The 65th United States secretary of state, Colin Powell died this week.
Son of Jamaican immigrants, Colin Powell was, during his tenure, the highest-ranking Black American in federal executive branch history. His story of perseverance, rising through stations in life, education, and up through the military inspired and continues to inspire millions.
“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure,” said Powell. Indeed, so motivational was his life story and overall personality, prior to the Iraq War II, Powell was perhaps the most popular man in America.
Yet, even by his own admission, Powell fell victim to one of his own quotes, “You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.”
Remembered today for his ill-fated United Nations pro-Iraq invasion speech as much as anything else, Powell’s legacy is mixed. Powell later admitted he was misled by fake facts and bad “evidence” and, having been misled, he unintentionally misled much of the world with exaggeration of Iraq’s threat.
Powell had previously been known as the anti-war guy. The go-slow guy. The “Iraq is like Pottery Barn – You break it, you own it” guy. Yet, continuously pressured by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, Powell caved and mistakenly traded his sterling reputation for trumped-up charts “documenting” Iraq’s “mobile chemical weapons labs” and “biological weapons depots.”
All of this proved to be profoundly incorrect. Many of us knew we were being sold on one more trumped-up war from the get-go.
And off to war America went again, unleashing what would be nearly 20 years of Middle East mayhem, much continuing to this day. America, like so many times before, jumped into war with a faked-up, whipped-up patriotic fervor. To his credit, Powell was honest to later regret his part.
Iraq War II turned out to be the dumbest and most destructive misadventure since the tragedy of Vietnam. Roughly 10,000 coalition troops died, and some 40,000 soldiers wounded. Iraqi violent death estimates range from 250,000 to as high as 600,000. Iraqi dislocation, destruction and suffering are incalculable to everyday Americans. And in the end, America spent trillions and scorched the earth, but have nothing but cinders and ash on our hands to show for it.
One more ill-advised war tragedy for millions…
But for America, it’s nearly always been this way. From our founding in 1776 we’ve been in nearly continuous war. We were born and baptized in blood and it’s a blood bath that’s never ended since:
Revolutionary War, Indian Wars and Exterminations, Barbary Wars, War of 1812, Texas Revolution, Mexican-American War, Opium Wars, American Civil War, Samoan Civil War, Spanish-American War, Philippine-American War, Boxer Rebellion, Border War, Banana Wars, Nicaragua Occupation, Haiti Occupation, Dominican Occupation, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Laotian Civil War, Lebanon Crisis, Bay of Pigs, Cambodian Civil War, Grenada Invasion, Libya Bombings, Iranian Tanker War, Panama Invasion, Gulf War, Somalia Civil War, Bosnian War, Kosovo War, Afghanistan War, Iraq War, Operation Ocean Shield, Syrian Civil War … and this is but a partial list.
When will it all stop?
America has nearly hopeless national debt. Nearly hopeless homelessness. Second-tier infrastructure. Poor comparative rankings on health care, life expectancy, infant mortality, quality of life, and transparency in business and government. But we’re international top dogs for incarceration, gun ownership, and crime and murder. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll note better social outcomes and better infrastructure in nations having not made perpetual careers of international meddling, violence and wars. If we’re honest with ourselves we know we can support our valiant troops while avoiding abuse of America’s awesome military power.
Why are we so compelled to thrust on others that which is not working all that well for ourselves? Why the “nation building” and export of a democratic system under strain here at home? We hear, “They hate us for our freedoms.” Poppycock. They hate us because we meddle and invade.
Over the past 50 years we’ve witnessed China raise nearly a billion people out of poverty while building some of the world’s most impressive cities and infrastructure. Today, Washington still can’t find the courage to fund renewal of our roads, highways and electric grids. But we build and buy the finest and most expensive military gear. Which is great if you’re forever fighting wars and selling war hardware, but not so great if we’re looking to improve lives of everyday Americans.
So, when do all our wars end? When we wise up, or when we collapse under all the weight of war unending? When our credit is no longer good? Or when our military industrial complex collapses on itself? Or, when we finally wake up and invest American dollars in American people?
Joe Biden and Donald Trump took hard shots for shutting down the Afghanistan war. But sooner or later, it was also going the way of our recent wars — so sooner the better. In shutting down our wars there’s still time to regroup and truly make America itself great again.
But to do it, our money, minds and concerns must all turn inward toward building up our American people, our American purpose, and our American potential.
War is hell, and American treasure spent on war has largely created little more than hell on Earth. Yet money invested in American society can still create a Shining City on a Hill.
Colin Powell regretted he was misled on Iraq. Let us reflect on Powell’s integrity, and ourselves commit to never be misled to war again.
Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.