Was He Used?

June 10, 2007

Was He Used?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Every Sunday CUIP’s political director Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, June 10, 2007 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show,” “Meet the Press” and “The McLaughlin Group.”

Salit: “The Chris Matthews Show” had a segment about the immigration vote in Congress and the politics surrounding it. There are 12 million people living in this country illegally who can’t fully participate in the life of the society, though many are working, raising families, contributing to the ongoing life of America. But because of the political divisions that exist, we can’t find a solution to this problem. This issue is cast as very polarizing, and in many ways it is. But, at the same time, if you interview Americans about this issue and you take the word “amnesty” out of the description of a program that would legalize numbers of illegal immigrants and put them on a path to citizenship, a majority of Americans say they would support that. Is this an issue where there are some fairly straightforward solutions, but political players – for a variety of reasons – are manipulating divisions in order to block any kind of forward progress on it because it serves their political interests?

Newman: It looks like it’s completely political. Take the conservative right, which has a very critical role in the Republican Party. Many of them are not supportive of a Republican coalition which includes Latinos.

Salit: Karl Rove’s dream of a big Republican tent not withstanding.

Newman: It’s worthwhile pointing out too, that while the conservatives have great difficulty with the word “amnesty” in connection with Latinos, they have no trouble with the word “amnesty” in connection with Scooter Libby.

Salit: Good point.

Newman: Amnesty for 12 million immigrants is a problem for them. Amnesty for Vice President Cheney, which is what the amnesty for Libby would be, they have no problem with. That seems to make it clear that the whole thing is fundamentally political.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: The conservative right doesn’t just want a Republican elected. They want a right wing Republican elected. And they don’t even want just a right wing Republican elected, like George Bush. They want a right wing Republican who holds to conservative views on all the questions they regard as important. So, is that political? Yes. Is it any more political than what anybody else is doing in this election season? No, it’s not. They have every right to do what they’re doing. To cloak it in a moral critique, however, seems to me to be disingenuous.

Salit: In terms of the politics of it, the “Matthews Meter” was asked whether defeat of the bill would help or hurt the Republicans. Eleven of Matthews’ respondents say it helps the Republicans that the bill was defeated, even though it was a defeat for Bush.

Newman: Well, the Republican Party is working overtime to disassociate itself from Bush.

Salit: Right. So, this is an opportunity to do that, that isn’t turning against the war in Iraq.

Newman: I take it the “Matthews Meter” people thought that further disassociation can do nothing but help, since Bush is not only a lame duck, he’s a dead duck.

Salit: Colin Powell was a guest on “Meet the Press.” Powell is a very interesting and enigmatic figure in American public life. I was struck by the quote from Powell’s wife, Alma, that Russert presented to Powell from a book written about him. She said, basically, that her husband had been used by the Administration to sell the war to the American people, because he was the person that people would believe. Then Russert asked Powell if he felt he had been used. Powell said no, that he didn’t feel that he was used, that he was part of an administration and part of formulating the policy and that he had expressed his views along the way. When he went before the United Nations, he made the best and most accurate case that he thought could be made for the war. And he said, repeatedly, that he would have preferred not to go to war. Do you think he was “used”?

Newman: No. He was a member of the team. That’s what the team came up with. His wife has a right to her opinion, and I can see, from her point of view, it might look like he was used. But he was a voluntary member of that team. He could have left that team any time he wanted to. But if you’re on the team and you have input, and the team position is what you come up with, then you’re not used, you’re just a part of the team.

Salit: You’re the part of the team that didn’t get the team to decide exactly as you would have wanted.

Newman: That’s not being used.

Salit: Yes. And he remained a part of the team as long as he felt comfortable with that. When the administration moved into its second term, he left. But, I do think he has a particular kind of appeal for the American public. He’s an honest broker. What makes him unique, do you think?

Newman: That’s a hard question to answer. I don’t want to get into philosophical analysis here – but the question “What makes him unique,” seems to me to be a hard question to unpack.

Salit: Okay.

Newman: What makes anyone unique? Actually, the proper question, it seems to me, is not what makes him unique, but how is it that his uniqueness makes him appealing, how it makes him popular?

Salit: Okay.

Newman: What’s unique about people? Well, their uniqueness. I don’t know if there are some things that you can reduce one’s uniqueness to. But, you’re asking from my point of view, what are the unique qualities that Powell has?

Salit: Yes.

Newman: I think it’s that interesting combination of intelligence and a sense of his honesty. And, he’s a military man – and so he’s disciplined. That appeals to Americans. He seems to have a heart, he’s honest. He seems to care something about honesty. I think his smartness is as much a part of it as anything. He’s a bright man.

Salit: Yes, he is.

Newman: He has a good American story. He worked his way up from the bottom.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: So, all of those together don’t equal his uniqueness. His uniqueness is his uniqueness because he’s the one who puts them together. But, he’s appealing in a certain way.

Salit: He definitely is.

Newman: Your first question about his wife’s quote made me think that he seems like a man who sincerely knows what it means to take responsibility. He takes responsibility for what he does. He says, ‘I was part of the team. We did this together. Mine was a minority position, but I can accept that.’ It seems like you can trust him – not necessarily to agree with you – but to at least remain a part of the process even if he doesn’t agree with you. Lots of politicians don’t seem very trustworthy.

Salit: That’s for sure.

Newman: Hillary doesn’t seem trustworthy. She’s bright. She’s got a lot going for her, she’s experienced. But, many Americans see her as not completely trustworthy.

Salit: Powell talked about the run-up to the war and about having counseled and cautioned the president with the “if you break it, you own it” philosophy. He said that on the one hand you can go in there with less troops than you’d like to have and topple Saddam, and you can be, as he said – I thought this was a somewhat postmodern phrase – “liberators for the moment.” But the downside is that very quickly your status as “liberator” would transform into a new status as “occupier.” And, as an occupation force you really have to be prepared to handle that and to respond to that inevitable reality. That was his advice. It wasn’t accepted. Though, I guess Bush would say Well, it was accepted, and we handled it the way we handled it.

Newman: Well, I don’t know that I’m so sympathetic to Powell or Bush on this score.

Salit: Say more.

Newman: I agree that you turn into an occupying force almost immediately after you’ve done the liberating. But I don’t know that using military force is the way to accomplish the kinds of things you want to accomplish after the liberation. If you need more troops for occupation, then that’s a coerced or forced occupation.

Salit: Right.

Newman: So, why would the next move after liberation be a military move at all? I’m not so sure I’m totally sympathetic to Powell. If you’re liberating, why wouldn’t you liberate, and leave? I’m not so sure I’m sympathetic to the whole conception of an occupation or an imposed restructuring from the outside – what they call nation-building.

Salit: Okay.

Newman: Powell might be saying that if that’s what you desire to do, then you need many more troops and you need other things, too – diplomacy and politics. But I don’t know how well they mix together, the military intervention and those other elements. The military element of such a nation-building or whatever you want to call it, necessarily imposes the will of the occupiers. In this case, Washington.

Salit: Right.

Newman: But the other two seem to depend more on the will of the Iraqi people and others in the region. I think there’s a clash here between mixing these three together.

Salit: The three being?

Newman: Military intervention, political support from the outside, and political will from the inside. I don’t know that they go together.

Salit: Powell seemed comfortable with putting them together.

Newman: So he and Bush are together in that and I don’t think I am. I don’t think that works, ultimately, in practice.

Salit: Meaning where you stage a military intervention to accomplish a certain set of objectives, overthrow Saddam, establish a new transitional regime, and then have the capacity to motivate and consolidate the Iraqis’ ability to democratically self-govern?

Newman: What’s the military’s role in motivating? Are the military motivators?

Salit: No.

Newman: To me, it’s analogous to saying to a child I want you to do this yourself, except do it my way. I want you to choose my way. Well, to have an enforcer saying “choose this” is not giving the child room to create a choice for herself or himself. It seems analogous to that – as many, many people have pointed out. This is not some great insight. But, Powell was a part of the team which accepted those three did go together.

Salit: Yes he was.

Newman: So, he’s saying – and I think he’s sincere – that he would have preferred the domination of the other two rather than the military option. And I can accept that. But, others preferred the military option – the Secretary of Defense and the Pentagon no doubt. But, that’s what they’re paid for, creating military options. Powell wasn’t so far from the spirit of the Bush team and the neo-cons as it might seem now, when you hear him talk after the fact.

Salit: I agree with that.

Newman: The people who issue the minority reports are still part of the system and have to take full responsibility for that.

Salit: Yes. This next question is the kind of thing that biographers speculate about. To what extent do you think Powell’s thinking on this is influenced by the pressure that he was under after the first Gulf War relative to not having taken Saddam out?

Newman: That wasn’t his decision.

Salit: It wasn’t, no.

Newman: And it wasn’t his decision the second time. He’s never been the decision-maker.

Salit: True.

Newman: He doesn’t want to be president. He doesn’t want to be in charge. He wants to play on the team, as an important member of the team. And, if that’s what you choose, then you have to deal with these kinds of situations.

Salit: What did you make of his answer about who he’s going to support in the presidential race, that he’s not pledging to support the Republican?

Newman: I think he’s saying My country comes first.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: And I think that’s always been his position. It’s not a new position for him. His life activity indicates that that’s his position.

Salit: Thanks, Fred.