The answer to the question in the headline is, of course, no. Whatever Americans may think about Colin Powell’s politics, his decision to let Saddam Hussein remain in power in 1991, and his diplomacy while secretary of state, differences of opinion are not illegal: The simple fact of the matter is that Powell served honorably and was a brilliant military commander.
When Powell’s legacy is written, chief among it will be a series of principles relating to the use of military force which he articulated while chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This so-called “Powell Doctrine” prioritized restraint and demanded a clear exit strategy when force was used. However, when military action became necessary, then Powell called for a decisive edge and overwhelming force.
Hence, in Operation Desert Storm, Americans went in with overwhelming force, and Powell did not hesitate until he reached his objective: the liberation of Kuwait and the surrender of Iraqi forces. Americans celebrated that military victory, and Kuwaitis still do. The overwhelming victory led directly to the 1991 Madrid Conference which brought Israel and Arab states like Syria together in an unprecedented way, as well as to a renewed peace process on the Korean peninsula.
Fast forward to the present day: Journalists, human-rights activists, diplomats, and foreign officials all castigate Israel for its use of disproportionate military force. Israel, however, has adhered closely to the Powell Doctrine. It deferred the current military operation for years despite multiple provocations by Hamas, which had fired hundreds of rockets and missiles into Israel. Rather than resort to military force loosely, it sought to utilize diplomatic pressure to force closure of the tunnels which Hamas has constructed to smuggle weaponry, explosives, and other contraband into Gaza. However, with the kidnapping and murder of three Israelis, one of them also an American citizen, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided he had no option but to utilize military force.
Has Israel committed war crimes? Only in the fevered imagination of the political left and those whose moral barometer has become so dangerously miscalibrated. Is Israel acting with disproportionate force? Absolutely. And should it? Well, that’s the celebrated lesson of the Powell Doctrine.
Just as the United States leveraged its industrial might and used overwhelming force in World War II against both Japan and Germany, and more recently used disproportionate force in Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and again in Iraq; and just as France more recently has used disproportionate force in Libya and against al-Qaeda in Mali; so Israel now uses disproportionate force against Hamas in pursuit of aims of destroying Hamas’s tunnels, eradicating the Hamas missile threat, and rendering for a short time at least Hamas impotent. In each case, civilians died, often in numbers far greater than have been killed in Gaza.
How ironic it is that CNN and other media networks which once celebrated the wisdom of Colin Powell now condemn it when it is pursued by others. Perhaps, though, when it comes to accusations of lack of impropriety, the fact that it is Israel that is fighting terrorists is no coincidence.