Is that a good career path to the White House? According to the "World Almanac of Presidential Facts" 12 presidents were generals. That is misleading, however. By my criteria, of those 12, only four were generals in the sense that Colin Powell was.
George Washington was, of course commander in chief of the Continental Army during the Revolution. He served eight years. Before that he served five years in the Virginia Militia. Given the nature of military service in his era, he qualifies under the Powell Test (or should it be the Lippman Test)?
Andrew Jackson was a politician who became nationally famous as a general in the War of 1812. He spent seven years in uniform. Doesn't meet the Test.
William Henry Harrison was also an 1812 hero. But before and after that he was a politician. Doesn't meet the Test.
Zachary Taylor. Fought in the War of 1812 and over 30 years later in the Mexican War. He was in the Army all that time. He served 40 years on active duty. He was elected on the basis of his war exploits. Meets the Test.
Franklin Pierce was a lawyer and pol who enlisted during the Mexican War. He served only two years. Doesn't meet the Test.
Andrew Johnson. He was a U.S. senator when Abraham Lincoln named him military governor of Tennessee, with rank of brigadier general. Doesn't meet the Test.
U.S. Grant. Served 23 years, counting West Point. Commander of Union armies in Civil War. Meets the Test.
Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Harrison. All served in Civil War, then returned to politics. Don't meet the Test.
Dwight D. Eisenhower. Served 38 years, counting West Point. Supreme Allied Commander in Europe in World War II. Meets the Test.
So, in my view, Washington, Taylor, Grant and Ike are the presidents you should look to in deciding what to expect of a President Powell.
In the most recent, thorough and informed poll of historians regarding presidential performance ("Greatness in the White House" by Robert K. Murray and Tim H. Blessing) here's how those four general-presidents were ranked:
Washington. A very close third behind Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. Category "Great."
Taylor. Twenty-seventh. "Below Average."
Grant. Thirty-fifth, ahead of only Warren Harding. "Failure."
Eisenhower. Eleventh. Just behind Lyndon B. Johnson. "Above Average."
Bear in mind that academic historians tend to be Democrats, and Ike and Grant were Republicans, Taylor a Whig and Washington a Federalist.