Powell Says He's Not Committed to Backing Obama in 2012

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican who supported Democratic President Barack Obama in the 2008 election, said he’s “not committed’ to supporting Obama or a specific Republican candidate in 2012.

“I’m not committed to Barack Obama, I’m not committed to a Republican candidate,” Powell, a retired Army general who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program today.

Powell said he won’t decide whom to vote for until he sees all the candidates. “Right now I do not see on the Republican side any one individual who I think is going to emerge at the top of the pile,” he said.

Obama is gearing up for re-election in 2012 in the face of 9.4 percent unemployment and a mid-term congressional election in November that handed Republicans the majority in the House and narrowed the Democratic lead in the Senate. Still, Obama’s job-approval ratings have been climbing since November.

Public-opinion polls suggest American voters “are still with” Obama, Powell said. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll taken Jan. 13-17, after Obama’s speech at a memorial service in Tucson, Arizona, urging a more civil political discourse, his job approval reached 53 percent. Among independents, positive views of his performance surpassed negative views for the first time since August 2009.

Tough Times Ahead

“I think he is doing a good job right now,” Powell said. “I think he has some tough times ahead, and I think he’s had some setbacks.”

“You know, we didn’t elect Superman,” Powell added. “We elected a human being, Barack Obama, who came in with an idea, with energy, and I think with a more youthful approach to things.”

Obama has stabilized the U.S. economy, taken on health care and improved U.S. relations with other nations, Powell said, calling last week’s visit to Washington by China President Hu Jintao “very successful.”

The next step is to reduce U.S. unemployment, an issue Obama should make “the centerpiece” of his annual State of the Union address on Jan. 25, the former Cabinet member said.

“The American people are expecting him to say something about what he’s going to do to” keep the economy moving forward, Powell said.

Powell has criticized his own party in recent months while supporting Obama’s ultimately successful fight for Senate ratification of a new nuclear-arms-reduction treaty with Russia. Powell said in September on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he’s “not happy with the rightward shift” in the Republican Party.

Coarse and Nasty

Today, Powell said American public discourse has become infused with “a coarseness, a nastiness” that “we all better think about.”

He cited cable television, talk radio and Internet blogs, especially those that are written anonymously, as being among the culprits of the deterioration of dialogue.

“I think the American people have got to start demanding more of our public officials and of the media,” Powell said.

Powell was secretary of state to Republican President George W. Bush during the run-up to the Iraq War and the first years of the conflict and considered running for president as a Republican candidate in 1996.

In the 2008 election, he crossed party lines to endorse Obama for president. He was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Gulf War against Iraq in the early 1990s.

Personal Advice

Powell said he’s “not looking for a position” in Obama’s White House as the president reshuffles the Cabinet. Among the positions likely to come open this year is that of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said last year that he expects to leave in 2011.

When Obama was a candidate “and during the transition period, various conversations were held within the staff, but nothing was of interest to me,” Powell said.

“I would rather be someone the president calls on from time to time for personal advice, without me expecting anything in return or asking for a position,” Powell said.

On Afghanistan, Powell said the 30,000 additional U.S. troops Obama authorized in December 2009 haven’t turned the war decisively yet. The last of the additional troops arrived in October.

Obama aims to turn back the Taliban and train enough Afghan soldiers and police to begin withdrawing some of the 97,000 U.S. troops in July. They’re supplemented by almost 50,000 forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other coalition nations.

Victories and Backsliding

Tactical victories have been met in some areas with backsliding, and local government authorities are too weak in too many areas to provide the stability and services that Afghans are looking for, Powell said.

He said it’s too early to know how many troops Obama may be able to bring back to the U.S. in July.

“I think one year of surge has produced rather inconclusive results,” Powell said. “I cannot tell whether or not the surge is successful.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Viola Gienger in Washington at vgienger@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ann Hughey at ahughey@bloomberg.net

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