AI: Let’s start with the topic the AI featured in its January/February issue: How do you think the President is doing?
Colin Powell: I’ve never been one to assign grades to a President after his first year. I think Obama has taken on a number of very difficult issues, but they are the issues that he said during the campaign that he would take on. His first major problem was dealing with the economy. I think he managed to stabilize the financial system, and his challenge for 2010 is to do something about unemployment. That’s what’s on the minds of people now, but many have already forgotten how bad the financial system and the economic situation looked when he was elected. I think he’s done a pretty good job on the economy so far.
With respect to other major domestic issues, he took on health care, and hopefully some legislation beneficial to the country will emerge from that. He has also taken on climate change in a way that hadn’t been done previously. And he has taken on education, particularly the need to do something significant about our dropout problem. I think he is making progress on all these issues, but every one of them is extremely difficult in a highly partisan environment, so it’s too early to say whether his presidency will be a success. I’ve been through four presidential first years in government service, and this one is typical of others I have watched.
With respect to foreign policy, he pretty much has continued the Iraq policy that President Bush left him with: to continue to draw down and turn things over to the Iraqis to shape the destiny of their own country. With respect to Afghanistan, he did something that might be surprising to those who elected him, which is to add 30,000 more troops for 2010 to the 20,000 he committed in 2009. Whether that works the way we hope it will remains to be seen—that’s the big question mark.
All in all, I’d say he’s doing reasonably well in light of the challenges he chose to face, and in light of the desperate economic situation that confronted the nation at the outset of his term—and which I think was a critical factor in his election victory. But this is a congressional election year, and partisan charges will go back and forth, so we’re not likely to hear many objective assessments of anything the President does or has done.
AI: Let’s stay with the politics of the moment. When Senator Obama was campaigning for the White House,...