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Colin Powell just one more warlord: like General Schwarzkopf before him, this man knows art of self-lionization.

Like General Schwarzkopf before him, this man knows art of self-lionization

With a major U.S. military failure - Somalia - having occurred in the final months of his chieftainship, Gen. Colin Powell kept himself intellectually above anything as messy as Mogadishu street battles. No need to let some distant gore intrude on his grand exit as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, our godheads of war.

With much of the media covering his retirement as if their role were to be an adoration society, Powell in his farewell speeches played to the public's need for hero worship.

Like Norman Schwarzkopf before him, Powell knows the art of self-lionization, placing himself as the grand designer of military strategy in Desert Storm while posturing as "the reluctant warrior." He is a cunning myth builder, using the Persian Gulf to mantle himself with greatness. What Powell and the American military did there was little more than engage in bombing sprees that killed Iraqi civilians and then a low-risk land crushing of a second-rate army.

It was much the same in Panama, the December 1989 adventure that killed mostly black and poor people. Powell cosmeticized it as "Operation Just Cause." That came two months into his chairmanship under which the strategy of dispatching large numbers of troops with massive weaponry against weak resistance in a poor country has become the post-Soviet Union ethic of American militarism.

Powell sheens this with the expected God-country-duty palaver that is the mandatory mindset of anyone higher in rank than a dimwitted drill sergeant. "When there's a problem," Powell says, "our friends and allies around the world always seem to dial 911 and expect the United States to answer."

Of course they do. We're the planet's most militarized and kill-ready nation, its largest arms seller, with the most bases around the world and the most interventions in distant conflicts. We're also the most deluded into believing that we can have a bankrupt economy, impoverished schools, chaotic health care, the globe's highest violent Crime rate (nine out of 10 murders in industrialized nations occur in the United States), streets clogged with homeless people, but still preen as the Earth's only superpower.

Powell, a cautious functionary during his years as a White House underling, an aide to Caspar Weinberger and adviser to Ronald Reagan, has mastered the patriotic platitudes to justify the power. "The vital interests of mankind," he preaches, "are the vital interests of America no matter how far from our shores they may be. ... We are leaders because nature and history have laid that obligation on us."

So now it's Mother Nature calling on 911, with History on voice mail.

Powell's gibberish has gone unchallenged by much of the media. As he left the Pentagon, reporters and columnists became bright bulbs in the sycophantic praise shining on Powell. The "CBS Evening News" aired a fawning segment that began with Powell leading a clearly awed David Martin into the rarefied sanctum where the Joint Chiefs confer. It was like the pope showing off his private chapel to one of the faithful. Genuflecting before the Pentagon's pontiff, Martin went from this beatific vision to gush that Powell had "instilled pride" in the military - assuming you're not gay - and that the general has everyone thinking president.

David Broder, in a column laced with tales of chummy social meetings with Powell in attendance, cheered the general not only his "remarkable status" but for his "unique status." If he had any punches, Broder pulled them all.

Powell is off to a well-pensioned retirement, plus the double and triple dipping of corporate board directorships, a $6 million book deal and $60,000 speeches. He will be keeping an eye on one of his pet projects: the Junior ROTC program. During his chairmanship, it grew from 1,500 high school units in 1991 to 3,500 this year. Powell calls the program "the best opportunity for the Department of Defense to make a positive impact on the nation's youth."

America's schools are impoverished and violence-ridden, and the solution to these social problems is to militarize kids and cajole them into embracing the government's war plans? Teaching JROTC marksmanship and gun-handling to what the Pentagon calls "at risk" inner-city youth is the worst of efforts. The aim of some of these kids is deadly enough now.

Yet Powell pushes on rabidly. He calls for JROTC "programs where they are needed most. There are 110 programs in Texas but only two in the state of New York and none in New York City. We're working to crack the Northeast."

It's Operation Just More Guns.

Colman McCarthy is a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post.
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Author:McCarthy, Colman
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Biography
Date:Oct 15, 1993
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