COLIN POWELL: Soldier/Statesman--Statesman/Soldier by Howard Means

COLIN POWELL: Soldier/Statesman--Statesman/Soldier

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A barely serviceable briefing on the incumbent chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Drawing on somewhat limited access to his subject, friends, foes, family members, the public record, and secondary sources, Means (a senior editor at Washingtonian magazine) offers few details on Powell's personal life or character, focusing instead on the facts of his military career. Born in Harlem to industrious Jamaican immigrants, the future general graduated in 1958 from CCNY, where his main interest seems to have been ROTC, and immediately joined the Army as a second lieutenant. His race notwithstanding, superiors soon tabbed Powell as a comer to be set on the fast upward track. The young officer did not disappoint his sponsors, serving two tours of duty in Vietnam, winning a White House Fellowship, doing brilliant staff work, performing well in professional studies, and otherwise distinguishing himself. Appointed an aide to Caspar Weinberger, then secretary of defense, early in the Reagan Administration, Powell moved on to the National Security Council. President Bush jumped him over 30 senior colleagues to head the JCS, where he has played leading roles in the invasion of Panama, the Persian Gulf War, and allied enterprises. While Means concedes that Powell has attained his high-profile, upper-echelon estate on merit, he makes much of his subject's mentors (notably, Frank Carlucci) and West Indian (as opposed to African-American) heritage. The author is also at pains to cite critics who fault Powell for a paucity of troop commands, and he goes out of his way to raise doubts about Powell's involvement in the Iran-contra scandal. But despite leaving the impression that he views the public man as too good to be true, Means closes with a series of extravagant speculations on Powell's out-of-uniform future in elective office or the private sector. The nation's first soldier deserves and eventually will get a better Boswell.

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1992
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Donald Fine