Colin Powell has been in the news, again. Last year, he stabbed the GOP in the back after its lifetime of patronage by endorsing the Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama. Just recently, he has publicly clashed with Rush Limbaugh and former Vice President Dick Cheney after claiming that the GOP was "in deep trouble" because it listened to Limbaugh's "nastiness". [Powell to Rush, Cheney: Room for me among 'emerging' Republican Party, by David Beard, Boston Globe, May 20, 2009.]
I'm not surprised. In 1995, when I was an active U.S. Foreign Service Officer [FSO] assigned to Washington, I was approached by a group of colleagues who sought my signature on a petition to the Republican Party National Committee endorsing then-General Powell as the GOP's candidate for President.
Powell was well-liked by many FSOs. He had served as National Security Adviser under President Reagan, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the administration of President George H. W. Bush.
But, to my colleagues' utter bewilderment, I refused. When they persisted, so did I. Very disappointed, and, I suspect a tad angry, they asked why any "conservative" would oppose the choice of this outstanding man for the presidency, when the GOP heir apparent, Sen. Bob Dole, had little or no chance of winning the upcoming election.
"General Powell may be many things, including an honorable man" I responded, "but he is not a conservative."
Time and events have validated my judgment—above all, Powell's subsequent unreported campaign to impose racial quotas on the Foreign Service.
In December 2001, five years after I retired and when Powell had re-emerged as Secretary of State under George II, I received a call to help administer the oral part of the examination for entry into the Foreign Service. I declined, but after two more calls, and what I can only describe as pleading, I succumbed.
In accepting, I was required to attend three Training Sessions. The first day I walked into the conference room, I knew something was afoot: I counted twenty-one prospective examiners, 14 of whom were black. Included amongst the group, were two "public" examiners, that is, non-FSOs, active or retired: a black minister, and a man whose qualifications to sit on the panels that made final judgments on eligibility was never made clear—except, of course, the obvious: he, too, was black.
I was told early on that Powell had ordered that a series of entry tests be administered for the primary purpose of raising the numbers of minorities in the Foreign Service to "acceptable" numbers.
Hence the immediate need for examiners.
It should be noted that the Bush II White House looked upon this venture with "benign neglect"—something that would come back to bite them two years later, when Powell defied the president and supported "affirmative action" guidelines in the case of Grutter vs. Bollinger at the University of Michigan Law School.
Unquestionably, Powell's influence and backing of "race-consciousness" in admission was a factor in the Court's decision. It was noted by Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who wrote the Court's opinion.
When I joined the Foreign Service in 1970, there still remained within the organization a sense that its members were, by and large, part of an "elite". The process of identifying an appropriate candidate to serve the country overseas was both rigorous and lengthy. It included a thorough vetting for a security clearance, which excluded homosexuals for fear of their being blackmailed, as well as those who were thought to be serious lefties, mainly communists or their sympathizers.
Traditionally, Ivy League graduates represented a disproportionate number of officers. But that began to change by the early 1960s, when state colleges and university candidates began their entry in larger numbers.
However, the entry examination still required a broad knowledge of US history, foreign policy, economics, and cultural matters. No testing for any other government position was considered as demanding.
My own oral interview, which lasted nearly 90 minutes, was primarily a discussion of, amongst other items, the Mutual Balance of Force Reductions proposals for arms limitations talks that were being held in Vienna.
The tides of social change engulfed most federal office government bureaus in the 70s. However, if memory serves, the feeling within the foreign affairs agencies was that those convulsions would not affect them. I clearly recall a then CIA Chief of Station at an embassy telling me: "EEOC rules do not apply to us."
He would be proven wrong. I was to find out on my return that the world had changed a great deal since I entered the service.
At the State Department, the first changes designed to bring about a more "inclusive" Foreign Service began when the written test was revised. The rationale for this was that the written test proved little in predicting an officer's performance. In time, so the oral interview was revised too: one would now be judged on the basis of what one "felt," rather than what one knew. Within a decade, the Foreign Service as I knew it had been revolutionized.
Predictably, this situation arose not by legislation or consent, but by judicial decree.
What was left of the traditional Foreign Service died in 1987. In a case (Palmer v. Baker) involving alleged discrimination against women, Judge Patricia Wald of the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, arguably one of the most liberal courts, ruled in favor of a woman who claimed she had been passed over for promotions because of her gender. Wald's ruling overturned the District Court trial findings. The State Department was now enjoined to draw up guidelines that would favor women. These guidelines had to be applied at all levels of hiring, promotions, even for commendation awards—and, by extension, to all foreign affairs agencies.
And so began the myth of "the glass ceiling". Inexplicably, the Reagan White House, along with Sec. of State, Jim Baker, decided not to appeal that decision to the US Supreme Court. As far as I know, those standards are still in force.
But more was to come.
On January 20, 2001, Colin Luther Powell became the 65th Secretary of State of the United States, approved for the position by a unanimous vote of the US Senate.
It is widely accepted that Colin Powell's ascent up the ladder of success was very much a matter of ability. But luck—or something—also played a role. Powell's commanding officer at Fort Carson, Maj. Gen. John Hudachek, wrote a very critical evaluation of Powell, claiming he was a poor leader, which would have been a dead end for most military officers. However, salvation appeared in the form of Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who arrived just in time. Powell was reassigned to Washington, and, as the story line goes, the rest is history. In less than a decade, he had gone from colonel to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
One is tempted to think that this began Colin Powell's obsession with "affirmative action:" reliance on "merit" resulted in Hudachek's nearly denying him his destiny. So he would find the other Colin Powells who must be hiding in the shadows.
I found that, omnipresent in the interviews I was supposed to be conducting with potential FSO candidates—which were only of 30 minute duration, and totally scripted—was an emphasis on making sure that all minority candidate, male and female, were fully considered for all their attributes.
It would be naïve to believe that these candidates did not already know this. Furthermore, the Secretary was watching: the morning after the examination day in Washington, a former chargé (one who is in charge of an embassy when there is no ambassador) would come around to tabulate not only the number of candidates who had passed the oral examination, but also the percentage of minority winners. That, it appeared, was his only task!
Two interviews are indelibly etched in my mind: both took place in Chicago, and two involved black candidates, male and female.
The young man showed up in Levi dungarees and a polo shirt. I refused to interview him. My reason: if he didn't have the respect for the position to dress appropriately for an interview, then he was unsuited for the job. The caterwauling about my callousness was deafening. Why, his luggage might have been lost, I was told. (I later found out that the candidate lived in Chicago.) I have no idea if the young man passed or failed, but I had nothing to do with it.
When a candidate, white or black (I recall very few Hispanics), did not pass, an examiner was required to explain why. One young black woman, a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School was considered deficient; it was my job to tell her.
It was apparent to me that this woman, with her law degree, was not pleased: her looks could kill. After going over the results, I asked if she wanted to comment. I will never forget her staring at me with not the friendliest of faces and informing me: "I want you to know that I've never failed anything in my life."
Neither, I suspect, did Sonia Sotomayor!
I was not asked to stay on. But I was not unhappy about the severing of ties. The Secretary's ukase had been proclaimed, and I had followed neither the spirit nor the letter of its intent.
Colin Powell left after the first Bush administration, supposedly for indiscreet remarks about US involvement in Iraq to a BBC commentator. He should have known better, but perhaps he felt that he was irreplaceable…except, of course, that he was not.
I have no regrets that fourteen years ago, I refused to support a man whose views on the role of government, the abortion license and affirmative action do not coincide with the principles of conservatism, or, for that matter, the US Constitution.
People may question if there is life after death. But certainly there is life after leaving government service. Colin Powell succeeded in ways unheard of by any former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or Secretary of State. After all, how many have had a street (in Germany) named after him? Or been given a family coat of arms by Britain? (Powell's father was a British subject.) Or been given the Horatio Alger Distinguished American award? Or the Presidential Medal of Freedom?
All of that is true…but changes nothing.
Powell's role in corrupting the Constitution by pushing "affirmative action" to favor one racial group at the expense of another proves that my judgment about not supporting him for President was right.
One final personal anecdote: in all my years as a Foreign Service Officer, I never met one colleague—in any overseas or domestic assignment—who admitted that he or she was a product of "affirmative action" hiring.
Perhaps they knew—or sensed—more about the meaning of "equal protection under the law" than did Colin Powell.
Vincent Chiarello (email him) is a retired Foreign Service Officer whose tours included U.S. embassies in Latin America and Europe. His last, and most memorable, assignment was to the US Embassy to The Holy See. Currently, he is on the Board of the American National Council for Immigration Reform of northern Virginia (ANCIR). For his VDARE.COM appearances, click here.