Rating Powell's presentation.

Rating Powell's presentation.

Rating Powell's presentation.

What the foreign papers are saying.
Feb. 6 2003 8:11 PM

Rating the Powell Show

International commentators treated Secretary of State Colin Powell's Wednesday morning speech to the U.N. Security Council like a performance in need of review. France's Le Figaro announced: "Spielberg it wasn't. The hour was solemn. The art direction was sober. In a measured voice, Colin Powell talked for 80 minutes, using scary words, pointing the finger at the thuggish regime in Baghdad, showing illegible slides, playing inaudible recordings, and attempting to show that war was inevitable." The editorial concluded that Powell's task had been to win over public opinion: "He may have convinced the Minnesota rancher, but the European farmer will hold on to his doubts." Switzerland's  Tribune de Genève  headlined its editorial "The Inevitable Third Act" and conceded, "Certainly, the secretary of state's 'multimedia show' further increased the formidable pressure for war."

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Britain's Daily Mirror said, "As a piece of dramatic theatre, US Secretary of State Colin Powell's performance was pretty good. But it was intended to be more than that. He was supposed to be playing prosecuting counsel, not the Alhambra [community theater] on a wet Friday night. … Some smudgy old photos and blurred tape conversations are not the basis for war." In stark contrast, the Jerusalem Post penned a mash note to the former general: "Scratch everything we've said about Secretary of State Colin Powell. We love him. Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council was masterful and devastating. He reduced any conceivable case for inaction in Iraq to rubble." According to the Post, Powell "trotted out if not the crown jewels some awfully persuasive pearls."

For the London Times' foreign editor, "It was a performance worthy of a President; should Colin Powell ever change his mind and run for that office, there can be no doubt of the power of his appeal." President Bush couldn't have handled the occasion; "his delivery does not lend itself to systematic forensic analysis. His speeches are too religious in vocabulary and too belligerent to convey the sense of cool assessment that Powell managed."

But was Powell persuasive? France's Libération said the presentation would convince "only those who were already convinced, because between the greatest probability and actual proof, there is a great deal of room for personal conviction. That is to say, political opportunity, not conscience, will be the criterion on which the speech is judged." Le Monde of Paris said that what was expected to be "the day of proof" was in fact "a day of repeated suspicions. … Will we go to war over suspicions? The majority of the Security Council says no." Meanwhile, an op-ed on Pravda's English-language Web site dismissed Powell's evidence as "a miscellany of obscure recordings which were misinterpreted by the US Secretary of State and risible satellite photographs which bore a strange resemblance to those which had been taken in Afghanistan two years before." It concluded, "If people believe this report, they will believe that there are fairies at the end of the garden."

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.