Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

25 October 2012

Colin Powell’s Endorsement


Today Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for president.

Some say that doesn’t matter much. But for four reasons, it does.

First, Powell is a lifelong Republican and military man. He served in our armed forces for 35 years, including four years as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He later served four years as Secretary of State. As a result, he is the most experienced figure of national prominence we have today, bar none, including our last three presidents.

So when Powell endorses Obama, he speaks from experience. His endorsement implicitly disapproved Mitt’s lies and promises on military and foreign affairs. At the same time, it tacitly affirmed Obama’s solid track record in those fields, and shared Powell’s doubts that Mitt could do any better.

Second, Colin Powell is a master of strategy, both military and diplomatic. With his modern American “blitzkreig” in Gulf I, coupled with his advice (which Bush I followed) not to invade Baghdad, he made Gulf I the shortest and most successful military conflict in our history. It was so short and so successful that we don’t even call it a “war,” just “Gulf I.” Yet it met all our objectives, including freeing Kuwait and its oil fields and containing Saddam.

As a master strategist, Powell timed his endorsement for best effect. He waited until the final campaign tumult, when undecided voters are looking for something—anything!—to believe besides TV ads. He waited until a decent interval after all the debates, giving at least the appearance of the calm and deliberate consideration for which he is justly renowned. And whom would Republican-leaning independents and military folk trust more than Colin Powell?

Third, Colin Powell’s endorsement matters because he is the once and future GOP. Reasoned, thoughtful moderates like him were once the party’s heart, and the heart of conservatism with a small “c.” They will be again, some day, if the GOP doesn’t go the way of the Whigs.

Fourth, Powell’s endorsement matters a lot to people, like me, who remember what a real democracy once looked like. If Powell had run for president in 2000, instead of Dubya, he likely would have won, and the last twelve years would have been quite different.

Like Dubya, Powell would have promised a “humbler” foreign policy without nation-building. But unlike Dubya, Powell would have meant it and followed up.

Powell might not have prevented 9/11. Maybe no one could. But he would have made sure the memo got to his own desk, and he would have taken it seriously.

And if 9/11 had come anyway, Powell would not have fallen apart and started two unnecessary foreign occupations. A superb military strategist, he would have gone after the terrorists exclusively, as we finally did under Obama.

With that problem unexaggerated and under control—and without the distraction of two needless wars—Powell might have done something about the incipient economic crash. The orgy of liars’ loans and securities backed by them would certainly have made his tidy and cautious mind uncomfortable.

And even if 9/11 and the Crash were unavoidable, Powell’s calm and thoughtful character, plus his ability to see the other side, would have prevented either catastrophe from splitting us as a nation, both among ourselves and from our allies. He would have calmed global markets just by his presence and character, and his experience as Secretary of State would have helped him do so.

No one can second-guess Powell’s personal decision not to run, which reportedly had something to do with his wife. But millions of people, including me, still regret it when they think of how different things would have been under his leadership, and how different things would be now as a result.

Powell is not only the most experienced national political figure among us. He is also one of the wisest. When such a man says he would prefer the leadership of a doer, albeit one outside his lifelong party, to that of an inexperienced salesman inside it, we had all better listen up.

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