Secretary of State Colin Powell and his stalwarts love to rassle their detested cross-town foes, the Pentagon neocons and Vice President Cheney, and the release of Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, has given the two squads fresh motivation for another round of gouging and biting. The venue for today's (Monday, April 19) match is Page One of the New York Times, where "Airing of Powell's Misgivings Tests Cabinet Ties" by reporter Steven R. Weisman sets Powell supporters against the anti-Powell forces in a battle of deprecation.
The downside of this tag-team match is that neither side is on the record. Why? Because the Washington Rasslin' Rulebook states that nobody lower than Cabinet rank can speak his mind on the record without authority from above. But many of these notables will speak, if it suits their purposes, to a reporter giving them the gift of anonymity. When a reporter gathers a slew of anonymous sources for one piece, it's like listening to a bunch of middle-aged men with bags over their heads shouting ugly things at one another.
On the pro-Powell side, Weisman collects the sentiments of "People close to Mr. Powell," "The people close to him," "an official close to Mr. Powell," "Other officials close to Mr. Powell," "one person close to Mr. Powell," "another official," "an administration official who defends Mr. Powell's actions," "a European diplomat," "people long familiar with Mr. Powell's thinking," and "a senior aide to Mr. Powell."
Is "an official close to Mr. Powell" the same bagged head as "one person close to Mr. Powell"? Is "another official" the same guy as "a senior aide to Mr. Powell"?
On the anti-Powell side we find "Critics of Mr. Powell in the hawkish wing of the administration," "Several," "people in the administration," "several officials," "an official," and "Another official, who like others declined to be identified because of the political sensitivity of their criticism."
This looks like an even match, although either team could have three or 13 grapplers.
The only identifiable rassler in the bunch seems to be Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, a Powell loyalist with a mouth (and body) to rival that of "Macho Man" Randy Savage. Just prior to joining the Bush administration—and accepting the gag that goes with it—Armitage denounced Powell's critics to the Washington Post's Steven Mufson, saying, "Frank Gaffney, Gary Bauer, these pissants who have never served in uniform—who would you rather have represent the nation, them or Colin Powell?" "Pissant" seems to be one of Armitage's favorite terms of derision. In a March 11, 2002, piece in The New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh reported the angry response of a "senior State Department official" to Pentagon whispers that Armitage and Powell had lost their nerve. The official told Hersh he was ready to meet his "pissant" detractors in the Pentagon "anytime, anywhere." Sounds like Richard "Pissant" Armitage, doesn't it?
It's probably a good thing for Armitage's career that they've forced the gag on him—it helps protect him from himself. Weisman quotes nothing as colorful as "pissant" today, but any one of four meaty blind quotes in the Times piece could be Armitage.
Quote No. 1:
"Is the secretary going to be undercut for having been right?" asked an official close to Mr. Powell. "I don't think so. Undercut compared to who? Donald Rumsfeld? Dick Cheney? These are people who have some real problems right now. They're not reading Bob Woodward's book. They're reading the dispatches in the field."