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The question no one asked Colin Powell

He says war "couldn't be avoided," but isn't pressed about whether intelligence was misused.


When Gen. Colin Powell spoke at Duke last Friday, there was something missing from his remarks. With humor that often roused the crowd to laughter, Powell reflected on his youth in New York, his days as a young lieutenant and his time as the head of the State Department. But his comments on Iraq were few. And he didn't mention the CIA inquiry or indictment, which has called the Bush administration's integrity and its push for war into question.

"War couldn't be avoided," the former secretary of state said. "Saddam Hussein missed the opportunity to avoid war." Powell addressed the audience of almost 1,200 people to mark the dedication of Rubenstein Hall, a new building at the Sanford Institute of Public Policy. His talk was called "Diplomacy: Persuasion, Truth and Values."

Though Powell did acknowledge that the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was wrong, he did not shed further light on the Bush administration's pre-war drive. He was more critical of the post-war efforts.

"If we had more troops there and started the political process earlier, it would work better than it does now," Powell said.

But now that we are there, "We can't cut and run," he said. "We have to stay the course so that [the Iraqis] can enjoy freedom."

He continued: "History and politics have put America in a position where we are a leader ... Politics of the moment and the personalities of the moment" might take away from America's leadership role.

Powell was widely regarded as the voice of reason and moderation in the first Bush administration. He urged President Bush to take his case for war to the United Nations. When Powell laid out that case before the UN Security Council in February 2003, media outlets across the country fell in line with support for the war.

Powell's remarks came two days after the latest Washington Post/ABC Poll found that 58 percent of those surveyed have doubts about President Bush's honesty. Fifty-two percent say the charges against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, signal the presence of deeper ethical wrongdoing in the administration.

That discontent was not evident in the question and answer session that followed Powell's talk. None of the questions addressed the recent scandal that has rocked the Bush administration. There were no ground rules for questions, and the questions were not screened. Powell only answered four questions because his speech went a little longer than anticipated, says Karen Kemp, the public relations director at the Sanford Institute.

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