What Would Make Colin Powell Run?

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Who was the general so popular that politicians of both parties salivated at the thought of him on the national ticket? No, not Eisenhower. This general is very much alive and all over TV. And being mentioned for Secretary of State if he wants a new job before 1996.

It is, of course, Colin Powell, whom most of Washington is hailing as a prime mover in the Haitian deal. "Jimmy Carter headed the delegation, but everyone knew Colin Powell was the most important person on that plane," says one Administration official. It was Powell who described to Haitian military chief Raoul Cedras in terrifying detail the firepower the U.S. was prepared to use. It was Powell who convinced Cedras that it was more in keeping with military honor to yield than to fight. It was Powell who ultimately persuaded President Clinton to take the deal with all its flaws. If the Haitian venture turns sour, the general's prestige might plummet, but right now it is so high as to revive talk in the White House of naming him Secretary of State.

To Clinton, the idea would have an obvious two-for-the-price-of-one appeal: harnessing Powell's popularity to the Administration's floundering foreign policy while heading off a potentially dangerous 1996 presidential rival. Warren Christopher, however, shows no signs of stepping aside, and Clinton would be reluctant to push him out. Though Powell is said to like Clinton -- despite "doubts about some of his habits," as one close friend puts it -- he would have little to gain by tying himself to an unpopular Administration. Powell's spokesman, Bill Smullen, says that the general is preoccupied writing his memoirs but "is not going to rule anything in or out."

Powell has been equally coy about elective politics. A Republican draft- Powell-in-1996 committee has signed up 20 state and 10 regional coordinators and begun raising money. But the general has had no contact with the group, and in fact has never declared himself a Republican -- or a Democrat. He helped to shape Republican foreign and military policy during the Reagan and Bush administrations, but friends say his views on civil rights and social issues may be too Democratic to reconcile with a right-leaning G.O.P.

One scenario has Powell running not in 1996 but in 2000, against Al Gore for the Democratic nomination. Maybe. The general is certainly ambitious enough to see himself as Commander in Chief, but he has no taste for fund raising or buttering up special interests. At 57 he can bide his time -- while giving speeches for as much as $60,000 each.