The tensions among the first Bush cabinet on many issues were pretty evident. Colin Powell’s appointment as Secretary of State was meant to satisfy the moderates, after all. That and perhaps balance the factions within the Republican party, at a time when G.W. Bush seemed clueless on practically anything that mattered and Cheney/Rumsfeld represented an — up until then — largely unknown ‘neo-conservative’ wave that had yet to realise its intentions in full.
It should then come as no surprise that given Powell’s disagreement with many of Bush’s policies, his tactics and — perhaps — world view in general, he would endorse Obama. Or should it?
Colin Powell is a very highly respected and decorated former General; one of the architects of the post-Vietnam U.S. military doctrine; an experienced soldier, a moderate, a man of reason. His choice as Secretary of State in the first Bush cabinet was a good political move. Two years later Colin Powell was trapped in a situation he couldn’t escape from: choosing between loyalty and judgement. When he appeared before the U.N. Security Council, presenting his ‘evidence’ that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction, it was pretty clear that loyalty had won.
His speech was nothing like Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 Cuban-missile crisis speech. There was nothing convincing about his findings that would justify going to war against Iraq. Certainly, not without a second resolution. Ironically, that was exactly what he was after. Fortunately, he didn’t convince (most of) Europe, Russia or China. Unfortunately his continued participation in the government was unattainable.
Powell’s tenure as Secretary of State might be considered by some to be his fall from grace: Going against his judgement, he lost the power struggle, but chose to maintain his loyalty (as a good soldier) and presented an extremely weak case for going to war that cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars as well as tarnished the image of the United States of America across the globe.
His endorsement of Obama might as well be considered the beginning of the endgame as far as these elections go; it is bound to boost Obama’s acceptance rate among undecided moderates and independents that have doubted his ability to lead, handle foreign relations and national defence; it is bound to detract from McCain’s appeal.
Ironically, if it weren’t for his tenure in Bush’s cabinet and the symbolism of his position at a time like this, Colin Powell’s endorsement would count for much less than it did a decade ago. But then again politics are rarely about substance.