American Enterprise Online
May 19, 2004
By Alan Dowd

The conventional wisdom—as expressed by everyone from Bob Woodward to the New York Times—says that Secretary of State Colin Powell is just marking time. One report has him eyeing the top post at the World Bank. But ever the good soldier, Powell will stay on until after the election, according to published reports, when a Bush-Cheney victory will allow him to gracefully take his leave or a defeat will send him packing anyway. If the conventional wisdom is right (and it’s hard to think otherwise after Powell’s tortured interview with Tim Russert on Sunday), then President Bush no doubt is considering his options for life after Powell.

For what it’s worth, I’ve found the ideal candidate.

Like Powell, he is roundly respected in public-policy circles. Like Powell, he is seasoned in statecraft and foreign policy. Like Powell, he knows his way around Washington and can handle the white-hot glare of media attention. After all, he has served as a senator and candidate for national office.

Like Powell, he’s been a vocal defender of international religious liberty. He’s been ahead of the curve on other issues as well, like the Balkan wars, homeland security and NATO expansion. Indeed, as a strong Atlanticist, he recognizes the important part Europe can and must play in international security. In his travels to Europe and in his speeches in America, he urges both sides of the Atlantic to forge a common future by recalling their common cause in the past. He has called on Washington to be more sensitive to Europe’s worries and Europe to invest more than rhetoric in the common defense.

But unlike Powell, he is an unapologetic hawk. Unlike Powell, he was an early supporter of the ouster of Saddam Hussein. As his biography proudly explains, he was making the case to remove Saddam “long before President Bush came into office.” In fact, he was one of the main cosponsors of the 1991 Gulf War Resolution and later helped author the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which put America on a course for regime change in Iraq. Again in 2002, he used his voice and vote in Congress to speed the removal of the Iraqi dictator. And unlike so many of the war’s sunshine supporters who have fallen away during the postwar insurgency, he remains a staunch and articulate advocate of Operation Iraqi Freedom. All of which means he might feel more comfortable than Powell in the Bush war cabinet.

He has a clear-eyed view of the nature of this conflict and this enemy, recognizing that Iraq is just one front, and military force just one tool, in the war on terror. Beyond Iraq, he knows that Iran and others loom. Indeed, he has warned repeatedly about Iranian missilery and nuclear technology.

His experience on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee would no doubt serve him and the nation well in the ongoing effort to reform the UN’s byzantine and bungling bureaucracy (a perennial priority for the top person at State). And his long tenure on the Senate Armed Services Committee could be crucial. A wartime secretary of state needs to know a thing or two about the Pentagon.

Unlike Powell, he is a Democrat. But like Powell, he seems to have more in common with the other party than his own. Take, for example, his reaction to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. When other Democrats howled about war crimes and demanded resignations, he injected a measure of common sense and calm: “The behavior by Americans at the prison in Iraq is, as we all acknowledge, immoral, intolerable and un-American. It deserves the apology that you have given today and that have been given by others in high positions in our government and our military,” he told Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld. “I cannot help but say, however, that those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001, never apologized. Those who have killed hundreds of Americans in uniform in Iraq working to liberate Iraq and protect our security have never apologized.”

I haven’t heard a more reasoned comment before or since.

In that same spirit, he has called on both parties to “stop the bickering, to overcome the mistrust, to appreciate how similar are our current goals in Iraq and to work together to achieve them.” Hence, he has urged Democrats to support the June 30 handover of sovereignty, and he has applauded the administration for backing away from premature cuts in troop strength in Iraq.

Sounding more like Bush than Kerry, he sees Iraq as a main front in the war on terror; and he believes Iraq can be stabilized and then democratized. In his view, only then will Iraq become a “hopeful model for a better future throughout the Islamic world.”   

For these very same reasons, he would also be a good fit at the Pentagon, should Rumsfeld say “good riddance.”

I almost forgot the most important part: His name is Joe Lieberman.