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Powell Will Succeed Where Bush Cannot
(Written by Tommy Ates.  Posted April 12, 2002)

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip to the Mideast already seems like the Grateful Dead's famous song, "..what a long, strange trip it's been."

Colin Powell's journey to Israel has developed into a long, swing tour of the Mediterranean region with open denials from regional leaders about the blame of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, while the Secretary himself shifts to more forceful rhetoric towards Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Ironically, the considered 'liberal' Republican Powell was among the first Bush administration officials to "get the message" from the Arab world about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being the impasse to possible Muslim cooperation on Iraq. Now, in this recuperative phase of Bush foreign policy, the Secretary has the illustrious privilege of hearing the grievances of U.S. non-involvement in Palestine.

For foreign policy watchers, there are bets as to whether Colin Powell can pull off 'the miracle': any kind of progress in rebuilding the peace process. As much as I am a cynic of Bush foreign policy, I wouldn't bet on all the chickens leaving the coop and I'll tell you why: Even though both the Palestinians and the Israelis distrust the Bush administration's intentions, they do trust Powell.

The much, heralded retired General from the Gulf War and later, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman during the Clinton years, Colin Powell has a military record which carries him weight with Israeli military hawks and Islamic militants in the region. The Secretary has a reputation for being a straight shooter, a brand that his commander, Rt. General Norman Schwartzkof learned firsthand in public military strategy disagreements during the Gulf War. Like him or not, Powell is a man who follows his principles.

The second advantage is the Secretary being a person of color (particularly African-American). Lest we Americans forget, we're not the only ones who read U.S. history. Muslims in the Middle East do learn about world history and the knowledge of the plight of blacks in America in acquiring and preserving civil rights is not lost in their minds. Strategically having a black man come as representative for America and speak his mind, (for some) may put initial fears of Western imperialism to rest (though they shouldn't).

That being said, for Secretary Powell to achieve any kind of headway after the latest Haifa suicide bombing (Israel) and the Jenin explosion (killing 13 Israeli solders [West Bank]), Powell is going to have to think small, and dream big. Unlike President Bush's "us or the terrorists" rhetoric, the Secretary has to be equal arbitrator of dialogue and concession to both parties.

Even though most people have already written off this mission, the trip will be mission: critical for Colin Powell.

After all, Colin Powell is no ordinary Secretary. Powell is the "war hero" with a political future (Presidential hopes?). Being a liberal Republican who supports affirmation action, the Secretary is a target by strong-arm conservatives in the administration who are dissatisfied with his 'play-safe,' diplomatic approach, unlike fellow ideologues Vice President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

So far, Powell has been able to rise above the fray, even as conservatives in the Rumsfeld camp sought to embarrass him with the flap over whether the mostly Afghan detainees deserve rights mandated under the U.N. Geneva accords at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (they did). As with that debate and Bush conservative handling of the Mideast crisis, the Secretary's view has prevailed over time; but it doesn't mean, his credibility at the White House still isn't in danger (the President's personal views still often coincide with hard-liners Cheney and Rumsfeld).

So, what is Powell to do this time? In terms of the escalating violence in Israel and Palestine, he has two options: either take the mantle of U.S. leadership to the negotiating table or deflect blame by continuing to lower press expectations.

To save face in this sinking position as the American peace broker, Secretary of State Colin Powell needs to bring the onus of diplomacy ultimately to his boss, President George W. Bush. After all, since Carter, every U.S. President has been the ultimate diplomat of the Mideast conflict (with varying degrees of success) with the exception of President Bush (which has been no accident).

In the past, Bush's handlers have cleverly distanced the President from the press firing line on foreign policy by using patriotism, and emphasizing the use of surrogates to get the job done, telling the American media to go to them for the answers, not him.

Now, President must assume the role of 'foreign policy President;' the world expects this. But Bush continues to use the Secretary of State as a shield to the warring masses, accepting the blame for his nation's inaction. It won't work. Unfortunately for Bush, both sides want more than small talk (Israel) or biased settlements (Palestine). In short, they want peace or a war to find it. While the world will praise Colin Powell's efforts at peace, they will continue to blame Bush (and Sharon).

About the author: Tommy Ates loves the left because the left is always right! Tommy Ates is a featured columnist of Left Is Right ( appearing in several publications, such as The Houston Chronicle, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, The Buffalo News, The Wichita Eagle, and The Macon Telegraph, among others. His email address is

Copyright 2002  All rights reserved.

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