Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Quote of the day: Colin Powell on the roles of the national security advisor

A few months ago I was re-reading Colin Powell’s memoir, My American Journey, and liked his summary of the job of being national security advisor: "judge, traffic cop, truant officer, arbitrator, fireman, chaplain, psychiatrist, and occasional hit man." (P. 352) I re-read Powell’s book and H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s memoir, It Doesn’t Take a Hero, back ...

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A few months ago I was re-reading Colin Powell's memoir, My American Journey, and liked his summary of the job of being national security advisor: "judge, traffic cop, truant officer, arbitrator, fireman, chaplain, psychiatrist, and occasional hit man." (P. 352)

I re-read Powell's book and H. Norman Schwarzkopf's memoir, It Doesn't Take a Hero, back to back. I was surprised to find I enjoyed both more now than I did the first time, when they were first published long ago. I suspect this was because back then I read them as a reporter digging for news, while this time I was looking more broadly to understand both men and their sense of the Army in which they served.

Then I read Karen DeYoung's bio of Powell. "The Bush administration had clearly manipulated Powell's prestige and reputation, even as it repeatedly undermined him and disregarded his advice," she writes, and then asks, Why had he let them do it? Part of the answer, she concludes, was that "he had been winning bureaucratic battles for so many years that he simply refused to acknowledge the extent of the losses he had suffered." He also had a sense of duty, she noted. And, she concluded, "He was a proud man, and he would never have let them see him sweat." (Pp. 510-511, DeYoung, Soldier.) 

A few months ago I was re-reading Colin Powell’s memoir, My American Journey, and liked his summary of the job of being national security advisor: "judge, traffic cop, truant officer, arbitrator, fireman, chaplain, psychiatrist, and occasional hit man." (P. 352)

I re-read Powell’s book and H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s memoir, It Doesn’t Take a Hero, back to back. I was surprised to find I enjoyed both more now than I did the first time, when they were first published long ago. I suspect this was because back then I read them as a reporter digging for news, while this time I was looking more broadly to understand both men and their sense of the Army in which they served.

Then I read Karen DeYoung’s bio of Powell. "The Bush administration had clearly manipulated Powell’s prestige and reputation, even as it repeatedly undermined him and disregarded his advice," she writes, and then asks, Why had he let them do it? Part of the answer, she concludes, was that "he had been winning bureaucratic battles for so many years that he simply refused to acknowledge the extent of the losses he had suffered." He also had a sense of duty, she noted. And, she concluded, "He was a proud man, and he would never have let them see him sweat." (Pp. 510-511, DeYoung, Soldier.) 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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