Monday Reads: His Watch is Over

La Muse
1935, Pablo Picasso

Good Day Sky Dancers!

I continue to spend my life on the phone or near my roof with adjustors of all flavors. It’s extremely exhausting but my Insurance adjustor is a peach and he’s getting a mitigation company to investigate my attic where wind-driven rain got to a piece of fascia and then into the attic over my hall and bathroom.  Luckily, it’s the new addition so the ceilings aren’t as tall as the old part of the house. They’re going to get an estimate from a mitigation company on what needs to be done in the attic and the ceilings.  My 3-year old roof held up though which is why I didn’t get any more catastrophic damage.

Today we learned that Colin Powell has passed. He was fighting cancer and Covid-19 complications ended his life. Powell was a complex figure.  He was the first black Secretary of State as a Republican under Dubya where some of his most controversial decisions included receiving faulty information that led us into the endless war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq.  He left the Republicans in the dust and became involved with the Obama campaign. He gave up on the Republican party as many moderate to center Republicans have.

Powell was a Vietnam Vet.  The one lost bit of his service often overlooks his role in the My Lai Massacre. I’ll put a brief reference to that here.  This is from The Nation and David Corn.  It was published in May 2001. “Colin Powell’s Vietnam Fog. The war was years ago, but that does not excuse misrepresenting one’s participation in it.” 

The hell of Vietnam—an unpopular war that involved hard-to-discern guerrilla combatants, brutal depopulation strategies, indiscriminate bombing and much “collateral damage,” as military bureaucrats called civilian kills—offers its distinct challenges to memory, the individual memories of many who served there and the collective memory of the nation that sent them and sponsored a dirty war of free-fire zones and destroy-the-village-to-save-the-village tactics. In reviewing Colin Powell’s military service recently, I found that Powell had his own trouble in setting the record straight on his involvement—tangential as it was—in one of the war’s more traumatic episodes.

As Powell notes in his 1995 autobiography, My American Journal, in 1969 he was an Army major, the deputy operations officer of the Americal Division, stationed at division headquarters in Chu Lai. He says that in March of that year, an investigator from the inspector general’s office of Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) paid a call. In a “Joe Friday monotone,” the investigator shot questions at Powell about Powell’s position at the division and the division’s operational journals, of which Powell was the custodian. The inspector then asked Powell to produce the journals for March 1968. Powell started to explain that he had not been with the division at that time. “Just get the journal,” the IG man snapped, “and go through that month’s entries. Let me know if you find an unusual number of enemy killed on any day.”

Powell flipped through the records and came upon an entry from March 16, 1968. The journal noted that a unit of the division had reported a body count of 128 enemy dead on the Batangan Peninsula. “In this grinding, grim, but usually unspectacular warfare,” Powell writes, “that was a high number.” The investigator requested that Powell read the number into the tape recorder he had brought, and that was essentially the end of the interview. “He left,” Powell recalls, “leaving me as mystified as to his purpose as when he arrived.”

It would not be until two years later (according to the original version of Powell’s book) or six months later (according to the paperback version of the book) that Powell figured out that the IG official had been probing what was then a secret, the My Lai massacre. Not until the fall of 1969 did the world learned that on March 16, 1968, troops from the Americal Division, under the command of Lieut. William Calley, killed scores of men, women and children in that hamlet. “Subsequent investigation revealed that Calley and his men killed 347 people,” Powell writes. “The 128 enemy ‘kills’ I had found in the journal formed part of the total.”

Though he does not say so expressly, Powell leaves the impression that the IG investigation, using information provided by Powell, uncovered the massacre, for which Calley was later court-martialed. That is not accurate.

The transcript of the tape-recorded interview between the IG man—Lieut. Col. William Sheehan—and Powell tells a different story. During that session—which actually happened on May 23, 1969—the IG investigator did request that Powell take out the division’s operations journals covering the first three weeks of March. (The IG inquiry had been triggered by letters written to the Pentagon, the White House and twenty-four members of Congress by Ron Ridenhour, a former serviceman who had learned about the mass murders.) Sheehan examined the records. Then he asked Powell to say for the record what activity had transpired in “grid square BS 7178” in this period. “The most significant of these occurred on 16, March, 1968,” Powell replied, “beginning at 0740 when C Company, 1st of the 20th, then under Task Force Barker, and the 11th Infantry Brigade, conducted a combat assault into a hot LZ [landing zone].” He noted that C Company, after arriving in the landing zone, killed one Vietcong. About fifteen minutes later, the same company, backed up by helicopter gunships, killed three VC. In the following hour, the gunships killed three more VC, while C Company “located documents and equipment” and killed fourteen Vietcong. “There is no indication of the nature of the action which caused these fourteen VC KIA,” Powell said. Later that morning, C Company, according to the journal, captured a shortwave radio and detained twenty-three VC suspects for questioning, while two other companies that were also part of Task Force Barker were active in the same area without registering any enemy kills.

He’ll always be best remembered for that ill-begotten speech at the UN.  This is from CNN: “Colin Powell, first Black US secretary of state, dies of Covid-19 complications amid cancer battle.”

In February 2003, Powell delivered a speech before the United Nations in which he presented evidence that the US intelligence community said proved Iraq had misled inspectors and hid weapons of mass destruction.
“There can be no doubt,” Powell warned, “that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.”

Inspectors, however, later found no such weaponry in Iraq, and two years after Powell’s UN speech, a government report said the intelligence community was “dead wrong” in its assessments of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities before the US invasion.

But the damage was already done — to both Iraq, which the US went to war with just six weeks after Powell’s speech, and to the reputation of the once highly popular statesman, who was reportedly told by Cheney before the UN speech: “You’ve got high poll ratings; you can afford to lose a few points.”

Powell, who left the State Department in early 2005 after submitting his resignation to Bush the previous year, later called his UN speech a “blot” that will forever be on his record.

“I regret it now because the information was wrong — of course I do,” he told CNN’s Larry King in 2010. “But I will always be seen as the one who made the case before the international community.”

“I swayed public opinion, there’s no question about it,” he added, referring to how influential his speech was on public support for the invasion.

In his 2012 memoir, “It Worked for Me,” Powell again acknowledged the speech, writing that his account of it in the book would likely be the last he publicly made.

I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me,” he wrote, referring to the report he used that contained faulty evidence of supposed Iraqi WMDs. “It was by no means my first, but it was one of my most momentous failures, the one with the widest-ranging impact.”

“The event will earn a prominent paragraph in my obituary,” Powell wrote.

Gustav Klimt, Emilie Flöge (1902).

I liked Powell. It’s hard to be first of anything especially when you’re a woman or minority.  I think both President Obama and Secretary Powell had to shoulder “the first black man to” and did so with a lot of caution.  That’s a tough balancing act.  He finally followed his own gut when he came out strongly for Obama. The one thing to admire about him was he was never one to avoid responsibility or apologies for leadership decisions that went awry

I’m having trouble figuring out one of my Senators who keeps showing a bit of unexpected independence from his Republican masters.  This is from Axios: “GOP senator calls for senility test for aging leaders.”  Both of my senators started out as liberal democrats.  Maybe he’s getting a bit of his conscience back.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a physician, told me during an “Axios on HBO” interview that he favors cognition tests for aging leaders of all three branches of government.

Why it matters: Wisdom comes with age. But science also shows that we lose something. And much of the world is now run by old people — including President Biden, 78 … Speaker Pelosi, 81 …  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, 70 … and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 79.

Cassidy, a gastroenterologist, told me during our wide-ranging interview in Chalmette, La., that in your 80s, you begin a “rapid decline.”

  • Noting he wasn’t talking about specific people, Cassidy said: “It’s usually noticeable. So anybody in a position of responsibility who may potentially be on that slope, that is of concern. And I’m saying this as a doctor.”
  • “I’m told that there have been senators in the past who, at the end of their Senate terms were senile,” Cassidy added. “I’m told that was true of senators of both parties.”

Cassidy said it’d be reasonable for Supreme Court justices, members of Congress, and executive branch leaders to submit to an annual evaluation in which they would have to establish cognitive sharpness.

  • “We each have a sacred responsibility to the people of the United States,” Cassidy said. “It is not about me. It is about my ability to serve the people.”
  • Asked if he’d favor such a test for those leaders, Cassidy said: “Of course.”

🎬Watch a clipA rare GOP smack to Trump … Cassidy says Donald Trump might lose the GOP nomination if he runs in 2024 — noting that Trump lost “the House, the Senate and the presidency in four years. Elections are about winning.”

Mickalene Thomas, Dim All The Lights (2009).

Senator Cassidy has gone rogue on several of the most Trumpy of Trumpist votes.  This includes his vote for impeachment this year. This is from earlier this year and WaPo.

Sen. Bill Cassidy has been signaling for a few months that he wants to be a more independent force. After the November elections, in which the Louisiana Republican easily won a second term, Cassidy joined a bipartisan group that broke a negotiating logjam and paved the way for a $900 billion pandemic relief bill.

And on Jan. 6, as rioters supporting President Donald Trump were still being ejected from the Capitol, Cassidy condemned the attack in strong terms and demanded that Trump order the mob to stand down. “He needs to speak, because the president can speak as no one else can to these folks,” Cassidy told a Louisiana TV station that day.

But few expected Cassidy’s next bold, independent step — breaking GOP ranks and voting to declare that Trump’s second impeachment trial is constitutional and should proceed — particularly after he initially voted to essentially dismiss the case.

Don’t call him a RINO or a moderate he says.  Perhaps he’s angling to just be the Republican Joe Manchin. It’s possible he sees himself as a non-partisan deal maker.

Why is doing things in moderation or being moderate a thought police crime these days?  So, I had an overly exciting night yesterday having swallowed a part of a bay leaf that literally took my breath away and left me unable to speak.  I finally used the old trick of a finger down the throat to get it out. Not an experience I’d want to share with anyone.  I’m a bit out of sorts today.  I also got my Pfizer booster on Friday plus all the adjustor stuff on Saturday.  I’m going to call it a blog post and leave the chatting to you!

What’s on reading and list today?

16 Comments on “Monday Reads: His Watch is Over”

  1. dakinikat says:

    Here’s Powell’s NYT Obit.

    Have a good week!!!!!

    • quixote says:

      Don’t know about the not-avoiding-responsibility part. He’s the guy who used AOL (AOL!, not even a super-secure server in a past-president’s house) for emails as SecDef.

      But when the ZOMG EMAILZ screaming started about Hillary, his only concern was not coming under a spotlight for doing the same but way more so. He never spoke up or stood up for her.

      To be honest, he struck me as a total weasel who got ahead by always playing it safe and never annoying his bosses.

      Exhibit 1 was that bullshit Iraq briefing. If I could tell by what I could see while in my armchair that there were massive problems with the facts on the ground, he could see it. But it would have annoyed the Shrub if he pointed that out. The only thing he misjudged was how much blowback he’d eventually get.

      • NW Luna says:

        Yes, it was infuriating how he didn’t speak out that he’d used his own personal email while SoD. Also infuriating how the MSM rarely pointed out that he had when they were ZOMGing about HRC’s secure server.

  2. MsMass says:

    When Powell got on TV and said there was a threat from Saddam, I believed him. I know others did too, didn’t some Dems vote for the war on the basis of that speech? I always thought Hillary did.
    Powell’s loss of credibility after that was shown to be false intel was well deserved. Disappointing to say the least, although I figured he was put out there to take the fall. And why not, when it makes the black guy take the blame and gets the war “approved” by the vote.
    Win-win in the Republicans eyes.

  3. Pat Johnson says:

    Colin Powell bears as much responsibility for the Iraq invasion as the architects who created it in the first place. He “obeyed orders” like any good soldier (or Bush administration official) and spent the last years of his life full of regret.

    This wasn’t just a disagreement over the color of the drapes but a full scale invasion that cost thousands of lives for the troops, many thousands of lives for Iraqi citizens, and billions of dollars as a result of this fraudulent insistence to go an unnecessary war with a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack.

    This war sunk our reputation as a nation and 20 plus years later the effects are still being felt. We left this nation devastated, produced ISIS, emptied our treasury and cause more chaos in the middle East that ripples across the globe.

    But listen to the praise now forthcoming. A man is dead along with his own reputation for going along to get along in a time that called for courageous voices to rise up and declare the truth. He will be “honored” for serving his country when he was actually serving his “master” Bush.

    His way led to death and destruction. Unnecessarily so. To attempt now to cover him, or anyone of these liars, is a disservice to the words honor and truth.

    To pretend otherwise is the stain we bear because none of these people have ever been held accountable for leading us into the misery that this invasion imposed upon the world.

    Harsh perhaps but until we admit that what we did was beyond sinful we will continue to do it again and again.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I have to agree with you. Dak has a point that Powell may have been overly cautious because he was the first Black SOS, but he knew that his UN presentation was wrong. Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s Chief of Staff, wrote that Powell expressed serious doubts before the speech.

  4. NW Luna says:

    Dak, I hope your home is repaired soon, and it’s great that you have a reasonable insurance adjustor!

  5. NW Luna says:

    Separate from what we think about Powell’s legacy, his death illustrates that we still need everyone immunized to protect those who have cancer or some other immune condition, or who have immunosenescence due to age.

  6. quixote says:

    Cassidy’s interest in having functional minds in government seems like a recent development. Where was he when the Dump was boasting about IDing a camel or whatever it was on his 5-question “intelligence” test?

    (In case anybody missed that day, it’s a standard dementia test.)

    • dakinikat says:

      I don’t know. That’s why he’s confusing me. Sometimes he plays the good backbencher and then he does something out-of-character. I do try to encourage him when he does something good by writing him and thanking him but it’s always with the addendum that I disagree with most of the things he’d done and that I’m much happier when he does something independent and related to good governance rather than partisan politics.