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Secretary Powell? Bush hints at former general's role

WASHINGTON (CNN)-- With polls ranking retired Gen. Colin Powell as one of the most popular figures in the country, it is little wonder that Texas Gov. George W. Bush is hinting the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff may end up in his Cabinet.

Retired Gen. Colin Powell
Retired Gen. Colin Powell's name has been mentioned as a possible secretary of state in a George W. Bush administration.  

Bush, the all-but-certain Republican nominee for president, hinted at a role for Powell in a future Bush Cabinet saying Monday: "I hope his greatest service still lies ahead."

Powell served as a top military and national security aide to three presidents -- Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and George Bush, the GOP candidate's father. President Bush named Powell chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the country's top uniformed officer, and Powell held that post when the country went to war in the Persian Gulf in 1991. He also played a role in negotiating the end to military rule in Haiti in 1994.

Since leaving the Army seven years ago, he has rebuffed attempts to recruit him into politics, as a candidate for president or vice president. But many believe he has his eye on the State Department in a Republican administration.

Powell said he has not yet had any discussions with the Texas governor about a job in a new Bush administration, but his name continues to be mentioned prominently.

"I'm sure there will be a conversation, and if I can serve him, I'd certainly consider it," he said.

Despite his sky-high poll ratings, Powell has his critics as well. His military doctrine of "decisive force" is too inflexible to help the U.S. achieve diplomatic goals, said Tom Donnelly, of the Project for New American Century, a conservative think tank.

"Based on his past track record, you have to be wondering whether he'll be the guy to seize the moment or to allow it to dissipate," Donnelly said.

At the Pentagon, Powell advised Bush and Clinton against NATO air strikes in Bosnia -- a tactic that eventually helped force the Serbs to the peace table. Even in the Persian Gulf conflict, Powell was reluctant to commit U.S. forces to drive Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

"It was clear that in the coterie of people around President Bush at the time, General Powell was on the more cautious side with regard to the use of force," said Ivo Daalder, an analyst with the liberal Brookings Institution.

For his part, Powell argues that as senior military adviser to the president, it was his job to lay out options, not to make policy.

"You should always be reluctant to use military power," he said. "I have been characterized as 'the reluctant warrior.' Guilty."

But would Powell be as hesitant to flex U.S. military muscle as Secretary of State?

"The question is whether he has learned from that experience, whether he still believes that American leadership should be exercised cautiously, that military force should be used only as a last resort," Donnelly said.

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