Sunday, October 01, 2006

Powell Tried to Warn Bush on Iraq, Book Says

The New York Times
Powell Tried to Warn Bush on Iraq, Book Says

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 — Colin L. Powell, in his last face-to-face meeting with President Bush before stepping down as secretary of state in January 2005, tried to impress upon him one last time the dangers he saw the United States facing in Iraq, according to a new Powell biography.

The insurgency was growing and the country was spiraling into sectarian bloodshed, Mr. Powell warned. Elections in Iraq would not solve the problems, and the president’s ability to act decisively was being crippled by divisions within his own administration, according to the account in "Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell" (Knopf, 2006) by Karen DeYoung, an associate editor at The Washington Post. Mr. Bush appeared disengaged, the book says, and brushed off Mr. Powell’s complaints about dysfunction in his government.

The book is among the latest accounts of the divisions in the administration as it hurtled toward war and stumbled through its aftermath. The Powell biography provides further detail on his early misgivings about the war and the size of the force assembled to fight it, doubts that have been reported in several other books, including those by Ms. DeYoung’s colleague at The Post, Bob Woodward.

Despite his doubts, however, Mr. Powell never threatened to resign or go public with his complaints, according to these accounts, because such acts would betray the ethic of the loyal soldier he felt he was.

A 7,600-word excerpt from the Powell biography appears in Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine. The book’s publication date is Oct. 10.

Mr. Powell, who gave Ms. DeYoung several interviews for her book and encouraged others to cooperate, said in a telephone interview on Saturday that he had not read the book or the excerpts. He did not take issue with portions read to him, except to question the context of one anecdote involving an exchange with Vice President Dick Cheney.

“The real issue right now is not the various books that are out but how things are going in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mr. Powell said. He would not share his views on the current state of affairs there, however.

A White House spokesman said officials there had not read the book and would not comment.

Since leaving office last year, Mr. Powell has kept his views to himself, with a few notable exceptions. He was openly critical of the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina last year and weighed in vigorously in the debate over treatment of detainees in the war on terror.

He has quietly cooperated with Ms. DeYoung, Mr. Woodward and other authors, while keeping his counsel in public on Iraq, the broader war on terrorism and the diplomatic struggles of his successor at the State Department, Condoleezza Rice. He does not want to undermine the president, but he also wants to make sure that his point of view is accurately reflected in histories, associates said.

“It’s a matter of behaving with dignity when you’re out of office,” said Richard L. Armitage, Mr. Powell’s former deputy and his closest confidant. “You don’t want to be seen as criticizing those who took your place. On differences of principle, like the Geneva Conventions, he will speak out. On differences of approach, he probably will not.”

In answer to those who ask why he has not been more outspoken, Mr. Powell generally replies, “There’s a war on.”

The common thread of many of the recent accounts is of warnings ignored about flaws in the prewar intelligence, in the war-fighting doctrine and in plans for occupying the shattered country. Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, dismissed some of these accounts as the grumblings of people on the losing side of internal arguments.

The Powell biography fleshes out a tale already widely known in Washington of infighting among Mr. Powell, Mr. Cheney and Donald H. Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense. Mr. Powell, who served as secretary of state through Mr. Bush’s first term, came out on the losing end of the majority of their arguments.

The book provides an inside account of the preparation for Mr. Powell’s pivotal presentation before the United Nations six weeks before the start of the Iraq war in March 2003. Mr. Powell told Ms. DeYoung that he spent much of the five days he had to prepare for the presentation “trimming the garbage” that Mr. Cheney’s staff had provided by way of evidence of Iraq’s weapons programs and ties to Al Qaeda.

Mr. Powell later conceded that the United Nations speech was full of falsehoods and distorted intelligence and was a “blot” on his record.

Running throughout this book and other recent accounts are the defeats and humiliations Mr. Powell suffered in service to Mr. Bush. Though Mr. Powell remained an admired figure in America, it was not enough to protect him against attacks.

“There are people who would like to take me down,” he is quoted as saying while motioning toward the White House during his last year in office. “It’s been the case since I was appointed. By take down, I mean, ‘keep him in his place.’ ”