Statesmanship: Powell Endorses Obama

Posted on October 19, 2008
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Foreign Relations, People, Politics
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Adil Najam

Today, former US Secretary of State possibly the best know living US military general, Colin Powell, endorsed Barack Obama. His decision was probably not a surprise, although it is clearly another blow to the Republicans. But what is important is not his endorsement, but what he said in making the endorsement. Take a listen to the entire thing, but especially to the portion after minutes 4:28 onwards when he talks about the charges about whether Barack Obama is a Muslim or not, and if so what does that mean.

This is really not about my liking Barack Obama (I do). This is not about my generally respecting Colin Powell (I do). This is not about my having grave concerns about many mistakes that Colin Powell has made, especially while Secretary of State (he did). This is not about me being a Muslim (I am). All of the above is important, but irrelevant to the reason why this clip is important and why what Powell says minute 4.28 onwards is absolutely important. Important to Pakistanis and to Pakistani Muslims, but far far more important to all Americans. Indeed, important to all students and practitioners of politics, everywhere.

To stand for principle, and to state that principle clearly even when it is something that is not popular is what statesmanship really is. What we saw today was not just an endorsement. It was statesmanship. So let us cherish this moment of statesmanship, because it is not often that one witnesses this very often in politics anywhere. Not in America and certainly not in America.

I fear that we will get a barrage of comments about America and American politics in response to this post. That is too be expected. And so be it. But I hope that at least some of you will think, and think hard, about what this makes you think about Pakistan and Pakistani politics. What if there was an Obama-like political star in Pakistan today? What if that politician’s father was, say, a Christian or Sikh or Hindu, with a corresponding middle name from those religions? What would be the tenor of the political conversation around this issue then in Pakistan? And who would have been the Colin Powell to have stood up and say what was said today?

I do not know what might have happened in such a case. I would like to believe that the hysteria and bigotry that some in the US have been exhibiting would not be seen in Pakistan. I would like to believe that. But, quite frankly, I find it very hard to do so. And so, today, I think about exactly this. Even as I celebrate not just what Colin Powell has done, but what he has said and how he has said it.

Editorial Note: We have had and will continue to have a very firm rule in the editorial policy of this blog. This is a blog on Pakistan. Here we discuss ALL Things Pakistan, and ALL we discuss is things about Pakistan. We have followed this rule very very stringently, and this post notwithstanding, we intend to continue doing so. Pakistanis have interests in many things – for example, in Indian films, in Russian politics, in various religions including the many that many Pakistanis follow – but this is not a blog about these things. It is a blog about Pakistan. This above all is the principle that has guided our choice of posts. Today may seem like an exception. We do not believe it really is, but even if it is, it is going to be exactly that – an exception, and not a rule. If it is an exception, then it is one that we believe is very well worth making.

47 responses to “Statesmanship: Powell Endorses Obama”

  1. Amin says:

    This op-ed in the New York Times is worth reading:



    Colin Powell had been bugged by many things in his party’s campaign this fall: the insidious merging of rumors that Barack Obama was Muslim with intimations that he was a terrorist sympathizer; the assertion that Sarah Palin was ready to be president; the uniformed sheriff who introduced Governor Palin by sneering about Barack Hussein Obama; the scorn with which Republicans spit out the words “community organizer”; the Republicans’ argument that using taxes to “spread the wealth” was socialist when the purpose of taxes is to spread the wealth; Palin’s insidious notion that small towns in states that went for W. were “the real America.”

    But what sent him over the edge and made him realize he had to speak out was when he opened his New Yorker three weeks ago and saw a picture of a mother pressing her head against the gravestone of her son, a 20-year-old soldier who had been killed in Iraq. On the headstone were engraved his name, Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, his awards

  2. Abdul Hai says:

    I am so happy Colin Powell showed statemanship when talking about a 7 year old Muslim boy. I have asked both Obama and McCain campaigns for the last three months about their treatment of Muslims as un-touchables. Both parties ignored and never responded to my emails. Obama campaign is treating American Muslims like the democratic party treats African Americans – gurantted votes because they cannot vote for McCain. On the other hand, McCain thinks he will loose support by even admiting that Muslims do exists and vote. Colin Powell came thru and made my day.

    I doubt that any politician in Pakistan is broad minded enough and the courage to make similar statement about Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus or Jews.

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