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 Sunday, November 02, 2008

An Interview with General Colin Powell


Associate Editor of Jamaican Gleaner News, Byron Buckley last week interviewed former United States (US) Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has Jamaican roots, about his views on the US presidential election.

Barack Obama has commander-in-chief quality, says Powell

Read here

Byron Buckley

To what extent is your endorsement of presidential candidate Barack Obama likely to encourage active military personnel or veterans to vote for him?

Because I was a soldier, military personnel and veterans will take my view into account, but I find that so many of our soldiers now are exceptionally well informed through the Internet and television that they can make informed judgements. I hope they will look at my judgement and compare it to the judgement of others and make an informed choice. I cannot tell you how many people I may have influenced or caused to move in the other direction, but I am confident that our soldiers are dedicated citizens and they will examine both candidates and make an informed judgement.

How do you respond to the view that your endorsement of Senator Obama has shored up his image as commander-in-chief while undercutting that image of your Republican and military colleague John McCain?

I don't think I have undercut John McCain, who, as I said, is a distinguished American individual in both war and peace. He certainly is qualified to be commander-in-chief, so I don't think I have undercut that. But, at the same time, I think my endorsement of Senator Obama says that I believe he has demonstrated in this campaign that he understands the issues that we face and he brings the leadership and organisational abilities that one needs to be a good commander-in-chief. If you look at the campaign that he has run, it has been almost perfect, and it has been run almost like a military operation. So, I believe he has the leadership and management skills as well as the substance and the style, frankly, to be a good commander-in-chief and a good leader of foreign policy for the American people.

You opted out of running for the US presidency in the past. So, why do you think a young, black and politically inexperienced Barack Obama can now be successful in his bid to become president of the USA?

I don't know that there is any reason to compare my experience with his experience. I opted out because I did not wish to run for political office. I didn't think it was the right thing for me and I didn't have the kind of passion one needs. Now, 13 years later, a young, black man has come along, who has been passionate and who has demonstrated to the American people that he has the gifts necessary to be a successful president. Why do I think he can do it? Well look what he has done so far. He has pushed aside all his competitors to win the Democratic Party's nomination. And now as we enter into the last few days of the campaign, he is ahead in most of the polls. So, it is not so much a comparison to what I was thinking of 13 years ago, but it's the way in which he has presented himself to the American people, and he has won their support.

Now it's still a close race and we don't know who will prevail, but you have to say the American people have given Mr Obama a great deal of support and Mr McCain is receiving a great deal of support too. We will know next Tuesday which of them had the greatest support of the American people.

And so we should be very proud of what we have done in this campaign - brought along two candidates from two different parties with two philosophies, both of them as dedicated, committed Americans who will reach out to the international community, and it is now up to the American people to make their choice.

Former Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga says regardless of who assumes the US presidency, there is unlikely to be any real change in US-Jamaica relations. As a former US secretary of state, do you agree?

I agree with what my good friend Mr Seaga has said. There is no reason to believe there will be any change. We have good relations with Jamaica; we want to help Jamaica. There is a very active diaspora here in the United States, starting with me, and some of the other Jamaican Americans. There is no reason to believe that either one of the two candidates would fundamentally change the relationship we have with Jamaica.

Do you agree with Senators Obama's proposal to hold talks with Cuba's Raúl Castro without conditions?

I don't know if he has said that directly. I think what he has said is let's examine each of those situations where we haven't been talking to people. That includes places like Syria, Iran and Cuba.

Let me rephrase. Regardless of who wins, what will US-Cuba relations be like going forward?

I don't know that there is going to be significant change until there is a change in the leadership in Cuba. There are still strong political feelings in the United States about the kind of regime that Mr Castro has led for many decades. So, I would not expect a significant change until there is a change in the political leadership in Cuba.

In your view, how would an Obama or McCain victory impact race relations and immigration issues in the USA?

I think if Mr Obama wins it will be a very exciting thing here in the United States, and around the world as well, with respect to race relations. If Mr McCain wins, I know him very well, I know that his heart is in the right place and there isn't anything the slightest bit discriminatory about him. So, I think he would be a leader who would try to improve race relations as well, although clearly, Mr Obama, because he is African American, might have the most immediate effect. But things aren't going to deteriorate because Mr McCain is president; I know the man well.

With respect to immigration, I think both of them have forward-leaning policies and perspectives. America is an immigrant country; we touch every nation, every nation touches us. Immigration has kept us alive and well and inspiring over these many years. We have a problem right now, that in the aftermath of 9/11, the American people wanted to make sure our borders were secure. So, we spend a lot of time on increasing the strength of the border along our southern boundary; and we have done a lot of things with respect to visas and access to the country, because the American people wanted to make sure that they were being protected, which is the first responsibility of a government.

But at the same time, we have to encourage immigration. We have to encourage people to come to the United States, and we have to do something about all of those individuals in the United States who are undocumented, mostly Mexicans. As they are contributing to our economy we have to find a way to regularise them; in other words, bring them out of this undocumented status to some kind of documented status, even though they may have to be penalised in some way for being undocumented, but let's bring them out. That was the position of President Bush, but the political difficulties that came into play after 9/11 made it hard to pursue that goal, and I hope that either Mr McCain or Mr Obama would pursue that goal. Senator McCain has been very strong on this issue in previous years.

Which of the two candidates' economic policies do you believe will get America through this current financial crisis faster?

It's hard to say right now because I don't know what our economic situation would be like on January 20 next year. Things are moving so rapidly and changing right now, with the actions of the current administration and the actions of our Federal Reserve banks and (Treasury Secretary Henry) Paulson, that I would really have to demure and say we have a president now and we will have to see where the country is on January 21 to see which of the economic policies (of Obama or McCain) are most useful. However, I am more inclined to the economic policies of Senator Obama.

Which of the two candidates' policies do you think is more realistic in addressing the war on terror being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan?

With respect to Iraq, the policy is norma-lising. The Iraqis have said that they are increasingly capable of handling security and they are going through their political reconciliation. And so it is the Iraqis who are setting timelines as to when we should leave. I think that whoever becomes president will be faced with the need to continue the troop drawdown because the Iraqis have indicated they wish the drawdown to continue.

The challenge is going to be in Afghanistan. I think both candidates realise that is going to be the major theatre of action and they will have to figure out whether more troops should be added, and if so, how many, what we should do about the drug problem in Afghanistan and how to shore up the government so it does a better job.

Do you think it is fair for Obama's opponents to use his relations with Rev Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers against him on the campaign trail?

This is politics and people always try to use these kinds of arguments. I think they are flawed arguments, both Jeremiah Wright and Mr Ayers. But politics isn't always fair. I just don't think these tactics will work on the American people. We will see on Tuesday whether I am right or whether I am wrong.

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