The story of a good soldier sacrificed.
Colin Powell, Washington Post associate editor DeYoung shows, fought many times against being the odd man out. In the Army, he was from the start a consistently superior, even model officer, rebuking the widespread racism within that supposedly integrated institution. He disappointed himself only when he did not do as well as he thought he could; when he graduated from Command and General Staff College second in his class, for example, he blamed it on a final exam question that he answered by recommending “a tactical defense, withholding a counterattack until there was more information about the enemy’s strength and position.” In this moment from 1968 can be discerned the seed of the Powell Doctrine. He distilled the lesson onto an index card: “Avoid Conservatism.” Serving as Reagan’s national security advisor in the wake of the Iran-Contra imbroglio, Powell learned firsthand the war that is Washington, and even though a comrade characterized him as not a warrior but a mediator, Powell proved a good fighter, not without large ambitions though “more politic…than political.” Alas, the old soldier fell in with a bad lot in the Bush crowd, and though he was Bush’s first Cabinet appointee, he found himself immediately shut out of policy discussions dominated by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who spoiled for war with Iraq even before 9/11, even as Powell associates issued white papers bearing titles such as “Planning for a Self-Inflicted Wound.” Unceremoniously fired although the most popular member of the Bush administration, Powell agonized about having delivered to the United Nations assurances about WMDs that turned out to be lies. “I’m the guy who will always be known as the ‘Powell Briefing,’” he lamented, too late.
By DeYoung’s account, Powell should have revised his index card to read, “Avoid Neoconservatism.” An excellent study in leadership—and the lack thereof.