by Tom H. Hastings
When Richard Nixon died, those of us on the antiwar side of the barricades during his misbegotten presidency were driven to new lows of cynical despair by the image-washing, sometimes from mainstream media, but most often from other politicians who seemed to want to set an extremely low bar for presidential legacies.
While the Washington Post led with the facts—that Nixon was polarizing and that he was forced from office in disgrace—they ran these panegyrics with a seemingly straight journalistic face:
President Clinton announced Nixon’s death at a formal appearance in the White House Rose Garden, praising his predecessor as “a statesman who sought to build a lasting structure of peace.”
Reagan called Nixon “one of the finest statesmen this world has ever seen.”
Clinton declared a national day of mourning, and said he would attend Nixon’s funeral.
Nixon managed to get elected in 1968 based on an utter lie, that he was the peace candidate and that he had a “secret plan” to end the radically unpopular war in Vietnam. As reported nearly 20 years later in the Christian Science Monitor, his campaign defense advisor, Melvin Laird, said flatly, “He had no such plan.”
Even more damning, some 45 years after the Nixon campaign, declassified and released tapes revealed that Nixon was afraid of enough progress in the Paris peace talks that might have led to much more support for his opponent, Hubert Humphrey, so that, according to the BBC and the Smithsonian, Nixon used back channels to the South Vietnamese insurgents, encouraging them to walk away from the peace talks because they would get a far better deal with him than with Humphrey. They did and he won, based on him lying to pretty much everyone.
Under Richard Nixon’s corrupt and venal “leadership” another 22,000+ Americans were killed, along with at least 1.5 million Vietnamese, mostly noncombatants, a war crime of massive proportions. The terms of the 1973 peace agreement were within the grasp of the parties in 1968, sabotaged by a man so lusting for power he willingly sacrificed the truth and all those human lives to get it.
Thanks for the emetic comments on that scoundrel, Clinton and Reagan.
Now we come to another effort at image clean up with the passing of Colin Powell, a man whose lies also led to many deaths.
Ironically, Powell could only get away with his chicanery, his pack of lies that led to war, because he was so trusted by Americans. Indeed, that is why the ones who weren’t trusted—George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld—insisted that he be the one to lie to the world and justify the invasion of Iraq.
To his eternal discredit, Powell did so, and spent the rest of his life making excuses that were just as trustworthy as his lies at the UN had been.
The entire peace community nationally and internationally knew he was lying at the time. Like so much of what Donald Trump currently says about pretty much everything, the lies are easily disproven.
Powell claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, Dr. Hans Blix of UNMOVIC (UN inspections for WMD) and Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency were telling the world a vastly different story. For instance, from a UN report:
The Director-General of the IAEA, Mr. ElBaradei, reported that, after three months of intrusive inspections, the Agency had found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons programme in Iraq. There was also no indication that Iraq had attempted to import uranium since 1990 or that it had attempted to import aluminium tubes for use in centrifuge enrichment.
If Colin Powell achieved anything positive in his life, it is vastly overshadowed by his unique and terrible role in using his credible character to commit the US to war based on evidence that he knew at the time was false.
Wars are often started by telling enough lies to whip up fervid support for attacking an enemy who could be dealt with by far less destructive means. We need to hold perpetrators of such “useful” lies accountable.
Colin Powell’s failure to act with integrity on that occasion is what led to the deaths of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Sorry, his legacy is shattered by that historic crime.
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is Coördinator of Conflict Resolution BA/BS degree programs and certificates at Portland State University, PeaceVoice Senior Editor, and on occasion an expert witness for the defense of civil resisters in court.