Presidents always want Colin Powell at their side. There is flesh evidence in "My American Journey," the autobiography Powell unveils next week. When George Bush won in 1988, Powell discloses, the new president-elect wanted to name him CIA director. Powell declined, and Bush later chose him to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After Bush lost in 1992, he turned to Powell for solace. Powell recalls how the two men and their wives spent the weekend after Election Day at Camp David, commiserating as they power-walked.
Bill Clinton, too, has sought Powell for his team. In 1992, Powell reports. Democratic power broker Vernon Jordan asked if he'd consider being Clinton's running mate. After Clinton won, Jordan approached Powell again, this time about becoming secretary of state. In 1994, Powell discloses, Clinton himself asked him if he would replace Warren Christopher at State. On Powell's final day as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Clinton invited the general to the White House private quarters. As they chatted on the Truman Balcony, Powell gazed at the view from the epicenter of power: the South Lawn. the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial. In that moment, Powell reveals, he pondered: would he ever savor this scene again?
As the 1996 presidential season begins, voters are wondering the same thing: is Powell launching a campaign to recapture the Truman Balcony, this time as president? In his 613-page book, a copy of which was obtained by NEWSWEEK, the retired four-star general leaves little doubt that he wants to run--and that he's leaning toward doing so as an independent.
As carefully worded as a diplomatic communique, the book's final chapter declares Powell's discomfort level with both major parties. He lays out a bland set of conservative principles that would allow him to run either as an independent or as a moderate Republiean: low taxes, faith in free enterprise, new scrutiny of entitlements. Though a champion of traditional values, he makes it clear he's no fan of the religious right. For now, Powell says he feels no sense of political mission, but he seems impatient to acquire one. And if he runs, he discloses, he'll run "to win," not merely to be an inspiration to fellow blacks. The man who propounded the Powell Doctrine--overwhelming force. cautiously applied--is looking for his moment.
Political insiders will pore over the book's intriguing last pages like Egyptologists examining the Rosetta stone. But "My American Journey" is really a campaign document from start to finish, written by an author who clearly thinks that his life is his platform. Powell's story is a political homily about how racial tolerance, self-reliance, family unity and the craft of leadership can save any American--and America itself.
"My American Journey" is no tell-all confessional, either personal or political. Powell cleverly uses the book to hide in plain sight, which is what a man pursuing an Ike-like, I'm-above-it-all strategy must do. No hot buttons are pressed. He's mute about abortion, immigration, capital punishment or welfare payments to unwed teenagers. And this insider--the best briefer in the business-shrewdly appeals to suspicions about the very government in which he prospered. To be an outsider, as he now claims to be, it helps to be black. But it helps even more if you declare distaste for politics as we know it.
The book thus confirms what many Washingtonians already know, which is that Powell is a consummate political animal. He glosses over controversies in his neatly pressed career (page 31). Chronicling his rise from the South Bronx to the Pentagon's "E Ring," he documents almost too well his love of bureaucratic maneuver. A masterful desk jockey, he protests a bit too much that he really would have preferred to be a soldier's soldier. In fact, he yearned for the top jobs at headquarters and the White House.
Faced with what they regard as a weak field and a maddeningly resilient Bill Clinton, some Republicans are hoping to encourage Powell to run as one of their own. Bush is said by family friends to have become tantalized by the notion of a Powell GOP campaign. Bush was thought to look kindly on Bob Dole's candidacy, but "Bush helped make Powell, and would bask in the reflected glory," said one source. The Bushes recently invited Colin and Alma Powell to Kennebunkport. Barbara Bush is said to have explained to a dubious Alma why being First Lady isn't intolerable.
Luxuriating in his good-to-go CNN image born during the gulf war, Powell now faces a dilemma. His appeal is based on his potential as a deus ex machina. That argues for an independent candidacy. But the major-party nominees stand to get nearly $100 million in federal campaign aid. And the numbers in a new NEWSWEEK Poll indicate that Powell might be better off trying to win the GOP nomination. As an independent, he now runs a distant third in a three-way race with Clinton and Dole. But as a Republican. Powell beats Clinton by 10 points.
While he ponders his options, the blitz begins: a publicity campaign. run like a military campaign, possibly prefiguring a presidential campaign. The D-Day plan for "My American Journey" is the Powell Doctrine applied to public relations: a 28-city book tour, interviews with everyone from Barbara Walters to Katie Couric, a Time cover. Next week, Random House will ship to stores 500,000 copies of the $85 book, whose "coauthor" is veteran writer Joseph E. Persico.
Admirers will hungrily consume the book. But the media will deconstruct it-and Powell-once the inevitable counter-reaction sets in. A man who admits to a hot temper--and who has a low regard for unkempt civilians--will be set upon by reporters demanding specifics. For now, Powell has an answer: read my book.
In this long-awaited, $6 million memoir Powell will tell the story of his life as a series of lessons. Lesson One is a "multiculturalism" stripped of its confrontational '90s connotations. Though Powell doesn't like to think of himself as a "black leader," to most Americans his race is the first and most compelling thing about him. In fact, "My American Journey" could become the most widely read autobiography of a black political figure since "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." The message, significantly, is opposed to Malcolm's. Powell is for ethnic awareness, but against racial separatism--in college dorms or in affirmative-action programs that dictate special treatment.
As described in the book, Powell was literally born to multiculturalism. His West Indian ancestry is a Rainbow Coalition unto itself: African, English, Scots, probably Arawak Indian and Jewish. The interracial tradition has continued in his own family. His older sister married a white; so did his son. He expresses his love for the lilt of the islands. In his office at the Pentagon, he played calypso on his stereo.
Detailing his childhood, Powell evokes a lost New York. Growing up in the '40s and early '50s, he lived in the working-class tenements that lined "Banana Kelly," a curving. street in the South Bronx. Everyone was a minority-Jews, Italians, Greeks, Poles, American blacks, West Indians. There were fistfights but no ethnic pecking order. In this world whites were not oppressors. Powell notes without comment--and his lack of comment is a comment in itself--the fair treatment he received from whites in exchange for hard work, from a Jewish toy-store owner, from the manager of the Pepsi bottling plant, from mentors and sponsors in the army.
Powell expresses pride in his heritage. But he, insists on the freedom to stress his race, or to ignore it. When shown a draft of the speech Bush was going to give after the Los Angeles riots in 1992, Powell reports that he gladly accepted his role as the leading African-American in the administration. He urged a more understanding tone--and Bush complied. And yet Powell makes light of racial stereotyping, saying that his mixed Jamaican blood deprived him of skill at sports. He named his first-born son after a white army friend who had housed Powell's family in segregated Georgia. Powell recounts how he drummed out a troublemaking, power-to-the-people black corporal in Korea. But he's just as proud that he was respectfully called "Bro P" by other men in that same unit.
Powell's message: Take pride, but take it easy. Powell admits that this is not hard for him to say. Until he went South in the army, he hadn't felt the sting of racism. And his West Indian heritage is not quite the same story of oppression that African-Americans know. Jamaican families often were allowed to survive intact by far-off British masters; Powell's Jamaican parents came voluntarily to America as immigrants. And Powell ignores the fact that, at crucial times, he benefited in the army from his race through what can only be described as affirmative action. In the Carter administration, Clifford Alexander, the first black secretary of the army, expanded the search for blacks who might qualify for general. Powell was qualified, but wouldn't have become the youngest general in the army at the time (he was 42) had it not been for Alexander.
Lesson Two is that hard work and self-reliance lead to just rewards. His parents worked long hours in respectable jobs in the garment trades. For Powell, no job was demeaning. He was a "Shabbas Goy," turning on lights in a local synagogue for Jews forbidden to perform tasks on their Sabbath. When Powell looked for work at the Pepsi plant, the only job offered was the one reserved for blacks: mopping floors. He took the mop, and recalls that he learned how to do it without straining his back. The manager noticed, and Powell moved up to "white" jobs.
In Colin Powell's world of self-reliant hard work, you love competition. You seek out any contest. With an almost childlike specificity--the litany becomes annoying over 613 pages--he lists every contest he's ever won: from best leader of a fancy ROTC drill team to top-of-the-class honors in a host of officer-training courses to a knighthood presented by the Queen of England. And, Powell remembers, it wasn't enough to merely receive the medal. The real test was whether the queen would invite you to sit down and chat. She did.
But Powell breezes past a central point about the value of hard work: you need a lot of dumb luck to succeed. Though his father worked hard, he was able to buy a house only when he hit the "number" one day and the bookies delivered bags of cash. Powell's "number" was an article published in Army Times in 1968. The piece, about a group of hard-nosed officers in Vietnam who trained at Fort Leavenworth, mentioned Powell, who had excelled at that school. The story caught the eye of higher-ups. Within weeks he was briefing Gen. Creighton Abrams, commander of all the forces in Vietnam.
Lesson Three is the importance of family, starting with his own and ending with the all-enveloping U.S. Army. Powell so revered his father that he agreed not to marry as a young lieutenant when Luther Powell objected. The worst of all accusations in his youth he reports. was that he had done something--sneaking beer into church camp, for example--to embarrass the family. Triumph was to make them proud--as he did when he was the only beer-smuggling conspirator to confess.
From the moment he entered the ROTC at the City College of New York in 1954, he embraced military life. He adored the ritual and the discipline. He laments the breakdown of the army's old family culture, in which father-figure officers meted out tough love. The army, in Powell's view, was the kind of stern family in which laziness, selfishness and racism could not survive. One favorite officer was Maj. Gen. Henry E. (The Gunfighter) Emerson at Camp Casey in Korea. A rootin' tootin' character, Gunfighter Emerson thought he could simply order an end to racial tensions among his troops. Anyone who disagreed could be booted out, and Powell was his eager enforcer.
Though he doesn't come right out and say it, Powell strongly implies that the army family is a worthy model for a dissolute American society. The other implication is that he, who knows the army so well, could bring such discipline to public life, But Powell surely must know that the army is not America, and never will be. Civilians aren't required to salute their leaders. You don't boot out voters for insubordination.
Powell's final homily is on the need for and uses of military-style leadership. He claims a knack for it, first developed when he recruited a big class of pledges for his ROTC fraternity. the Pershing Rifles. To lead, tie says, you need to know the details. In Vietnam, he learned, the "intelligence" staff had no idea what war was really like in a triple-canopy jungle. You could step on a punji stick and wind up with a hole clear through your foot. It happened to Powell.
But in Powell's world, the real key to leadership is communication. Perhaps the most pivotal part of his career, he recalls, was the instructor's training he received to teach advanced infantry at Fort Bragg. His rhetorical skills powered his rise from a briefer of "Abe" Abrams to the JCS chief who declared. memorably, that the plan for dealing with the Iraqi Army was: "First. we're going to cut it off, and then we're going to kill it." In the book Powell reports that he and his aides carefully rehearsed that one sentence the day before he uttered it.
From that famous briefing on CNN, Americans thought they had found a leader-soldier who was a combination of Harry, Truman and Dirty Harry. The image is alluring, for Powell and the country. But how real is it? By Powell's own account. he's not an old-style soldier but a new-style bureaucrat, more at home in the White House Situation Room than on a battlefield. He rose by mastering the folkways of Washing-ton--the perfect staff man picking as few fights as possible.
A bureaucrat? That's not what Americans seem to be looking for. Short-tempered when crossed, Powell prefers splitting differences. If he runs, especially as an independent, he will be required to give offense. He doesn't like to. He would have to state some specific positions. He doesn't like to. And he'd have to admit what those who study him know: he actually loves politics.
But at first Colin Powell didn't like to jump out of airplanes either--and he overcame his fears. He reveals that he always took tiny steps on his way to the open door-and closed his eyes as he leaped. Nevertheless. Powell made it all the way to Airborne Ranger and Pathfinder--top of the line. Now he's inching toward another kind of risky jump. Only this time, his book makes clear. his eyes are open.
With 500,000 copies of "My American Journey" shipping out next week, the general will be impossible to miss--print. on the air or in bookstores.
A 25-city book-signing tour takes him from Tampa to Seattle, from Wal-Mart to Brentano's, in a cross-country barnstorm.
1 McLean, Va. 2 Washington, D.C. 3 Boston, Mass. 4 Chicago, Ill. 5 Milwaukee, Wis. 6 San Francisco, Calif. 7 Orange County and Los Angeles, Calif. 8 San Bernardino and La Jolla, Calif. 9 Seattle, Wash.
10 Houston, Texas 11 Ft. Worth and Dallas, Texas 12 Denver, Colo. 13 St. Louis, Mo. 14 Tampa and Jacksonville, Fla. 15 New York City 16 Cleveland and Dayton, Ohio 17 Detroit, Mich. 18 Duluth and Atlanta, Ga. 19 Norfolk, Va.
It's the gabfest primary. From Barbara to Larry to Leno, Powell will meet his public.
Sept. 11 "My American Journey" excerpted in Time magazine Sept. 15 Book goes on sale. Powell appears on ABC's "20/20" with Barbara Walters Sept. 17 BBC special with David Frost Sept. 18 An hour on CNN's "Larry King Live" Sept. 18--20 Three-part "Today" show interview with Katie Couric Sept. 26 "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno
Appearances on NBC and CBS evening newscasts; interviews in People, Parade and The New Yorker magazines; pieces in major newspapers in cities on the book tour; excerpts in Reader's Digest.