Former Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested on Sunday that the United States military has a role to play in helping contain the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, saying that the problem now was "beyond the capacity" of BP to stop.
"The president has to get involved as quickly as possible," Powell told ABC's This Week. "If you don't, then public opinion starts to drag you in the media, and pushes you. And so when something like this clearly is going to get beyond the capacity of whoever caused it, get beyond the capacity of local authorities, I think the federal government has to move in quickly and move in with, to use my favorite expression, decisive force and demonstrate that it's doing everything that it can do."
Powell continued: "[This] is a major problem that can only be dealt with by the federal government and all the resources of the federal government and that's what the president is now doing."
The statement by the revered military and political figure is a reflection of a growing discouragement over the failure of the Obama administration -- in practice or in perception -- to play a hands-on role in resolving the crisis. Asked whether he'd been satisfied with the extent of the president's response to this point, Powell was moderately critical.
"I think the president directly said the other day that he'd been monitoring it, following it, and ... been on top of it from the beginning," he said. "But that impression was not conveyed to the American people. And the comprehensive speech he gave the other day, I think he would have been better served -- and the nation would have been better served -- if he had given it a few weeks earlier. But I think the federal government is now fully engaged."
Did he agree with the notion put forth by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fl.) that the response in the Gulf should be federalized with the even military units sent in?
"It depends on what you want them to do," Powell said. "The military brings organization, it brings control. it brings assets. Whether it's the right distinction of assets that you need right now, I don't know. But certainly I'm sure my colleagues in the pentagon are looking at it and what you want is somebody who is in the military now, not somebody who used to be in the military. Somebody who is controlling troops now.
"What we would do in my time," he added, "we would assign it to one of our army commanders, a second army would go in on Hurricane Andrew and take charge of things. But whether that's the right combination of assets now I'll have to leave to others to decide. First we have to figure out what do we need? Do we need people to clean the beaches or put out skimmers? we have lots of fishermen and others down there who are available who want the work and know the water a lot better than an army unit coming in, but whether it's army, coast guard, local forces, it is time for a comprehensive total attack on this problem."