This just in: Colin Powell is out. Throughout much of 2002 and 2003, I urged Powell to resign. It was clear he did not believe in George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. And then he ended up the White House’s top con man when he presented a thoroughly false report to the UN Security Council on WMDs in Iraq six weeks before the invasion. Other reasonable foreign policy advocates told me that they were comforted by Powell’s presence in the administration. He was the grown-up. Yet it seemed that Powell was providing cover for the out-of-control kindergartners and that once Bush was reelected he would bail and leave the reckless youngsters in charge. If he truly believed the war in Iraq was misguided, I argued, he had a duty to the public (his true boss) to speak out when it mattered. But Powell played the good soldier. He never expressed much public outrage over being duped by the CIA on the UN presentation. He served the president (more than the public), waited for him to be reelected, and then bugged out. His punishment for having enabled Bush should have been four more years.
A fellow who has long worked with Powell told me only ten days ago that Powell would likely stay on. Powell, he said, wanted to keep working on key projects–Darfur, the Middle East, North Korea–and did not want to resign when the most prominent item on his State Department resume would be that falsehoods-filled UN presentation. And I was considering writing–even today–a piece calling on Powell to stay. (Hmmm, did Powell receive a polite push from the White House?) Obviously, this source was wrong, and Powell will soon have plenty of time to tinker with the Volvos he likes to rebuild. Will he consider a presidential run in 2008? My source–who was wrong on the resignation–said Powell has shown no interest in such an endeavor.
So now it’s time for Washington’s favorite game: guessing who will get the job. Previously, the short list has included National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (gasp!) and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (omigod!). The White House says there will be no announcement today. But a new name has been added to the media’s list of possibilities: National Security Council staffer Elliott Abrams. (Abrams was first handed the democracy and human rights brief when he joined the NSC in 2001; more recently, he has been in charge of Middle East policy at the NSC.) Is this a trial balloon launched by the White House so Wolfowitz will seem like a reasonable alternative? Abrams would be one of the most controversial choices Bush could make. (Think Ashcroft-plus in foreign policy terms.) Putting aside any concern that I might be overreacting to a mere mention of Abrams–who has to be considered a long shot–let me post here an article I wrote after Bush first appointed Abrams to an NSC job, which did not require Senate approval. Consider this a public service announcement.