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Context of 'Before February 5, 2003: Powell Tells Biden: ‘Someday I’ll Tell You Why’'

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Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) calls Colin Powell and tells him he is hopeful that his upcoming presentation to the UN Security Council will improve the prospect of getting a second UN resolution. Another resolution might force Saddam to capitulate, Biden suggests, or at the very least give an invasion legitimacy. Biden also advises Powell, “Don’t speak to anything you don’t know about.” Powell responds, “Someday when we’re both out of office, we’ll have a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you why.” Biden later says he believe Powell’s comment meant that he wasn’t confident in the information he was going to present. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 185]

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, Colin Powell, Joseph Biden

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003) has a far more powerful effect on the American populace than it does among others. [Unger, 2007, pp. 286-288]
Did Not Convince Skeptical Governments - The presentation does little to change minds on the Security Council. France, Russia, and China remain opposed to the idea of a new resolution that would pave the way for the US to invade Iraq. These countries say that Powell’s speech demonstrates that inspections are working and must be allowed to continue. “Immediately after Powell spoke, the foreign ministers of France, Russia and China—all of which hold veto power—rejected the need for imminent military action and instead said the solution was more inspections,” reports the Washington Post. But governments who have been supportive of the United States’ stance remain firmly behind Washington. [Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/7/2003]
European Press Skeptical - The European press’s response to Powell’s evidence is also mixed. The Times of London, a relatively conservative daily newspaper, describes Powell’s presentation as a “few smudgy satellite photographs, a teaspoon of talcum powder, some Lego-style drawings of sinister trucks and trains, a picture of an American U2 spy plane, several mugshots of Arabic men, and a script that required a suspension of mistrust by the world’s doves.” [London Times, 2/6/2003]
American Media Strongly Positive - The US media’s reaction to Powell’s presentation is immediate and overwhelmingly positive. Over 100 press outlets compare his speech to Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 denunciation of the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis (see January 30-February 4, 2003). One poll shows that 90 percent of Americans now believe Iraq has an active WMD program that poses a dire threat to the nation. Another shows 67 percent of Americans believe that the US is justified in going to war with Iraq because of that nation’s illicit WMD. The San Francisco Chronicle calls the speech “impressive in its breadth and eloquence.” The Denver Post compares Powell to “Marshal Dillon facing down a gunslinger in Dodge City,” and adds that he showed the world “not just one ‘smoking gun’ but a battery of them.” Perhaps the most telling reaction is among the media’s liberals. The Washington Post’s Mary McGrory says Powell won her over. Richard Cohen, a moderate Post colleague, writes that Powell’s evidence is “absolutely bone-chilling in its detail… [and] had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hadn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool, or possibly a Frenchman, could conclude otherwise.” And the New York Times writes three separate stories praising Powell as “powerful,” “sober,” “factual,” and “nearly encyclopedic.” Columnist William Safire says Powell’s presentation has “half a dozen smoking guns” and makes an “irrefutable and undeniable” case. Safire’s colleague at the Times, Michael Gordon, concludes, “It will be difficult for skeptics to argue that Washington’s case against Iraq is based on groundless suspicions and not intelligence information.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 286-288] In the days after the speech, the Washington Post opinion pages are filled with praises for Powell and the presentation. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] One Post editorial proclaims that after the presentation, it is “hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” [Washington Post, 2/6/2004]
Powell 'Trusted' - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write in 2004: “[I]t was Powell’s credibility that finally put public opinion over the top. Over and over again, I was told, ‘Colin Powell wouldn’t lie to us.‘… Powell’s support for invading Iraq with a pseudo-coalition was essential, and he deserves at least as much of the responsibility for the subsequent situation that we find ourselves in as anybody else in the administration, because, more than anybody else, it was his credibility and standing among the American people that tipped the scales.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 317-318] In 2007, CBS anchor Dan Rather gives a simple reason why Powell’s presentation is so strongly accepted by so many. “Colin Powell was trusted. Is trusted, I’d put it—in a sense. He, unlike many of the people who made the decisions to go to war, Colin Powell has seen war. He knows what a green jungle hell Vietnam was. He knows what the battlefield looks like. And when Colin Powell says to you, ‘I, Colin Powell, am putting my personal stamp on this information. It’s my name, my face, and I’m putting it out there,’ that did make a difference.… I was impressed. And who wouldn’t be?” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, San Francisco Chronicle, Richard Cohen, New York Times, William Safire, Mary McGrory, Colin Powell, Michael Gordon, Denver Post, Dan Rather, London Times, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

One day after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations in which he detailed an alleged al-Qaeda-linked training camp in northern Iraq said to be producing chemical weapons (see February 5, 2003), a number of US politicians question why the US has not taken any action against the camp. The camp, located near the town of Khurmal in territory controlled by the Kurdish rebel group Ansar al-Islam, is said to be closely linked to Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The Los Angeles Times reports that, “Lawmakers who have attended classified briefings on the camp say that they have been stymied for months in their efforts to get an explanation for why the United States has not launched a military strike on the compound…” Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) asks Colin Powell in a public hearing: “Why have we not taken it out? Why have we let it sit there if it’s such a dangerous plant producing these toxins?” Powell declines to answer, saying he cannot discuss the matter publicly. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) complains that she has been asking about striking the camp well before Powell’s speech based on intelligence given in private briefings, but, “We’ve been asking this question and have not been given an answer.” Officials have replied that “they’ll have to get back to us.” Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) notes that Powell’s speech could have cost the US an opportunity to prevent the spread of chemical weapons produced at the camp, saying, “By revealing the existence of the camp, it’s predictable whatever activity is there will probably go underground.” One anonymous US intelligence official suggests, “This is it, this is their compelling evidence for use of force. If you take it out, you can’t use it as justification for war.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/7/2003]

Entity Tags: Dianne Feinstein, Joseph Biden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Colin Powell, Jane Harman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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