When I read yesterday's news that Colin Powell's aide, Dick Armitage, had been Robert Novak's source for Valerie Plame's name I was not greatly surprised. For one thing, America's diplomats have a long record of confusing their personal interests with those of the nation itself.
Our first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, put a journalist on his payroll with the understanding the man's real job was to dig up dirt on Jefferson's political rivals such as Alexander Hamilton. Second, I haven't been a big fan of Colin Powell since I read his autobiography, My American Journey. To listen to the press, Powell has always been something of a military and diplomatic genius. I thought Powell came across as the consummate risk adverse ticket—punching careerist not a doer, an inside the beltway game player rather than a warrior, and far too interested in maintaining his media reputation to be truly objective about the nation's best interests.
The day turned to reverie when I signed off the Internet and began reading a book that had just arrived in the mail, the 21st Richard Sharpe novel from Bernard Cornwell, Sharpe's Fury. I found it fitting given the day's blog buzz about a perfidious State Department that for the third time in the series the rifle officer, a bastard promoted from the ranks for saving the future Duke of Wellington's life, is seconded to His Majesty's Foreign Office.
Lord William Pumphrey once again needs Sharpe to do the kind of work diplomats find necessary but distasteful. I couldn't stop smiling when, half way through the adventure, Captain Sharpe discovers Pumphrey claimed he'd negotiated a price of 1,800 guineas when the blackmailers only demanded 1,500. On their way to make the exchange, Pumphrey thanks Sharpe for not ratting on him to the Ambassador and tries to justify his embezzlement.
"My work requires expenses, Sharpe, expenses. You probably have expenses, too?"
"Don't count me in, my lord."
"I merely do," Lord Pumphrey said with fragile dignity, "what everybody else does."
"So in your world everyone lies, and everyone's corrupt?"
"It is called the diplomatic service."
"Then thank God I'm just a thief and a murder."
Rosslyn Smith 8 29 06