Hard on the Stomach

Hard on the Stomach – presidential appointment of Colin Powell as Secretary of State and John Ashcroft as Attorney General

John M. Swomley

President George W. Bush seemed, in his boyishly sly way, to be following in his early cabinet appointments the nanny’s dictum that “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down in the most delightful way.” However, some have a truly bitter taste.

Colin Powell–the first black secretary of state, who has been touted by the mainstream media as illustrative of Bush’s diversity–is not representative of African Americans and certainly no civil rights model. He isn’t an experienced diplomat but, rather, a thorough militarist.

Powell was Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser during the period when the United States supported the contra military attacks against the Sandinista Nicaraguan government. He is no hero to progressive Central Americans but encourages the most reactionary military counter-revolutionists. During the Bush administration that followed Reagan, Powell was named the twelfth chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a position he held until his retirement in 1993.

James Petras, on the faculty of the State University of New York at Binghampton, wrote in the January 17-23, 1990, issue of In These Times:

In 1985, when Washington attempted to mobilize all of its regional assets

to impose a total economic blockade against Nicaragua and to build up its

armed pressure in Honduras in preparation for a possible invasion, Noriega

(nationalist head of Panama’s Defense Forces) refused to … follow the

lead of the other Central American clients [of the United States].

Carlos Russell, Panama’s former ambassador to the Organization of American States, claimed that a combination of U.S. racism and support of the white oligarchy in Panama was a major factor in the U.S. invasion of that country. Russell, who holds a doctorate in political science and was teaching at Brooklyn College, noted that Panama is a predominantly black country.

Powell commanded U.S. troops during that invasion–ostensibly to arrest Manuel Noriega–and is therefore responsible for the resulting carnage. Russell notes that, according to his sources, more than 7,000 civilians, most of whom were black, were killed, thousands more injured, and 20,000 left homeless. Russell further asserts:

The U.S. callously wiped out thousands of Panamanian lives just so it could

experiment with the Stealth Bomber and other high tech weaponry…. They

used the Panamanian people like they were guinea pigs.

By contrast, Powell didn’t bomb the business districts. More than 120 of the top 500 U.S. corporations and six of the top ten oil companies are in Panama, as well as 130 major banks from over thirty nations. These foreign corporate interests were able to avoid U.S. taxation by locating there. They weren’t targeted during the invasion. However, there was an unintended consequence: thousands of looters ravaged business neighborhoods.

Powells next major military adventure was in the Gulf War against Iraq. He and Dick Cheney worked together to orchestrate that conflict. Powell and Daddy Bush made the decision to call off action against Saddam Hussein after achieving a partial victory there. According to the December 17, 2000, Kansas City Star, Powell says he is now going to “reenergize the sanctions” against Iraq.

He also says he will begin working toward the construction of a ballistic missile defense system, despite Russian objections and the discouragement of many experts. Clearly, he is a militarist, not a diplomat.

George W.’s appointment of John Ashcroft–former governor of Missouri and defeated candidate for reelection to the Senate–is notable not only for Ashcroft’s extreme right views in general but in particular for those against women. As senator he introduced legislation that would define personhood and citizenship as beginning at fertilization. The bill allowed no exception for abortion if a woman’s life or health were threatened by pregnancy. It would even prevent emergency contraception after a woman is impregnated due to rape.

It adds insult to the injury he has brought to African Americans to place him in charge of protecting their civil rights. Ashcroft blocked the appointment of Ronnie White, an African American state judge, to the federal bench. And in 1998 Ashcroft was a member of a small minority in the U.S. Senate who voted against the confirmation of Dr. David Satcher, an African American, as surgeon general of the United States.

Ashcroft’s voting record in the Senate shows consistent opposition to funding school breakfasts for low-income children, to minimum wage increases for workers, and to health coverage for uninsured children. His voting record on Social Security and Medicare is opposed by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

He repeatedly claims that he would not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. However, his record reveals that he attempted to block the appointment of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg; as Missouri governor, he asked the sexual persuasion of a health care expert applying for a state cabinet post; and as a member of the Senate, he refused to sign a pledge that he wouldn’t discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation.

As for church-state separation, he heartily asserts: “I also believe that I need to invite God’s presence into whatever I’m doing, including the world of politics.”

I have a copy of his undated letter addressed to “Dear Fellow Conservative,” in which he asks for support of his campaign in the Senate to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts. Excerpts from that letter include:

With the help of liberal Senators like Ted Kennedy, the NEA is giving away

your money to radicals who produce “shock art.” I’m leading the charge in

the Senate to abolish the NEA and its waste of more than $100 million of

your tax money. But liberal politicians like Ted Kennedy are fighting me

tooth and nail! That’s why I need your vital ABOLISH THE NEA petition


Then Ashcroft’s letter, referring to the artists who receive NEA grants, says:

These so-called artists despise hard-working middle-class Americans like

you. They hate the traditional Christian values that you and I hold. And

they’re doing everything they can to destroy our beliefs and to promote

hatred of America.

Ashcroft then states that he is “the chairman of Spirit of America” and asks support “with your urgent contribution” of $25 or more, “maybe $100, $250, $500, or $1,000” because “liberal candidates are getting loads of money from corrupt union bosses, U.N. supporters, and Hollywood elites.”

This is the man who George W. Bush said will, as attorney general, enforce the law.

Vice-President Dick Cheney is a former White House Chief of Staff, congressional representative from Wyoming, and secretary of defense. The December 16, 2000, New York Times reports that “Cheney had a voting record to the right of Newt Gingrich, according to several Senate Republicans, including Trent Lott.”

I believe Cheney will be the real behind-the-scenes president while Bush is the ceremonial president. Cheney was chief of Bush’s transition operation and most of the cabinet selections are his friends and allies. A December 31, 2000, Kansas City Star news story quoted Bush’s spokesperson Ari Fleischer as saying Cheney’s job description in the new Bush administration is “going to be serious; it’s going to be heavy. George Bush trusts him.” Cheney, however, according to a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said his influence “is behind the scenes” where he “tries to avoid leaving his fingerprints.”

Bitter medicine, indeed.

John M. Swomley has a Ph.D. in political science and international affairs from the University of Colorado; is professor emeritus of social ethics at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri; and has authored numerous articles and books.

COPYRIGHT 2001 American Humanist Association

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group