Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has called the run-up to the Iraq invasion "a blot" on his distinguished career. But if he's trying not to think about it, he's out of luck. Kofi Annan, who was secretary-general of the United Nations during the lead-up to war, is releasing a new memoir — Interventions: A Life in War and Peace — in which he says that Powell had greater doubts than previously believed about the Bush administration's evidence suggesting that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. How skeptical was Powell? Here, a brief guide to Annan's account:
How does Annan know what Powell was thinking?
He says Powell told him, according to The New York Times. Annan, who considers Powell a friend, says that the then-secretary of State dropped by Annan's 38th-floor office at U.N. headquarters in New York City six weeks into the war. He says Powell was ebullient after learning that U.S. forces had found what they thought were the mobile laboratories the Bush administration had claimed Hussein was using to make weapons of mass destruction. Powell, who had made an impassioned case to the U.N. Security Council that Iraq's chemical and biological weapons program justified the invasion, was excited. "Kofi, they've made an honest man of me," Annan quotes Powell as saying.
What else does Annan say about the meeting?
He says that as he sat with Powell, "the relief — and the exhaustion — was palpable." Annan wasn't convinced that Iraq really had all of the weapons the Bush administration — Powell included — had claimed. Still, Annan writes, "I could not help but smile along with my friend" and "could only be impressed by the resilience of this man, who had endured so much to argue for a war he clearly did not believe in."
How does this differ from previous accounts?
In his own memoir, Powell says his February 2003 speech at the U.N. justifying the invasion on the basis of what turned out to be bogus evidence was "a blot, a failure [that] will always be attached to me." He doesn't say he knew the intelligence was false, but he does say, "I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me." Powell has said he was misled, and demanded that the CIA and Pentagon explain why they didn't tell him that they knew that a key informant — Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, also known as "Curveball" — had lied when he said Saddam had mobile bio-weapons labs.
What does Powell have to say?
The New York Times, which first reported the peek at Annan's book, was unable to reach him for comment. But previously, one of Powell's top aides shed light on just how bitter the memory of Powell's U.N. presentation is. "I wish I had not been involved in it," says Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was an adviser to Powell at the time. "I look back on it, and I still say it was the lowest point in my life."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- How science is accelerating our search for alien life
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 6 tiny scientific mistakes that created huge disasters
- Inside Turkey's shadow war with ISIS
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1: 10 major differences between the book and the movie
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
- The dangerously childish morality of liberal ObamaCare supporters
Subscribe to the Week