The Unfortunate Legacy of Colin Powell


I have been watching the burgeoning story about the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons in Syria in the last few days.

I am not a chemical weapons expert.  Having said that given the amount of military history I read, particularly on  WWI, I have seen a lot of pictures of gas victims.

Sarin, the most commonly referenced agent supposedly in use in Syria, really has no extensive combat record.  Just as basic background here are some facts about mustard gas, chlorine gas, and other chemical weapons that have been used extensively in combat:

1.  They are unpredictable weapons – the gas can blow into your own lines or advancing troops or nearby civilians.  Some historians maintain Hitler and Stalin did not use gas not because of some convention or fear of retaliation, but because it was ineffective given the risk to their own troops.

2.  The use of mustard or chlorine gas is obvious on victims because they are covered in sores and burns, blind, and actively coughing up pieces of their lungs.  The cause of the physical manifestations are obvious on battlefields with fixed trench lines.

With Sarin according to information I find on the Web, the physical manifestations while horrible are not so obvious.  Not because a convulsing, coughing, vomiting, temporarily blind person is not obviously sick, it is just less obvious what the cause is.  The Centers for Disease Control actually goes further and says that “Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to sarin”.

The Guardian in the UK has a report based on “experts” that rather persuasively makes the case the Syrian government has used sarin gas on missiles.

The problem is this is not the US government of 1940.  Under Roosevelt the government was out in front of the public on intervention, but facts over and over proved the government right.  Instead we have the same hodge podge of deductive reasoning based on video and other evidence of unknown sources that  Secretary Powell used in front of the Security Council to justify the Iraq invasion in 2003.

We have seen enough non-draft age politicians sending off too many young Americans,  on news accounts, dubious intelligence, and Sherlock Holmes glib reasoning. Reasoning that has been wrong over and over again since 1992.

I will say it again, we do not understand who is doing what for what reasons in Syria. We have shown over and over again that this government and the prior one have no idea how to change for the better  civil wars in the Middle East.  Former Secretary Powell’s legacy should be, no more bum’s rush to war in the Middle East.




  1. Hi John, what say you regarding the military in Egypt doing what they have to do to rid themselves of the radical islamic Muslim Brotherhood?

    Don’t you think B. “Vain” Hussein Obama’s foreign policy has created a bigger mess… much like his domestic policies have? Seems as though his apologies have not been accepted, but rather used against him, he’s seen as extremely weak. They don’t care what he has to say. His support of the “Arab Spring” has been disastrous.

    It is actually scandal central in the White House and the media ignores the NSA, IRS, Benghazi and Fast and Furious atrocities. What angers me most is Benghazi incident, the loss of 4 patriotic Americans and an Ambassador and nobody held accountable… there’s a real scandal there and nobody cares. Morsi and Obama may have been in cahoots regarding what transpired that night and nobody cares. And Hillary, what difference does it make… really!?! Tell that to those families.

    I can only hope that Conservatives (yes, not RINOs) can offer a great candidate. There may never be another Ronald Reagan, but a halfway decent one should have defeated this one easily… he’s worse than Jimmy Carter! Give me Ted Cruz or Rand Paul… or both!

    Have a great weekend.

    • Kirk, thanks for the comment.

      I am really disappointed in the President – I was really bought into the idea of centrist President working across the divide – instead everything went downhill after the partisan healthcare plan.

      On foreign policy I actually prefer his reluctance to spill US blood and treasure in the Middle East. The point I keep pushing to the point of being obnoxious is that I don’t think the US can be EFFECTIVE in civil wars in the Middle East. I hate the phrase “we have to do something!”

      People that say that should pick up a rifle and head over to Syria, but no sending my tax dollars or teenage sons.

      I don’t care if people in the Middle East think we’re weak or whatever – why would I care what ruling elites who hate and kill at astonishing rates think of America? I do care that Al Qaeda is afraid of us w/c I think after all the special ops and drones under two presidents they are.

      We need whoever is President to get busy helping China and the Pacific Rim countries stay at peace so we can trade with them. Peace and Prosperity is my slogan.

      We should be helpful in the Middle East, but it is a largely overrated part of the world with little trade opportunities and Biblical problems with no end in sight. The evidence is clear our troops and money are not helpful in the Middle East, except in some extraordinary circumstance such as 1992 (UN authority, huge coalition, Saudis paying for all the fuel, etc…).

      In Egypt I would say as little publicly as possible and stay out of their crisis – that’s what Egyptian Americans keep saying that I have seen in print and on tv.

      I don’t see the scandal Reps see on Benghazi – I do agree its terrible incompetence and at a minimum some firings need to occur as well as promoting the Foreign Service Officer whose career seems in limbo for telling the truth to Congress.

      The NSA revelations are really troubling – the plumbing for a police state.

      On the IRS I don’t see why Dems dismiss that one – why did a senior IRS official take the 5th Amendment? It will be over or not when that question is answered.

      I think many folks under rate Ted Cruz – he’s a great speaker – very old school rousing speeches with no notes. He really comes across as a true believer.

      None of the Reps in my opinion have a positive agenda with a Reagan optimism. Reagan ran to do things and he did them. I’m not sure what the conservatives are running to do and I’m afraid of their social agenda. After GW Bush it is really going to take a positive agenda for conservatives to win in purple and blue states.

      I don’t get the fascination with Chris Christie – terrible employment record – I feel like we have enough bullies in politics.

      There is still time for people like Cruz or Rubio or Governor Martinez in New Mexico to fill out for the primaries. I really prefer governors to legislators – people that have run big organizations.

      Gov. Martinez has a 60% approval rating and would be interesting to see a conservative Hispanic female vs. Secretary Clinton. I thought Gov Martinez was good at the Republican convention. But like Christie not a great record from what little I have seen.

      Republicans need a smiling positive candidate with a positive message to win – seems pretty snarling and negative right now.

      Hope things are well and thanks for interacting with the blog – pls spread the word.

  2. While I am also disappointed with Obama on many fronts, I am supportive of his avoiding taking unilateral steps to embroil the US in another military foray abroad. We elect our president and representatives to act on our behalf – sometimes that means they make unpopular decisions however under these circumstances it is absolutely appropriate that the will of the people be taken into account. WE must take responsibility for acting or not acting – we ought not slough it off on one man to make that choice. We have made that mistake before.

    As a side note, the unfortunate legacy of Colin Powell is that the world – even our allies – no longer trusts our “intelligence assessments” and our motives. Unfortunately, we have given them ample reason to distrust us.

    • Vince,

      Thanks for the comment.

      We engage in kinetic wars in the ME with the best of intentions and end up creating worse unintended problems.

      Arming Al Qaeda and killing civilians with missile strikes to protect them from gas is not in my view smart or persuasive.

      I have no confidence we understand what is actually happening in Syria – we saw that the only way to understand Iraq was to occupy it, start paying a lot of money in bribes, and stay awhile.

      If he crosses a border I imagine we’ll be able to rally the world community. Right now we have no support in the UN, the UK, NATO, or the Arab League.

      It’s not about horror – we all see it. It’s about being effective. If you cannot be effective, doing nothing is the right policy.

      • John – While I certainly agree that the US should refrain from military intervention in Syria, I firmly believe that we should ACT rather than sit this out. Our credibility may be damaged but not so with our influence. We should sit down with Russia to find out what they want/need. I expect Putin’s support of al-Assad is primarily (and appropriately) driven by what would follow his downfall under the present circumstances. Finding common ground with Russia and perhaps inviting a neutral country with credibility among Muslims (like Malaysia or Indonesia) to mediate a diplomatic solution with Al-Assad – these would go a long way towards a possible solution and even if such effort fails, at least we are demonstrating to the world that we are not the dangerous “shoot first and ask question later” superpower that we are presently perceived to be by so many.


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