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Hawks gang up against Powell

Hawks gang up against Powell
By Toby Harnden in Washington
(Filed: 26/09/2001)

THE political consensus over the September 11 attacks has begun to fracture in Washington with mounting criticism of Colin Powell by prominent conservative hawks.

William Kristol, a leading figure on the Right, accused the Secretary of State of undermining President Bush's war aims.

Mr Kristol, chief of staff to the former vice president Dan Quayle, wrote in the Washington Post: "Virtually every major political figure has gone out of his way to support the president. Except for his secretary of state . . . Colin Powell has revised or modified many of his boss's remarks."

The article, the first public attack on Gen Powell by a prominent Republican since the devastating assault on America, also warned Mr Bush that he could face trouble from his own party if he steers too moderate a course.

"Eleven years ago, then-President Bush [Snr] overrode Powell's resistance to fighting Saddam. Bush was vindicated in doing so. Will the current President Bush follow Powell's lead? Or will Bush lead and demand that Powell follow?"

Many Republicans are uneasy about Gen Powell's approach, which appears to be based on limiting the war against terrorism to narrowly focused action against Osama bin Laden and his al-Qa'eda network.

Gen Powell has argued against taking action against "rogue states" such as Iraq and Libya and advocated bringing another, Iran, into the coalition against bin Laden.

There was widespread dismay among Republicans on Sunday when Gen Powell seemed to brush aside Mr Bush's implication that removing the Taliban from power was an American goal.

"With respect to the nature of the regime in Afghanistan, that is not uppermost in our minds right now," he said in an interview with NBC.

"I'm not going to say that it has become one of the objectives of the US government to either remove or put in place a different regime."

He added that he didn't know whether "we should even consider a large-scale war of the conventional sort".

Gen Powell also said that "in the near future, we will be able to put out a paper, a document, that will describe quite clearly the evidence that we have linking him [bin Laden] to this attack".

In an apparent sign that Mr Bush was not impressed with Gen Powell's performance in the interview, he came close to rebuking him as he explained next day that there would be no such paper.

"For those of you looking for a legal peg, we've already indicted Osama bin Laden . . . Now, Mr Secretary, if you'd like to make a comment on that."

Gen Powell retreated, saying: "As we look through it and we can find areas that are unclassified and it will allow us to share this information with the public, we will do so. That would be our intent. But most of it is classified."

In a letter to Mr Bush last week, 41 members of the Project for the New American Century, a conservative foreign policy group, wrote that following Gen Powell's advice not to act against Iraq "will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on American terrorism".

Gary Schmitt, one of the signatories, said: "The fundamental issue is that Powell and the State Department are very anxious to confine the terms of the war to the most limited target possible.

"But the lesson learned on September 11 was that if you play defence the whole time you're going to get burned."

Gen Powell, he said, was trying to make the "first step" in the war - the tackling of bin Laden and the al-Qa'eda network - the last.

"The Gulf war showed that if you act decisively and you're clear about your goals the American people will rally behind you."

The battle between the Powellites and hawks - such as Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz - promises to intensify once initial action against bin Laden has been taken and the debate begins in earnest about what phase two should be.

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