Driving by Oakland's magnificent
Grand Lake Theatre, you'll see the usual list of movies
playing and, at the corner facing Lake Merritt, a patriotic message from
Allen Michaan. There's something compelling and often
funny about the succinct personal opinions that Michaan displays
on his theatre; plainly-stated opinions are surprisingly rare on billboards
and other open-air media – a trait that
appears inclined to continue.
One week in June, the
"Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and Rice share absolute guilt for the
despicable torture of prisoners" – a reference to the unfolding events at
Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The absence of Colin Powell's name from that list only serves to emphasize the
strange position Powell now occupies within the Bush administration. He's a
lame duck; an honorable man whose acceptable presence is brought to bear on
important (yet politically lukewarm) matters such as the crisis in Darfur,
but is sidelined on issues that bring his diplomatic moderation into direct
conflict with the tone of the administration's hawks.
With respect to the events of Abu Ghraib, the administration appears either
indefensibly clueless or shamefully underhanded, depending on which way you
look. On the one hand, there was no systematic policy of abuse; these were the
actions of a rogue minority within the army's ranks, and the oblivious
Mr. Rumsfeld still has his job. On the other hand, there is the
legal paper trail that leads back to
Alberto Gonzales, documenting the administration's attempts to discern the
wiggle room that would allow them to ignore the Geneva Convention. It's no
surprise to read reports that Powell 'hit the roof' when he saw Gonzales'
While the Bush administration may not have been directly responsible for the
abuses at Abu Ghraib, it certainly set the tone for them. That's ironic,
given Bush's pledge to restore dignity to the White House. How do you
compare evasiveness about an extra-marital blow job to the flaunting of
respected international treaties on the treatment of prisoners?
It's tempting to see Powell as the good kid who fell in with a bad crowd at
high school. But his
the U.N. in February 2003 – in which he made the case for war against Iraq
on the basis of Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction – puts
him firmly in the same camp as the hawks in the administration, even if he's not
sleeping in the same tent. Somewhere, you can almost hear a high school
principal saying, "Bush, your behavior's no surprise to me but Powell, I
expected better of you."
Some commentators see no future for Powell in public office beyond the end of
the current administrative term. I would rather he'd ended his political career
earlier by breaking ranks with the administration, rather than being an
apologist for them these past several years.