The Magazine

The State Dept. vs. Bush

The administration's Mideast envoy begs to differ on Iraq.

Sep 9, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 48 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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WHEN LAURENT MURAWIEC listed the ways Saudi royals have supported terrorists, Secretary of State Colin Powell was quick to assure the Saudi foreign minister that the comments did not reflect administration policy. Never mind that Murawiec, a RAND analyst, had no affiliation with the Bush administration. Never mind that he had shared his views in a private briefing, not at Powell's State Department, but at the Pentagon, for an informal advisory board. State Department spokesman Phil Reeker told the press Powell had assured the Saudis that Murawiec's remarks were merely "the musings of a private individual."

Perhaps because this move successfully defused what could have been an awkward diplomatic situation, the State Department tried it again last week. After retired General Anthony Zinni publicly ripped the president's policy of "regime change" in Iraq, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters, "I don't have any particular comment on what any private individual has had to say on this topic," adding later, "Zinni is a private citizen, he can say what he wants."

It's a harder sell this time around because Zinni works directly for Powell. Last October, he was named "senior adviser" to the secretary of state, enlisted to work without pay on issues in the Middle East. Since then, he has played a major role in crafting and implementing U.S. policy in the region, making several high profile trips and representing the U.S. government with foreign leaders, though Boucher correctly points out that Zinni's public role has diminished along with the prospects for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Boucher's task of distancing Powell from the comments of his own senior adviser is impossible, for unlike in the Murawiec case, neither Powell nor Boucher has said anything to contradict the substance of Zinni's remarks. Zinni's patronizing public outburst--an indirect challenge to the leadership of the president and vice president--should have gotten him fired. Powell, however, won't even disavow it. He won't because he can't--he largely shares Zinni's views, and has been an active participant in the not-so-behind-the-scenes campaign to undermine the administration's decision to remove Saddam Hussein.

Zinni's comments came after an otherwise unremarkable speech on the Middle East to the Economic Club of Florida, when the general was asked about the Bush administration's policy toward Saddam. His five-minute response took the form of a rambling list of nearly every argument against regime change in Iraq:

"What are your priorities in the region? That's the first issue. The peace process in my mind has to be a higher priority, winning the war on terrorism has to be a higher priority. More directly, the situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia has to be resolved, making sure al Qaeda can't rise again from the ashes, the Taliban cannot come back, the warlords can't gain control over Kabul and Karzai and destroy everything that has happened so far. Our relationships in the region are in major disrepair, not to the point where we can't fix 'em, but we need to quit makin' enemies out of people we don't need to make enemies out of, and we need to fix those relationships. There's a deep chasm that's growing between that part of the world and our part of the world, and it's strange, about a month after 9/11 they were sympathetic and now? How did it happen over the last year, and we need to look at that, that is a higher priority. The country that started all of this, Iran, is about to turn around 180 degrees. . . . And I can give you many, many more before you get down to Saddam and Iraq. . . . He'll drag Israel into the war. The mood on the street is very hostile at this moment. It is the wrong time. You could create a backlash to regimes that have been friendly to us. You could create a sense of anti-Arab, anti-Islamic feelings from the West. They could misinterpret the attack. We could end up with collateral damage. You could inherit the country of Iraq, if you want to do it. If our economy is so great that you're willing to put billions of dollars into reforming Iraq. If you want to put soldiers that are already stretched so thin all around the world and add them into a security force there forever, like we see in places like the Sinai. . . . You're going to have to tell me the threat is there, right now. That it's that immediate that it takes a priority over all those things that I just mentioned. And I just hit the tops of the waves there."