President Barack Obama recently met with General Colin Powell, and that occasioned a friendly African American summit between two Brothers.
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Managing Editor
In 2008, when candidate Barack Obama (a Democrat) was running for president, former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell (a Republican) openly supported him, saying on national television, “I have especially watched over the last six or seven weeks as both of them (Obama and candidate John McCain) have really taken a final exam with respect to this economic crisis that we are in and coming out of conventions. And I must say that I’ve gotten a good measure of both.” Powell then went on to endorse candidate Obama. That was a bold move.
Now, after almost two years in office, President Obama has recently reached out to General Powell. They both met at the White House and the President issued the following statement after the meeting: “I want to thank General Colin Powell for being here with me today. He is not only a great statesman and a great public servant, but also a great friend and a great counselor. And periodically I check in with him, and I know my entire team, including the Vice President, checks in with him, because he continues to have an unparalleled sense of our national security needs, and I think really that he taps into the best impulses of the American people.”
The force of General Powell’s endorsement crossing over party lines was a powerful signal for many who were still “on the fence” relative to the neophyte senator’s candidacy. Powell’s military resume described a decorated soldier, who had gone through the ranks to become a four-star general and then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest post in the U.S. military and the president’s military man. His civilian government service was equally impressive as the National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, the nation’s top diplomat. So it was a stroke of genius for President Obama to seek counsel from the General.
The President continued, “The first thing that I want to do is I want to congratulate him (General Powell) and his wife Alma for the extraordinary work that he’s been doing with America’s Promise, which focuses on how can we finally get serious about education reform, because he understands, Alma understands and all of us understand that our kids are going to be competing not just against each other here in this country but they’re now competing worldwide.”
Also, with the military challenges that the country currently faces in the Middle East and the Far East, it was not very surprising when President stated, “Most of the discussion we had was around national security issues. We talked about some of the challenges across the landscape, from North Korea to Iran to Afghanistan. But we spent, in particular, a lot of time talking about the START Treaty. General Powell has been involved with just about every arms control treaty since there were arms control treaties.”
Since the General’s retirement from government service, he has been focused on helping to improve the quality of education for America’s children and President Obama may have been thinking about General Powell’s work in that area when he said, “America’s Promise has been at the forefront on education reform. They just issued a report, “Building a Grad Nation,” that notes that we have made some progress over the last several years in reducing the number of dropout factories that we have around the country, that we are seeing a greater emphasis on kids staying in school, but we’ve still got a lot more work to do. And it’s going to require all of us –parents, teachers, administrators, the public and private sector –to make sure that we continue on this trend of improvement. So thank you for the work you’re doing in that area.
“I just want to again thank General Powell for his good counsel, his friendship, most importantly his service to our country. And I very much appreciate the fact that he supports an effort that all of us should support in order to make America more safe.”
Then in response, General Powell reported on the President Obama’s summary of the meeting. He said, “Thank you very much, Mr. President. Let me begin by thanking you for your support of the America’s Promise Alliance and the Grad Nation effort. And also let me take this opportunity to thank Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, for the great job that he is doing in making sure that our kids are ready for this 21st century world that is going to be so demanding.” These remarks reflected on the sameness both men felt about the importance of education in America’s maintaining a leadership role in today’s world.
General Powell then began speaking about some of the more diplomatic and military challenges that they had talked about: “The President noted the issues that we discussed with a particular focus on the New START Treaty. I fully support this treaty and I hope that the Senate will give its advice and consent to the ratification of the treaty as soon as possible. I have been involved, as the President noted, in arms control negotiations and the ratification of arms control negotiations and treaties for the last 25 years. And what is fascinating about this whole process to me is that 25 years ago, the Soviet Union and the United States each had an inventory of something like 28,000, 29,000 nuclear weapons. As a result of the arms control process, the end of the Cold War and change in the world situation, those numbers have been reduced by over 80 percent, so they’re down now under 10,000.”
The significance and the importance of President Obama’s meeting with General Powell at this crucial time is one of the points that cannot be overlooked in the current climate in Washington and indeed the world. The General brings an arsenal of military, diplomatic and political assets to the President in an objective way as an outsider (to the administration) with an insider’s view of the times. And as he continued, “One of the reasons we were able to do this in a way that was transparent with both sides confident in the process was because of the arms control agreement –whether it was INF Treaty or START I or START II that were ratified, the Moscow Treaty –so many other treaties that came along to give us stability, to give us transparency, to give us visibility into what each side was doing. As a result of these treaties we have both benefited –both the Russian Federation now and the United States of America, but the world has also benefited by having fewer of these horrible weapons in existence.”
The President may have hit upon one of his most valuable resources by leaning on General for his counsel as a friend, a former world diplomat and a patriotic American – General Powell has all of those attributes and more, and has the ability to assist President Obama in a tremendous way. “And we hope that we can continue this process. New START is important because it continues this process. And it’s especially important because at the end of last year, we lost the verification system that we had under START I. And this is the first time in all these years where we don’t have these procedures in place. So we’re not sure exactly what’s going on within the Russian Federation; they’re not exactly sure what’s going on in the United States of America.”
Finally The General concluded, “And I think the most important feature of New START is to put in place the verification regime again. It will be a little different than the START I verification system, but it is more than adequate to make sure that we know what they are doing and they know what we are doing, and it has been so identified as being adequate by our intelligence community. The number of warheads reduced is modest but nevertheless significant. It continues the downward trend. And so I fully support it.
“So I hope that the Senate will move quickly and give its advice and consent to the ratification of this treaty.”
The President ended: “Thank you so much, everybody.”