Colin Powell: American Power and Intervention From Vietnam to Iraq

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Few figures in the past quarter-century have played a more significant role in American foreign policy than Colin Powell. He wielded power at the highest levels of the most important foreign policy bureaucracies: the Pentagon, the White House, the joint chiefs, and the state department. As national security advisor in the Ronald Reagan administration, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and secretary of state during George W. Bush's first term, he played a prominent role in four administrations, Republican and Democrat, spanning more than twenty years.

Powell has been engaged in the most important debates over foreign and defense policy during the past two decades, such as the uses of American power in the wake of the Vietnam war, the winding down of the Cold War and the quest for new paths for American foreign policy, and the interventions in Panama (1989) and the Persian Gulf (1990–1991). During the Clinton era, he was involved in the controversies over interventions in Bosnia and Somalia. As America's top diplomat from 2001 to 2004, he helped shape the aims and goals of U.S. diplomacy after September 11, 2001, and in the run-up to the Iraq War.

In this exploration of Powell's career and character, Christopher D. O'Sullivan reveals several broad themes crucial to American foreign policy and yields insights into the evolution of American foreign and defense policy in the post-Vietnam, post-Cold War eras. In addition, O'Sullivan explores the conflicts and debates between different foreign policy ideologies such as neo-conservatism and realism.

O'Sullivan's book not only explains Powell's diplomatic style, it provides crucial insights into the American foreign policy tradition in the modern era.

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Editorial Reviews

Ronald W. Pruessen
We have not yet begun to think of Colin Powell as one of those somewhat larger-than-life figures who provide such revealing windows into the history of U.S. foreign policy—Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles, Henry Kissinger, among others. Christopher O'Sullivan's book makes a persuasive case for now putting Powell into that category and it will serve as the valuable jumping off point for the studies of this important and complex man that many others will want to undertake.
O’Sullivan examines Powell’s long career, finding that his loyalty to the Bush administration led him to commit the same sins as military leaders of Vietnam era—not speaking out about an inadvisable war.
American Diplomacy
An interesting and thought-provoking account of Powell's life and times. This small book does more than present a biography of Colin Powell: it summarizes the political machinations of four presidencies and gives the reader a sense of some of the political maneuvering Powell encountered within the White House, the NSC, and the offices of Defense and State. It is interesting, informative, well written, and well sourced. The bibliographical essay alone represents the best example of a literature review I have seen in a graduate thesis or post-graduate dissertation. I certainly recommend this book to anyone interested in US foreign affairs.
Publishers Weekly
One of the more tragic political casualties of the latter Bush Administration, former Secretary of State Colin Powell was a powerful voice for moderation who was unable to curb the neoconservative agenda of colleagues Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz. Powell instead became their fall guy, notoriously presenting flawed intelligence to the U.N. portraying Iraq as an immediate threat. A Vietnam veteran who had vowed to keep the U.S. out of any more Vietnams (a doctrine is named for him), Powell jettisoned the most dubious intelligence Cheney produced, but also provided the final impetus for the war's launch O'Sullivan never uncovers the reasons why, nor does he cast blame, but he does highlight the more striking contradictions of Powell's career: as Clinton's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell spoke up against gays in the military and intervention in Bosnia, but retained a soldier's silence and obedience during Bush II's march to war. Throughout, O'Sullivan keeps his account remarkably balanced, probing the four-star General's remarkable sense of loyalty for the secrets to his meteoric rise and its abrupt halt. Once a powerful contender for the presidency, Powell's story is particularly poignant, and captured with authority in this respectful, illuminating biography.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

O'Sullivan (history, adjunct, Univ. of San Francisco; Sumner Welles, Postwar Planning, and the Quest for a New World Order) has written a brief interpretive analysis of Colin Powell's public career, focusing on his years as national security advisor under President Reagan, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George H.W. Bush and briefly under Bill Clinton, and finally as George W. Bush's secretary of state until 2005. The author argues that Powell's major accomplishment was the so-called Powell Doctrine, which emphasized the use of caution and diplomacy before going to war; when war was necessary, it should be fought with clear objectives, coalition building, and public support. Powell's greatest failure, O'Sullivan states, was his inability to convince President George W. Bush to implement this doctrine in the case of the Iraq War, owing partly to Powell's unwillingness to step outside the chain of command and partly to the ability of Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to influence the President. O'Sullivan's work will be of interest to all students of Colin Powell's career and all who are looking at George W. Bush's military policies.
—A.O. Edmonds

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780742551862
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/16/2009
  • Series: Biographies in American Foreign Policy Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 991,370
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher D. O'Sullivan teaches history at the University of San Francisco. He is the author of Sumner Welles, Postwar Planning, and the Quest for a New World Order, 1937–1943, which won the American Historical Association's Gutenberg-e Prize in 2003, and The United Nations: A Concise History.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Education of a Soldier, 1937–1980
Chapter 2: From the Pentagon to the White House, 1980–1987
Chapter 3: National Security Advisor at the End of the Cold War, 1987–1989
Chapter 4: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, 1989–1993
Chapter 5: The Military and Diplomacy After the Cold War
Chapter 6: Secretary of State
Chapter 7: Powell, Iraq, and the "Fog of War"

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