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A Peek Inside Colin Powell’s Personal Diary

If I jump now, with Karen Hughes just having left and with Democratic darts starting to hit the Administration’s weak spots, it’ll look bad. Like I’m deserting a ship that’s started leaking badly.

Plus, people will think I’m doing it out of ambition, not wanting to be too tarnished by all the Bush administration’s scandals, those already out there and others yet to be revealed. (I’m mostly kept out of the loop, but I suspect many of those transgressions are on the other side of the moral, and probably legal, fence.)

Sure I want to be President — even Bush and Cheney know that, which helps explain why all the behind-the-scenes dissing of me and the State Department — but I also enjoy feeling that I’m helpful in the world, often just by throwing cold water on some of the Wolfpack’s most outrageous proposals. That Wolfowitz is like a dog on a bone in his determination that the U.S. dominate the globe; I think he should be checked out for rabies.

I’m tolerated. I speak my mind about drugs and sex and poverty, and sometimes even about war policy — though I have to move real carefully here — and they don’t get rid of me. I’m their token, in a great many ways. See, we have an all-inclusive, diverse Cabinet — look there’s Colin Powell. See him? He’s black. And he’s even liberal. Ergo, the Administration can’t be all bad. (I’m sure no liberal; I just look that way when measured against rightwing zealots like Ashcroft and Wolfowitz and DeLay. And I resemble a flaming intellectual when measured against our fearless leader, who knows how to mouth the right phrases and read speeches.)

I’m here partially because of my ties to Poppy and my contacts around the world — I’m regarded as trustworthy by many international leaders — but mainly I’m here for window-dressing and moral cover. And to keep me on the inside, busy and somewhat muzzled, so I can’t become head of a GOP opposition movement. I know all that, and they know I know. It’s just the complex po litical dance you have to dance, in order to be in a position to do some good — or, in the case of this administration, to help stop some of the bad. But I have to choose my fights judiciously, or I won’t have any clout.

But it’s getting harder and harder to swallow a good share of the Administration’s line. These guys — who, of course, found convenient ways to escape serving in the military, from Bush to Cheney to DeLay and so on — are preparing for “permanent war.” It’s insane. They figure with no other country to challenge the U.S. superpower, they might as well go take it all. Sure, we could take it, but then what do we have? A return to the Roman Empire, with our armies having to control everything thousands of miles from home, in a world that would resent and hate and attack us all the more, and nonstep dissent at home. (The most depressing thing about all this is that the Democrats in Congress haven’t even called for a debate on attacking Iraq is a good idea, and what the ramifications might be. They’re so scared of looking “unpatriotic” that they’ve become unpatriotic by remaining silent.)

Too many of our top officials have no military, or political, understanding of the complexities involved, just a desire to grab $ome while the getting is good. I believe in greed, too, as a positive motivating force — but within some reasonable limits. These guys, and their corporate backers, can’t see beyond their bank accounts. I keep trying to tell them that they can have a good share, and help others get a good share too — thus bringing more consumers on line to buy stuff the corporations make — but they just smile at me, like I’m a weak-brained kook or something.

The topper for me was my feeling of being hung-out-to-dry during my most recent Middle East mission. My God, I had to pretend that we weren’t giving carte blanche to Sharon’s — I almost said Sherman’s — military campaign to wipe out the Palestinian Authority’s infrastructure and political network. Come on! They had me galivanting all over the globe for nearly a week before finally permitting me to make my way to the Holy Land. Meanwhile, Bush is “ordering” Sharon to withdraw his troops immediately — wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean? I coulda been killed hanging out there like that, twisting in the wind.

The Arab leaders are even more scared of Sharon than we pretend to be. None are going to risk irritating the guy, for fear he’ll attack them and destroy them, probably in two days, without even having to use their nukes. But the Arabs sure made it clear that unless the U.S. acts forcefully to solve the Israel/Palestine puzzle, we’re putting our credibility and political capital on the line in their area of the world. And nobody is going to even think about helping us attack Iraq — as much as they want Saddam to be eliminated — until the Palestinian issue is taken care of, once and for all.

I must say that I understand a little bit what George Mitchell must have gone through in Northern Ireland. But those two sides had battled each other “only” for 800 years; we’re talking, in a sense, thousands of years here. And it ain’t gonna be easy. Sharon and Arafat, by this time, are like two crazed animals, pawing the earth, seeing nothing but the other guy about to strike and, at this point, wanting nothing but victory, total domination. Sharon thinks he can bludgeon his way into a Greater Israel, Arafat thinks he can suicide-bomb his way into a Greater Palestine. They’re both starkers.

If we ever get to genuine peace talks — and it may not happen in my lifetime, another reason to consider getting out, before I’m slapped with the image of a big-time loser — we’ll probably spend months talking about the correct shape of the negotiating table. The best possible scenario would be — God, I hope nobody ever finds this diary! — for both of them to die in their sleep, with more reasonable leaders emerging to finish the job of devising a treaty and modus vivendi.

Well, got to end this now. More meetings, more troubleshooting in the Mideast — the Saudi plan is moving again: Arafat may want to sign something while he buys time to rebuild his political and military structure, Sharon wants to find new ways to move away from a possible Palestinian state. I’m going to find myself buried in this Administration, which has its eyes only on attacking Iraq and global control. I gotta get out of here, soon.

Bernard Weiner, a playwright and poet, was the San Francisco Chronicle’s theater critic for nearly 20 years. A Ph.D. in government and international relations, he has taught at various universities, and has published in The Nation, Village Voice, The Progressive and widely on the internet.

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BERNARD WEINER, Ph.D., is co-editor of The Crisis Papers, has taught at various universities, and was a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years.

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