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Jewish World Review Feb. 13, 2003 / 11 Adar I, 5763

Bill Schneider

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Leadership and legitimacy | How often does a cabinet member overshadow a President in stature and popularity? There was Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon. Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. George Marshall and Harry Truman.

And now, Colin Powell and George W. Bush. Bush was conscious of the parallel when he nominated Powell to be secretary of state in December 2000. "In this office, he follows in the footsteps . . . of one of his personal heroes, General George C. Marshall,'' the President-elect observed, adding, "I would say of General Powell what Harry Truman said of General Marshall: he is a tower of strength and common sense.''

One might also say of President Bush what was said of President Truman. That he is secure enough to surround himself with people who are more knowledgeable and popular than he is. And not feel threatened.

During the 2000 campaign, the Bush campaign showcased Powell. It wanted to reassure voters that, as President, Bush would have a man of world experience on his team. Once Bush became President, however, Powell seemed to shrink from a leadership role. On issues like global warming, missile defense, North Korea and the Balkans, Powell was overshadowed by more unilateralist voices. "Where Have You Gone, Colin Powell?'' asked a Time cover story -- dated September 10, 2001.

Nowhere, as it turns out. Powell was biding his time, marshalling his resources for the issue that really counted -- Iraq. Iraq is an issue on which Powell has been on board since Day One. Day One being December 16, 2000, the day he was nominated, when Powell said, "Saddam Hussein is sitting on a failed regime that is not going to be around in a few years.''

Bush and Powell are a strange team. One, a WASP, born to wealth and privilege, educated at Yale and Harvard, a corporate executive with great family connections. The other an African-American, son of immigrants, who went to City College and made his career in America's ultimate meritocracy, the army.

Each man brings something crucial to the Administration's Iraq policy. President Bush brings leadership. He told the United Nations General Assembly in September, "By heritage and by choice, the United States of America will make a stand. And, delegates to the United Nations, you have the power to make that stand as well.''

Secretary Powell brings legitimacy. To a policy -- pre-emptive action -- that makes the rest of the world nervous. Three days after Bush laid down his challenge at the UN, Powell said, "We want to work within the multilateral organization that has been designed for this purpose, the UN.'' Powell added, "The President always has the option of doing whatever he believes is necessary to defend U.S. interests.''

Powell also brings domestic legitimacy. In this month's Gallup poll, Republicans are almost unanimously supportive of President Bush (95 percent favorable). Most Democrats are not (38 percent favorable). Powell's standing among Republicans is just as high as Bush's (96 percent favorable). But Powell also has impressive standing with Democrats (76 percent favorable).

Unlike Bush, Powell is above party. He helps make Iraq a less partisan issue. "I'd like to move the nomination of Secretary of State Powell for President of the United States,'' Sen. Joe Biden, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said after Powell's testimony last week.

Powell accomplished two things at the United Nations on Feb. 3. He directly addressed the question on many Americans' minds: why now? "Should we take the risk that [Saddam Hussein] will not some day use these weapons at a time and place and in a manner of his choosing, when the world is in a much weaker position to respond?'' Powell asked. In other words, should we wait until Saddam Hussein commits an atrocity like 9/11?

Powell also appears to have shifted the burden of proof. "It amounts, if I may say, to a transfer of the burden of proof from the United States to Saddam Hussein,'' Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham said after Powell's testimony. By his own admission, Powell produced no "smoking gun.'' How could he? The U.S. is proposing a pre-emptive action, and you find a "smoking gun'' only after the crime has been committed.

What Powell produced instead was an impressive array of evidence to back up his central argument, that "Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort -- no effort -- to disarm.'' As a result of Powell's testimony, Iraq is now presumed guilty of failing to comply with UN disarmament resolutions. The burden is on Iraq to prove that it will, after all, disarm.

The Russians say so. "Iraq should be the first to be concerned about providing final clarity about the question of weapons of mass destruction,'' Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said. The Germans say so. "Quite a few states suspect Saddam's regime is withholding relevant information and concealing capabilities,'' German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said. "This strong suspicion has to be dispelled beyond any doubt.'' The UN inspectors say so. "They need to show drastic change in terms of cooperation,'' Mohamed ElBaradei, Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said.

Even Democrats say so. "War or peace is now Saddam's choice,'' Biden observed.

Bush's critics have to acknowledge that, despite the tough talk about the U.S. going it alone, the Administration has been conscientious about working to build international support. That's called teamwork. The cowboy and the diplomat. Leadership and legitimacy

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© 2002, William Schneider