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December 16, 2000
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Colin Powell to become the secretary of state, which seems ok on the surface, but after looking at the functions of the position, wouldn't he make a better secretary of defense instead? I can't say I'm comfortable with the thought of the leading US diplomat and negotiator being someone so closely tied with military force (side question: would a war man negotiate peace treaties or get us into more bombing missions?). I also find it odd that in the acceptance speech, he can speak of the horrors of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" and in the same breath talk about how the US should build up a missile defense system (our missiles aren't capable of mass destruction?). What do you think about the appointment?
posted by mathowie (35 comments total)

 
I agree. Colin Powell would be a better candidate for secretary of defense, but I am not sure I am comfortable with his being secretary of anything http://www.littleafrica.com/career/powell.html

posted by jyoung at 10:40 AM on December 16, 2000


I read Powell's autobiography, An American Journey, a few years ago. While I realize any autobiography is likely to be self-aggrandizing, I was comfortable with the overall tone, and with the wisdom of this man.

While his background is obviously military, I think he may pleasantly surprise us as secretary of state.

Frankly, with this administration, I'm holding on to any thread of hope I can grab.
posted by frykitty at 10:50 AM on December 16, 2000


I don't know a lot about Colin Powell other than the Gulf War stuff, but outwardly I am impressed at the appointment. We've had everything from generals to draft dodgers as president (two in a row of those). Having a general as secretary of state doesn't seem to entail unusual risk.

One of the things I didn't know about Powell is that his critics claim he was involved in covering up the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. It's mentioned briefly here and elsewhere, though I haven't found a story that makes the case for believing this. Allegedly, he was a military bureaucrat who got a letter from a soldier revealing the massacre, and told his superiors that it wasn't credible.
posted by rcade at 11:23 AM on December 16, 2000


My biggest concern with Colin Powell being secretary of state(or having any cabinet post) is how isolationist he is. Ever since the debacle in Zaire, he has had an aversion to placing American troops anywhere where they might be in harms way; He is opposed to risking any American lives in any way. This sort of thing seems okay at first glance, but an unwilling to use troops makes their presence basically useless. If you're the isolationist sort who WANTS American troops pulled out of everywhere, I suppose this is a good thing. I personally believe that there are important missions for American soldiers to be carrying out throughout the world and think they the risks are worth it; America shouldn't withdraw from it's international commitments.
posted by dcodea at 11:25 AM on December 16, 2000


One of the finest Secretary's of State this nation ever had was George C. Marshall, who was given a Nobel Peace Prize for his development of the now legendary "Marshall Plan" which rebuilt Europe after WWII. A brilliant man and a great statesman -- and former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during WWII, when he wore five stars. It was originally intended that he command the invasion of Europe, but Roosevelt decided that he couldn't be spared in Washington, so Eisenhower got the job.

As to Colin Powell replacing Cheney as VP, that's possible but not inevitable. According to the 25th Amendment, if the office of VP becomes empty for any reason, the President nominates a new VP, which must be approved by the Senate. It might be Powell or it might be someone else. The amendment places no limit on who the President can nominate.

That amendment was ratified during the Johnson Presidency, and has been used once when Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to replace Spiro Agnew after Agnew resigned. Gerald Ford was at the time House Minority leader; not a cabinet member and certainly not Secretary of State.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:06 PM on December 16, 2000


It is actually illegal for Colin Powell to become Secretary of Defense, or to hold any other senior civilian job in the Defense Department, until late in 2003.

Congress has long felt that one of the most important bulwarks of civilian control of the military is to prevent former uniformed leaders from ascending to those positions. They would have divided loyalties, and untold skeletons in the closet.

The statutory rule is that no appointee can have been an active-duty officer within 10 years of his appointment. (Powell retired in late 1993).

This rule has allowed many people who were junior officers for a few years after college, and who thereafter established long civilian careers, to take high defense office. However, it would be almost unthinkable for a former general officer, to say the least of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, ever to be appointed to Defense office.
posted by MattD at 12:55 PM on December 16, 2000


"Powell will likely replace Dick Cheney (health problems) as Vice President before Bush wins re-election handily in 2004. Hence, it is likely (almost a certainty) that Powell will become the 44th President in 2008."

Uh for what reason exactly would Bush win handily in 2004?
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 1:16 PM on December 16, 2000


Uh for what reason exactly would Bush win handily in 2004?

The Equal Protection clause.
posted by rcade at 1:39 PM on December 16, 2000


I can't wait to see how he gets us into Gulf War Part II.
posted by artlung at 2:59 PM on December 16, 2000


MattD -- after serving as Secretary of State for a few years, George Marshall was appointed Secretary of Defense. (This is 5-star General George Marshall from WWII who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs.) It's far from "unthinkable" since it's actually happened.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 3:13 PM on December 16, 2000


What's the Equal Protection Clause?
posted by ookamaka at 3:30 PM on December 16, 2000


mathowie, i had the same thoughts as you...

vespon, thanks for the biggest laugh i've had all day! LOL
posted by centrs at 4:32 PM on December 16, 2000


What's the Equal Protection Clause?

The clause that allows the Supreme Court to prevent votes from being counted if the total of those votes would cause irreparable harm to George W. Bush.

I'm paraphrasing, but you can look it up. It's in the case Scalia vs. Representative Democracy.
posted by rcade at 4:59 PM on December 16, 2000


Uh for what reason exactly would Bush win handily in 2004?

Once Bush and the Republican Congress pass privatized Social Security and Medicare, build a national missle defense system, and eliminate Amtrak, all while cutting taxes by 30% or so, you and everyone else will wake up sometime in 2003 and realize that you've never had it better. Your life is better than you've ever dreamed, and the outlook gets rosier every day. Then you'll go vote for Bush/Powell in 2004, of course.

posted by daveadams at 5:02 PM on December 16, 2000


"What's the Equal Protection Clause?"

The clause that allows the Supreme Court to prevent votes from being counted if the total of those votes would cause irreparable harm to George W. Bush.


Or if there is no common standard (not even in the same county) in counting the votes. It wasn't just Scalia who had a problem with that. So did six other justices.
posted by daveadams at 5:06 PM on December 16, 2000


But daveadams, there is no common standard anywhere.

To quote from a FAQ making the rounds:

Q: I thought the problem was "equal protection," that some counties counted votes differently from others. Isn't that a problem?

A: It sure is. Across the nation, we vote in a hodgepodge of systems. Some, like the optical-scanners in largely Republican-leaning counties record 99.7% of the votes. Some, like the punchcard systems in largely Democratic-leaning counties record only 97% of the votes. So approximately 3% of Democratic votes are thrown in the trash can.

Q: Aha! That's a severe equal-protection problem!!!

A: No it's not. The Supreme Court wasn't worried about the 3% of Democratic ballots thrown in the trashcan in Florida. That "complexity" was not a problem.

Q: So what was the serious equal protection problem?

A: The problem was neither the butterfly ballot nor the 3% of Democrats (largely African-American) disenfranchised. The problem is that somewhat less than .005% of the ballots may have been determined under slightly different standards because judges sworn to uphold the law and doing their best to accomplish the legislative mandate of "clear intent of the voter" may have a slightly different opinion about the voter's intent.

But this is really a different thread. This entire FAQ is pretty good but long. If anyone wants a copy, I'll be happy to forward.

posted by luke at 6:16 PM on December 16, 2000


You can find the entire thing here.
posted by Alwin at 6:25 PM on December 16, 2000


Thanks, Alwin.
posted by luke at 6:30 PM on December 16, 2000


Colin Powell is my hero.

The man is literally the American Dream realised. He started with nothing in Harlem, rose to become a Joint Chief of Staff, and retired to create a children's organization which has helped countless thousands of unpriviliged children see a better day.

Not only that, but he has the best foreign policy stand of them all. He's *not* isolationist. What he does say is this:
DON'T send American troops somewhere unless their is a very specific goal and very specific entry requirements.

Also, use the full strength of America to end the situation quickly.

With these, we can avoid debacles like we had at the start of the Gulf War, in Somalia and in the Balkans. And not only that, we'll have far fewer Americans and foreigners alike losing their life thru conflict.

Second, the Secretary of State *must* be bipartisan. Colin Powell is exactly this. He could have been appointed by the Gore administration and fit in.

The man is great, heh.

And MattD, I didn't know about the Defense clause, but it's a great idea. The UN should force poor countries trying to get back on their feet to implement it, as I'm sure we'd be seeing a lot less army-run coups like we do now.

Peace,
Kevs
posted by Kevs at 7:53 PM on December 16, 2000


But daveadams, there is no common standard anywhere.

I agree that there may be different standards per county. That's fine because the executives with the power to set standards for voting are per-county. But within a county, a hand recount should have a particular standard. Gore's lawyer even admitted in the court that standards could and did vary from table to table for a particular county in the hand counting. That is an equal protection issue. At least according to the Supreme Court, which is really the final authority on the matter. As I said, seven of the nine justices felt there were Constitutional problems with the standards by which votes were being counted.
posted by daveadams at 8:17 PM on December 16, 2000


I think Powell's a great guy, what I know of him.

I also think that if he ever became VP, he wouldn't be for very long.

That is, I think someone'd quickly kill the President. I think it would be wrong, but I think someone, somewhere, would do it.

I think there are some cases when we need to send American troops abroad, but not as much as we have been doing.

Why, oh why was Europe incapable of handling the recent difficulties there? It's not like WWI or WWII, where they really needed help.

They know that if they balk and let things get ugly enough, America will step in, even when there are fully capable countries nearby who should handle it.

I don't think we need to be the world's policeman anymore. It's expensive, messy, and not really warranted.

True humanitarian missions that are not in regions with other rich countries (who could help themselves) are a different story, as are areas where we have a moral obligation to help clean up messes we helped make...
posted by beth at 8:27 PM on December 16, 2000


What I am confused about -- and what is the thrust of the e-mail -- is why the Supreme Court is so concerned about equal protection for a few thousand hand-recounted votes when it does not appear too bothered by the unequal protection for millions of others. If the hand recount, done under varying standards, would be tainted by unequal protection, why is the entire state/nation's machine counting (done under varying standards) not tainted as well?

Oh, yeah -- it is tainted! (Accordingly, I hope we all follow Doonesbury's lead and put air quotes around "president," as in "President" Bush Mr. "President.")

In short, the entire nation's voting methods and policies need to be standardized. As it is, all votes are protected equally, but some more equally than others.
posted by luke at 8:39 PM on December 16, 2000


That is an equal protection issue. At least according to the Supreme Court, which is really the final authority on the matter. As I said, seven of the nine justices felt there were Constitutional problems with the standards by which votes were being counted.

The U.S. Supreme Court lost the credibility to be a "final authority" on anything when it handed down that partial-birth abortion of a decision last week. They stole this election and any chance Bush had of being the legitimately elected president, even though he had a great chance of winning under a recount that didn't include dimpled chads.

If this was so obviously an equal protection issue, why did the Supreme Court not make it clear the first time it slapped down the Florida Supreme Court? Bush's lawyers tried to make it an equal protection case then, and the court declined to hear the case on those grounds.

When the U.S. Supremes sent the first case back, they did so under instructions that made it clear any attempt to set an objective standard would be considered "lawmaking from the bench" and declared unconstitutional.

As a result, the Florida Supreme Court did not attempt to set an objective statewide standard, quoting the vague "clear intent of the voter" law instead.

When the U.S. Supreme Court got the case again, suddenly its an equal protection issue and the Florida court is faulted for not setting a standard.

Catch-22.

No matter how much Bush's supporters want to pretend otherwise, this is an illegal coronation of an unelected president. Bush lost Florida, and he lost the U.S. by more than 500,000 votes, at last count.

The John Birch wing of the U.S. Supreme Court set it up so that there was no solution that passed constitutional muster with them. To make things even worse, they created a final deadline out of whole cloth, even though Hawaii didn't resolve a disputed assignment of electors in 1960 until January.
posted by rcade at 11:40 PM on December 16, 2000


Hear, hear.

The worst part is that since the American legal system is based primarily on precendent, an enormous can of worms has been opened — anyone running in any multi-county election (or maybe even in any multi-precinct
county) has very reasonable grounds to protest, contest and otherwise molest any vote. An extremist would say that the Supreme Court effectively made voting impossible. I can't see how this will not be reversed, presumably by the very same justices who made the initial decision. They should be impeached.

I mean, fuck it, I don't care any more, good luck with your new President; but this was not the right way to end it.
posted by sylloge at 1:55 AM on December 17, 2000


While I dislike Powell being a Republican. I am proud of him as well as he's from a similar Jamaican lineage as myself. The island sees him as one of the "boys done good". And it will be a huge boost to them.

But President? As much as it sickens me, America isn't ready. I don't think middle America could really push themselves to vote for a black man. I'd like to think otherwise, and there would be no "safer" choice than Colin Powell. But I'm still doubtful.
posted by owillis at 8:16 AM on December 17, 2000


Steven, note that the US law providing for the Secretary of State, 10 USC s. 113 states in part:

"(a) There is a Secretary of Defense, who is the head of the Department of Defense, appointed from civilian life by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. A person may not be appointed as Secretary of Defense within 10 years after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of an armed force."

Every senior position within the defense department has this "appointed from civilian life" language, and a few of the most senior also have the express prohibition on active commissioned service within the preceding 10 years, or 5 years in the case of Service Secretaries (the Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Airforce).

posted by MattD at 10:04 AM on December 17, 2000


Matt, you've proved it can't happen for ten years. But you said that it couldn't happen at all. It can happen -- after ten years.

It is completely conceivable for an ex-head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to serve as Secretary of Defense, because it's actually occurred. He just has to wait ten years.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:27 AM on December 17, 2000


I also think that if he ever became VP, he wouldn't be for very long. ... That is, I think someone'd quickly kill the President. I think it would be wrong, but I think someone, somewhere, would do it.

Where is there any evidence of black militants in this country who would kill a president to install a black Republican politician in his place? That's a pretty depressing outlook on the state of the country.
posted by rcade at 12:40 PM on December 17, 2000


Who said black militants would do it? I took that post to mean that Bush is a halfwit, and if his VP were someone as intelligent and skilled as Powell, then Bush may as well paint a target on his back.
posted by frykitty at 1:18 PM on December 17, 2000


Steven,

The relevant regulations were added to the US Code in 1962, long after Marshall.

I would still maintain it is extraordinarily improbable for a former 4-star to take high civilian Defence office, absent a national emergency.

Rivalries between services (and even between various arms of the same services) and disagreements between services and Congress on high-ticket appropriations are the tail that wags the dog as far as military governance goes.

The need for Department of Defense civilians to be at least perceived as neutral among services, and for civilian Departments of Army, Air Force, and Navy officials to be neutral among the various arms of their respective services (with both the Navy and the Marines under the Secretary of Navy) is simply paramount.

Colin Powell might well be trusted by everyone to set US policy in the Middle East or Latin America, but a retired Army 4-star general, no matter how highly he is esteemed, would never be trusted to be objective on whether Army or Marine Corps tactical requirements should be foremost in the RFPs for this year's $850 million R&D for next-generation light helicopters.
posted by MattD at 1:22 PM on December 17, 2000


Powell as a President: I think he would be elected. Gallup Polls in 1995 showed that he would have won the Republican Primary had he ran then. However, the possibility of assassination does exist, and that's why he didn't run. Powell's wife was firmly against the risk.

Peace,
Kevs
posted by Kevs at 4:35 PM on December 17, 2000


Bush lost Florida, and he lost the U.S. by more than 500,000 votes, at last count.

We won't know whether he lost Florida or not until all the votes have been hand-recounted. As for losing the US, ditto; the oddities in Florida are hardly the only oddities in the nation, just the ones on which the most light has recently been cast. Half a million votes is 0.5% of the number of votes cast, quite possibly within the margin of error depending on the counting methods used in other states. It is possible that we will never know who really won the popular vote for this election unless someone hand-counts every state. Of course, the popular vote is completely irrelevant to the question of who gets to be President.
posted by kindall at 4:39 PM on December 17, 2000


If the popular vote is so irrelevant, why are you pretending that there's still a chance Bush could find half a million uncounted votes?
posted by rcade at 10:10 PM on December 17, 2000


I also find it odd that in the acceptance speech, he can speak of the horrors of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" and in the same breath talk about how the US should build up a missile defense system (our missiles aren't capable of mass destruction?)

I'm not a Bush person or even a Powell person, but I just wanted to clarify something.

The missile defense system is just that, a *defensive* system to protect us against incoming "weapons of mass destruction" by destroying them in flight before reaching us. He was not referring to us having offensive weapons of mass destruction.

posted by abosio at 10:52 PM on December 17, 2000


But a good defense makes for a good offense. All you need is a field goal if you can keep the other guy from scoring.

A working defense system would take away the factor of mutually assured destruction. MAD, paradoxically enough, is probably the only reason we're all still here. Without it, we could lob missiles toward whomever, knowing that we'd be able to shoot down (some of) theirs.

If Russia or China were planning such a system, we'd be having a shit fit, and rightfully so. There are so many other better things to be spending trillions on, military-wise and not. To waste it on this is dangerous and arrogant.
posted by luke at 7:36 AM on December 18, 2000


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