Will Gen. Colin Powell endorse Sen. Barack Obama? It's the question rippling through Washington's chattering class conversations. These conversations were sparked by the National Journal's report that the two met privately on June 18 in Powell's Alexandria, Va., office and talked for about an hour.
The McCain campaign privately and through surrogates insists no such endorsement is pending. In fact, GOP sources predict when and if Powell makes an endorsement, his support will go to Sen. John McCain as the two are close allies. Whether that's true or not, it's more important to look at why Powell would consider a revolt against his own party.
The reasons for Obama's desire for a Powell endorsement are clear: Powell's support would boost Obama's perceived competence in foreign affairs and military matters. A Powell endorsement might persuade some more liberal Republicans to desert the party along with Powell.
Powell's reasons for meeting with Obama are an entirely different matter. Remember that Powell supported the Bush Iraq invasion, clearly against his own better judgment. He carried tainted water while refusing to drink out of the same contaminated tap. Powell should have instead resigned over his obvious disagreement with the president. He took the coward's route and stayed to curry favor with the GOP's far right. That strategy backfired on him.
For Powell's efforts, he was rewarded with a boot booted out of the secretary of state position in the second Bush administration. It was pretty clear even Powell was having a hard time believing his own argument as he beseeched the United Nations in February 2003 to support a U.N. resolution sanctioning the U.S. invasion. He tried to make the case Saddam Hussein was in control of large caches of hidden weapons of mass destruction. The White House has a transcription of his entire presentation on its Web site:
"POWELL: What you will see is an accumulation of facts and disturbing patterns of behavior. The facts on Iraqis' behavior demonstrate that Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort no effort to disarm as required by the international community. Indeed, the facts and Iraq's behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction."
The doubt in Powell's own voice was palpable. That day he went from trustworthy hero to partisan hack. I remember Powell standing in front of a satellite picture with a pointer, explaining that what looked like a trailer was actually a cache of WMD (weapons of mass destruction.) It could have been a trailer full of DVDs.
To military insiders, though, Powell may never have been much more than a self-promoter to begin with. They remember his involvement in the investigation of the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops. Powell was then a 31-year-old Army major charged with investigating aspects of the massacre. At the time, Powell was accused of "whitewashing" the atrocities in his report. Many years later as secretary of state, CNN's Larry King asked Powell about those allegations, and he responded:
"I mean I was in a unit that was responsible for My Lai. I got there after My Lai happened. So, in war, these sorts of horrible things happen every now and again, but they are still to be deplored." cnn.com
In retrospect, his answer so mirrors a typical Obama brush-off, the comparison is unnerving.Bottom line is it's completely unclear how many votes if any a Powell endorsement would bring to either presidential nominee. But one thing is clear: if Powell endorses Obama, the endorsement is more about an attempt to rehabilitate Powell's defiled image as an unenthusiastic war-monger than it is about much of anything else.
Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail [email protected].