R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Colin Powell

Listening to Colin Powell endorse Barack Obama, I had the same divided feelings I did last spring, when I heard him speak at my daughter’s high school graduation.

He had come because he knew the family of another senior in the class well enough to accept the invitation. An hour before the students processed in, he graciously posed for a photo with each of them. When he spoke, he was warm, witty and inspirational. The story of his rise — from the South Bronx to four-star general, National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of State — held a classic commencement moral: If a screw-up like me could make it, you privileged and accomplished kids will make it, too, and you’ll have a responsibility to give back to society.

Yet I couldn’t help recalling that this was the same Colin Powell whose United Nations speech five years earlier had convinced me that invading Iraq was the right thing to do. And not only me, but journalists and columnists and editorial writers around the country, many of whom I respected for their gimlet-eyed sobriety.

As assembled by former Des Moines Register editorial page editor “>investigations since his UN speech suggest that Secretary Powell misrepresented the intelligence he had and discounted “>Kamel had told both CIA analysts and UN inspectors in 1995 that Iraq had destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and banned missiles.

Bioweapons factories: Secretary Powell said, “We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails,” which could make enough anthrax or botulinus toxin “in a single month to kill thousands upon thousands of people.” What he didn’t say was that the “>CIA knew that the two corroborating accounts came from Iraqis who had never had direct contact with the biowarfare trucks and had not claimed to have seen them. Nor that CIA files contained information about another Iraqi defector, an engineer who had worked with Curveball, who specifically denied that they had worked on such facilities. Nor that the only American intelligence official ever to actually meet Curveball, when asked to vet this portion of the upcoming speech, warned his CIA boss that Curveball might not know what he was talking about.

Nuclear weapons: Secretary Powell said “most United States experts” believe aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were intended for use as centrifuge cylinders for enriching uranium for nuclear bombs. “Most?” In 2001, the “>experts had specifically warned him not to say that the tubes were manufactured to a tolerance ”that far exceeds U.S. requirements for comparable rockets,” but say it he did.

WMD concealment: Secretary Powell played a recording of an intercepted conversation, in Arabic, between two Iraqi military officers. The English translation he showed on a slide said this: “Clean out all of the areas, the scrap areas, the abandoned areas… Make sure there is nothing there.” Yet this is the “>pressure from Vice President Cheney and his enforcer, “Scooter” Libby, Powell succeeded in purging the speech of dozens of canards. But the speech he delivered is the same speech that, on the eve of his UN appearance, he