Powell Says Iraq War Course Must One Day End

Matt Stoller says Colin “Powell is taking the gloves off.”

Judd Legum says “Powell blasted the Bush administration’s ‘stay the course’ policy in Iraq.”

They’re referring to a no cameras or recording devices speech he gave today in Minnesota. The only published account I’ve seen–or that they reference–is a rather innocuous report from the Star-Tribune. The relevant portions:

The United States and allies can not resolve the current sectarian violence in Iraq, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said today during a lecture in Minneapolis.

“Only the Iraqi people can resolve this,” Powell said.

U.S. troops have to stay in Iraq for “some time,” he said. “But there is a limit to the patience of the American people.”

Powell was the featured speaker at this year’s distinguished Carlson Lecture at the University of Minnesota.

In Iraq, “staying the course isn’t good enough because a course has to have an end,” Powell said.

More than any other event of this era, the war will define the Bush presidency and Powell’s own tenure as Secretary of State, Powell said.

In the U.S. today, a challenge the war poses is a question of whether an essential “bond of trust that must exist within a nation…has been shaken,” he said. The extent of the damage to trust will be measured in the November elections, he said.

Aside from dissing the “stay the course” mantra, what here is even remotely new?

The administration has been saying for years that it is ultimately up to the Iraqi people to solve this.*

Further, it’s axiomatic that the war will define both Bush and Powell’s tenures. Presumably, Powell would like it to end well if, for no other reason, than that it would reflect well on him. After all, while he clearly differed with other officials on the war, he was nonetheless a key spokesman for the cause, including the WMD argument.

The out-of-context quote about the “bond of trust” being “shaken” is perhaps interesting. Unless and until we get a transcript of the speech or Powell clarifies his remarks elsewhere, however, there’s not make to make of them.

*UPDATE: This is a difficult one to Google since “Iraqi people” has been so ubiquitous over the years. Here’s an example from 16 months ago, though:

    – “We’re not going to win against the insurgency, the Iraqi people will win against the insurgency.” Don Rumsfeld, “Fox News Sunday,” June 26, 2005.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. floyd says:

    powell is a good speaker, but has always been a middle management type of guy.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I’m not sure I follow. He was National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of State. Those are hardly “middle management” positions.

  3. Anderson says:

    Hm. Maybe Floyd’s point goes to Powell’s unsuitability for those positions.

  4. Fersboo says:

    And to think that Powell was once the darling of the MSM, just the right kind of man to lead the Republican Party. He seems to be more of a McClellan than a Grant, in my humble opinion.

    BTW Anderson, we haven’t finished are earlier discussion.

  5. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    One wonders if Powell was not somehow responsible for convincing G.H.W.Bush not to pursue Saddam back to Bagdad in 1991. We had over 500,000 Troops including our best heavy Armored Divisions, Carrier support and momentum. Clinton destroyed the service, with downsizing. H. Norman Schwartzkoph will never, as a good soldier should, badmouth his superiors. My question is who gave the advice that forced us to fight the same war over again. Kind of like WWI and WWII. The peace insisted upon by the allies, Britain and France were so punishing in Germany that it gave rise to Hitler.

  6. anjin-san says:


    You should really crack a history book once and a while. Powell has actually won a war, which is not something you could say about McClellan.

  7. Fersboo says:

    Um, wouldn’t the winning of the Gulf War be a honor of the non-political General Schwarzkopf? At least that was the way I remember it back when I was still in uniform. And the 2003 invasion was led by General Tommy Franks.

  8. w editor says:

    “I may not get to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on I-raq, but I get to say ‘when.’ With-in a certain time-frame, of course.

  9. anjin-san says:


    So your historical analogy is Ike won WW2 all by himself and George Marshall had nothing to do with it? Guess they did not have a chain of command when you were in uniform…

    Both men deserve ample credit. But they still refer to it as the “Powell Doctrine”, no?

  10. Fersboo says:

    Anjin, the fact that you of all people on OTB is defending Powell makes my point for me.

  11. anjin-san says:


    If you knew anything about me, you would know that I am pretty much of a hawk on matters of national defense.

    I know that in patriofascist land, anyone who dares question GW on anything is labeled a quasi-traitor, but in fact my anger at Bush is mostly over his failure to finish the job in Afghanistan, his failure to kill or capture Bin Laden, and his starting a pointless, futile war in Iraq, where Al Qaeda was NOT until the war.

    I am also pissed about the deaths of several thousand people who served our country with courage and distinction, as well as the thousands more wounded. Of course there is the matter of the thousands of innocents in Iraq who have perished, people whom we had no beef with, though I rather think they feel they have one with us now.

    Trash Powell if you must, GW & his minions have a long record of crapping on people who have served…

  12. Tano says:

    Whats new here is that Powell is sending a mesage to the Bush admin. – none too subtle, and probably sincerely meant as constructive. It boils down to this: “If you want popular support (however grudging) for what you want to do in Iraq in the near future, you should probably articulate some sort of an exit strategy. The American people are sensing the lack of one, and this is causing serious erosion in their patience. Articulate one, and you will buy yourself some time”.

  13. legion says:

    I, like a lot of people, used to have an enormous amount of respect for Powell. But he long ago traded his responsibility to those under him for loyalty to those above him. After the way he was ignored & eventually discarded by the Bush admin, does anyone think Powell’s opinion will have the slightest impact?

  14. Cernig says:

    When someone with the qualifications and clout of Powell calls a President’s trustworthiness into question, we should listen.

    He, more than anyone, knows that Bush misdirected the nation into war with Iraq by hanging the “war on terror” label on underlying motives that had nothing to do with fighting terror and far more to do with neoconservative theories of “shaking up” the Middle East by showing that the U.S. could use its military power on anyone without the cooperation of the international community. It has far more to do with justifying Bush’s claim that he is the “War President” and using the war to further an agenda of centralizing power in the executive.

    Powell realizes, too, that the “war” in Iraq ended the day Bush declared “mission accomplished” and that what is being fought now is an occupation against the will of the majority of the Iraqi people. That it is still dishonestly labelled a “war” just to press patriotic buttons is one of the breaches of the “bond of trust” Powell is talking about.

    Doesn’t “Occupation President” have a very different ring to it? Very definitely not as useful for political mileage.

    Regards, C

  15. LJD says:

    The amnesia on the left is mind boggling.

    He, more than anyone, knows that Bush misdirected the nation into war with Iraq by hanging the “war on terror” label

    Powell went to the U.N. with our grievances in the case FOR war.

    what is being fought now is an occupation against the will of the majority of the Iraqi people.

    Yes, because the ‘will of the Iraqi people’ is to kill eachother off.

    That it is still dishonestly labelled a “war” just to press patriotic buttons

    Actually, the credit goes to the moonbats. ‘No WAR for oil’ Unjust, illegal WAR’ ‘Stop the WAR’ etc.

  16. Anderson says:

    BTW Anderson, we haven’t finished are earlier discussion.

    ??? … one of the Foley threads?

  17. legion says:

    I agree, but the damning thing is that Powell knew all of this _at the time_. And not only did he fail to do anything worthwhile to stop it, he actively aided what I firmly believe he knew to be an unnecesary war against the wrong enemy, while pulling back operations against the actual bastards that had attacked us. As far as I’m concerned, he’s just as culpable as Rice and Rumsfeld.

  18. RJN says:

    Well said Cernig. As Secretary of State Powell was unable to speak publicly about things that he saw, but were hidden from us.

    Now, he is doing what a man of conscience should do; inform the public with the truth as he sees it.