We’re going to cut it off, and then we’re going to kill it,” that was Gen Colin Powell in 1991, then US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – effectively the US army commander.
Being anti-war as ever I was at the time already resolved that America’s business in Kuwait and Iraq were as suspect as their interests there and always – around the world – geopolitical strategic, ‘national’ interests.
But Powell, an African via (slavery) Jamaica, was all that one needed to give a second hearing to America’s war drums. As student activists, we had been invited to the Iraqi ambassador’s residence near Summit View, Kololo, to be subjected to video and pictorial propaganda about the Iran-Iraqi war, surrounded by biscuits and the Bagdad Observer, then the sterling equivalent of NRA’s New Vision. Even with the little that I knew at the time, I still left the embassy convinced that America was fully behind Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
A few years later and battling my advanced war-of-conscience and in exile, I quickly got to confirm. I was right after all. Like it is today, the Americans were madly against Iran since the 1979 revolution that overthrew their ally, the Shah and were actively using Iraq and its greedy Gaddafi-like Saddam Hussein as Nyampala.
On July 3, 1988, US warship USS Vincennes shot down over the Gulf an Iranian passenger jet Flight 655 from Teheran to Dubai, killing all 290 on board. Initially denied, they later claimed error, had ‘mistaken’ the passenger jet for a ‘hostile Iranian fighter aircraft’ — a scary suggestion if true – considering America’s level of sophistication in technology and intelligence.
At the definitely-partisan UN, Iran’s only condition for ceasefire at the General Assembly was a declaration that ‘Iraq is the aggressor’. They never got it. Western media were focused on their ethnic-hostages being held in the Middle East, almost certainly dismissing 290 lives lost.
Now it was 1991 and Africa’s military star abroad was busy describing the precision with which America would cut off Iraqi military power, a system they had in almost every bit created, fed and perfected. But still, I loved the guy; an elder brother and regardless, proud of his achievements in the obviously murky world of racism and battle to rise. And his stars rose with the comment as he continued to play the charismatic, handsome and certainly clever face of America’s military might leading to the decisive victory.
A decade later and Bush junior seeking to complete the job his father had started, poor Powell found himself in a new role; Secretary of State and at the UN, to convince the world that Iraq and its leader Saddam Hussein were dangerous matters that had to be resolved. Sadly, this time it required more than his oratory skills, military excellence and charisma, but rather material facts to persuade the world.
Amid Bush and Tony Blair despair to invade, dodgy intelligence were piled and who else was best placed to deliver but Powell, and he did.
That former friend Hussein possessed nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and was to be removed by force claiming “every statement I make today is backed by sources, solid sources,” that “what we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence”.
Turns out the intelligence were recycled and fudged by Iraqi opposition desperate to get rid of Hussein and, of course, the right-wing warmongers in the administration seeking oil deals. Powell regretted having been misled and in turn misleading the world, but the damage was already done.
Powell was one of the most significant military leaders in America’s recent history. He was the first ever African American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the youngest and later, the first ever African American Secretary of State. He died on Monday, October 18, aged 84.
Except for that blot – Iraq – the guy stood for something. A true African abroad. Rest in power, elder.
The writer is a pan-Africanist and former columnist with New African Magazine [email protected]
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