The New York Times
April 18, 2004

House of Broken Toys


When Colin Powell decided that Dick Cheney's crazy "fever," as he called the vice president's obsession with linking 9/11 and Saddam, was leading the country into a war it did not need to fight, he should have bared his heart to the president and made his case using the Powell doctrine — with overwhelming force.

Mr. Bush probably wouldn't have listened. He was in Mr. Cheney's gloomy sway, and Rummy's bellicose sway. And W. felt competitive with his more popular top diplomat.

But Mr. Powell should have tried. And if the president didn't listen, the secretary should have quit — not let himself be used by the vice president and his "Gestapo office" of Pentagon neocons, as Mr. Powell referred to them, to put a diplomatic fig leaf on a predetermined war plan and to present bogus intelligence to the U.N.

He knew his word held enormous weight around the world. And he knew he was the only one, out of all the officials in on the clandestine rush to war, who had fought in a war. He should have spoken up for all those soldiers who would fight and die and be maimed for Dick Cheney's nutty utopian dream of bombing the world into freedom, and W.'s dream of being so forceful with Saddam, the slime bag who survived his father's war, that he would forever banish his family's bête noire — the wimp factor.

It would have been much more honorable than playing Achilles sulking in his Foggy Bottom tent, privately pouting to Bob Woodward that he had warned the president about the Pottery Barn effect — break Iraq and "you know you're going to be owning this place" — and tattling that his colleagues were engaged in "lunacy."

"At times, with his closest friends, Powell was semidespondent," his pal Mr. Woodward writes in "Plan of Attack." "His president and his country were headed for a war that he thought might just be avoided, though he himself would not walk away."

Mr. Woodward, who is clearly channeling Mr. Powell, as he has done to present Mr. Powell's side of the story in past books, recreates his innermost thoughts: "He saw in Cheney a sad transformation. The cool operator from the first gulf war just would not let go. Cheney now had an unhealthy fixation. Nearly every conversation or reference came back to Al Qaeda and trying to nail the connection with Iraq. He would often have an obscure piece of intelligence. Powell thought that Cheney took intelligence and converted uncertainty and ambiguity into fact. It was about the worst charge that Powell could make about the vice president. But there it was."

Everyone in Washington has been puzzling over how Mr. Cheney, a reasonable, cautious, popular man in the first Bush administration, turned into Pluto, king of the underworld and proponent of worst-case scenarios and pre-emption.

But Mr. Powell shared his dread, Cassandra-like, with Mr. Woodward: "The more Powell dug, the more he realized that the human sources were few and far between on Iraq's W.M.D. It was not a pretty picture."

George Tenet comes across in the book as another profile in cravenness. On Dec. 21, 2002, the C.I.A. chief went to the Oval Office with an aide to present "The Case" on W.M.D. Even Mr. Bush, already deeply enmeshed in war plans, was taken aback at the paucity of it. "Nice try," Mr. Bush said. "I don't think this is quite — it's not something that Joe Public would understand or would gain a lot of confidence from." Turning to Mr. Tenet, he added: "I've been told all this intelligence about having W.M.D. and this is the best we've got?"

When the president asked how confident he was, Mr. Tenet, premier apple polisher, gave Mr. Bush the answer he wanted to hear: "Don't worry, it's a slam dunk!"

Just as the Democratic president ducked behind the parsed line, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," so the Republican president ducked behind the parsed line, "I have no war plans on my desk."

The plans for invading "The House of Broken Toys," as the C.I.A. referred to Iraq, may not have been sitting on his desk, but he secretly started planning with Rummy for war with Iraq in November 2001, and with Tommy Franks starting the next month. Once they were thick into the planning, the president couldn't turn back, of course. That would make him like the loathed Bill Clinton — a lot of bold talk and not much action — not like "The Man," as Mr. Cheney called his warrior president.