Rationally Speaking

A monthly e-column by Massimo Pigliucci
Department of Botany, University of Tennessee

N. 47, March 2004

Open letter to Colin Powell

Dear Mr. Powell,

Like most Americans of either political persuasion, I think you are a fundamentally decent person, principled, and honest. Heck, I would have liked to see you as the first American Vice President with a Democratic ticket (this country apparently isn’t ready for a black or a woman President, though many other democracies have jumped through at least the latter hoop on the long road to civilization).

It is therefore with sincere hope that I ask you to formally resign from the Bush administration before the upcoming elections. That, of course, would help the American people put in perspective a President who ran a campaign as a “compassionate conservative,” only to clearly demonstrate that he is neither (he is not treating gays or Haitians with compassion, and the ballooning deficit that he created makes it clear that he sure ain’t fiscally conservative).

The fundamental reason for you to resign is because you are a decent man, and resignation at this point is the only decent thing to do. Mr. Powell, most Americans believed you when you went to the United Nations, sticking your neck way out in order to substantiate Bush’s case that Iraq was a clear and present danger to the US, that Saddam Hussein was building an arsenal of nuclear and biological weapons (you know, nothing compared to what the US already has, but that’s another matter...), and that he was also somehow connected with Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda operations.

A year after the beginning of the war we know beyond reasonable doubt that Iraq was not a direct threat to the United States, for the simple fact that there are no detectable amounts of weapons of mass destruction on Iraqi territory. Moreover, it is true that Al Qaeda is now connected to Iraq, but it is the American invasion and the fall of Hussein that has created that connection, in yet another example of alleged good intentions gone bad in American international policy (other examples include the funding and political backing of both Osama and Saddam, when it was convenient to do so against the Soviet and Iranian threats respectively -- I particularly like that photo of Don Rumsfeld shaking hands with Hussein, back in 1983).

Of course, intelligent observers did have serious doubts about your show at the United Nations to begin with. I mean, simply pointing to fuzzy dots on a satellite image and saying “see? Here, this is a chemical weapons factory!” did seem a bit far fetched even then. I, for one, didn’t believe you for a second. But there was your perceived honesty and integrity that did leave some reasonable doubt that you could be, after all, right.

Well, you were not, and it seems to me that the only decent thing to do at this point -- if you really are as honest and deserving of respect as I still think you may be -- is to admit that you and Bush were wrong, and leave the latter to face the consequences.

Yes, I know, you have been saying that surely no decent person can regret the departure of Hussein and the liberation of Iraq. I completely agree on the first point, though the second one will depend greatly on what will happen there during the next few months (you don’t really think that an Iran-style theocracy would be an improvement, do you? And yet, at the moment that seems the most likely outcome of upcoming democratic elections).

But that wasn’t why you and Bush (and Cheney, and Rumsfeld, and the rest of that fine gang) advocated war. If it were a matter of loosing American lives and jeopardizing American international prestige in order to liberate oppressed people, why start with Iraq? Pakistan or North Korea would have made much worthier targets, especially considering that we know they have nuclear capability. Not to mention other countries, such as Saudi Arabia (remember that Bin Ladin and most of his followers come from there, not from Iraq?), or Iran (look at what sham the “democratic” elections have been there very recently).

No, what you said to the world that fateful day at the United Nations was that the reason for the US to invade Iraq was that Hussein was working toward developing the capacity for direct nuclear strike on America. He wasn’t, you were wrong, and honest people of integrity admit their mistakes and try to amend the consequences, if possible. It is the decent thing to do, Mr. Powell.

Hopefully Yours,

Massimo Pigliucci

© by Massimo Pigliucci, 2004