Whatever Happened to the Powell Doctrine?

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Ms. Rosen is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and former Professor of History at the University of California Davis.

Secretary of State Colin Powell must feel at war with his own doctrine.

As the United States, Britain and Spain introduced a new draft U. N. Security Council resolution which laid the political and legal groundwork for a U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq, we couldn't help but wonder: Whatever happened to the Powell Doctrine?

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In the aftermath of his military experience in Vietnam, Colin Powell decided that his country should never again be caught in a military quagmire. In the early 1990s, he developed "The Powell Doctrine," a set of criteria to determine when military force should be used: As a last resort, with strong public support and only if there is a well-defined national interest at stake. And it should be executed with overwhelming force and a clear exit strategy.

The impending war in Iraq, however, arguably meets only one criterion of the Powell Doctrine.

Weapons inspectors have just begun their work, which is why France, Russia and China argue that war is not yet a last resort.

Public support for a war in Iraq is hardly strong. In the most recent New York Times/CBS News poll, while a majority of Americans support the use of force as an option, 59 percent want to give the United Nations and weapons inspectors more time.

The divided opinion reflects the lack of a well-defined national interest in going to war now. The Bush administration has tried to portray a pre-emptive war against Iraq as essential to the war on terrorism, but the evidence of "links" between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda is highly questionable.

Some critics suggest the real U.S. motive is access to oil. As early as 1980, President Carter, in referring to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, declared, "An attempt by an outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."

But, if oil is the reason for war, Bush has not been willing to acknowledge it. As the Powell Doctrine asserts, the rationale for war should be forthright and compelling.

An exit strategy is also missing. The United States now plans a military occupation of postwar Iraq, which has the makings of a long, messy, open-ended commitment.

The ability to bring overwhelming force, however, is indisputably in place. The 150,000 U.S. troops, armed with advanced weaponry, are facing an Iraqi military that is significantly weaker than the one that was routed from Kuwait in 1991.

Colin Powell, drawing on his experience and wisdom, had created a clear and compelling doctrine for the use of military force. Regrettably, Bush administration appears to be ignoring those lessons in planning for war in Iraq.

This article first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and is reprinted with permission of the author.

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Mike (the Annonymous) - 3/10/2003

This is a history website and not Rush Limbaugh. We can disagree here without being disagreeable.

Regarding you "money" paragraph I couldn't agree with it more. Lincoln was right, war is "scourge of God. We should be careful of how we use it." Regarding using force "swiftly and efficiently" and "decisively", doesn't this mirrors what Rosen said about the Powell Doctrine which is that military actions should be "executed with overwhelming force."?

Now as someone who is familiar with the Powell Doctrine, did Rosen mischaracterize it? According to her "it (military action) should be used: as a last resort, with strong public support and only if there is a well-defined national interest at stake. And it should be executed with overwhelming force and a clear exit strategy." Which parts of her characterization of the Powell Doctrine are inaccurate?

As someone who is familiar with the Powell Doctrine, if Rosen's characterization of the Powell Doctrine is accurate, do you think our actions in Iraq are consistent with the doctrine?

Chris Messner - 3/10/2003

Its good to see the defenders of the left using real names, and not sinking to name calling and innuendo (okay, sarcasm off).

"who ignored the rise of the Taliban and Osama"

Gee, Bush 41 wasn't there for this, hey this was Clinton/Gore wasn't it!!! Yes, the Clinton years did so much for improving our nation's security and standing in the world (I.e., the US became a suitable target, since we wouldn't respond seriously).

You mock the "same crew who walked away in 1991", but that crew was none other than the UN and our coalition allies, who weren't going to allow us to go further. So please go ahead and bash the UN, since we see today the same lyrics with different music.

Oh, btw, sorry, I guess I should have not used the word expelled, I supposed that Saddam sabotaged and negated the inspectors in 1998 would have been better phrasing.


Clean Up Your Messner - 3/10/2003

There seem to be a lot of old timers still hunkered down on this website - too scared maybe go to the front lines in Kuwait and die so their great heros can avoid losing the 2004 election.

"Maybe we should remain hobbled by the UN and keep the 'exit strategy' of Gulf War I, in which we let a mass murderer remain in power due to 'coalition interests" proclaims Potshot Messner.

How about: Maybe we should trust the same crew who walked away in 1991 leaving Saddam in power, who ignored the rise of the Taliban and Osama, who told us we need tax cuts and not nation-building, and who now -through their international arrogance- have managed to inspire more negative demonstrations against them than against the Iraqi mass-murderer they are obsessing on, while they continue to ignore bigger dangers from weapons of mass destruction in North Korea, Pakistan, Saudia Arabia, etc, etc...?

The issue may soon be moot, but that does not turn ineptitude into coherence, nor can it rescue Colin Powell from an inevitable historical verdict of gross hypocrisy.

Bill Heuisler - 3/9/2003

As to the Secretary of State's pronouncements, Associated Press writer Scott Lindlaw quotes Colin Powell on March 9th, 2003 at 11:43 am EST:

"People are not willing to face up to what we are willing to face up to, and that is in the case of Iraq we have a dictator who for 12 years has denied the legitimacy of the United Nations," he said. "People are talking about the United States somehow affecting the United Nations in a negative way. It is Saddam Hussein who ignored the legitimacy of the United Nations for 12 years and some 16 resolutions."

Asked whether the tide of opposition was a failure of diplomacy, Powell said the United States still enjoys "strong support from most European nations."

"It is time to take (Saddam) to account, and I regret that not all nations understand that and all peoples understand that in those nations," he said.

Ms. Rosen, your article has no connection to reality.
Bill Heuisler

Robert Williams - 3/8/2003

You ask what harm can waiting three or four more months do. Each hour we wait adds to the problem. Saddam has already vowed to do great harm to many if there is a war. What do you think he plans to do that with? He will use the weapons he says he does not have and will use your three or four months to continue that production.

Robert Williams - 3/8/2003

The article states, "Weapons inspectors have just begun their work, which is why France, Russia and China argue that war is not yet a last resort."
Inspectors began their work several years ago. They were removed from Iraq in 1998. The several resolutions of the UN in this matter date back to 1990. Let me extract from UN Resolution 1441 of Novemebr 8, 2002;

[Adopted as Resolution 1441 at Security Council meeting 4644, 8 November 2002]

The Security Council,

Recalling all its previous relevant resolutions, in particular its resolutions 661 (1990) of 6 August 1990, 678 (1990) of 29 November 1990, 686 (1991) of 2 March 1991, 687 (1991) of 3 April 1991, 688 (1991) of 5 April 1991, 707 (1991) of 15 August 1991, 715 (1991) of 11 October 1991, 986 (1995) of 14 April 1995, and 1284 (1999) of 17 December 1999, and all the relevant statements of its President,

Recalling also its resolution 1382 (2001) of 29 November 2001 and its intention to implement it fully,"

How can Ms Rosen maintain the UN inspectors have just begun their work? Unless she means they have just begun it AGAIN, and again, and again, and again.

Bill Heuisler - 3/8/2003

Anonymous "Mike" came out of his shell long enough to tell us we've not read the Powell Doctrine. Allow me to quote from the "money" paragraph from General Powell's 1992 "Doctrine" article in Foreign Affairs:

"Lincoln perceived war correctly. It is the scourge of God. We should be very careful how we use it. When we do use it, we should not be equivocal: we should win and win decisively. If our objective is something short of winning--as in our air strikes into Libya in 1986--we should see our objective clearly, then achieve it swiftly and efficiently."

Ms. Rosen and friends apparently don't read or listen. There's nothing decisive, swift or efficient about twelve years of lies, material breaches, ended inspections and resumed inspections. General Colin Powell is W's Secretary of State. Listen to his recent pronouncements on Iraq. He is convinced of the need to carry out the objectives of his doctrine now. Yes, now.

But Ruth Rosen and Harry Belefonte must figure he's shuckin' and jivin'for the white folks. Left-Racism is odd isn't it? They apparently believe Black Americans like Colin Powell can only be in control and excel when they conform to Leftist cant.
Bill Heuisler

mike - 3/8/2003

This is a great article. Its too bad that most of the comments in response to this article do not address the subject of the article, which is a comparison between the Bush administration's actions in Iraq and the Powell Doctrine. Regardless of whether you think inspections work or don't work, I think anyone reading this article will have to agree that there is an inconsistency between Bush's actions in Iraq and the Powell Doctrine. How come the media (with the exception of Ms Rosen) is ignoring this?

Gus Moner - 3/7/2003

Mr Heuisler,

I would add here that it’s not about defending a “murderous dictator.” No one seems too keen on the Iraqi leader.

People are defending a process and a system they believe in when they say give this new effort to disarm a fair chance. What harm can a 3-4 month wait do now given the level of control? In the end, if Iraq meets not the criteria required to measure disarmament, it will have its war. The US will not be blamed and may come out looking rather good.

It’s here an now, it’s a new opportunity. It’s not the same old story, at least yet. It’s better than sure war! We are supposed to be disarming Iraq. If we are out for the regime change and oil, let’s get THAT out in the open. All the excuses foe war sound real flaky to me, rush before they actually disarm! If they disarm, where’s the excuse to attack? So, if you say time is up when the process of disarmament is underway, it’s a bit of a sham.

Rafael - 3/7/2003

Here we go again! Everybody reads what they want and impute to the writer whatever their prejudices and imagination want. Your post just confirms that very nicely.

I just have one question for you: When have I defended Saddam?
I know perfectly well where my loyalties are, and they are not with Saddam to be sure.

I don't want to dance with you, much less on the head of a pin, but I feel flattered that you ask for my name. Do you go around asking everybody in these forums for their full name? Or is that you just happen to be specially attracted to me?

Bill Heuisler - 3/5/2003

First of all, if we're going to dance, have the courtesy to use your complete name. Second, I'm a little tired of thin-skinned defenders of Saddam's expedient niceties. You ask plaintively,
"And why is it that every time somebody points out one of these innacuracies or distortions of the facts, they are accused of supporting the opposite side of the argument?"

Let me explain why so many people are annoyed when other people dance on the head of a pin to defend a murderous dictator. Even after you read the UN explanation you say "Saddam did NOT expel the inspectors". He DID imprison them in their camps. He DID make inspections impossible. He DID threaten the safety of inspectors if they persisted. And he DID attempt extortion by blackmail of two members of the inspection team. He made it impossible for them to stay in Iraq. "Expelled" or forced out?

Last, it's difficult to discuss politics with some one who doesn't know where his loyalties lie. You said, "...helping the other side (whatever that side is)...". Well I'm against Saddam.
If you want to defend Saddam on a technicality, be prepared for slings and arrows...and please don't whine.
Bill Heuisler

Rafael - 3/5/2003

I think Saddam is way beyond "nasty and uncooperative," so I'm not trying to find excuses for him. The guy is an SOB.

But I think that in all these debates people should be very careful about the the things they state as facts. There are lots of good facts that can be used to show how nasty Saddam is, so I dont's see why we need to recurr to semi-truths or "technical innacuracies" and even lies to support the allegations. The use of innacurate information detracts from the quality of the arguments, even if the innacuracies can be just "technicalities." If you need innacuracies and half-truths to discuss the issues and support your points, the overall strength and credibility of your argument is severely compromised.

The fact is that Saddam did NOT expel the inspectors, but, as you point out, that he didn't allow them back after they had been withdrawn. That's the truth, not a cover-up or an excuse for anything Saddam does. If you want to attack Saddam on this point then be accurate and say that he didn't allow the inspectors back in. Why is this so hard?

And why is it that every time somebody points out one of these innacuracies or distortions of the facts, they are accused of supporting the opposite side of the argument? The ones that are responsible for weakinening the arguments and helping the other side (whatever that side is) are those that use innacurate and distorted facts to support their opinions.

Unfortunately, there are too many manipulations and distortions of the facts. The sad part of this is that even journalists, whose jobs is to report on the facts, don't do their homework properly and are the first ones to propagate all sorts of distorted information, which is then very difficult to correct.

Bill Heuisler - 3/4/2003

Hey Rafael,
Are you saying Saddam is not "nasty and uncooperative"? Expelled is not technically correct, okay, but UNSCOM were forbidden to leave their base camps - forbidden to inspect in 1998.

Look up S/res/1037 below on the U. N. web site
"Note by Secretary General U.N. S/res/1037 8 October, 1999...

"2. As noted in previous reports, under the terms of resolutions 1115 (1997) and 1134 (1997), the Executive Chairman is requested to include in his consolidated progress reports an annex evaluating Iraq's compliance with paragraphs 2 and 3 of resolution 1115 (1997). As the Security Council is aware, the Commission's personnel in Iraq were withdrawn in December 1998 and have not been permitted to return to Iraq and conduct inspections since that time. Nor has Iraq provided the Commission with declarations and notifications required of it under relevant Council resolutions."

"...withdrawn...have not been permitted to return..."

Rafael, the UN inspection teams were removed after the Iraqi dictator refused to allow UNSCOM to do its job in 1998. Your point about a "lie" becomes less a point than a cover-up for Saddam's restrictions of inspectors and his refusal to allow them to fulfill the U.N. mandate under the Cease Fire Agreement.
So, what is your point?
Bill Heuisler

Rafael - 3/4/2003

Just to set the record straight:
Iraq did NOT expel the inspectors in 1998, that's a lie that has become so widespread it's difficult to avoid. Even US government officials use this lie sometimes to "demonstrate" how nasty and uncooperative Saddam is.
The inspectors were removed from Iraq at the US's request because the US was going to throw some bombs at Saddam at that time.

Chris Messner - 3/4/2003

A few points:

"Weapons inspectors have just begun their work"

No, weapons inspectors began in 1991, and spent 7 years on a fool's errand before Saddam threw them out. Not until the overwhelming force began to be assembled were the grudgingly allowed back. And even Mr. Blix is having a hard time softening the non-cooperation of the Iraqis enough to buttress France, China, Germany and Russia.

"Some critics suggest the real U.S. motive is access to oil"

And yet 'some critics' have not proved this, especially considering that Saddam would be more than happy to cut a cheap deal with us to end the whole thing and stay in power. But of course we all know the oil benefits we got from Gulf War I and Kosovo, right?

"An exit strategy is also missing. The United States now plans a military occupation of postwar Iraq, which has the makings of a long, messy, open-ended commitment."

Gee, sounds a lot like the Marshall Plan in Europe and rebuilding Japan, probably the finest examples of promoting democracy and freedom to exist in world history. Not that it will happen, but we certainly could do worse (for example the various Vietnamese puppets we supported and toppled in Vietnam).

Maybe we should remain hobbled by the UN and keep the 'exit strategy' of Gulf War I, in which we let a mass murderer remain in power due to 'coalition interests" and allowed tens of 1000's more to be tortured, raped, executed, and allowed Saddam to starve his poeple's children while blaming the evil US for sanctions (as oil for food money was used to build his numerous palaces).