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Colin Powell Writes to Gen. David Petraeus

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Dear David,

This letter is not for publication, and my motivation is not political. I'm writing to you not out of concern for establishing the best policy in Iraq but out of personal concern for your well being. So, please accept my unsolicited advice as it is intended: purely for your sake. But I would ask you not to share this correspondence with anyone.

The presentation I made at the United Nations making the case for an invasion of Iraq was the worst mistake I have ever made. I don't, of course, mean that my beliefs about weapons in Iraq proved false or that the occupation of Iraq proved problematic. I mean that I did not heed the warnings of my staff. They urged me on point after point that the UN inspectors and those informed of the facts would not find my claims to be even plausible, much less convincing. And in my heart, David, I can tell you that I knew they were right, and that the claims I made were not plausible. It may have taken some time for Americans to realize that, but let me assure you: they have realized it. I am no longer respected by the average American. Do you know what that means?

I've been a good soldier and worked within the system to get ahead, but my goal was to do good and to be respected. I tossed out doing good in favor of being respected, and I ended up being despised. And nothing I can say or do will ever change that. I will forever be known as a man who lied, and who lied on behalf of someone else's agenda. Were that not so, I would very likely have been given the assignment that you now have.

These are one-time assignments. You can only throw away your reputation once. After that, you can never build it back in order to throw it away again. I know that you think otherwise. I know that the deception you perpetrated last September has not destroyed you. But this one will, David. I tell you this for your own good. And in the histories of this period to be written not so many years from now, your two presentations will be merged and blurred, and what you said in selling the surge will be remembered as having destroyed you.

And that's if we're lucky. That's if your push for an attack on Iran doesn't pull the pin on a grenade that takes us all out. It will take you out first. If you argue for an attack on Iran, you will witness the transformation of spineless senators and congress members into vertebrates, and you will be humiliated then and there by their grilling. Are you prepared for that? And if you merely try to claim, in opposition to the well-known facts, that the surge has succeeded and that therefore we should behave as if it has not and keep the occupation going, you will in the end be ruined.

You have not yet adapted to the adulation of fame. Let me tell you this: you will never adapt to the scorn and contempt that your face will elicit from random members of the public. I know that I never will. I am warning you for your own good. Please heed my advice as one who has made the wrong decision and paid a price worse than death for it. Do not promote the continued occupation of Iraq and do not argue for an attack on Iran.

Instead, I think you should consider the possibility of telling the truth about the current situation in Iraq. If you did that, your name and the words "White House" would be in the same sentence within hours. I urge you to give the matter deep private thought. Look back on what you will have done as if from your death bed. Consider the decades of admiration or humiliation that lie in the balance. Do the right thing for yourself and for all of us. Speak for yourself. Speak the truth.

Your friend, Colin Powell.









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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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