Powell admits there are 'real differences' within cabinet

Colin Powell, regarded with yearning by Europeans as the voice of restraint within the Bush inner circle, has let slip the fatal words. Yes, he told reporters on the flight to the development summit in Johannesburg, there were "real differences" within the administration over how to deal with Saddam Hussein.

But this staking out of a position against hardliners may amount to less than it appears. For one thing, it would be astonishing if there were not differences on an issue of such importance. For another, by staying relatively quiet in the clamour of words over Iraq, he may have placed himself better to win the key arguments.

As Secretary of State, General Powell is in constant contact with foreign opinion, which is overwhelming in demanding that action against President Saddam be taken only with the UN's blessing.

Yesterday President Bush said he would take his case to the UN next week: almost certainly there will be a last effort to get weapons inspectors in before a decision to go to war is taken. Behind the scenes, General Powell is forcing the administration to focus on the "day after" in Iraq, the role America and its allies would play in the political and physical rebuilding needed once President Saddam had gone.

Finally, as a former soldier moulded by experience in Vietnam, he understands the risks of war. The issue pitches him and most of the uniformed military commanders against Vice-President Dick Cheney and the civilian leadership of the Pentagon – called by critics the "chicken hawks" for their advocacy of war now, after having failed to fight in Vietnam 30 years ago.

Caution has always been a distinguishing hallmark of General Powell. As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the first President Bush, he was deeply wary of using force in 1991 to drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

Success in the Gulf gave rise to the "Powell doctrine," that America should go to war only from a position of overwhelming strength, with clear-cut objectives and with unequivocal public backing. That also explains his fury, during discussion of the Bosnian war in 1993, when Madeleine Albright, then US ambassador to the UN, challenged him: "What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about, if we can't use it?"

Powell's icy response then was that the military would accept any mission it was handed, "but that the tough political goals always have to be set first". That was his view then. It remains his view today.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Health & Safety Consultant

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic and exciting opport...

Recruitment Genius: Project and Quality Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is an independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Executive - OTE £20,625

£14625 - £20625 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role is for an enthusiasti...

Guru Careers: Financial Controller

£45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'