In his first extensive interview since his resignation early this year, Powell told ABC News that his reputation has suffered because his assurances about Iraqs supposed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons proved false.
Its a blot, Powell said. Im the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. Its painful now.
As Powell stressed his own pain, the interview with ABCs Barbara Walters took on the feel of a celebrity trying to refurbish a tarnished image by blaming subordinates, rather than a leader taking responsibility for actions that have contributed to the deaths of about 1,900 American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis.
The interview also fit with Powells long history of positioning himself with a keen eye for public relations. Indeed, some Powell critics could view the ABC interview as just the latest example of Powells endless opportunism. [See below.]
Powells dramatic speech to the UN on Feb. 5, 2003, asserted that the United States had unequivocal evidence of Iraqs secret possession of weapons of mass destruction. Showing graphics of alleged mobile WMD labs and quoting supposedly incriminating intercepts of Iraqi officials, Powell cast himself as a modern-day Adlai Stevenson, the American UN ambassador who presented evidence of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962.
Within hours of Powells speech, whatever shreds of doubt existed among elite American opinion circles about Iraqs WMD disappeared. Powells speech was hailed on op-ed pages and TV opinion shows with nary a word of skepticism. Because of Powells reputation as a respected general, public support for invading Iraq solidified.
In the ABC interview, Powell also defended former CIA director Tenet, who worked with Powell in preparing the UN speech.
George Tenet did not sit there for five days with me misleading me, Powell said about the period for writing the speech. He believed what he was giving to me was accurate.
The blame, Powell said, should fall on lower-level intelligence analysts.
The intelligence system did not work well, Powell said. There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good, and shouldnt be relied upon, and they didnt speak up. That devastated me.
After the ABC interview, one former CIA analyst called me, irate that Powell was fingering intelligence analysts for blame when the reality was that analysts faced bullying and bureaucratic retribution when they did question the administrations case for war in 2002 and 2003. Now Powell was making these intimidated analysts into the culprits.
In Powells interview/makeover, he did admit to being a reluctant warrior, adding I dont resent the term. I admire the term. Powell also confessed to being loyal and steadfast. Loyalty is a trait that I value, and yes, I am loyal, he said. Im not a quitter. When the going got rough, you dont walk out.
Discussing the current situation in Iraq, Powell even sounded a bit like George W. Bush claiming that no one had anticipated the breach of the New Orleans levees. Who knew what the whole mess was going to be like? Powell said about Iraq.