Powell Questions Handling of Iraq War; Not Willing Yet to Endorse a Republican For 2008

Colin Powell is not going to be very popular in Republican circles after his appearance on Meet the Press.

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He states that without weapons of mass destruction there was no justification for going to war in Iraq:

MR. RUSSERT: In light of the fact that we did not find the weapons of mass destruction, the president still describes the war as a war of choice—war of necessity, rather than choice. Vice President Cheney said we would do the same thing all over again. Knowing what you know today, would you do the same thing all over again?

GEN. POWELL: If we knew today—or knew then what we know today, that there were no weapons of mass destruction, I would’ve had nothing to take to the United Nations. The national intelligence estimate, which was the basis of my presentation and, by the way, was the basis of the intimation that was given to the Congress that caused them to vote a resolution of support four months before my UN presentation, we rested our case on the existence of weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to us and could be given to terrorists, making it another kind of threat to us. I think without that weapons of mass destruction case, the justification would not have been there, even though Hussein was a terrible person, human rights abuses abounded, he was cheating on the UN food, Oil for Food program. But I think it is doubtful that without the weapons of mass destruction case, the president and Congress and the United Nations and those who joined us in the conflict—the British, the Italians, the Spanish, the Australians—would’ve found a persuasive enough case to support a decision to go to war.

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Powell also discussed the pre-war warnings of the consequences of going into Iraq and admits, “we didn’t prepare ourselves well enough for the kinds of challenges that occurred in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad.”

MR. RUSSERT: Prior to the war, Walter Pincus wrote that you were provided, the president was provided some information from the CIA. Let me read it here. “On August 13th, 2003, the CIA completed a classified, six-page intelligence analysis that described the worst scenarios that could arise after a U.S.-led removal of Saddam Hussein: anarchy and territorial breakup in Iraq, a surge of global terrorism,” “a deepening of Islamic antipathy toward the United States.

“According to then-CIA director George Tenet, it was relegated to the back of a thick briefing book handed out to President Bush’s national security team for a meeting on September 7th, 2002, at Camp David where the Iraq war was topic A.” Do you remember that?

GEN. POWELL: I don’t remember specifically that book, but I’m sure it exists. But a week earlier, the 5th of August 2002, the president and I, with Dr. Rice present, had a conversation that touched on many of the likely outcomes and the realization that it would probably tie up a significant percentage of our armed forces for a long period of time, it would cost a great deal, we’re getting inside of a sectarian conflict that we would have to keep a lid on, and we would have to get Iraqis up and moving as quickly as possible in order to hand the responsibility off to them. And so I don’t think any of us were unaware of the kinds of problems that we might face. I certainly was not unaware, and I was informed by my own thinking, as well as CIA documentation, not just the one Mr. Pincus makes reference to. But all along the way, those who had experience in this part of the world and those that had experience in war understood that we were taking on something that was going to be a major burden to us for many years, and I think the president was well aware of that. And my, my judgment is that we didn’t prepare ourselves well enough for the kinds of challenges that occurred in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad.

MR. RUSSERT: The public posturing, however, some supporters of the war saying it would be a cakewalk, the president—the vice president on this program saying we’d be greeted as liberators, the public was not in any way girded with the notion that this could be tough slogging and could, in fact, result in deep sectarian violence and anarchy as evidenced by the CIA report.

GEN. POWELL: I never used terms such as cakewalk, and I never had any illusions about this being simply a stroll into Baghdad and then everything was going to be wonderful. But let’s go back to around 10 April of 2003. Saddam Hussein’s statue fell on the 9th, and from the 10th of April, for a month or two, everybody in the United States thought this was a terrific outcome. And it looked like it was going to work, just as the administration has said it was going to work. We were liberators for a moment, and then we simply did not handle the aftermath. We didn’t realize we were in an insurgency when we were in an insurgency, and we watched as the ministries that we were counting on, the government ministries we were counting on to help us take over, were being burned and looted. And we didn’t respond. And we didn’t have enough troops in the ground. That’s my judgment, not the judgment of military commanders at the time, but it’s certainly my judgment, and we didn’t have enough troops on the ground. Because once the government fell, the whole structure of government collapsed. Once the government in Baghdad came down, everything came down. And it was our responsibility then, under international law as the occupying authority as well as the liberators, to be responsible for restoring order, and we didn’t have enough troops there to restore that order nor did we have the political understanding of our obligation to restore that order.

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Powell verified reports that he has given advice to Barack Obama, and declined to say he will support a Republican in for President in 2008.

MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, Newsweek magazine reports that Senator Barack Obama has sought you out for your advice on foreign policy. True?

GEN. POWELL: True. I’ve met with Senator Obama twice. I’ve been around this town a long time, and I know everybody who is running for office, and I make myself available to talk about foreign policy matters and military matters with whoever wishes to chat with me.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you ever come back in the government?

GEN. POWELL: I would not rule it out. I’m not at all interested in political life, if you mean elected political life. That is unchanged. But I always keep my, my eyes open and my ears open to requests for service.

MR. RUSSERT: Any endorsements?

GEN. POWELL: Oh, not yet. It’s too early.

MR. RUSSERT: But you’ll support the Republican?

GEN. POWELL: It’s too early.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you support an independent?

GEN. POWELL: I’m going to support, I’m going to support the best person that I can find who will lead this country for the eight years beginning in January 2009.

MR. RUSSERT: Of any party?

GEN. POWELL: The best person I can find.

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