Colin Powell pays a provocative visit

Secretary of State evokes Kennan legacy to defend war in Iraq.

By: Jeff Milgram
   As protesters demonstrated on Nassau Street, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell defended the U.S.-led war in Iraq and said America will defeat terrorism while remaining true to its democratic ideals.
   "Iraq and Saddam Hussein clearly had the human and technical capabilities to develop weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Powell said in his keynote address for a daylong conference on the work and legacy of American diplomat George Kennan, professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, who celebrated his 100th birthday Feb. 16. "They had the programs in place. They never lost the intention to have such weapons."
   Mr. Powell was greeted warmly on campus and he received the first Crystal Tiger Award from Princeton’s undergraduate students.
   Mr. Powell said that Mr. Kennan, even while warning against the dangers of communism, remained steadfast in his belief that democracy would triumph. Mr. Kennan was the architect of "containment," which became the foundation of American policy toward the Soviet Union.
   "Even in a difficult time I am optimistic, as George Kennan was optimistic, because the ideals that guide our political life remain our greatest strength," Mr. Powell said. "It’s not enough to fight against a negative like terrorism. We must focus on what inspires us, on what brings the good people of the world together. We’ve got to fight for the positive — for liberty, for freedom, for democracy. That’s what George Kennan has always tried to teach us."
   Mr. Kennan, a member of Princeton’s class of 1925, was unable to be at the conference, which was attended by leading scholars and diplomats as well as members of his family.
   Following his speech, Mr. Powell visited Mr. Kennan at his home in Princeton.
   Mr. Kennan enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a diplomat and historian. He is most remembered as the author of the "Long Telegram," which he sent from Moscow in 1946 in an effort to awaken American officials to the futility of trying to collaborate with the government of Josef Stalin.
   "Some men achieve fame as witnesses to great events. Some are renowned because they have participated in seminal events. And some men are venerated for their talent to interpret such events. But George Kennan has been all three — witness to history, shaper of history and interpreter of history," Mr. Powell said. "George Kennan always had a remarkable gift for seeing the very weave of history as it was being made before him. That’s what all of us are trying to do now."
   Mr. Powell said the war in Iraq has been fought to ensure that weapons of mass destruction do not fall into the hands of terrorists who would threaten world peace.
   But even following the al-Qaida attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, America must not allow the early 21st century to be remembered as an "age of terrorism," Mr. Powell said.
   "It is a matter of sad necessity that both proliferation and terrorism hold a share of the definition of our age. But we must not let these dangers dominate that definition, and here our best tutor — our inspiration — is once again George Kennan," he said.
   "The young George Kennan witnessed the birth of a monster at close range. … He foresaw the great darkness totalitarian regimes would spread. And he saw just as clearly, too, that many well-intentioned people in the West did not understand the real character of that enemy," Mr. Powell said. "Having undergone such an experience, a young person could have been forgiven for entertaining a certain pessimism about the future. But George Kennan was no pessimist."
   He gave a stirring account of what this country stands for. "We stand for liberty and the rights of man; for intellectual, religious and economic freedom; for limited government and the rule of law; for tolerance, equality of opportunity and human rights for every man, woman and child on this earth," Mr. Powell said.
   As the Committee to End the Occupation of Iraq protested Mr. Powell’s visit, the secretary of state passionately defended the war.
   "Not only have coalition forces rid the world of a regime that was simultaneously building palaces for its pampered and digging mass graves for its innocents, the object lesson of the war has led to some important successes in the non-proliferation area," he said. "So don’t let anybody be confused by the debates that are going on. America did the right thing. We now know a lot more about proliferation activity. We can see now that the Iraq war and its aftermath was a contributing factor in the decision of the Libyan leadership to forsake the path of WMD proliferation."
   After his speech, Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman told Mr. Powell, "I think it is fair to say that there’s no public servant today who is more highly regarded by both the American people and people all over the world than you, sir. And your speech today — all of us who had the privilege of hearing this speech today understand why this is the case."
   Mr. Powell was presented with the inaugural Crystal Tiger Award, given by Princeton undergraduates to an individual who has had a transformative impact on the world. The students chose Mr. Powell in honor of his work as secretary of state, his military record and service as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as his efforts to combat the global spread of AIDS.
   "Above all, it has been the strength of your character and depth of your integrity that has captured our imagination," senior Rishi Jaitly, coordinator of the award selection committee, told Mr. Powell.
   Mr. Powell, who graduated from the City College of New York, said the award would immediately go on his desk and that he would make sure to remind his many Princeton alumni and colleagues — including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Secretary of State George P. Shultz — that he is the first holder of the award.