Colin Powell: Planning for an Exit

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Secretary of State Colin Powell has been a good soldier in public, even as he has had to fight for every small victory against Administration hawks like Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But he has privately grown more frustrated, and now, sources close to Powell tell Time, he has a firm plan for his exit: he will step down at the end of President Bush’s current term. “He will have done a yeoman’s job of contributing over the four years,” says a close aide. “But that’s enough.” The aide says Powell’s view of the matter is, “I did what my heart told me to do. I got (Bush) here and set him up. I did the best I could do.” If Bush wins a second term, only the imminence of a major diplomatic victory—in the Middle East, for example—could induce him to stay a short while longer. By the same token, the aide stresses that Powell is determined to serve out the entire term—even if the U.S. launches an invasion of Iraq, which Powell has fought to delay or derail.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher repeated Powell’s public assertion that he has no intention of leaving. “He serves at the pleasure of the President,” Boucher said. A Powell exit could cause political problems for the Republicans. The loss of his moderating voice would embolden the hard-liners and hurt the party’s efforts to broaden its base. And those who dream of a Powell presidential candidacy in 2008 have little cause for hope. Powell, the aide says, will “never run for President.”