Colin Powell's endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama is a heavy blow to Sen. John McCain's campaign. It could have decisive importance in the presidential election of 2008.
Powell's action was dramatic. He made his endorsement in the understated style he had as Secretary of State and as America's top military commander.
Powell grew up in the Bronx and New Yorkers can claim him as one of their own. If being a New Yorker means being blunt when it's called for, Powell's declaration of support for Obama on “Meet the Press” was in our tradition.
Why Obama? ''I came to the conclusion that, because of his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities....'' These were some of the words of praise used by the former Secretary of State. He spoke in his usual low-key style -- and the endorsement resonated in the political world.
Yet Powell's appearance on the national stage at this time raised some questions that have never been answered satisfactorily. Why did Powell, one of the most knowledgeable men in the Bush administration, allow himself to be suckered into making a speech at the United Nations that was meant to justify our war on Saddam Hussein -- a speech that contained false information?
The then Secretary of State told the General Assembly that the Iraqis had WMDs --weapons of mass destruction. It would turn out that this statement was completely untrue. Who misled him? Did he ever demand an accounting from his commander in chief, George Bush, or the chief drum beater for the war, Vice President Cheney?
Powell did tell Tom Brokaw that there was faulty intelligence, but he never explained who had concocted it, who was responsible for the phony evidence he presented in his cheer-leading speech at the UN.
Now that he has injected himself into the campaign it seems only right that Powell should explain how we got into this mess in Iraq in more detail. The American people and our valiant troops deserve answers from a man who presumably knows.
Colin Powell has served our country in war and peace with distinction. It must have been very difficult for this old soldier to turn his back on another old soldier and friend, John McCain. Both have had distinguished careers. Both are patriots whose creed demands great loyalty to the commander in chief. Now Powell has broken with George Bush. McCain has not gone as far -- yet his recent statement that ''I am not George Bush'' shows he is disillusioned.
Powell praised both McCain and Obama. He said he was endorsing Obama because it was time for a major generational change -- and Obama represented the yearning of this nation's youth for such a change.
John McCain, ever the good sailor, did not criticize Powell. He said, ''I respect and continue to respect and admire Secretary Powell.''
Powell's endorsement may or may not be decisive -- but the long-distance confrontation between Powell and McCain shows that both have a quality that has often been lacking in this campaign -- class.