The Powell Factor
Jude Wanniski
September 12, 1995


From what I can tell at the moment about General Colin Powell, he seems to be my kind of guy. In the first issue of his new magazine, The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol says "a Powell administration would be centrist and establishmentarian," one that "could thwart hopes for a fundamental transformation of the Republican Party and American politics." That's definitely not my reading. Powell strikes me as being a radical centrist, just like me. By that, I mean someone who eagerly seeks drastic change, but at a pace and in a sequence that suggests moderation. Like most Americans, prior to the Gulf War I had absolutely no opinion of the man. His conduct in the Gulf War sent him soaring in my esteem. This was precisely because he showed restraint when so-many American "laptop bombardiers," as Abe Rosenthal of The New York Times calls them, were eager to polish off Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard in a "turkey shoot" and drive into Baghdad to root out the Iraqi despot. These are the Cold Warriors who became so used to reckoning lives lost in the millions, in a shootout with the USSR, that the hundreds or thousands of American troops that would have been expended in the turkey-shoot scenarios seemed like pocket change. At the time, I was frankly shocked at the cold-bloodedness of people I thought I knew, willing to mow down the young men of Iraq who were in full retreat.

Colin Powell's perspective on the value of life, which is only one of the reasons that make him my kind of guy, comes across in his book, An American Journey, excerpted in the September 18 Time. The military-industrial establishment in fact is very unhappy with the Powell presidential talk, because it knows Powell in the White House would put an end to the free hand it has had since the end of the Cold War. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are both voices of the establishment in their different ways. The Times would like Powell to run as an independent, to pull Republican votes away from the GOP candidate, whoever that might be, permitting a second Clinton term. In the Times Sunday Magazine September 3, Powell is characterized by two Times Pentagon reporters as a military wimp, more bureaucrat than soldier. The Journal, which every day gets closer to embracing the establishment candidate, Bob Dole, would like it to be known that Colin Powell is a "Rockefeller Republican," who would be anathema not only to the Republican electorate, but should not be taken seriously as a running mate to Bob Dole. In his book and in his Barbara Walters 20/20 interview, to be aired on ABC-TV Friday night, Powell supposedly reveals himself to be a social liberal. His positions on abortion, school prayer, the death penalty, gun control and affirmative action are close to mine and to most people I know, including Jack Kemp.

We don't know his views on macro-economics, but it is instructive that he says he favors entrepreneurial capitalism and that the GOP is "right on" about free enterprise. He favors reducing the tax burden and getting government out of people's lives "as much as possible." It would be surprising if we learned he did not see eye to eye with Kemp on tax and spending policy and would put growth ahead of budget balancing. My attempts to meet with him have been futile. I've sent him things to read from time to time, but cannot say he's read them. During the Labor Day weekend, I had a long telephone talk with Stephen Ambrose, the Eisenhower biographer who is in the forefront of the Powell-for-President movement and a man whose work I've long admired. To Ambrose, Powell is exactly the citizen-politician the nation needs to reorganize itself, and he mentions as one element the good it would do for race relations. In his book, Powell clearly indicates he would not run merely to see himself "as the 'Great Black Hope,' providing a role model for African Americans or a symbol to whites of racism overcome." Their idea of the citizen-politician as President is really in tune with my attraction to Malcolm (Steve) Forbes, Jr., on the grounds that the professional political class has been exhausted by the partisan debates of the last half century of Cold War, and needs to give way to an outsider. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Stephen Ambrose knows and admires Steve Forbes, and was interested in my thoughts on his candidacy.

General Powell will not make up his political mind until mid-November, when his book tour is complete. It already must be on his mind that Newt Gingrich has announced that if Powell does run, he would automatically decide not to exercise the small option he has left open for his own candidacy. Powell will also be able to observe the fledgling candidacy of Steve Forbes, who almost surely will announce his positive intentions next week, possibly on Monday the 18th, as there are reports his campaign is buying TV time in a few states. On September 3, Forbes said his decision would be made in the following three weeks. My guess is if Forbes appears to be catching on by mid-November, Powell will hesitate and pass. If Powell is my kind of guy, he is also Steve's. Powells views on war and peace are more thoroughly developed than Forbes's, although Forbes is no slouch. On the other hand, Forbes views on the mechanics of global commerce and trade are without peer in the business community. If Forbes were President, I'd urge him to name Powell his Secretary of State, to oversee the kind of global reorganization we need for the new Pax Americana century. If Powell were President, I'd urge him to name Forbes as Treasury Secretary. For either, the best Veep would be Michigan Gov. John Engler, the best governor on the block, for purposes of overseeing domestic reorganization.

The effect of Powell and Forbes hovering over the Beltway in the next two months will be most salubrious. Without their presence, we would have to write down the chances of the Democratic President and Republican Congress cutting a deal on the budget one that would prevent a stock market decline in November and an economic recession by Christmas. Partisan gridlock automatically elevates these outsider candidacies.

Similarly, we expect to see the laptop bombardiers put in their place in Bosnia, with General Powell taking the lead here. He almost certainly sees the bombing in Bosnia turning into a turkey shoot, while President Clinton and Bob Dole mindlessly compete to see who is more macho. The Beltway Boys have turned their authority over to a new un-elected multinational authority. NATO now takes its place alongside the IMF, the World Bank and the United Nations as an agent of the international bureaucracy that does the bidding of our military-industrial complex. In the same issue of Time that features Powell, there is a chilling account of our growing involvement in Bosnia via NATO: "'We're in this for the duration,' insists a senior State Department official who monitors the region. 'NATO cannot tolerate defeat at this point.'" Do you understand, folks? NATO cannot tolerate defeat at this point!!! Send for the carpet bombers, a Stealth and a B-2 or two!

This is the Powell factor, which means quite a lot. Another bomb or two in Bosnia and the rest of the world, especially our friends in Moscow, will have decided that the United States will not be happy until we are once again at war. In that sense, we offer General Powell encouragement to keep his comments coming on the use of force, and Steve Forbes to continue on the need for budget reconciliation. We might yet make it happily through 1995.