Roundtable: Rice Responds to Powell on Iraq

Topics: the impact of Monday's massive immigration protests, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's reactions to Colin Powell's Iraq war comments. Guests: Mary Frances Berry, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania; Roland Martin, executive editor of The Chicago Defender; and Jeff Obafemi Carr, host of the radio show Freestyle.

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ED GORDON, host:

Now, on to our roundtable. Joining us today from our NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., Mary Frances Berry. She is a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. From our Chicago bureau, Roland Martin, executive editor of The Chicago Defender; and Jeff Obafemi Carr, host of the radio program, Freestyle joins us from Nashville, Tennessee, at Spotland Productions there.

I thank you all. Greatly appreciate it. Mary, when you look at the numbers, talk to me about what you think this rally did yesterday.

Professor MARY FRANCES BERRY (Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania): Well, I think, what it did not do, was shut down the country, economically. That was one thing it didn't do. But one thing it did do, was to show the solidarity among the people who are arguing for fairer immigration reform, and that they were out there in huge numbers. And it showed somewhat also, the places where they are, and that they are determined to fight. I think that on immigration, though, on the one hand, you can be for it, for the people who are protesting because they're protesting, and that's the American way; and that it's moral, and that it's humane and principled, to let them in. But, you can also lament some of the rhetoric that is there that I think ought to be changed.

All this business about jobs that Americans won't do--anybody who reads and pays attention, knows that a majority of the kinds of jobs they're talking about, are done by people who are legal all across the country, and a minority and in some places are, so they don't need to say that. I think that the appeal to morality, the appeal to bring me your tired, your huddled masses to opportunity, was embodied in what happened yesterday. And I think it was very powerful and it was very effective.

GORDON: Here's what's interesting to me, Roland Martin. I heard a friend of mine say, that what he believed he saw yesterday, was the rising of white man's fears personified. Perhaps, if you agree with that, with Lou Dobbs of CNN--suggesting that illegal immigration is depressing middle class wages, that we are seeing this group now being taken on by the radical left, et cetera, et cetera, making a stance to say, enough is enough. We're not going to have this.

Mr. ROLAND MARTIN (Executive Editor, The Chicago Defender): Well, I think the big issue here is how do you reconcile the illegal part of illegal immigrants? And so when you have individuals making an argument that, make us U.S. citizens when they came to the country illegally, I think that's where you have this disconnect. And it's not just with white males. I mean, I'll tell you point blank, you know, look I got a talk show on an all-black radio station, and man, black folks are—-I mean, it's probably running eight to ten, I mean, eight out of 10 against granting these rights. And so, you have a lot of people who are tired emotionally. And frankly, I think Congress is really in a quagmire. Because, if you go left, if you go right--you're going to face a lot of heat.

GORDON: Here, Jeff, is what I also heard in the discussion that I had with a group of people yesterday, that there was some envy, if you will, with this group being able to show this kind of solidarity. One of our producers even suggested that perhaps we should see African-Americans out in the streets rallying and protesting the idea of 50 percent black male unemployment and some of the ills that still face us--that perhaps, we're not stepping up and should take a lesson here.

Mr. JEFF OBAFEMI CARR (Host, Freestyle): Well, I definitely would agree that there's a spirit of activism that is missing from the African-American community, that we're seeing here on the part of the Hispanic community, and they're speaking their minds. They're actually coming together in a way that we haven't come together in 30 years-plus. I think it was a great move or a great idea for them to borrow from the Doug Turner Ward play, Day of Absence, where black people disappeared for a day. To start as a notion, to seem to get inspiration from that piece, and then to move it into a huge series of rallies, is definitely something that's very important.

I think it is a model because I think African-Americans have become quite docile in the way that they deal with the issues--that we deal with our issues. Now, whether a mass protest is going to solve something for us or not, I'm not quite sure, if there's not a program behind it. But I do think that the spirit of activism is important, and I think that it's needed, in this day and age, to combat the same kind of stereotypes that we face, that we see the Latinos fighting against.

Mr. MARTIN: But hey…

Prof. BERRY: You have to…

Mr. MARTIN: But hey, I've got to jump in here and say this. I think it's really important. The difference is, when you look at the issue facing African-Americans and the civil rights movement, there was one unifying issue that touched every African-American, regardless of class, regardless of education. I think that's the same thing you have here. When you begin to identify concerns today, specific to African-Americans, you don't have an issue--such as inner city unemployment among black men--that resonates across education, across class. And so I think it's apples and oranges ,trying to compare the two.

African-Americans have, again, have stood up. You've seen Million Man March. You've seen Millions More Movement, but I think this is a different issue. Now, the issue for them, though, is how do you translate marches into political progress? That's now going to be the hard part, and that's often the overlooked part when it comes to African-Americans during the civil rights movement.

GORDON: Well, I'd agree with you on the Million Man March. I don't know that I would agree with you on the Millions More Movement…

Mr. MARTIN: Well, I mean…

Mr. OBAFEMI CARR: I don't think so, either.

GORDON: …in terms of what we saw there. Mary, you wanted to say?

Prof. BERRY: Oh, well, the Millions More Movement and the Million Man March, we had all those people, but Farrakhan said, and I pointed this out to him, you were coming to march on Washington, but you didn't ask Washington for anything. Pointedly, these folks are asking for policy changes. We haven't had African-Americans marching in those numbers asking for policy changes. However, the Latinos marching with other immigrant groups in smaller numbers, is a new story--their power, their coming to power, their numbers, the burgeoning of it. African-Americans marching is not a new story, so I don't know. It would have to be formulated in a way.

And we are in a post-civil rights generation. My students keep reminding me. And it is hard because of fracturing of classes, and the masses, and the middle class, and all the rest, to come around together around an issue. It's something that frankly…

GORDON: But Mary, here's the $64,000 question. Is this one of those seismic shifts that we're starting to see, in terms of political might, possibly from African-Americans, who have run a strong second for a mighty long time?

Prof. BERRY: Is it a change in political might? Yes. It perhaps is a seismic change. It depends on what happens on the policy side. If what happens is a real crackdown on immigration—a real crackdown…

GORDON: Right.

Prof. BERRY: …and the numbers don't come to power as the Latinos are saying, then we've got a different can of worms. But if in fact, the immigration reform is mild, and you get legalization, and you get people voting, and the power is expressed, African-Americans will be in second or third place.

GORDON: Let me turn our--let me turn out attention…

Mr. MARTIN: Yes, but in that case I think that the jealousy is a good thing.

GORDON: Real quick for me.

Mr. MARTIN: Mm hmm.

GORDON: The jealousy is a good thing. All right. Let me turn our attention…

Mr. MARTIN: No, I think the jealousy is a good thing is we see somebody doing something, then we decide…

Prof. BERRY: They will do something.

Mr. MARTIN: …that we're gonna have to get up and do it, and I think that's good.

GORDON: Yeah.

Prof. BERRY: Right.

GORDON: All right. Let me turn our attention to something that made news over the weekend, and we want to make sure that we talk about this because it's very, very interesting. And I think it's also interesting to note that we have seen Colin Powell do this before, overseas--made these statements in a private British television station interview. Colin Powell suggested over the weekend, that he had told Tommy Franks, Donald Rumsfeld, and the president that he felt that they did not have enough troops in the region.

He went on to say, I don't think we had enough force there to impose order. The aftermath turned out to be much more difficult than anyone had anticipated. Roland Martin, when we see this, what does this say about a man who really personifies, in most people's minds, the good soldier?

Mr. MARTIN: Colin Powell is a modern day Henry Kissinger when he is trying to protect his public relations interest. Let's just cut to the chase. I mean, we have--I mean, look, I like Colin Powell. He's a great guy…

Prof. BERRY: Why do you like him?

Mr. MARTIN: …but he's very good at protecting his name. And the reality is, he will not say these things to The New York Times or to The Washington Post or to The L.A. Times or to an American network. He would not be this honest and forthright. Every pronouncement that he's…

GORDON: But he's smart enough to know it's going to get out, Roland.

Mr. MARTIN: But, no, no--but it's, no--but…

GORDON: He's smart enough to know that it will to get reported on this side of the ocean. It's not like he believes that it won't be said here.

Mr. MARTIN: But it's not the same.

Prof. BERRY: But guys, listen. Guys…

GORDON: It's no different than what celebrities do. Celebrities will give a story to London and then we'll pick it up.

Prof. BERRY: But wait a minute. Wait a minute, guys. Roland, you didn't really get to the chase. The chase really is that if Colin Powell had said any of this and then said I'm going to resign as secretary of state while he was there, it would have changed policy and had an impact. And lots of lives, perhaps, might have been saved.

GORDON: Do you believe that Mary? Do you believe that if he resigned it would have changed policy

Professor BERRY: Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps, if he had said I was wrong when I made that talk at the U.N. about WMD, and I also told them we needed more troops and they didn't send them there, I think the American people would have…

Mr. MARTIN: I agree with Mary.

Prof. BERRY: …gotten it together and had consensus earlier if Powell, the good guy, the good soldier--and one other point about this; when Connie Rice said that Mr. Bush listened to his military advisors, here is a man who was a general, who was in charge of most of what happened in the first war that his father had in Iraq, who's sitting there when the war is about to start and advises him that he needs more troops, and he's going to listen to other commanders…

Mr. MARTIN: Right.

Prof. BERRY: …military commanders who, when this guy had been Chairman of The Joint Chiefs of Staff and not listen to him, and then is characterized as, well, he listened to his military commanders on this. So I think Powell is either chicken or he is crass for coming out and saying all these little things in dribs and drabs after so many lives have been lost, and so many injured that I get letters from all the time, and go visit, and all the rest--and the wounded and the amputees and all the rest of them, just breaks your heart. For him to do this, and yet for everyone to keep saying, well, I like Colin Powell, but…

Mr. CARR: Well, we have couple of things going on here…

GORDON: Here's what I found interesting Jeff, if you'll pick up on this for me, please. Pick up on your point, but the idea that when they addressed this issue to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, she said that she did not remember, specifically, what instance Powell was referring to.

Mr. CARR: How many times have we heard this one? Well, we have a couple of things operating here. I'm not surprised at all that Condoleezza is defending President Bush to the bitter end, at every corner, at every stop, right or wrong. She preserves the president's image in every miniscule number of people's minds as a leader who relied on, what he believed, was solid advice from his advisors to even get into this in the first place. And to any--it keeps him separated, in a sense, and it keeps him protected. This is a formula script that we view weekly on the continuing drama, Bush and company. Condoleezza's going to do whatever's right to keep her role in this show.

Colin Powell, however, began to stray a little bit from the script when loyalty began to lead him into a minefield that was the Bush foreign military policy--to the point where he just couldn't really totally be complicit in something that would sacrifice human lives. And the administration doesn't accept that. They want their team to walk blindly into the minefield, even when there's a cat with a conscience on the sideline with a metal detector saying, I don't think we should step over here.

So, I agree that Colin Powell could have resigned; it would have made a statement. But I think Colin's loyalty was just to not take it into another realm by being involved in it any further when he left office there. But I think he should have stepped up. Yes.

GORDON: Yeah, I mean, Roland Martin, let's pick up on that point and be honest about it. We all knew, at the time of the debate, that Colin Powell was the lone wolf out there and had been fighting that battle behind closed doors, to say, A: If you break it you've got to buy it; we shouldn't be in there, we should look at different diplomacy in the Middle East. He had been banging down those doors.

Mr. MARTIN: Well, I--and, again, when you reach a point when you cannot get someone's attention, when you strongly believe that this is how we should be going, I think, as Mary suggested, when you step up and do that--trust me, if the secretary of state, if the man who was Chair of The Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Strategic Air Command, major military experience, if he stood up and said, this is not right, it is not proper; we should not be going to war; this intelligence is weak, and then we're committing not enough troops, trust me, it would have completely changed the course of this debate. And I don't necessarily think we would be in the position that we're in now.

I simply don't believe it, because he had that much credibility. He's lost a significant portion of his credibility by carrying the president's water and now all of a sudden saying, we didn't have enough troops, we didn't have…

GORDON: Well, maybe I'm the lone wolf here. I don't believe that. I don't believe if he had resigned at that point that it would have changed the policy. I don't believe that Bush would have said, oh, my God, we're losing Colin Powell. Let's stop this now.

Mr. MARTIN: They would have demonized Colin Powell.

GORDON: I think they would have said that he was the lone wolf. They would (unintelligible). They would have…

Mr. MARTIN: But it would have changed pub--I'm not talking about Bush.

GORDON: No, no, no. They would have…

(Soundbite of all talking at once)

Prof. BERRY: But now we'll never know. But now we'll never know, will we?

Mr. MARTIN: Right.

Prof. BERRY: Because he didn't step up to the plate and do it.

Mr. MARTIN: That's right.

Prof. BERRY: And so we will never know.

Mr. CARR: It's a matter of principle. But if if was a fifth, we'd all be extremely drunk right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARR: I hate to pull the out a…

GORDON: (unintelligible)

Mr. CARR: I mean, seriously, we could talk about if, but the bottom line is if Colin would have strayed he would have been exorcised. He would have been demonized.

Prof. BERRY: We think.

Mr. CARR: And he would have been seen as somebody who was--he would have been in…

Prof. BERRY: We--Jeff, he would have been demonized about…

Mr. CARR: …tossed on the side with a public relations campaign and it wouldn't have done anything.

Prof. BERRY: Jeff, he would have been demonized we think, demonized by the right…

Mr. CARR: Bush doesn't care about what public opinion is. Bush doesn't care.

Prof. BERRY: He would have been demonized by the right.

Mr. CARR: But the general public, it's a different matter, because, again, when you look at a person's credibility and their integrity and how the public responds, that is a different kind of person than Cindy Sheehan, after the fact, saying we shouldn't be there.

GORDON: Right. And while that is true…

Mr. CARR: It's a different kind of person.

GORDON: …while that is true, we know not if policy…

Mr. CARR: How would it have affected Bush's decision-making policy?

GORDON: …if policy would have changed, and I doubt it very seriously.

Prof. BERRY: Now, what impact--Ed, what impact will it have now? That's the question. I mean, we can counter factual (unintelligible) all we want to.

GORDON: Well, that's true Mary, and if we had another minute we could get into it. But we're (unintelligible).

Mr. MARTIN: It'd give Colin a new book to write, man.

GORDON: Mary Frances Berry, Roland Martin, and Jeff Obafemi Carr, thank you so much. Greatly appreciate it.

Mr. MARTIN: Thanks Ed.

Mr. CARR: Bye, Ed.

GORDON: Just a note to the listeners. If you'd like to comment on any topic you've heard here on the Roundtable, or any of the stories we report here on NEWS AND NOTES, you can do so by calling us at 202-308, 3330. That's 202-408-3330, or you can send us an e-mail. Log on to npr.org and click on Contact Us. Please be sure to tell us where you're writing from and how to pronounce your name. And, as many of you know, every Thursday we air some of those comments.

Now, next up on NEWS AND NOTES, tech contributor Mario Armstrong has tips for--for figuring out, that's what he's doing, he's figuring out which features you need when buying hi-tech gadgets. And author J. California Cooper says simplicity is the key to her success.

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