" ... Although Powell's attempt to cover up the [My Lai] massacre was unsuccessful, he had at least proven his willingness to do what was necessary to please his bosses. ... "
Colin Powell: Not the Man You Think
By Tom Ashworth and Ted Sampley
U.S, Veteran Dispatch
October/November 1995 Issue
Wherever he goes, people hail Colin Powell as the four-star general who masterminded the lopsided U.S. victory over Saddam Hussein. Some say Powell is an icon and compare him to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many view him as a serious contender for the Presidency of the United States. Powell is no icon and he is certainly not an Eisenhower. His "monumental victory" in the Persian Gulf is a myth.
Yes, on the surface, Powell's Gulf War strategy appears to have been brilliant. With the support of a 30 country coalition and untold billions of dollars, Powell organized half a million U.S. personnel and with almost no causalities gunned down tens of thousands of Saddam's Iraqi invaders. His armies then easily drove what was left of Saddam's army out of Kuwait.
So, if Powell's strategy was so brilliant, why has Saddam Hussein outlasted Bush and why is Saddam the head of a formidable army that is still threatening Kuwait? The reality of Powell's hollow victory rushes straight to the surface with the simple fact that the Gulf War ended inconclusively. Why didn't Powell, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, insist that President Bush demand the unconditional surrender and total destruction of Saddam's military capability? Just imagine what the state of the world would be today if Eisenhower had agreed to stop the war against Hitler after the Nazis were forced out of Western Europe during WWII.
Where was the great "icon" when Secretary of Defense Les Aspen was refusing to send a handful of tanks to protect American forces in Somalia for fear of negative political spin in Congress?
Why did Powell and his deputies refrain from publicly expressing any concern or outrage about Aspen's deadly political decision that resulted in the decimation of a U.S. ranger company and elite Delta Force operatives? The answer is in a Senate Armed Services Committee report into the incident. The report criticized Powell and his staff for bending to political pressure by making a decision against sending AC-130 gunships to support the American troops.
An October 30, 1995 political poll revealed that Powell would vault ahead of Republican presidential front runner Senator Robert Dole should the retired general decide to run for president. Behind the scenes, former President George Bush is privately cheerleading for the man he appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Political power brokers and mentors of Powell, such as Frank Carlucci, Casper Weinberger and Richard Armitage, are also lending their influential support. The all-powerful Establishment media has effectively blown a blizzard of free publicity to the man many in Washington consider "the insider's insider." Couple that with Powell's uncanny ability to attract supporters largely unaware of his fundamental viewpoints and his true history as a military officer and it becomes apparent just how formidable a Powell presidential candidacy could be.
Consequently, all voters should take a closer look at the man who could be chosen to lead our country into the 21st century - a man one Washington observer likened to a thoroughbred horse about to be entered into a race for which he has been skillfully groomed.
As an Army officer, Powell's superiors considered him a consummate "team player." They could count on Powell to haul their water despite any contradictory feelings he may have had. Powell's blind loyalty was demonstrated during a second tour in Vietnam (1968-1969), where as deputy assistant chief of staff for operations G-3 at Americal Division headquarters in Chu Lai, he was asked to handle a potentially embarrassing letter a young soldier had written to Gen. Creighton Abrams, commander of all U.S. forces in Vietnam.
The soldier had written about rumors of a massacre that Americal Division soldiers had committed in the hamlet of My Lai 4 in South Vietnam. Although he did not mention My Lai in the letter, the soldier complained that Americal soldiers were indiscriminately killing Vietnamese civilians. Such acts, the young soldier warned, "are carried on at entire unit levels and thereby acquire the aspect of sanctioned policy."
Several days after he received a copy of the letter, Powell sent a memo to his superior, the adjutant general, making the outrageous claim that the young soldier had not given enough specifics upon which to base an inquiry. The purposely blind Powell said the soldier's charges were false except for "isolated instances." He wrote that "relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese are excellent." Powell's damage control efforts soon proved fruitless and the My Lai massacre burst onto the world stage like an atomic explosion, severely damaging the U.S. war effort in Vietnam. On the orders of Lt. William Calley, soldiers from the U.S. Army Americal Division had indeed indiscriminantly gunned down an entire village of men, women and children.
Although Powell's attempt to cover up the massacre was unsuccessful, he had at least proven his willingness to do what was necessary to please his bosses. For his two tours of duty in Vietnam, Powell, who was never exposed to serious combat, was awarded the Purple Heart for a minor foot wound he received after stepping on a "punji stick." He was later awarded a Bronze Star for heroism and the Soldiers Medal for pulling two men free from a non-combat related helicopter crash.
After returning from Vietnam, the ambitious young officer attended George Washington University, courtesy of the Army, and received an MBA degree. A year later, in 1972, Powell was one of 17 persons hand picked by Washington insiders from more than 1,500 military and civilian applicants for White House fellowships. He was assigned to work for Frank Carlucci, who was at that time deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Casper Weinberger, budget director. The two became Powell's champions in Washington's power circles.
Powell was just beginning to earn his degree in political treachery studying under Carlucci and Weinberger when President Richard Nixon made a politically convenient decision to ignore high level intelligence which told of large numbers of American prisoners of war being held back as hostages by the communist Vietnamese and their Laotian puppets after the war ended. Nixon's decision to declare all "missing" Americans dead caused a controversy which has plagued Washington decision makers to this day.
From his first days in Washington, Powell spent the majority of his military service working as an aide to his mentors. He rose rapidly through the military ranks, carefully getting his "ticket punched" with the right assignments and making the right contacts. He became a thoroughbred Washington insider in a military uniform.
In 1977, during the Carter administration, Powell, now on the fast track, was made full colonel and senior military aide to Defense Secretary Harold Brown's special assistant, attorney John Kester. Powell was transferred, in 1979, to the Department of Energy, where he served as the assistant to the secretary. Later that year, he was transferred back to the Pentagon to serve as the senior military assistant to the secretary of defense until 1981.
Soon after, Powell's handlers moved him again, assigning him for another brief tour in a real military unit as the assistant division commander of the 4th Infantry Division. Early in the Reagan administration, Powell was recalled to the Pentagon as top military aide to his mentors, the new deputy defense secretary, Carlucci, and later to the secretary, Weinberger. Carlucci, Weinberger and Richard Armitage (then assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs), are said to have given Powell his advanced degree in political manipulation, deceit and treachery.
Armitage, who Powell now claims is his best friend, has been linked by various news reports to CIA sanctioned arms and drug trafficking during the mid-'70s while working for a U.S. government agency based in Bangkok, Thailand. And, that's not all. Syndicated columnist, Jack Anderson, reported in the Mar. 13, 1986 issue of the Washington Post that the President's Commission on Organized Crime had questioned Armitage about his relationship with a Vietnamese refugee who was convicted in 1985 of running a major gambling operation in Arlington, Va.
Armitage had written a letter on official Defense Department stationary urging the Arlington County Court to "show mercy" on the refugee whom he acknowledged was a friend. Powell, the team player, sided with Armitage when these issues blew up in the press and today continues to stick by his best friend. But, Powell's damage control activities have not been limited to Armitage. He played an active role in White House damage control following the tragic loss of hundreds of marines when the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut were blown up. (Marine guards had been forced to stand guard duty with empty rifles).
Powell also helped with damage control after the U.S. government's failed attempt to kill Libya's Moammar Khadafy - a bombing raid which instead killed one of the Libyan leader's children. In January 1986, the political general again blindly obeyed his superiors and secretly transferred U.S. TOW missiles to Iran without the approval or knowledge of Congress.
Fortunately for Powell, his powerful mentors successfully camouflaged and explained away his not so insignificant role in what later became known as the Iran-Contra affair. Powell had his "ticket punched" again in June 1986 when he was temporarily given a much coveted military assignment as the commanding general of the 75,000-member 5th Corps in Frankfurt, West Germany.
After only six months of service as a real commanding general, Powell's handlers recalled him to the White House when the Iran Contra affair exploded. Reagan administration damage control experts scurried to replace the disgraced Bud McFarlane giving the job to the trusted Carlucci.
As he had done in the past, Carlucci summoned Powell to his side, naming him deputy national security advisor. During this assignment, the political general was involved in a secret telephone conversation with a senior aide to Vice President George Bush that reeked of treason. The call, concerning an effort Ross Perot was making to attain the release of live American prisoners of war believed to be held by the communists in Indochina, was documented and will darken the name of Colin Powell throughout the ages.
According to a declassified memorandum detailing the call, at 3:40 pm on March 21, 1987, Powell became engaged in the conversation during which the Bush aide asked Powell to check out certain details pertaining to the Perot effort. Powell said he would call back. The memorandum, which was written by the Bush aide, shows that Powell called back at 3:55 pm and reported that the Vietnamese communists had not been cooperating with the U.S. government on the POW/MIA issue for "the last few months."
According to Powell, the Vietnamese apparently believed that there was "a 'bigger deal' coming soon who will be bearing gifts and so our people [the U.S. Government] have been stiffed." Undoubtedly, that statement refers to Perot and the positive reaction of the Vietnamese to his attempt to secure the release of live American prisoners of war.
The memorandum continued to quote Powell saying, "We still believe it is not wise for Ross to go . . . after 14 years they [the Vietnamese] have denied live Americans . . . if they were to produce live people, can you imagine what will be asked for?" Apparently the potential political and economic cost of recovering living American prisoners was considered too high. The abandoned Americans were to be allowed to quietly die in the communist prisons of Southeast Asia.
Who was the "we" Powell was referring to when he said "we do not believe it is wise for Ross to go?" Was it the Carlucci, Weinberger and Armitage insider political clique? Near the end of the memo, Powell is quoted as saying, "our policy interests are not served by Mr. Perot's interests at the moment."
What policy interest was "not" being served by Perot's effort to bring live POWs home and whose policy was it? It certainly was not that of President Ronald Reagan, Powell's commander-in-chief. Throughout his administration, Reagan had stated emphatically that the POW/MIA issue was the nation's "highest national priority."
In late 1987, Colin Powell, still the consummate team player, was appointed the National Security Advisor to President Reagan and served in that prestigious post until 1989. Then, as had happened before, Powell was sent off for a four month tour in a military command. This time, for a brief period in 1989, he became Commander in Chief at Forces Command, Ft. McPherson, Ga.
Shortly after Powell assumed that command, President Bush over the objections of the military's top brass reached well beyond their ranks and pulled his thoroughbred political general to the top, appointing Powell as the U.S. military's top officer - chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "I believe the entire professional military establishment was disturbed by his appointment," said Admiral Eugene Carroll. "Looking at General Powell's career record, it is clear that he was picked out early for a more important role in life than getting his boots dirty." During 1992, Powell's Pentagon had the singular honor of proving that it was a team player for the Bush administration.
According to a September 18, 1995 U.S. News and World Report article: President Bush had been presented with a "dilemma" in 1992 - how to help keep Vietnam's communist leaders from losing face because of an unexpected and embarrassing appearance of detailed POW/MIA records and photos, whose very existence the communists had long denied.
What could Bush do to help the Vietnamese communists out of their embarrassing predicament? Bush's answer - U.S. government officials would secretly create "a public relations script" for the communists. The action agent would be Colin Powell's Pentagon. U.S. News and World Report detailed the Bush administration's solution: "According to a secret Pentagon memo dated Oct. 7, 1992, Hanoi was advised to 'begin with a public announcement by your government, noting that for the last several months, Vietnamese officials had embarked on countrywide unilateral efforts to recover archives, records, photographs and remains of unaccounted for Americans.'"
Can it be believed? Gen. Colin Powell, the United States' highest ranking military officer, who described himself in 1993 during Memorial Day ceremonies at the Vietnam Veterans memorial as "the senior Vietnam veteran on active duty," helped create a lie that protected the communist Vietnamese from having to explain why they had blatantly lied about their knowledge of America's Vietnam veterans still missing in action.
Less than two weeks after Bush and Powell created the lie, the Vietnamese communists parroted it back in a news release. Bush then quickly announced "a significant, real breakthrough" and bragged about Vietnam's "unprecedented cooperation." Powell's loyalty to his mentors and fellow insiders is now paying off. He talks daily about his upcoming presidential race with best friend Richard Armitage - a man many believe to be most responsible for the failed attempts to recover living American prisoners from Indochina.
Powell says that he would trust Richard Armitage with the lives of his children. Other Americans did and they lost. Meanwhile, Powell's handlers appear to be ready to race their thoroughbred. Newsweek reports that George Bush "is privately talking up his old general," Casper Weinberger is "making behind-the-scenes calls" and Frank Carlucci is "rounding up" uncommitted Republicans.
Editors note: Tom Ashworth is a former marine captain helicopter pilot with combat service in Vietnam. He has a MA in political science from the University of Arkansas and has done extensive research on the POW/MIA issue. He was a witness at the 1986 Senate hearings on the POW/MIA issue.
Ted Sampley is a ten-year veteran of the U.S. Army who served seven years as a Green Beret. He served two combat tours in Vietnam and is publisher of the U.S. Veteran Dispatch. Sampley is a long-time veterans activists who testified before the 1990 Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs.