Colin Powell, collateral damage

    We now return to the Dick Cheney story – sorry, folks! – because it was inevitable that his memoir and publicity blitz would nauseate some prominent Bush-era alumni. And so it has. Two of those repulsed alums have surfaced, and they deserve equal time.To truly take Cheney’s measure, as both man and memoirist, we need only ponder his shoddy treatment of Secretary of State Colin Powell and, by extension, his treatment of Powell’s top aide, Lawrence Wilkerson. Both men have lashed back at Cheney in recent days – particularly Wilkerson, who said in an interview yesterday that he is ready and “willing to testify” for the prosecution if perchance Cheney was ever to be prosecuted for war crimes. Yep, that’s what the man said. It speaks volumes about Cheney that a retired Army colonel, a guy whose military career began when he enlisted to fight in Vietnam, would dare say such a thing out loud.Powell and Wilkerson are a key subplot in the Cheney story. During the PR march to war in Iraq – as orchestrated by the veep, who cherry-picked faux intelligence and pressured the intel community to do the same – Powell and Wilkerson were part of the collateral damage. They aided and abetted the lies, most infamously by floating the phony WMD evidence during a Powell speech to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003. They were team players for Cheney, and they’re still feeling guilty about it. As Wilkerson said yesterday, “It was probably the biggest mistake of my life. I regret it to this day. I regret not having resigned over it.” Clearly, the damage wreaked on their reputations still ticks them off – and they’re not going to take it anymore. The current flap was triggered by a passage in Cheney’s memoir. Referring to Powell, the veep writes: “It was as though he thought the proper way to express his (Iraq war) views was by criticizing administration policy to people outside of government.” Cheney writes that he worked behind the scenes to get rid of Powell after the ’04 re-election because it “was for the best.”Powell retaliated on Sunday, during an appearance on CBS News. After pointing out that he had privately warned President Bush about the risks of an Iraq invasion (“if you break it, you own it”), and after pointing out that Cheney and his neoconservative pals had grievously botched the occupation (“Mr. Cheney and many of his colleagues were not prepared for what happened after the fall of Baghdad”), he arrived at the heart of the matter. He said he was so loyal to Bush-Cheney that he even lied for them.”Well,” Powell said Sunday, “who went to the United Nations – and, regrettably, with a lot of false information? It was me.”Cue Wilkerson, who picked up the narrative yesterday. In an interview on ABC News, he recalled how he helped prepare Powell for that U.N. speech, in part by credulously incorporating the phony WMD intel. Wilkerson said that he and Powell were misled “by the vice president of the United States, who had put (the top CIA officials) under such pressure that they dared not respond except with the message that the vice president wanted them to respond with. (Cheney) had been out there (to the CIA) many times to put his personal inprint on (the CIA people) so that they would know positively what he wanted. And what he wanted was war with Iraq.”This true-life narrative isn’t new of course; as far back as 2005, David Kay, the CIA’s chief weapons inspector in Iraq, said publicly that Powell had been used and abused. Kay told CNN that Powell had never been informed by the White House (i.e. Cheney) that one of the key WMD sources was a guy who had already been dismissed by the Defense Intelligence Agency “as a liar, a fabricator.”What’s new, however, is Cheney’s memoir, and it was inevitable that some of his victims would surface anew to have their say. Cheney exploited Powell’s good name to make the bad case for a bad war, and Powell’s reputation suffered as a result. Wilkerson’s comments, in particular, are a welcome corrective. And it’s a measure of his undiluted anger that he also said this about Cheney: “He fears being tried for war crimes….This is a book written out of fear.”Or perhaps Cheney just wants to float his spin before the historians go to work on him. At least one thing is certain, however: What happened to Powell and Wilkerson is proof that when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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