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E-Letter To The Washington Times Re: Colin Powell's Conversion

Your editorial "Colin Powell's Conversion" came as no surprise to us. We figured that the Washington Times, quicker than any other editorial page, would question the bonafides of America's new Secretary of State. Your newspaper's known connections to the most aggressive wing of the military industrial complex, which are now firmly entrenched inside of the Bush administration, made you the logical favorite to begin an unjustified attack on General Colin Powell.

At we have plenty of disagreement with General Powell, on a variety of foreign policy issues past and present, so we would be the first to agree with anyone who believes that the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is deserving of criticism.

However, we saw more than just simple criticism in your lead editorial yesterday. We saw the handiwork of those inside of the Bush administration who are seeking to neutralize Colin Powell's movements abroad that run counter to the aims and objectives of the most strident of those in the Bush cabinet like Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, his Deputy Paul Wolfowitz and even vice-president Dick Cheney.

For starters, your editorial castigates Powell and makes charges against him regarding his recent trip to the Middle East that are just not founded in fact.

You style his roughly outlined proposal to weaken economic sanctions on Iraq while strengthening military-related sanctions as a bow to the Arab world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Powell's plan has its origins in the United States and even gained President George W.Bush's tacit approval before Powell even boarded the plan headed for the Middle East last week.

And you are less than fair in your focus on what would become sanction-free under the plan. Instead of facing the fact that the sanctions have been imposed on items that are badly needed in the country like chlorine, water pumps and refrigeration trucks (which the State Department claims can be used to transport biological weapons), you focus on the 1,600 contracts for civilian goods that would be allowed under a new sanctions regime.

We find your newfound interest in contracts to be interesting, especially since your editorial neglects to mention the fact that once sanctions were imposed on Iraq, companies in the US and Europe were never held accountable for breaking contracts which mandated that they provide medicine to the Iraqis. Instead, these companies took the money from Iraq and never provided the medicine so desperately needed in the country. And they never returned the money they took.

With each passing day it becomes even clearer that nothing matters as much to some in the Bush administration, and apparently to many in the media, as the removal of Saddam Hussein from power.

But your revision of Powell's trip to the Middle East does not end with Iraq. You charge that somehow the General was too harsh on Israel and too lenient on the Palestinian. But all indications are that General Powell made demands on both sides. In fact the majority of the demands that you claim Israel rightfully makes upon the Palestinians, Powell himself expressed to Yasser Arafat.

So what is really the problem with General Powell and his trip?

We think we found the answer to that question on the front-page of Monday's Washington Times that featured a color picture, above the fold, of Colin Powell embracing Yasser Arafat. Immediately, our mind flashed back to the trouble such a "hug" of Arafat got Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson into decades ago.

Unfortunately, there exists a fear inside of the military industrial complex that because Powell is Black, a moderate, and apparently increasingly sensitive to events taking place in Africa and the Middle East, that he may lend too sympathetic of an ear to the Arab and Muslim world. In fact we know that more than a few eyebrows were raised when Colin Powell recently told ABC's Sam Donaldson, in a televised interview, "I Am African", and that he felt a growing special connection to the African continent.

It is that type of sentiment and emotional attachment that many in the Pentagon and defense establishment hope will not cloud Colin Powell's judgment when he is charged with carrying out American foreign policy objectives.

For many in Washington D.C. there is no room for increased attention or resources directed toward the Arab, Muslim and African world.

We are sad to see your editorial page reflect that sentiment - that somehow Colin Powell is a dupe of the Arab world simply because he dares to listen to their concerns.

And that attitude is a major part of the problem confronting this country as it tries to style itself as an honest broker in various peace negotiations between conflicting parties throughout the world. Because there are so few Arabs, Muslims and Africans advising the Bush administration, the US is out of touch with these communities even to the point where American diplomats are surprised to see and experience, first-hand, the anti-American sentiment held by many overseas.

Instead of seeing Colin Powell as a liability because of his apparent willingness to let Arabs and Muslims complete a full-sentence, you should consider him to be a valuable asset - someone who is able to go places that other Bush diplomats can't and someone who disaffected countries believe respects them.

After all, isn't it better to be informed of all positions - even those critical of the US - than to continue to ignore the opinions and advice of whole nations just because it offends a few influential interest groups?

We would think that a news publication, which provides a forum for differing points of view on a daily basis, would appreciate that better than anyone.

But maybe we were wrong.


Cedric Muhammad

Thursday, March 1, 2001

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