WASHINGTON -- Most members of the Congressional Black Caucus are in the ironic position of opposing the Persian Gulf war while being proud of a man who shaped the battle plan, Gen. Colin Powell.
They see Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as a role model for blacks, even though they deplore the war. After the caucus met privately with Powell yesterday, Maryland Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, said:
"Everyone in the caucus, I think to a person, has been extremely proud of the way the chairman has conducted himself, the professionalism he brings to his job, the sensitivity he brings to groups" like the caucus, Mfume said.
In fact, a number of caucus members believe Powell, a four-star general, should be rewarded with a fifth. "I think it warrants consideration by the White House," Mfume said.
Powell "indicated in his opening remarks he was aware of the political positions of the members," according to Mfume, and "he reserved the right to pursue the mandate of the Joint Chiefs."
Mfume said Powell then "spoke at length about his proud feeling with regard to the performance of our troops" and "how proud he was of the performance of the armed services in providing opportunities to minorities" who were not able "to find them in the corporate community."
The disproportionate number of blacks in the Persian Gulf forces concerns caucus members. Blacks make up 25 percent of American troops in the gulf.
In opposing the war, caucus members have said that peaceful solutions should have been pursued. Blacks in general opposed war in greater numbers than whites, public opinion polls showed.
But opposition to the war hasn't undermined positive feelings about Powell, a man whom Mfume says transcends the military.
Powell "looms larger than life in many instances as a very real and viable role model for individuals who may not be interested in the military but in other pursuits as well," Mfume said. "He presents a demeanor of you can be what you want to be in life."
Mfume said he asked Powell to consider giving preference to single parents, especially women, when deciding which soldiers would be sent home first from the gulf. "He was very receptive to that," Mfume said.