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Colin Powell has spent most of his life as a leader. He’s a retired four-star general and served as National Security Advisor and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His new memoir is filled with advice on succeeding in the workplace and beyond. But Powell is still dogged by his tenure as former President George W. Bush’s first secretary of state. He had misgivings about invading Iraq, but agreed to make the administration’s case for war in a speech at the United Nations. Much of what he said is now known to be based on false information. Diane talks with Powell about his storied career and his thoughts on political leadership today.
- Gen. Colin Powell former Secretary of State
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed his views toward gay marriage, abortion and lifting the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Powell, who said he has voted for Democrats and Republicans, said he also considers what presidential candidates say about the economy, education and foreign policy.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpt from “It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership” by Colin Powell. Copyright 2012 by Colin Powell. Reprinted here by permission of Harper Press. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Colin Powell's public service career spanned nearly a half century. He's a retired four-star general. He served presidents in both parties. In his new memoir, he talks about some of the difficult issues he faced as secretary of state and his thoughts on political leadership today.
MS. DIANE REHMHis book is titled "It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership." General Power joins me in the studio. You're welcome to be with us by phone, 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to, you sir, it's good to see you again.
GEN. COLIN POWELLGood morning, Diane, how are you?
REHMI'm fine. Thank you. And this book, we should say, has 13 rules that you feel very strongly have not only guided you, but you feel can help others. Number six is don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision. What does that mean to you?
POWELLIt means that as you're looking at a problem, people will bring you in the pros and cons of the issue and the most skilled leaders and managers I have worked with will examine all of it and kind of make a judgment, an informed judgment about what the right course of action is. There may be one really adverse fact something that looks like it's standing in your way.
POWELLFor Dwight Eisenhower, at the time of the Normandy invasion, it might have been the weather, but he knew that this adverse fact he could get through because the weather would break. So sometimes there is an adverse fact standing in your way and don't let it overwhelm you. If everything else says, go ahead...
POWELL...at the same time, it may be such a bad adverse fact that it should stop you in your tracks. That's where experience and judgment come in.
REHMAnd your instinct told you that going into Iraq was a bad judgment?
POWELLI don't think I've said that. What I've said is that when the president was considering whether or not military action would be required and I went to see him in August of 2002 and said to him, you know, before we think about that, we should go to the United Nations. They are the offended party. All their resolutions have been violated. And, you know, if you go into Iraq, you're going to become the government of Iraq once you take out the government. If you break it, you own it, is the quick expression I use.
POWELLAnd he listened to that advice and we took it to the United Nations. He took it to the United Nations in September of 2002 and asked for resolutions from the United Nations, putting Saddam Hussein on notice. We worked on that resolution for seven weeks, got it unanimously agreed to by the Security Council and put the test to Saddam Hussein and he failed the test. He did not give us what we needed to have in order to assure that he did not have weapons of mass destruction.
POWELLSo I think we should have avoided the war if possible, but it became clear to the president over time that it could not be avoided. But having taken it to the UN, we gathered support from some of our friends and other friends did not support us for military action. Once the president decided that we were at risk, particularly in a post-9/11 situation, and that military action was required, I supported him entirely on that military action.
POWELLI'm not happy with the way in which it was executed, but I supported him in making that decision and then it became my responsibility as secretary of state at his request to present the case to the United Nations in the famous presentation that I made on the 5th of February, 2003.
REHMDid you and do you feel you got accurate information about weapons of mass destruction?
POWELLAt the time the presentation was made, we have to remember that four months before that presentation, a national intelligence estimate reflecting the views of the 16 intelligence agencies we have was presented to the Congress. Congress examined it. The intelligence committees of Congress saw it and by an overwhelming margin, Congress passed a resolution that said to the president, continue to pursue a diplomatic solution, but if military action is required, we support you.
POWELLAnd this was long before I was asked to present the case to the United Nations. The case that the intelligence community came up with was pretty convincing that there were present weapons of mass destruction and even saying that, much of it had been produced within the past year. Our commanders accepted that judgment. The president accepted the judgment. All the cabinet, we all used that information to present the case to the American people. It was my presentation to the UN that was the most visible and the most well-remembered and well-known. But the information I provided, not a word of it was made up by me.
POWELLIt all came from the intelligence community. And I sat for four days and four nights with them and my staff in a room full of intelligence experts going over all of it. And I was pretty confident after we presented it and the director of the CIA was sitting right behind me at the presentation. But then in the weeks and months that followed, it became clear that we didn't find anything after the fall of Baghdad and slowly over time, the various sources that seemed so firm to me at the time I presented it, they started to fade away and fall apart.
REHMSuch as those...
POWELLSuch as Curveball, Curveball was a gentleman who the Germans had in their custody and who said convincingly that there were these vans that were going to make biological agents. and it turned out that instead of having four solid sources for this information, we really didn't have anything but Curveball and our intelligence people had never spoken to him.
REHMWhat about the briefing that was apparently written by Scooter Libby?
POWELLScooter was asked to write up the presentation before we knew when it was going to be given or who was going to give it. My understanding at that time was that the National Security Council staff was working on the presentation based on information from the CIA. But later, I learned that the vice president suggested that Scooter Libby do it and make it sort of a lawyer's brief. And so when I received it, the day after the president asked me to make a presentation. I looked at it and I couldn't connect what was in that paper with what the CIA has been saying.
POWELLSo I contacted the CIA and said, what is your input to this? And they said, we just gave information to the White House and we have not seen this and so we could not connect the pieces. I could not connect statements in Scooter's paper with actual data and facts that the CIA had. So we had to essentially put it aside and start all over again with four days to go.
POWELLI wasn't concerned because we had the national intelligence estimate that had been provided to Congress four months earlier and Congress had essentially accepted and voted on it. So that's what we drew from and for those four days and nights, we went over every single item I was going to present at the UN and we tossed out anything that was not multiple-sourced and agreed to by the director of central intelligence and by his deputy director and staff.
POWELLAnd so it was the best information we could pull out of the NIE in a period of four days and we thought it was persuasive. It turned out it was not correct. A lot of the things in my presentation were correct, Saddam Hussein's terror campaign against his own people, the fact that he was looking at terrorist-type incidents and he was a source of terrorism and was on our list, the fact that he abused human rights, the fact that he had had weapons of mass destruction in the past and had used them against other countries and against his own people.
POWELLAll of these things together presented a case that the president thought he had to act on and that action was military action.
REHMGeneral Powell, I wonder if at any point during that period, which clearly was a very tension-filled period, whether you ever considered resigning?
POWELLWhy would I consider resigning?
REHMBecause you had concerns, you had doubts. You said to the president, if you break it, you own it.
REHMSo you clearly had concerns so I found myself wondering, I wonder whether he'll resign because had you resigned, it could have changed the whole course of history.
POWELLI'll make two points on that. If I had resigned, and I never considered resigning, it would have made no difference, I assure you. It probably would have moved even more quickly. They wouldn't have considered going to the UN. There was a great deal of momentum at that point to put together a military plan so I never thought of resigning. And the reason I never thought of resigning is because I had persuaded the president that we should find a diplomatic solution recognizing that if a diplomatic solution didn't work then the president would feel it necessary to take military action.
POWELLAnd if he decided that that was correct, he was the commander-in-chief, the president and I would support him in that decision.
REHMWere you totally comfortable with the information that was given to you, comfortable, were you totally comfortable?
POWELLI was totally comfortable because it had been examined, looked at, verified by the people responsible for it. In fact, months after in August, Baghdad fell in April, this was in August. The CIA was still saying even though nothing had been found, and the sources disappeared. The CIA was still publically saying that they stood by the judgments they had made in the NIE the previous fall and in the preparation of my presentation to the United Nations.
POWELLAnd so it is not just, was I comfortable. Were all of the cabinet members comfortable? The secretary of defense, the national security advisor, the president, the vice president, our commanders who were fighting the battle, we all thought it was a good case.
REHMYou all thought it was a good case and yet Vice President Chaney takes a shot at you in his memoir.
POWELLWhat else is, I mean, every memoir takes a shot at someone. What he essentially, I'm not sure what shot you're talking about. He essentially said that he thought that I didn't support the president but I did support the president. Who was asked to go to the UN? Who went to the UN? Is that a lack of support of the president?
REHMGen. Colin Powell, former secretary of state to George W. Bush. His new book is titled "It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership."
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, with me four-star General Colin Powell retired from the U.S. Army. He served four presidential administrations, most recently as secretary of state from 2001 to 2005. Marilyn in Arvada, Colo. says, "I made a point of watching your UN presentation live in its entirety. You seemed extremely uncomfortable and the credibility of the presentation was not high. How did you personally feel during that presentation?"
POWELLI was comfortable. I spoke for an hour-and-a-half pretty much from notes and without notes. And I'm not sure what she saw but I was comfortable with the presentation. If I wasn't comfortable with the presentation I wouldn't have given it.
REHMSo do you feel that the responsibility for making that speech was totally yours and that you were not pressured into making that speech?
POWELLThe president asked me to make the presentation because he felt -- he'd already decided that military action would be necessary by the middle of January. And he asked me to make the presentation so we could show the rest of the world through the United Nation Security Council the information we were basing that decision upon.
REHMAnd you write in the book you had to reject some of the items because those urged you to tilt your presentation back towards Scooter Libby's by adding assertions that had been rejected months earlier to links between Iraq, 9/11 and other terrorist acts.
POWELLI only used information that I felt was well sourced and that the CIA, representing all of the intelligence agencies, stood behind. If they didn't stand behind it, if they didn't stand behind it I wouldn't use it. It wasn't in the speech.
REHMBut what did your instinct tell you when you write here on page 223, "I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me."
POWELLTrue. If maybe I had more time other than just four short days I might've found weaknesses that would've said to me, wait a minute, let's do some more research. But that's all I can say about it. Maybe I would've found something if I had more time or if I had done greater introspection into it. But at the time I have to say again it wasn't anything that was made up. It wasn't anything that was sort of just created for that presentation.
POWELLIt came out of a national intelligence estimate that had gone to the congress, had gone to all of our commanders, had gone to our allies and was the accepted wisdom at the time of the presence of weapons of mass destruction. And when I was finished I believed that we had made a good presentation. So maybe my instincts failed me but there was nothing to suggest at that time that my instincts were failing me. It was only later when nothing showed up, when we did not find any weapons of mass destruction I said, where did I miss it? Should I have smelled that?
POWELLAnd I did not because the case that was presented to the congress, to the American people, the case that the congress voted on felt like a good case and I presented it with confidence.
REHMAnd you write again on page 222, "Why did so many senior people fall for such shaky sources? Why and how did the CIA fail so massively? I have no answers to those questions. I wish I did."
POWELLI don't. I don't. Two committees investigated it. They found very, very serious weaknesses in the analytical work that the CIA had done to present the -- prepare the NIE. But they came to no specific conclusions as to why it happened and nor have I.
REHMTell me about the Powell doctrine. A lot of us don't quite understand what it is and what you wish had been applied there.
POWELLMy view of going to war is that make sure you have a specific political objective. And it's an understood objective. And then you have exhausted all diplomatic or political means of achieving that political objective. And if you have to use military force, apply it in a decisive manner. People always like to say that I say overwhelming but the word I use is decisive, meaning make sure you know what you're getting into and what it will take to succeed.
POWELLIn the case of Iraq, I was concerned that we were not sending enough troops in. And I raised my concern with General Franks the commander. He raised it with Secretary Rumsfeld but they felt that they had an adequate force structure and this was the commander General Franks, the Joints Chief of Staff and the Secretary of Defense who are the president's military advisors. And so the president was briefed on it and they thought that their plan was adequate.
POWELLAnd the plan certainly was adequate to take Baghdad but it was not adequate for the aftermath. We thought everything would simply just -- or the others thought that everything would simply just snap back in place, but it didn't. We should, in my judgment, have had far more force, a decisive force not just to take Baghdad, but to control the country. And keep the looting from breaking out, keep the ministries from being burnt down and perhaps suppress some of the (word?) rivalry that was going to exist between the Shias and the Sunnis and the Curds. And we didn't do that. We started pulling troops out at the moment when we should've been putting more troops in.
REHMAnd what do you -- what is your assessment of the aftermath of Iraq and what has happened since?
POWELLOur troops are out. We now have a government there that is a product of its peoples voting for it. There are still challenges. There are occasional episodes of violence which are troubling. We have to stay engaged with the Iraqis for years to come to help them with different things but our troops are gone. And we no longer have to worry about weapons of mass destruction because this new government has no interest in such things and it's trying to live in peace with its neighbors and build a representative form of government for the people of Iraq.
POWELLLet me say one other thing. There were no weapons of mass destruction but there was never any doubt in my mind or anyone else's mind that if Saddam Hussein was released from the pressure of UN sanctions he had the capacity to develop those weapons of mass destruction. And knowing this gentleman and what he's done in the past, we were quite confident that if he got away with it this time you could expect to see weapons of mass destruction come back into being even though they were not here at this time.
REHMIt's interesting to...
POWELLI have no -- I have no regrets that he is gone. And the Iraqi people have a new life.
REHMI understand that. What about what has happened since in Afghanistan, in Iran and in Syria?
POWELLWell, Afghanistan stands as a different case. I mean, that's where we were attacked from and that's where we went first. And right now I think al Qaida has been on the run in Afghanistan. They still have sanctuaries in Pakistan so we have to look at those two countries together. Syria I think stands alone as its own case, as does the Arab Spring. What happened is the people of the region, not just because of watching what was going on in Iraq but because they felt it was time for them to throw off the yokes of oppression that they had been living under.
POWELLAnd it started, you'll recall, in Tunisia with one food peddler. All he wanted was a license to sell his food and to be left alone. And when that wasn't forthcoming, he set himself on fire. And that fire spread throughout Tunisia and the president was gone shortly. And then it spread to Egypt and the other nations in that part of the world. Not all of them are moving rapidly to a new form of government or to satisfy the wishes of their people, but it's really a function of people wanting governments that they have elected, they have selected, wanting governments that are not corrupt.
POWELLAnd above all what's driving the Arab Spring and all of the other things you see going on in that part of the world, people want jobs. They want a way of taking care of their kids, a better future. And they don't want to see corruption steal the wealth of the nation.
REHMWhat would have happened had we stayed in Afghanistan and not gone into Iraq?
POWELLWell, that's so hypothetical I can't answer it. The military commanders would say to you that they thought Afghanistan was under control. And so going to Iraq did not necessarily take away resources that we needed in Afghanistan. But it turned out that Afghanistan was a much more difficult problem than had been anticipated. And the new government under Mr. Karzai -- President Karzai who is still the president was not able to place itself in control of the whole country. And so in both cases we -- President Bush had to surge in Iraq and President Obama had to surge in Afghanistan.
POWELLYou really need to put in decisive force if you want to accomplish your mission and take control of ground, take control of a country and give it an opportunity to put in place a good form of government. You have to be ready to make the investment.
REHMAnd had President Bush done that with Afghanistan sufficiently in your mind?
POWELLIf it had been done sufficiently in either Afghanistan or Iraq at the beginning we wouldn't have needed surges later.
REHMBoth former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and former Vice President Cheney suggest in their memoirs that your actions after your UN speech were disloyal to the president.
POWELLThat's absolute nonsense and they have no evidence for it. They both used the same line of thought. They heard or someone told them or it was reported to them that I was not supporting the president. But they never heard me indicate any lack of support in any meeting. And the reason they never heard it is because I was supporting the president. The president knows I was supporting him. He called upon me, not Mr. Rumsfeld or Secretary -- or Vice-President Cheney to go to the UN.
POWELLAnd you will not find anything after that UN speech throughout the rest of that time in my term where I was giving speeches or doing anything else that would reflect a lack of support for the president of the United States.
REHMWhy would they say that?
POWELLBecause that's the way they -- I guess that's the line they came up with in order to say what they said.
REHMBut even the president...
POWELLI can't account for them.
REHM...even the president, President Bush himself did not call you disloyal, but he did not dispute Vice President Cheney or Rumsfeld.
POWELLI can't answer that, but the only one that counts for me is the president. He did not think I was disloyal or he would not have asked me to do the things that he asked me to do.
REHMOne more question on that. You said that the president asked you, not Vice President Cheney, not Rumsfeld to go to the UN. You probably have the greatest trust of any American at that time. So when you went to the UN people said, well, if General Powell is there, we believe it.
REHMWere you a patsy?
POWELLAs I have said over and over, I was asked by the president as the Secretary of State to present the case. The case was solid. Sixteen intelligence agencies agreed on the information that was given to congress, given to the American people and which I gave to the world in that UN speech. So I wasn't a patsy. I was doing my job as Secretary of State and I didn't make any of it up. It reflected the view of the intelligence community and not only us but intelligence communities in other nations, such as the United Kingdom and Spain.
REHMGeneral Colin Powell. His new book is titled "It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's open the phones now, 800-433-8850. Let's go first to Roanoke, Va. Good morning, Mark. You're on the air.
MARKGood morning. Secretary Powell, I have so many questions about this whole period. I remember in early 1991, we were so excited about the fall of the Soviet Union and the (unintelligible) possibility and we had the great alliance in Gulf War I when Secretary Baker (unintelligible) amazing alliance. The real failure seemed to have occurred in 2002 with the failure of the western alliance. I never have quite accounted for the failure of bringing in France and Germany.
MARKI'd like you to address that, why we weren't able to do that, why the U.S. Secretary of State didn't have that perhaps patched up when you went to the UN. And also the whole issue with Britain staying with us, Tony Blair facing unbelievable criticism at home. Why did the British stay in? Was it because they brought us into '91? We weren't that worried?
REHMAll right. I'll stop you right there.
POWELLThe British felt the same way we did that the intelligence information was correct. And it was Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of 9/11 with the nexus -- the potential nexus to terrorist activity. They felt strongly that he should be made to account for the weapons of mass destruction that he had in the past and we thought he had now. And so they stuck with us, as did Spain and a number of other nations.
POWELLFrance and Germany and Russia made it clear from the very beginning that they did not see it the same way we did. It was not like 1991. And they were reluctant to get involved in a situation that involved taking out the regime and being responsible for this country. In 1991 remember there was a clear objective and clear provocation Iraq had invaded a neighbor. And remember the mission at that time was to kick the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. And that was an easier case to solve, not only to our NATO allies and people like the Soviet Union, but even Syria and Egypt provided forces for that.
POWELLBut it was an entirely different situation in 2002, 2003. There was not that kind of international concern over this to match the concern that we and the British and Spain and others had.
REHMHere's a question from Johan in Hamilton, Ontario. He says, "What does General Powell see as the foreign policy priorities of the U.S. going forward?" And then he asks about the differences between President Obama and Mitt Romney and their ability to recognize and accomplish those priorities.
POWELLI think the foremost priority for the country, both the domestic priority and it is the foreign priority is to fix our economy -- get our unemployment rate down, fix our economy. Because that's what the real competition in the world is right now. Who can generate the wealth needed to bring people up out of poverty? China is focusing on wealth creation. India, the Brit countries, Brazil and Chili and Argentina and Central and Eastern Europe, even Africa is now coming out of those dark ages as well. And I think both Mr. Romney and the president understand this.
REHMColin Powell. His new book "It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership." Short break, more of your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Gen. Colin Powell, former secretary of state is with me in the studio. He has a new book, the first he has written since serving under President George W. Bush. It's titled, "It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership". He talks about 13 principles that have guided him. Before we hear about some of those here's an email from Tara who says, "I listened to Gen. Powell's presentation to the U.N. live while I was working those years ago. I felt it was powerful. And though some of the information has since been proven inaccurate, it sustained me during the ups and downs of the war in Iraq. The human rights violations he detailed that morning brought me to tears. I greatly appreciate the General's service to the country."
REHMAnd let's take a caller in Miami, Fla. Good morning, Carlos.
CARLOSGood morning. I've been listening to the show and I really appreciate the information that Colin Powell was giving. I wanted to ask a few questions.
REHMHow about just one?
CARLOSOkay. The pictures that he demonstrated at the U.N. of some empty canisters, could they have been canisters used by Saddam against the Kurds during the Clinton administration, during which time the United States said nothing? We did not protest the use of these chemical weapons at that time. And then later on, I think it's highly irresponsible for us to be using these empty canisters, if they were empty canisters.
POWELLIf the canisters you're referring to are the aluminum tubes, it was a debate about what the purpose of those tubes were. Some people thought very strongly and the CIA had them tested and retested and believed that they were designed to be used in centrifuges which could be part of a nuclear weapons program. Others thought that those aluminum tubes were rocket bodies. When I made the presentation I gave the CIA position which reflected our intelligence community, but I also said, you know, in order to balance it properly, that there were some who felt that they were not for that purpose and we were still studying that issue.
POWELLBut they were not chemical weapons at the time nor am I completely clear in which earlier incident you're referring to.
REHMDid you have concerns about the front-page article in the New York Times written by Judith Miller which apparently had been sourced by Ahmad Chalabi?
POWELLI'm not sure which particular article you may be referring to because she wrote quite a few during that period. And I can't comment on what sources she had or did not have. That's something you better ask her.
REHMBut she did help in making the case that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
POWELLYes. But I wasn't following what case she was making. I was following what the intelligence community was telling us. And that's what they were telling us. And if you go back and read through the NIE and everything else they had, it was a pretty solid case that one had to take seriously.
REHMAll right. To Fort Worth, Tex. Good morning, Andrew.
ANDREWGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
ANDREWGeneral Powell, you mentioned that obviously Bush and others in the administration felt they had a good case in invading Iraq. And I'm sure there must have been adverse facts that came up in those deliberations. But I'm just wondering, even though hindsight is 20/20, if in your opinion there are any adverse facts that maybe President Bush or others in the administration would have known at the time, that we know now, that would have changed their mind and maybe led them to not go on with the invasion.
POWELLI think the one that comes to mind is we should have done a better job of anticipating what might happen in the aftermath of taking out Saddam Hussein, taking out a regime. And I think if more thought had been given, are you prepared to run a country, are you prepared to take on the responsibility for all those people, rather than just saying, it will not be that difficult, we'll only be there for a few months and then we can pull out and leave somebody else in charge, the Iraqi people. That was, I don't think, given enough thought.
ANDREWOkay. All right. That's it. Thank you.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Your first rule of the 13 is always do your best, someone is watching. Why is that so important?
POWELLIt's important -- and I talk to young people about this all the time. You know, there is no job that is so menial that you can't learn from that job. And if it is a menial job and it's been given to you, do it to the best of your ability. Don't ever fail to do the best you can in any position you have been given.
REHMEven if you're sweeping floors.
POWELLAnd I have mopped floors early in my life and I mop well. And I still remember the Pepsi Cola factory manager saying to me, well, you know, you've turned out to be a pretty good mopper. And I said, well, you've given me every opportunity to learn how to do it. And he laughed at that. And the next year I was not mopping, but I was working on a machine, so I moved up. And so not only do this so that people are watching, but remember you're watching. Watch yourself. Make sure you're doing your very, very best. So be your own role model and be your best supervisor.
REHMYou also talk about trusting your people.
POWELLI think that any successful organization rests on a basis of trust. You have to trust your people, but to trust your people you, yourself, have to create conditions of trust. You have to perform in a way that shows that you are competent; that shows that you believe in your people; that you're gonna train your people; you're gonna give them what they need to get the job done; that the mission before them, you believe in and you believe in it with intensity and passion. And when you treat people that way and when they think you are committed to something important and you're gonna help them achieve that important thing, they start to believe in you and a bond of trust is created between the leaders and the followers.
POWELLAnd that bond of trust will not only take you to your mission, but your people will take care of you. They will take care of you. So you have to be kind to your people, but kindness isn't just for the sake of being kind. It's for the purpose of creating conditions of trust within an organization.
REHMThe trust on Capitol Hill between parties and from Capitol Hill to the White House doesn't seem to be working today. We're not getting much done because of that lack of trust. What is your assessment of the way things are working or not working and how would you as leader of one of the parties or as president of the United States use one of those principles to change the way it's happening?
POWELLThere's a story in my book about the disagreements I had with the French foreign minister. And we had a big fight over the question that you raised a little earlier, one of your callers raised about, you know, why weren't they with us. And what I point out in the book is that the French foreign minister and I -- Dominique de Villepin -- and we were adversaries. Well, we never became enemies because we were gonna need each other later in other things. And it turned out to be the case.
POWELLAnd so I always have tried in an adversarial relationship with somebody, when I'm arguing about something or there's a difference of agreement, difference of opinion rather, to be an adversary, but don't become an enemy. Turn that your adversary into a friend, not an enemy. And I fear that's what's happening in Congress right now is the orthodoxy and the left and right has become so extreme that if you dare to stray the slightest bit from that orthodox position to reach out across the aisle and talk to an adversary who can still be your friend, that people aren't able to compromise.
POWELLAnd if you can't compromise you can't run a democratic form of government. Our founding fathers compromised to an incredible extent at the time that the Constitution was being written in 1787 because they knew that we each have strong opinions on every issue, but we just can't stick with our opinions and not find ways to bridge the differences and compromise. But increasingly in Washington and other parts of the country orthodoxy has taken over and it's encouraged by the way in which television covers the debates and the way in which the internet has given everybody an opportunity to dial in, sometimes in the nastiest manner possible.
REHMHow do you feel about the President's lifting the don't-ask-don't-tell rule?
POWELLI supported it. You know, I was part of the original decision-making process that gave us don't-ask-don't-tell almost 20 years ago. And things have changed. Attitudes have changed throughout the country and in the military. And so when President Obama came in and started to examine the issue and I talked to my colleagues in the military they said, it is now time. We can handle it. So I expressed my support for it before he made the decision.
REHMAnd what about the issue of gay marriage? How do you feel about that?
POWELLI feel that this is a matter between adults who wish to have a lifelong relationship with each other in a legal sense. And I don't know how to deny that to them. I know many, many gay and lesbian friends. I have many of them. And I know couples who have adopted children; who have lived together without the opportunity for marriage for 50 years. And I don't know how to deny them the benefits that come from a marriage.
POWELLNow, there are religions who will not find this acceptable. And they're not being required to provide the solemnization or the ceremony to marry people and so I think that we have to accept that this is a trend that is now growing in our country. More Americans are now comfortable with this than ever before. And so I think it's gonna take some time because most states, many states I should say, have constitutional constraints against gay marriage, but I think the country's changing.
REHMAnd what about the issue of abortion?
POWELLI have always been of the view that this is perhaps the most difficult choice a woman has to make. And I don't know how to deny a woman the right to decide how her body will be used. And it's a matter for her conscious, her partner, her family and her faith. And I think, therefore, that the current laws, as the Supreme Court has determined them is an acceptable position.
REHMI know that you have not spoken publicly as to which candidate you support, President Obama or former governor Romney. And yet the three positions you've just outlined would certainly be more in line with those of President Obama than those of Mitt Romney. How do those positions affect your thinking about who you will support?
POWELLI'll have to take everything into account, not just these positions, but what the candidates are saying on our economy; what they're saying about education; what they're saying about our relations with other nations. And I'm a private citizen and in due course I will exercise my private citizen's right to vote. I have voted for Democrats in the past. I have voted for Republicans pretty steadily, for a lot of Bushs and a lot of Reagans.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go to Newport, Mich. Good morning, Richard.
RICHARDWell, good morning, Diane. Good hear to your voice.
RICHARDYes. Colin Powell is one of the heroes that I think of in our country's service, integrity and character. He ranks up there with Abe Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford. And I appreciate what he is doing for our country, though some things that were a little bit on the -- I hope he can consider the compliment and respect that is intended.
POWELLWell, thank you very much. You know, I've been privileged to serve the country in a number of positions from second lieutenant to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, national security advisor, and secretary of state. My real focus now in serving the country is on the education of our young people. And I'm also deeply interested in immigration reform. So I thank you for your compliments. I appreciate your support. And I'm still trying to serve in new ways.
REHMWhat do you think the country should do about immigration reform at this point?
POWELLYou know when President Bush first took office we were working hard to see if we could come up with a immigration reform plan. And we were working with the Mexican government. Vicente Fox had also just become president. And Jorge Castaneda was my counterpart in Mexico. And we were putting together plans that said, let's regularize, in other words, regularize people coming across the border for work. Let's have jobs for them. Let's make sure they come in on a legal basis.
POWELLBut we also have to do something about guarding our border. Nothing wrong with guarding your border. We have to do something with the millions and millions of undocumented Mexicans and others who are here in the United States, who are living in the shadows. We thought it was appropriate to find a way to bring them out of their shadows and give them a path to either go home legally and come back legally or a path through a green card and perhaps ultimately citizenship.
POWELLWe were making some progress. And there was good support in the Congress, you know, at that time. Senator Mc Cain was one of our great supporters. But 9/11 changed all of that and the country became deeply concerned about our borders and deeply concerned about whether immigration was a challenge to us with respect to terrorist activity. And we have not gotten past that. But I think we had better, in the next administration, whoever wins the election, focus again on coming up with a sensible immigration policy.
POWELLThis country has been fueled by wave after wave of immigrants, including my own parents who came here 90 years ago, legally, I will add.
REHMAnd of course we need immigration to fill the workforce to do many jobs that people here would rather not do. Colin Powell, his new book is titled "It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership". Thank you for being here.
POWELLThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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