Powell has best advice for Bush

Jahna Peloquin

This is not World War II, not the Vietnam war and this is certainly not Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s kind of war. Terrorist organizations draw strength from their small size and low visibility, making it foolish to wage any kind of conventional war against them. While the White House seems to recognize this problem, Rumsfeld, though giving lip service to the “New War” mantra, continues to express the U.S. military’s role in terms reminiscent of Vietnam and World War II-era strategists. If U.S. military action is going to do anything but worsen the situation, the Commander-in-Chief needs the advice of someone with extensive military experience, a working knowledge of current political and social climates and a broad grasp of modern military options. Secretary of State Colin Powell fits the bill well.

Rumsfeld’s extensive resume reads like that of the consummate Cold Warrior. His three-plus-years’ experience – from 1954 to 1957 – as a pre-Vietnam Naval aviator provide him little practical knowledge of today’s military capabilities. Since then, he has served in a number of high-level government positions including four-term Congressman, Chief of Staff during the Ford Administration, Secretary of Defense for the same president, U.S. ambassador to NATO and advisor to President Nixon. The mindset of that era seems to remain with him today, albeit updated slightly. His most championed cause before Sept. 11 was a national missile defense system. The ABM push illustrates Rumsfeld’s habit of telling Congress and cameras we cannot afford to think like we did during the Cold War, then in the same breath proposing to implement Cold War-era policies. Bush should not rely on a former Nixon advisor to run this kind of military action, especially with a 35-year military veteran sitting next to him in the White House.

While Rumsfeld speaks of bringing America’s full military might to bear in a long, drawn-out campaign against Afghanistan and other nations, Powell continues to focus his comments on counter-terrorism. While Powell also stresses any military action will not be brief, he approaches the situation realistically. Powell has repeatedly said early efforts should focus on building coalitions because he recognizes the volatility and fragility of the region. Also, if and when military action is taken, the former General advocates focused, surgical strikes. These tactics, not Rumsfeld’s, are appropriate given the nature of terrorist organizations and the threat they pose.

Powell’s background lends credibility to his convictions. His military career spans three decades and two wars. As a four-star general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – the highest military position in the Department of Defense – Powell proved his competence in modern Middle Eastern warfare, making him more able to recognize the differences between recent wars and the impending armed response.

Instead of relying on a former Cold Warrior, Bush needs to turn to someone who will intelligently address the threat within modern contexts.