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Powell's Endorsement: Redemption, Race, Or Revenge?

By Mary Shaw

20 October, 2008

On October 19th, retired U.S. Army general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for president.

I saw it as another step toward Powell's personal and political redemption.

I see Powell as a reluctant pawn in the neocon run-up to the Iraq war. His United Nations testimony, in which he asserted that Iraq unquestionably possessed weapons of mass destruction, despite evidence to the contrary, prompted me to immediately lose the huge amount of respect I once had for General Powell. It was clear that he was lying for his boss, George W. Bush. He sold his soul for a cabinet seat. And that probably destroyed his credibility to run for president or vice president as many of us had hoped for back in the day.

But, since then, Powell seems to be trying to redeem himself. While some may call it too little, too late, I don't set a statute of limitations on one's conscience.

Powell resigned from the Bush administration in late 2004, allegedly in response to pressure from the Powers That Be who apparently felt that Condi Rice would be a more pliable surrogate.

Sadly for all of us, they were right.

Since then, Powell has admitted that he was pressured into misleading the U.N. on Iraq. Furthermore, he has opposed the mistreatment of prisoners at Gitmo and has in additional ways stood up to the Bush administration's cowboy-style foreign policy. When he said these things in the White House, he was ignored and worked around. But now hopefully he's being heard by the rest of us.

And now he endorses Barack Obama, and the kind of change that he didn't dare to hope for when he was serving the Bush administration.

These things suggest to me that Colin Powell is basically a decent person who was led astray by the neocons. While his playing along is not admirable, it's understandable. We're all human. We rely on the stability of our jobs. And so we are (subconsciously or otherwise) sometimes too quick to give our employers the benefit of the doubt.

So I stick by my theory of redemption. It's another step towards allowing General Powell to atone for his sins and start to sleep well at night.

After all, at least Powell now has the strength to stand up for a healthier agenda -- the change that the Obama campaign promises us. With his endorsement, Powell symbolizes that, for starters, a vote for Obama is a vote against the neocon agenda that led to the end of the unwitting Powell's political career as well as the end of American credibility in the world.

And that seems to confirm my theory that Powell is marching down the path of redemption.

But others, apparently, see it differently, in a couple of ways.

I discovered this in a supermarket checkout line here in suburban Philadelphia. Behind me were two white middle-aged men who apparently knew each other. And they had apparently just heard the news about Powell's endorsement.

The first, a short, graying man in a flannel shirt and faded jeans, alleged that it was a "Negro thing". Powell supported Obama, he believed, because both were African-American.

Just as I was contemplating how shallow and narrow-minded that view seemed to be, the other guy opened his mouth. This was the taller man, in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. He disagreed with his friend regarding Powell's motive. This guy saw Powell's endorsement as an act of revenge. "He didn't have the guts to stick with Bush," he said. "Now he's taking it out on the whole Republican party." This, the man said, gives him even more reason to vote for McCain.

While I shudder at these misguided perspectives, I maintain hope that many in this country will see Powell's endorsement as I do -- a non-racial, no-agenda attempt to now do the right thing for this nation.

And I sincerely hope that Powell will find peace with himself.

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views appear regularly in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail:

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