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Neck Deep, the Real Colin Powell, Selling Himself Again

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For a day-long “Get Motivated” seminar at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 6, Powell got star billing for a show also boasting names like Zig Ziglar, Steve Forbes, Robert Schuller and Sugar Ray Leonard. Admission price at the door was $225.

According to a full-page Washington Post ad, Powell was to address the audience about “Take-Charge Leadership,” including advice on “how to remain focused in crisis” and “how to forge winning alliances,” plus “keys to creating diplomatic solutions.”

The ad touted Powell as a “legendary soldier-statesman” and “one of the most distinguished and admired men in America.”

Yet, given Powell’s role in marketing the Iraq War through a deceptive speech at the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, one might have thought that a chastened Powell would be devoting his skills and energy to stopping the carnage he helped start.

But to expect that would be mis-reading who Colin Powell really is. He was always less a true leader and patriot than a carefully crafted image of leadership and patriotism.

During his years in public life – from his early days in the Vietnam War (when he helped cover up the My Lai massacre) through his bureaucratic strivings in the Reagan-Bush era (when he pulled strings to ship U.S. missiles to Iran in the Iran-Contra scandal) to his stardom as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as Secretary of State – his career came first.

By striking alliances with powerful Republicans and cultivating Washington’s media elite, Powell emerged as the prototypical “water-walker,” protected from the rules of political physics that pull down most other government officials.

Powell personified how perception in modern Washington had come to overwhelm reality.

In our new book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, we devote a full chapter to the real Colin Powell, a mini-biography examining the key moments of his rise to fame and fortune, from Vietnam through Iran-Contra to the Persian Gulf wars.

If the American people had been clued in on this real Colin Powell before February 2003, they at least might have listened to his U.N. speech with a healthy dose of skepticism. There might have been a few tough questions posed to the smooth-talking general.

Instead, Powell traded on his glittering reputation to sell the American people the fool’s gold of the Iraq invasion. Now, as U.S. soldiers and Iraqis continue to die in a war that he helped make possible, Powell has resumed profiteering off his celebrity and his “government service.”

As amazing as it may seem, some people even are paying good money to hear Colin Powell expound on his experience in forging “winning alliances” and “creating diplomatic solutions.”

None of this crass careerism would surprise you if you had read the chapter in Neck Deep on Colin Powell's real history.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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