Colin Powell will be best remembered for the act he most regretted, his 2003 presentation to the UN Security Council exposing US evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be non-existent.
This did not directly lead to the invasion of Iraq because George W Bush was going to invade anyway, and the presentation failed to convince the council to pass a second resolution supporting military action against it. ‘Iraq.
But Powell’s speech marked a watershed moment in undermining the credibility of the United States on the world stage – all the more so due to the then Secretary of State’s repeated insistence that his claims were based on solid information.
“Colleagues, every statement I make today is supported by sources, solid sources,” he said in the now infamous February 5, 2003 briefing. “These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid information.
To get the point across, Powell played a recording of an intercepted conversation between Iraqi Army officers about a UN weapons inspection and displayed illustrations of alleged ADM equipment. to convey the urgency of the threat. But the description of the recorded conversation had been embellished to make it more incriminating, and the illustrations had popped into the imagination of Iraqi defectors telling the Bush administration what they wanted to hear.
Two years later, out of government, Powell described the speech as “a stain” on his career.
“I am the one who introduced it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be part of my record, ”Powell told ABC News.“ It was painful. It’s painful now.
The allies and rivals of the United States would later be alarmed by Donald Trump’s intemperate posture at the UN, for example by his terrible threats against North Korea in 2017. But it was the rhetoric that preludes the assiduous court of Trump to Kim Jong-un. Powell’s presentation was presented as a sober litany of facts, and it was a prelude to war.
“Powell’s speech on Iraq marked a turning point in US relations with the UN. I don’t think Washington’s credibility at the UN has ever fully recovered from the war in Iraq and the false allegations of weapons of mass destruction, ”said Richard Gowan, UN director at International Crisis Group.
“Obviously, Obama rebuilt the credibility of the United States at the UN to a large extent, and Trump trashed it. Now Biden is in reconstruction mode again, but non-Western diplomats are still citing Iraq as proof that you can’t quite trust the United States at the UN. This became the original sin of US-UN relations, and in all fairness, Powell admitted it after the event.
Powell has been exploited by the Bush White House for his credibility among diplomats around the world and his reputation for prudence, and he has been widely misled. He was told, for example, that his speech was prepared by the National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice, but was in fact written by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, who led the prosecution in intimidating CIA analysts into presenting evidence and when that failed, circling the CIA completely.
Powell only had four days to prepare for the speech, but upon entering the security council chamber he said he felt confident. The main allegations regarding biological warfare vans and chemical weapons were in the President’s State of the Union address, and he asked the CIA to sift through the text by throwing in “a lot of things that don’t.” were not dual or triple source ”. He had the director of central intelligence, George Tenet, sit behind him in the field of view of the cameras, when he sat in front of the council.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later that the CIA admitted that the main pillars of its business were “crumbling.”
“There were people in the intelligence community who knew at the time that some of these sources were not good, and should not be relied on, and they did not speak. It devastated me, ”Powell said in his 2005 ABC interview.
Powell, however, made the decision to believe the CIA about the State Department’s own Office of Intelligence and Research (INR), which submitted two intelligence reports before the speech questioning the strength of the evidence.
Asked about Powell’s decision to ignore the INR findings, one of its senior analysts, Greg Thielmann, told CBS News, 60 Minutes: “I can only assume he was doing it. to loyally support the President of the United States and build the strongest arguments for asserting that there is no alternative to the use of military force.
The speech did not provoke the war in Iraq, which had already been planned by the time Powell entered the chamber, but aside from the impact on the credibility of the United States, he made his own particular contribution in the downward trajectory of the Middle East.
In part of the speech, Powell referred 21 times to a Jordan-born jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in an attempt to prove a link between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein. According to an investigation by PBS’s Frontline show, this helped raise Zarqawi’s profile and gave the hitherto obscure activist a mass audience, paving the way for the organization that would become Isis.