Analysis: His security council presentation didn’t directly lead come the Iraq intrusion – yet it to be a transforming point in US-UN relations


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Colin Powell holds up a vial during his presentation come the UN defense council in new York ~ above 5 February 2003. Photograph: ray Stubblebine/Reuters
Colin Powell holds increase a vial during his presentation to the UN defense council in brand-new York ~ above 5 February 2003. Photograph: beam Stubblebine/Reuters

Colin Powell will be many remembered for the action he many regretted, his 2003 presentation to the UN protection council laying out US proof of Iraqi tools of massive destruction, which turned out not to exist.

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It walk not straight lead to the Iraq invasion due to the fact that George W shrub was walking to invade anyway, and also the presentation did no succeed in its goal of persuading the council to happen a second resolution backing military activity against Iraq.


But Powell’s speech marked a decisive minute in undermining united state credibility ~ above the human being stage – every the an ext because that the climate secretary the state’s recurring insistence the his insurance claims were based upon hard intelligence.

“My colleagues, every statement ns make this day is backed up by sources, solid sources,” he said in the now infamous 5 February 2003 briefing. “These room not assertions. What we’re providing you are facts and conclusions based upon solid intelligence.”

To drive house the point, Powell played a recording of an intercepted conversation in between Iraq military officers around a UN weapons inspection and displayed illustrations of the alleged WMD devices to press home the urgency the the threat. Yet the summary of the taped conversation had actually been embellished to do it seem much more incriminating, and the illustrations had actually sprung native the imaginations of Iraqi defectors informing the Bush administration what they wanted to hear.

Two years later, the end of government, Powell explained the speech together “a blot” on his career.

“I’m the one that presented it on behalf of the United states to the world, and will constantly be a component of my record,” Powell told abc News. “It was painful. That painful now.”

America’s allies and rivals would later on be alarmed in ~ Donald Trump’s intemperate posturing at the UN, for instance by his dire threats against North Korea in 2017. However it was rhetoric that was a prelude come Trump’s assiduous courting the Kim Jong-un. The Powell presentation was postured together a sober litany the facts, and it to be a prelude to war.

“Powell’s decided on Iraq significant a transforming point in US relations with the UN. I don’t think that Washington’s credibility at the UN has ever entirely recovered native the Iraq war and the false cases on WMDs,” Richard Gowan, UN director at the International situation Group, said.

“Obviously Obama rebuilt united state credibility at the UN come a far-ranging degree, and Trump trashed it. Now Biden is in rebuilding mode again, however non-western diplomats tho raise Iraq together proof that you can’t fairly trust the united state at the UN. It’s become the initial sin that US-UN relations, and also in fairness Powell known that ~ the event.”

Powell was exploited by the shrub White home for his credibility amongst the world’s diplomats and also his reputation for caution, and also he to be comprehensively misled. He to be told for instance that his speech had actually been all set by the national security the supervisory board under Condoleezza Rice, yet it was actually composed by Vice-President dick Cheney’s office, which had led the charge in browbeating CIA analysts into comes up v evidence and when that failed, going approximately the CIA altogether.

Powell had only 4 days to prepare the speech, however walking into the security council chamber, he said he feeling confident. The main claims about biological warfare vans and also chemical weapons had been in the president’s State the the Union speech, and also he had actually the CIA sift through the message throwing the end “a lot of stuff the was not double- and also triple-sourced”. That made the manager of central intelligence, George Tenet, sit behind him, in heat of vision of the cameras, once he sat before the council.


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Colin Powell talks through George Tenet after ~ his presentation come the UN protection council in 2003. Photograph: Mike Segar/ReutersIt was just a couple of weeks later that the CIA admitted the key pillars the his situation were “falling apart”.

“There to be some people in the intelligence neighborhood who knew at that time that some of these resources were no good, and also shouldn’t it is in relied upon, and also they no speak up. That ravaged me,” Powell claimed in his 2005 alphabet interview.

Powell however, had made the decision to believe the CIA end the state department’s own office of intelligence and also research (INR), which it is registered two knowledge reports prior to the speech questioning the solidity the the evidence.

Asked about Powell’s decision to ignore the INR’s findings, one of its senior analysts, Greg Thielmann, said the CBS News present 60 Minutes: “I have the right to only assume the he to be doing it come loyally support the chairman of the united States and also build the strongest possible case for suggesting that there to be no alternate to the use of armed forces force.”

“For Colin Powell, the situation put reputation and duty in conflict,” stated Sir Christopher Meyer, that was Britain’s ambassador in Washington in ~ the time. “I think the sense of duty come from gift a fighting soldier … as soon as the command in cook of the United states of America states ‘Go to brand-new York and also deliver a presentation’, a man like Powell no say no.”

“He probably should have actually said no and I think later on, he believed to himself: ‘I should have resigned,’” Meyer said. “I think the crushed him. Because that the rest of his life he to be mortified. Ns felt desperately sorry because that him.”

The decided did not reason the Iraq war, which had been already been to plan by the moment Powell gone into the chamber, yet apart from the influence on united state credibility, it did make its own particular contribution in the downward trajectory the the middle East.

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In one section of the speech, Powell described a Jordanian-born jihadist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, 21 times, in an effort to prove a link between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein. According to an investigation by the PBS programme Frontline, it helped raise Zarqawi’s profile and helped provide this previously obscure militant a massive following, paving the means for the organization that would become Isis.