Ask Dick Armitage

Published July 2, 2004 8:43PM (EDT)

In an interview on Indonesian TV Friday, Colin Powell extolled the virtues of the "new" Iraq by explaining that Saddam Hussein will receive a fair trial where he's presumed innocent until proven guilty. Somebody forgot to tell Dick Armitage.

When the deputy secretary of state and Powell confidante took questions from the public Friday on, Josh from Milwaukee asked what would happen if Hussein were found innocent. Armitage answered: "Seems to me after the scenes of jubilation, the comments about evidence that I heard yesterday and the arraignment of Saddam Hussein, it is not a question of being found innocent, it is a question of only having a fair trial where his guilt is demonstrated to all -- far and wide."

It was only one of several unusually telling answers from Armitage. "Ask the White House" generally features party-line pablum from administration officials, but Armitage strayed from the script several times Friday. Armitage and Powell are peas in the pod -- their views on Saddam's trial notwithstanding -- and in his "Ask the White House" appearance Friday, Armitage offered a glimpse into the divide between Powell's State Department and the neo-con hawks that drive administration policy.

When Debbie from St. Louis asked why American soldiers are dying in Iraq, Armitage offered highly qualified hope for the future: Iraq, "if it develops democratically," he said, will help stabilize the Middle East and obviate the need for more Americans to fight there "anytime in the near future."

And when Pat from Lithia Springs, Ga., asked whether it was true that Powell and Bush "are not seeing eye to eye on many issues including the Iraq war" -- and whether this explained Powell's "low profile" on Iraq -- Armitage offered a non-answer that confirmed the Powell-Bush divide and dumped the Iraq disaster in the lap of the Defense Department.

"President Bush is surrounded by a Cabinet of very strong-willed individuals," Armitage said. "This is just the way the President wants it. The President takes different points of view; appreciates different points of view; and then he makes his decision. Secretary Powell, it seems to me, has not had such a low profile in the last year regarding Iraq. He gave a testimony to the UN Security Council; he testified on Capitol Hill; the fact of the matter is the majority of the activities regarding Iraq over the past year has been military in nature. Therefore, the Department of Defense and our military has been the foremost in the public eye."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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