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Speed Reading 'the War Within': Colin Powell's Greek Tragedy

Chapter 4 seems like it's about to reveal the inner workings of the Iraq Study Group, showing us Colin Powell's private testimony before the panel. But Powell gives us no new information and it becomes clear that Woodward is just taking the chance to paint a portrait of the Great Man Laid Low:

So the 10:30 A.M. meeting on this Friday was both a mission of accommodation and penance. He was going to have to confront the war and its aftermath for the rest of his life, and this was but another step on the road to sort out his anguish.

Though he had been out of government for a year and a half, Powell's anger seemed fresh and raw. And now it had risen to the surface for them to see as he channeled years of accumulated resentments into his testimony.

Had it been anyone else, Baker and Hamilton probably would have interrupted. "We don't want any hand-wringing about the past," they were both fond of saying. But in this case, they let Powell unload without interruption. He was taking them on a journey inside the trauma and dysfunction of the war.

What are the consequences of failure in Iraq? Hamilton asked. The United States would be seen as impotent, Powell said, then quickly shifted to the present tense, as if that were already the case. ... Is there any reasonable chance of getting help from the international community? Hamilton asked. "No," Powell said sharply. Any chance of getting help from Iraq's neighbors? "No."

"He had a general view that the world, whole world, was down on us," Perry later recalled. "Which nobody argued with him about at the meeting."

"I thought of it very much as a therapy session," Panetta said later, "in that he felt he could sit down with people who were brothers in arms ... people he related to from past experiences. And felt comfortable just kind of unloading."

The briefing, scheduled for an hour, had stretched longer, and the study group had an afternoon of interviews still to come. "Well, Colin," Baker finally said, "you're going to have a great book."

Powell left quietly as he had come, alone. Baker turned to Panetta and said solemnly, "He's the one guy who could have perhaps prevented this from happening."

It's enough to make even a neocon mist up.

--Barron YoungSmith