Powell says the U.S. will 'finish work we started'

Posted in Iraq | 13-Sep-04 | Author: Brian Knowlton| Source: International Herald Tribune

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks on NBC's 'Meet the Press' during a taping at the NBC studios, on September 12, 2004 in Washington, DC.
WASHINGTON Secretary of State Colin Powell insisted on Sunday that the United States would bring Iraqi insurgents under control and "finish the work that we started."

But he was less categorical than some administration advisers about Iraq meeting a January election deadline.

"This is not the time to get weak in the knees or faint about it," Powell said on the NBC television network, "but to drive on and finish the work that we started." He declined to enter the debate over the Vietnam-era military service of President George W. Bush and his Democratic rival, Senator John Kerry.

Powell appeared on three morning television programs, and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, on two, apparently in an attempt to demonstrate the administration's resolve to prevail in Iraq, and to fend off Kerry campaign criticism that the situation there is slipping out of control.

Kerry and two senior advisers, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and a former ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, responded with tough language.

Kerry told Time magazine that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney "will say anything and do anything to get elected and to hold on to power."

He referred partly to Cheney's comment that if voters "make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating," and Bush's refusal to explicitly condemn the comment.

Cheney later said that his intent had not been to say that "if Kerry is elected, we will be hit by a terrorist attack." Still, Albright said Cheney's suggestion was "outrageous," likening the Bush campaign's tone to that of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his 1950s campaign against alleged Communist activities by Americans.

She said she was not directly comparing Cheney to McCarthy.

Powell said he felt sure that both candidates would "do everything they can to defend the United States of America." Cheney, he added, was trying to say: "You know the strategies that we are following, you know the aggressiveness with which we have gone after this war against terror."

Holbrooke, for his part, said that "strategically and politically, the situation in Iraq is worse than it ever was in Vietnam" and was deteriorating.

"I don't think those elections in January of next year will take place," he said on the Fox television network.

Powell sidestepped more than one opportunity to say flatly that he believed the Iraqi elections would take place on schedule.

Asked directly on Fox TV whether he would say that the elections would take place in January, he replied, "I can say to you right now that the prime minister, Mr. Allawi, is determined to go forward with these elections." And on the ABC television network, Powell said that outside restive central Iraq, "the rest of the country, I think, is in a position to have elections in the very near future."

Rice expressed greater confidence about the prospects for elections, which she said could "absolutely" be held in January.

Albright said that in Iraq, "President Bush has squandered our credibility and our reputation, and I think Senator Kerry has a much better chance of getting other countries in there because he would listen to what they have to say."

Powell, asked on Fox how Kerry could broaden foreign support in Iraq, noted that countries like France and Germany had made it clear that "they're not going to contribute troops."

Holbrooke was asked about Republican assertions that Kerry has contradicted himself by voting to authorize the Iraq war, criticizing that war, then saying he would have approved the war even knowing that Saddam Hussein held no weapons of mass destruction.

"Giving the authority to the president is quite different from the president taking that authority and creating a mess worse than Vietnam," he said.

Powell was asked whether his denunciation in his 1995 book "My American Journey" of those who were able to escape Vietnam War service through wealth or influence extended to Bush's experience in the Air National Guard.

"I am angry that so many sons of the powerful and well-placed," Powell wrote, "managed to wangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units."

"The president volunteered for service; Mr. Kerry volunteered for service," Powell said Sunday. "They both served honorably. They both were discharged honorably."

But he added that, "Yes, that system was disturbing to me."