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Powell leaves behind legacy of international popularity

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Colin Powell stepped down from his post after a ragged four years. The soldier-turned-statesman went out with a whimper instead of the bang many Americans, and what’s more, many conservatives had hoped for. And in the eyes of many, it was the removal of the last trace of “civilized” figures in the Bush Administration.

Anyone who focused on the Bush Cabinet in the last few months saw this coming. White House officials and even Powell himself coyly hinted at the idea and the press was crazy with speculations. It was a “Will he/won’t he?” situation more agonizing than Seth and Summer on the OC. But on Monday, we had our answer, and he quietly stepped down to make way for Condoleezza Rice.

I have to say it, I liked Colin, and I was excited to see him step in as Bush’s Secretary of State. And despite left-wing accusations that Powell was a dangerous yes-man, I believe he had better intentions than the majority of Bush’s staff.

Prior to the Iraq invasions, he told President Bush, “You break it, you buy it.” He tried peace talks in North Korea. He helped map out a peace plan in Israel. If nothing else, he tried to do things diplomatically.

He had such big and — dare I say it — noble ambitions. So why did Colin Powell skip out?

He was the popular kid at the Bush Administration lunch table. And by popular, I mean popular everywhere except his own lunch table. Foreign allies liked him. America liked him. Bush liked Powell when primarily as long as he agreed with him.

And maybe that was Powell’s tragic flaw — following his head, not his heart.

When looking back at the last four years of Powell’s distinguished political career and highly decorated military career, it’s not so much what he accomplished that one notices. Rather, it’s what he could have done with enough backing from the rest of the administration. Unfortunately, Powell’s philosophy of moderate realism seemed lost in the much more aggressive, hawkish foreign policies of the Bush administration.

Our lunch table politics tell us that whatever the coolest kid at the lunch table eats, the rest of the table eats too. Cool Kid wants tapioca pudding? We’re downing that tapioca goodness like it’s the Last Supper. If you don’t like tapioca pudding, go find yourself another table, friend. And that’s exactly what happened at the Bush Administration Lunch Table — Bush wanted an aggressive foreign policy, and so the rest of the cabinet pushed for that as well. In order to be taken seriously and be listened to, Powell had to adapt.

This is unfortunate, because though Powell’s most positive attributes was his divergence on foreign issues, he did little about it. He came into office the Bush Administration Darling, and he could have used his popularity, both domestically and abroad, to an advantage, to stand up against a war he knew was ill-advised – and as a soldier, in ways he knew were ill-led. So to speak, he dug himself into a hole with no way out except to keep on digging.

While Powell supported a policy of international cooperation, he was never able to set it into motion under the Bush Administration. To be taken seriously on Capitol Hill, he had to fall in line behind President Bush, and in doing so, became another puppet in Bush’s cabinet. Like a tragic hero, Powell found himself a private supporter of a policy he publicly fought.

He was mass-consuming the tapioca pudding with a quiet preference for vanilla.

And so with Powell’s resignation, the White House loses one of its loudest moderate voices. What’s more, it serves as an indication of the direction the United States’ foreign policy will take. Colin was the nice kid at the lunch table who got along with the other lunch tables — he was the Ferris Bueller of the international relations lunch table. Without him, the Bush Administration isolates itself from the other lunch tables and foreign governments — primarily Europe and other prominent foreign allies.

Condoleezza Rice, Powell’s assumed successor, is well-known for her alignment with Bush’s policies. By Rice rising to Secretary of State, the White House is obviously putting out a more unified front. However, this unified cabinet may not be in America’s best interest. Sometimes disagreeing is more important that agreeing. Sometimes it’s better to get that vanilla Snack Pack instead of the Cool Kid’s tapioca.

Let’s just hope the other lunch tables like tapioca.

E-mail Chelsea with comments at [email protected].

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