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Times Online re Powell: "More repertory theatre than Steven Spielberg"
by repost
Thursday Feb 6th, 2003 5:34 PM
What they got were some smoking intercepts, a few smudgy satellite photographs, a teaspoon of talcum powder, some Lego-style drawings of sinister trucks and trains, a picture of an American U2 spy plane, several mugshots of Arabic men and a script that required a suspension of mistrust by the world’s doves.
February 06, 2003

Sketch

Smudged shadow of a smoking gun
By Tim Reid

AS COLIN POWELL ambled into the United Nations Security Council’s vast chamber yesterday, the air thick with nervous energy and taut expectation, the gathered throng of foreign ministers, Iraqi diplomats and a television audience that spanned the globe were expecting nothing short of a blockbuster, a diplomatic son et lumière using the most dazzling tricks from the CIA’s special effects department.
And, just perhaps, a smoking gun.

What they got were some smoking intercepts, a few smudgy satellite photographs, a teaspoon of talcum powder, some Lego-style drawings of sinister trucks and trains, a picture of an American U2 spy plane, several mugshots of Arabic men and a script that required a suspension of mistrust by the world’s doves.

The overall performance, delivered by one of the slickest performers on the international political stage, was compelling. Many of the props, however, were more repertory theatre than Steven Spielberg.

Sometimes it takes a dove to make the best case for war. General Powell, long Washington’s lone moderate whose colleagues have been straining at the UN leash like slavering pitbulls, must have been nervous, but he did not show it, blowing kisses to friends in the public gallery as he arrived.

The same cannot be said of the UN itself. A blue cover had been thrown over a reproduction of Picasso’s anti-war masterpiece Guérnica, which hangs in the Security Council entrance. Jittery officials felt that whatever the merits of General Powell’s case, the image of a man trying to cajole the world into bombing Iraq amid screaming and mutilated women, children and horses did not sit easily with the lofty ideals of the UN charter.

Dominating the chamber like a drive-in movie screen was a monitor on to which English translations of intercepted conversations, satellite photos and graphics were displayed. At times the address resembled an advertising executive pitching for a contract.

Three minutes into the address the chamber was filled with crackling audiotape, two recently intercepted conversations between Republican Guard officers and an Iraqi field worker. In one they seemed terrified at the prospect of being discovered with a “modified vehicle”, in another with “forbidden ammo”.

He invited us into a “thick intelligence file” detailing mobile biological weapons laboratories, mounted on the back of lorries. What we got instead was a childlike graphic of lorries laden with fiendish-looking tanks and tubes. Was this the best the CIA had got?

Arthur Schlesinger, President Kennedy’s former adviser who watched Adlai Stevenson’s dramatic revelation of Soviet missile sites before the Security Council in 1962, summed up General Powell’s problem best: “Everyone accepted what an American President said in 1962 without question. Nobody could make head nor tail of the Stevenson photographs, but they all believed what he told them.”