The Best Defense

Was Powell an 'affirmative action' general, as a conservative blogger charges?

That's the accusation being made by some unhappy with Powell's endorsement of Obama.

Look, I have been critical of General Powell. I think he was overrated as a general. No one could be as good as people held him out to be. He bears part (but not most) of the responsibility for the botched ending of the 1991 Gulf War. We didn't need to go to Baghdad, but we certainly should not have given Saddam Hussein the victory he thought he won by taking on the Americans and their allies and surviving. Also, I think Powell was a disaster as a secretary of State, because he paved the way for the invasion of Iraq with a speech at the U.N. that we know to be almost entirely wrong in its assertions. He will spend the rest of his life apologizing for that.

But it is a calumny to call him an affirmative action general. I have looked closely at Powell's career, and I think he was a very clever, energetic, ambitious man, much like Eisenhower. But I don't think presidents choose their national security advisors or Joint Chiefs chairmen as affirmative action moves.

What is most striking to me is the similarity between Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf. Both were from the New York area, both were commissioned in the late 1950s, and both served two tours in Vietnam, one as an advisor, and then one with the Americal (cq) Division. The difference between the two is not their skin color, but that Powell understood better how Washington works. 

So, a Washington general? Certainly. But an affirmative action general? Unfair and inaccurate.      


The Best Defense

A Marine Corps captain asks Best Defense readers for career advice

You can post comments below, or if you like, write to him directly at

I am an active duty Marine Corps Captain, and a regular reader of your blog. I will be separating from the military soon to attend Harvard Business School next fall. My question for the combined wisdom of your readers is what I should do with my time until school? I have some flexibility with dates, so should I stay in the Marines for a few more months of mundane admin work? Take a well-deserved long vacation after years of training and deployment? I am a signals intelligence officer with an active TS/SCI clearance, and in my perfect world would like to intern (paid or unpaid) in the DC area at the White House, Pentagon, or one of the intel agencies. Do these internships even exist? Any and all advice would be appreciated.