The Powell Doctrine
Posted on October 19, 2008
It should surprise nobody that Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama today.
Powell is famously cautious in his political decisions. His military doctrine is simple: If you have to use the military, use overwhelming force. But don’t use the military unless you really have to.
His decision to endorse Obama today takes the same tack. Wait until the polls look like the race is over and then make a boffo endorsement in order to get all the credit when your pick comes in.
It is kind of like betting on the horse that is leading by four lengths going into the final turn.
Powell’s pick is not surprising for a couple of obvious reasons.
Powell didn’t have the courage to be the first black President, but he wouldn’t dream of endorsing the white candidate against the first black major party candidate.
He didn’t exactly deny that he was endorsing Obama because he was black.
Powell also has a bone to pick with the Bush Administration and Republicans in general. He was the reason we went to war in Iraq. If Powell says we shouldn’t go publicly, we don’t go. Instead, he goes to the United Nations and makes Dick Cheney’s case for him.
Powell has been embarrassed about that decision ever since we failed to find weapons of mass destruction. But make no mistake. No matter how much Powell tries to disown the Iraq War, no matter how much he tries to tell his friends in polite society that it really wasn’t his idea, he still owns it.
And that plays a role in his endorsement today. This endorsement helps cleanse him with the Washington and New York elite. He may have been one of the reasons we went into this war, but perhaps, if he endorses Obama, he can be one of the reasons we get out of the war.
Or so his reasoning goes.
During his Meet the Press appearance, Powell made some bizarre comments. For example, he kept talking about how high ranking Republicans call Obama a Muslim. I don’t know of any high ranking Republicans who have called Obama a Muslim. Powell also condemned Republican appointments to the Supreme Court. What the hell is wrong with John Roberts and Sam Alito?
The irony is that had Powell stayed with the Republican Party, had he accepted John McCain’s offer to be his Vice Presidential running mate, that Powell himself could have been our nation’s first black President.
But Powell is too cautious to play that game. He believes only in the Powell doctrine, the doctrine of overwhelming force. Now, he chooses to endorse Barack Obama because he thinks that Obama’s campaign is just such an overwhelming force.
I doubt that the Powell endorsement will have much of an impact with the Joe the Plumbers of the world. It is a disappointment for the McCain campaign and for moderate Republicans. But it is not much more than that.
This endorsement says a lot more about Colin Powell than it does about either John McCain or Barack Obama, and I think most voters will judge it in that vein.