The tragedy of Powell is that he completely betrayed the doctrine that bears his name. It's debatable on its merits, but it was a completely coherent defense to the Wilsonian-Kennedy "pay any price, bear any burden" attitude towards pro-active involvement of our military force in "democratization". It was against the concept of "nation building" and in favor of reserving our military options for our purely national interest. Let's recap the principles -- the litmus tests -- in the Powell doctrine:
Is a vital US interest at stake?
Will we commit sufficient resources to win?
Are the objectives clearly defined?
Will we sustain the commitment?
Is there reasonable expectation that the public and Congress will support the operation?
Have we exhausted our other options?
And finally, when force is committed, it is to be used in overwhelming quantity -- not in proportional response.
These lessons might be summarized as "what we should have learned from Vietnam". But Vietnam did have a context -- the Cold War -- that at least made the initial intervention arguable at the time. The evolution here was that in the post Cold War era, each individual potential use of force did not have such a coherent context. That's why Powell himself opposed our interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo (and Rwanda never came up), and Haiti and Somalia. These were a mixed bag, but the "vital US interest" was harder to pin down when the only real specific goal was saving millions of lives or "stability", whatever that is.
But Powell, of course, not only did not apply any of his tests to the Iraq conflict, he either lied or allowed himself to be manipulated into presenting false evidence to the world community on our behalf to justify the Iraq war. One can only speculate on his role in the current administration, but clearly his efforts at a centrist, moderate, and realistic/pragmatic foreign policy have been rejected.
He may have been a "good soldier" but he seriously misunderstood that as a cabinet secretary, he was part of the political process whether he liked it or not. Those are political positions, in that the statesman must also realize he is a political appointee. Soldiers cannot resign under the pressure of combat. Political appointees must, by obligation of morality, resign when their moral and ethcial principles are compromised. Powell should have done this before the election, because that's when the moral weight of the resignation might have an effect. Good soldiers wait until they're told to resign their commissions; good public servants do so when the act might have an effect on changing policy.
Powell's legacy is going to be one of weakness and incompetency, which is too bad, considering the strong service to the country he had provided before becoming Secretary of State. But that's what he deserves. He was a failure, because he failed to protect the nation's vital interests abroad according to his own political and diplomatic philosophy.
Powell and John McCain deserve special remonstrance. They allowed themselves to be used by people who despise them personally, who would undo their work, and did so knowingly. Perhaps they felt the alternative would have been worse, but Kerry's foreign policy was certainly far closer to Powell and McCain's than Bush's. But they didn't have to support Kerry to withdraw their support from Bush.
The two of them are, in a way, a special form of traitor, because they have betrayed their own principles. And it's nearly certain that had either of Powell or McCain publically broken with the administration on its Iraq policy prior to the election, it would've swayed the electoral balance; they both have very high personal approval ratiings.
And I admit, I was one of those people who admired both Colin Powell and John McCain before this past year and a half. Now I don't. I think they know better, and I'm ashamed they did not have the moral courage to make the right decisions. That's why Powell is a punk. He accomplished nothing and lost his soul in the process, and now he's being tossed out like a used kleenex.