Annapolis Institute Overview


Gen. Powell’s crafty strategy

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, September 27, 1997

I had this conversation with myself driving home the other day — about Gen. Colin Powell. It went something like this:

Left Brain: Why would Colin Powell get involved in this Haiti misadventure? Pulling President Clinton’s chestnuts out of the fire? That doesn’t make sense. And praising Bill Clinton’s leadership? James Carville already has that in the can for a Clinton ad. Powell just doomed forever his chances for the Republican presidential nomination.

Right Brain: C’mon. Powell is national hero. He’s not a politician. He transcends politics. Everybody loves him.

Left Brain: Look, he was already viewed with suspicion by the Republican right because he’s fuzzy on many of their “hot-button” issues — and the right is a very powerful bloc in the Republican Party’s nomination process. This Haiti thing will clearly cement an early view of Powell as a “wobbly’ (soft on ideological issues). There’s no way he’ll get the Republican nomination now.

Right Brain: Yes, but that’s too cynical. He just wanted to save lives. He just said “yes” to the commander in chiefs request for help. That’s what most Americans would do, especially a soldier. I think he behaved honorably. Besides, why assume he is a Republican?

Left Brain: Whaaooo! What are you saying here?

Right Brain: Listen up. Powell, like any American, would respond to a call from his president. But there were no costs to his going to Haiti. Why? Because Powell intends to run for president as a Democrat. Think about it. It’s not unlike 1968, when President Johnson faced challenges from Sen. Eugene McCarthy and other dissident Democrats. Clinton is fading fast. People like (Nebraska senator) Bob Kerrey, Jesse Jackson and others are standing in the wings waiting to pick through the ruins of the 1994 elections. If Powell announces he’s a Democrat, he will quickly jump to the “A list” and perhaps to frontrunner status.

A Powell candidacy would give the Democrats the first black presidential nominee. Powell would checkmate Jesse Jackson. He would hold and probably even expand the Democratic base — especially among Southerners, people who like soldiers and heroes, who’ve abandoned the Democratic Party. Powell would also win a lot of Republicans. He’d get his share of moderate Republicans and others uneasy with the growing influence of the Religious Right in the GOP. He would win all the wobblies — in part because Powell is a wobbly himself. He would win many of the Perotistas, Rush Limbaugh’s “ditto-heads” and others fed up with career politicians.

Left Brain: You may be on to something. If he does want to be president, I can see why running as a Democrat makes sense — especially after last week.

Right Brain: And that’s another point: After Clinton’s Haiti fiasco, voters are going to realize that we still live in a dangerous world. Americans will want a president who has an instinct for foreign and defense policy, who can avoid slippery slopes into foreign quagmires — and someone who is comfortable using force if it has to be used.

Left Brain: This is not good news for Bill Clinton or the Republicans — either one.

Right Brain: Right. Colin Powell knows exactly what he’s doing.

Left Brain: Is this some kind of country, or what?

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