Monday, September 13, 2004


By William Fisher

Watching Colin Powell testify on Darfur before a Senate committee last week, I was reminded of other times when the two most trusted men in the United States were Walter Kronkite and Colin Powell.

Kronkite was for many years the anchor of the CBS Evening News, back before we got most of our news via cable. It was he who told us President Kennedy was dead.

Colin Powell, much decorated Vietnam warrior, former National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ended up as Secretary of State in the Administration of George W. Bush.

As I watched Secretary Powell courageously assert that Sudan was indeed guilty of genocide, I found myself overcome with sadness about the deep hole the misadventures of George W. Bush have dug for this brave man, who could have been elected president had he not declined to run for the Republican nomination in 2000.

And I, a lifelong Democrat, would have voted for him. I trusted him. I knew that, like all great solders, he valued peace with freedom above all else.

I know Secretary Powell doesn’t want sympathy from me – or anyone else. He remains, to a fault, the good soldier.

But these days, precisely because he is every inch the good soldier, he must find himself obliged to say or imply things that are simply not believable. That things are going better in Iraq. That peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is really a top priority in the Bush Administration. That there was a connection between Saddam Hussein, Iraq, al Quaida, and 9/11.

Colin Powell was the man President Bush dispatched to the United Nations to make the case for intelligence we now know was largely incorrect – and which provided the basis for the US invasion of Iraq. He put his reputation on the line – and lost.

It has been said that Colin Powell is the best-known and least influential Secretary of State in American history. He has been consistently snookered by the neo-conservative cabal at the Defense Department, and his public credibility irrecoverably damaged by CIA groupthink. His plan for winning the peace in Iraq was ignored and shelved. As recounted in painful detail in Bob Woodward’s book, Plan of Attack, the President told his Secretary of State of the decision to invade Iraq at the 11th hour. He warned Mr. Bush that ‘if you break it, you own it’. It was too late to undo the decision.

So now, the US owns it – notwithstanding all the election-year rhetoric about returning ‘sovereignty’ to the Iraqis.

Secretary Powell will never admit any of this. His life as a soldier has made him too loyal. But the people who best understand his dilemma are the ones who work for him. At the State Department, Colin Powell is admired, respected, even loved. Many people there say he is the best Secretary of State since George Marshall. The Bush Administration has squandered his enormous gifts.

And, at the Darfur hearing before the Senate, one could again see the spark of the Colin Powell that was and is no more.

I hope Secretary Powell avoids the embarrassment of another term in a second Bush Administration. I suspect he will spare us the obligatory ‘kiss and tell’ book. I hope he will head the World Bank.


By William Fisher

“How are we to win a war against blood-spattered enemies whom our own free press continues to protect through politically correct sanitization? It wasn't no-name militants or wayward guerrillas who have butchered, beheaded and slaughtered thousands of innocents over the last three years alone.”

So wrote Michelle Malkin, the newest darling of the American right-wing, in the Houston Chronicle, followed by a litany of all the horrible things Muslims have done “in the name of Allah”. Ms. Malkin attacks the mainstream media for continuing to "whitewash" exactly “how deadly the Muslim terrorists we face are.”
She faults the mainstream media for referring to them as “generic ‘militants’ or ‘guerrillas’ or ‘rebels’ or, ‘activists’. She wants them called Muslim Terrorists.

But just what would the term ‘Muslim terrorists’ add to the reader’s understanding? None of the information journalists usually try to convey in a short description, like where they’re from or what they believe in. There are over a billion Muslims. They live all over the world. They have different interpretations of their religion. Those who carry out acts of terror represent a tiny fraction of Islam’s adherents.

On the contrary, what the use of ‘Muslim terrorists’ does is to paint all of Islam with the same uninformative brush and promote religious stereotypes. It would be like describing the Ku Klux Klan as a Christian extremist organization. What do we learn about Christianity from the KKK? Or describing the young man who assassinated Prime Minister Rabin of Israel as a ‘Jewish extremist’. What does that teach us about Judaism? Or calling Timothy McVeigh the ‘Roman Catholic bomber’ of Oklahoma City. Did he do what he did because of his religion?

As a journalist, my judgment would be that a person’s religion is relevant only when the person represents the predominant thinking of the religion. Like the Pope. Clearly, none of the examples above – or Ms. Malkin’s ‘Muslim terrorists’ – meets that test.

As for acts of terror carried out “in the name of Allah”, since the beginning of religions in the world, people have told the most outrageous lies and committed the most egregious acts -- and invoked their God to make their causes righteous.

This includes the Crusaders, the Ku Klux Klan, Timothy McVeigh, Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, skinhead militias, creationists, and other fringe groups who have attempted to highjack great religions “in the name of …”

Many Muslims dislike the United States. So do believers in many other faiths. That doesn’t make them ‘terrorists’.

This is not a political correctness issue. It is an accuracy in reporting issue. Reporting should illuminate. Ms. Malkin’s formula would obfuscate.

The writer has managed economic development programs in the Middle East for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development, and served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy administration.