of weirdo comments on Meet the Press.

First, moderator Tim Russert quoted the missing intern’s mother, Susan Levy, as having said she sees Condit “going on with his smiles and videotaped on the media going from his congressional meetings with his big political smile. And just the physical action does not match a person who says that they really want to help you out.”

Gephardt: “Well, I know he’s on TV a lot, and he may be smiling, but I can tell you that he is as worried and concerned as her parents are about where she is. He is very disturbed about this whole thing.”

Russert: “Has he told you that he had no role in her disappearance?”

Gephardt: “He has not told me that. But he’s told me he’s very disturbed about the whole matter, and he hopes that the police can find the young woman.”

Meanwhile, Billy Martin, the Levy family attorney, is hinting Chandra may have been pregnant. “Could she have been pregnant and could something have been done to her in an attempt to abort the pregnancy?” he said on Face the Nation. “Could that have been an issue between the congressman and Chandra? Because the answer to that may in some way affect the outcome of the investigation, I don’t think I should answer that question.”

Vidal Dissects a Broader McVeigh Plot

Now He Tells Us

Having skipped Tim McVeigh’s showbiz execution at the Terre Haute prison, Vanity Fair‘s smart-set correspondent Gore Vidal used a speech at the Edinburgh Book Festival this month to say once more what a super fellow McVeigh was and how he reminds Vidal of Paul Revere.

Vidal thinks that by killing 168 people at the Murrah Federal Building, patriot McVeigh was warning us how “the secret police (i.e., the FBI) were out of control.” According to the scribe, McVeigh was saying, “The Feds are coming, the Feds are coming! Vidal went on to call McVeigh a “Kipling hero,” with an “overdeveloped sense of justice.”

Now Vidal says he’s ready to tell all, like how McVeigh came to be part of a bombing plot masterminded by the federal government. “I am just about to drop another shoe in it,” he said, claiming to have worked with a researcher who “knows at least five people involved in the making of the bomb and detonation of it. It may well be that McVeigh didn’t do it. In fact, I am sure he didn’t do it. But when he found out he was going to be the patsy, he did something psychologically very strange. He decided to grab all credit for it himself, because he had no fear of death.”

Vidal revealed that this “John Brown of Kansas” ate a bowl of mint-chocolate chip ice cream in his last hours as he watched the Coen brothers’ Fargo on a black-and-white TV. Said Vidal, “It’s a great film but bloody — a body is shredded and suchlike — and not quite what he wanted to see, poor fellow.”

Additional reporting: Sandra Bisin and Ariston-Lizabeth Anderson