Colin Powell's cynical reversal.

Colin Powell's cynical reversal.

Colin Powell's cynical reversal.

Politics and policy.
Feb. 11 2003 4:28 PM

Baghdad Back Flip

Colin Powell's cynical reversal.

If you want to know why people don't trust what the United States says about Iraq, get a load of what Secretary of State Colin Powell said this morning.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

On Oct. 7, 2001, Arab TV superstation Al Jazeera aired a video in which Osama Bin Laden suggested that he was fighting for Iraq and Palestine. "One million Iraqi children have thus far died in Iraq although they did not do anything wrong," Bin Laden protested. "Israeli tanks and tracked vehicles also enter to wreak havoc in Palestine … and we hear no voices raised."

When Powell testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee later that month, he dismissed Bin Laden's claims. "We cannot let Usama bin Laden pretend that he is doing it in the name of helping the Iraqi people or the Palestinian people," said Powell. "He doesn't care one whit about them. He has never given a dollar toward them. He has never spoken out for them."

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That was then; this is now. Tuesday morning, Powell testified before the Senate Budget Committee. He warned that Al Jazeera would soon air a new Bin Laden statement in which "once again he speaks to the people of Iraq and talks about their struggle and how he is in partnership with Iraq. This nexus between terrorists and states that are developing weapons of mass destruction can no longer be looked away from and ignored."

You can write the next paragraph yourself. Sixteen months ago, Powell wanted to isolate Bin Laden from other Muslims, so he said Bin Laden was lying about being involved in Iraq. Now Powell wants to justify war against Iraq, so he says Bin Laden is telling the truth. Same claim, same media outlet, same speaker, same U.S. official assessing the claim, same congressional venue, different U.S. agenda, different result.

The punch line? Bin Laden was talking about hypocrisy.