Sublime and Beautiful

Potential not Realized: The Fall of Rice and Powell

Posted in Uncategorized by chaoren on March 29, 2009

According to the online slang dictionary Urban Dictionary, “jump the shark” is

a term to describe a moment when somethin[g] that was once great has reached a point where it will now decline in quality and popularity


[t]he precise moment when you know a program, band, actor, politician, or other public figure has taken a turn for the worse, gone downhill, become irreversibly bad, is unredeemable [sic], etc.[…]

In 2003, two political dynamos, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, jumped the shark. Prior to that fateful year, which saw the beginning of what former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called “the greatest disaster in American foreign policy” (i.e. the Iraq War), it appeared that both Rice and Powell were bound for higher offices. Powell had had an impressive military career. He had risen through the ranks of the U.S. Army to become a four-star general. Powell’s resume also included stints as senior military assistant to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, National Security Adviser, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Then-National Security Adviser Rice had been a wunderkind of academia having become the first female, first minority, and youngest Provost at Stanford University. In addition, Rice had served more than two years in President George H.W. Bush’s Administration as Director, and later Senior Director, of Soviet and East European Affairs in the National Security Council. Since 2003, it has become more and more apparent that the political careers of these two extraordinary people are so indelibly stained by their respective parts in committing the tragedy that is the Iraq War it may be impossible for them to ever hold high office again.

Time passes, memories fade, forgive and…forget? Hardly. This isn’t Richard Nixon circa 1961 that we are talking about–more like Richard Nixon circa 1975. Just as the names Johnson and McNamara are inextricably linked to the Vietnam War, decades from now the names Rice and Powell will evoke images of rubble strewn across a desert landscapes in the minds of Americans who lived through the gloomy Iraq War years. The video of Colin Powell giving his infamous U.N. speech still plays in our national conscience and will probably continue to play on Youtube for many years to come.

It’s been half a decade since the invasion of Iraq and a lot has changed. Powell left the scene of the crime A.S.A.P. and has done just about everything to repair his image except admit that he was wrong to support the invasion of Iraq. He has spoken out against certain policies of the Bush Administration including its unwillingness to talk to with Iran. Powell even went so far as to endorse Barack Obama during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Rice, after sticking out four more years in the Bush Administration in her new position as Secretary of State, has not tried as hard as Powell to clean her hands. Appearing on The View shortly after leaving office, Rice defended the Administration’s decision to invade Iraq and invoked “history” as the great judge of deeds done by her and her former colleagues in the Administration. Both Rice and Powell are now doing work out West. Powell has joined a Silicon Valley venture capital firm and Rice has returned to Stanford to teach. A quiet and almost cliche ending for two statesmen who seem to have had limitless potential.

It would be a sad ending if it were not for the fact that both Rice and Powell are responsible for their fates. Either one could have spoken out as American foreign policy was being hijacked by neoconservatives and special interest groups. Either one could have resigned rather than lend their support to the invasion. At the very least, Powell and Rice could denounce the decision to go to war now. That option still remains but pride stands in their way. Maybe Rice and Powell tell themselves that they are remaining silent out of a sense of loyalty to President Bush and their former collegues. Or, perhaps they convince themselves that they are remaining silent because it is best for the country. But these are lies they delude themselves with so as to forget the roles they played in a gruesome drama. What the country really needs after years of lies is the plain, unqualified truth. Nobel Laureate economist Paul Krugman recently said that we need a truth and reconciliation commission to deal with the damage that has been inflicted on this country over the past eight years. If Rice and Powell do not speak out there is a good chance the Iraq War will remain a cancer on our national spirit much like the Vietnam War. The issue must be resolved. Rice’s and Powell’s political prospects may be bleak, they may not have the opportunity to hold high office again. But they can still serve their country by acting as conscientious citizens.


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