Accessibility links

Breaking News

Analysts Say Powell Was Voice of Moderation in Bush Administration

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was often said to be at odds with others in the Bush administration over foreign policy issues, has resigned. The move was widely expected, as the president makes changes in his Cabinet for his second term.

Colin Powell brought impeccable military and civilian credentials when he was sworn in as Secretary of State on January 20, 2001.

A professional soldier for 35 years, he rose to the rank of four-star general. He was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the first President Bush and under President Clinton. And, before that, he was national security adviser to President Reagan.

Thomas Keaney, a foreign policy expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, says Mr. Powell's arrival at the State Department when President Bush took office four years ago had a positive effect on its staff.

"When he came in, it heightened both morale, the status of State and the attractiveness of the State Department for those who would join," he said. "He brought back something that previous secretaries had probably disregarded: that is the morale of the State Department employees in showing them that their voices were heard, that they would have some influence in policy, and not just the secretary himself, or herself - in the case of Madeleine Albright - would be the one that would have influence."

Mr. Powell established himself as a voice of moderation, urging caution, especially in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Charles Kupchan, former member of the National Security Council, says Mr. Powell served as a balance to some other members of the Bush administration, such as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

"Secretary Powell was hesitant about the war in Iraq, was always veering to the center against the more extreme tendencies of others in the Bush administration," he said. "And in hindsight, it doesn't look like he was able to prevail, that he did not carry the day. He, in the end, was the main supporter for the war in the United Nations Security Council. He, in the end, made the arguments in the Security Council, many of which turned out to be inaccurate."

Many experts say Secretary Powell's address to the U.N. Security Council on February 5, 2003, when he presented what the administration believed was evidence of Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction, was the most important speech of his tenure, laying out the case for war in Iraq.

"I cannot tell you everything that we know, but what I can share with you, when combined with what all of us have learned over the years, is deeply troubling," he said. "What you will see is an accumulation of facts and disturbing patterns of behavior. The facts and Iraqis' behavior, Iraq's behavior, demonstrate that Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort, no effort, to disarm, as required by the international community."

Thomas Keaney, the Johns Hopkins analyst, says Mr. Powell was instrumental in persuading members of the Bush administration to present its case to the United Nations.

"The administration was heading in the direction of going to war with Iraq, without any sort of intervention, or any sort of approval by the United Nations," he said. "I credit Powell with having the United States going to the U.N. and seek U.N. approval."

Many experts, including former National Security Council member Charles Kupchan, believe Mr. Powell's legacy will be his moderating influence on the Bush administration's foreign policy.

"If we say, 'let's look at the last couple of years,' what do we see? We see the U.S. negotiating with Libya, Iran and North Korea. We see the United States turning back to Europe and NATO and the U.N. for help in Iraq," he said. "All of that is not indicative that Powell has exerted influence, because part of it is pragmatism. The U.S. tried to go it alone in Iraq, and it has found life to be very unpleasant. But clearly, in going back to the negotiating table, in the preference to work with allies rather than alone, we are seeing the mark of Powell as against others in the administration, who would be considered more hard-line, and in that respect, Powell's departure is cause for concern, because it does suggest that the most prominent voice of moderation in the first term will not be present in the second."

Secretary Powell says he always intended to serve only one term, and he will stay on until a successor is confirmed.