May 23, 2012
TRANSCRIPT: FMR. SECY. OF STATE COLIN POWELL DISCUSSES HIS NEW BOOK, AFGHANISTAN AND THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION ON "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS"
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NEW YORK—MAY 23, 2012—Today on “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” former Secy. of State Colin Powell sat down to discuss his new book on lessons of leadership, after action review from events in Afghanistan, Mitt Romney’s foreign affairs approach and if he has regrets about not running for president. When asked about the current situation in Afghanistan, Powell said that “It's time to bring our active duty soldiers home. They’ve been at this for ten straight years.” In regard to Romney’s recent adversarial statements about foreign policy, specifically Russia, Powell said, “I think he needs to really not just accept these sort of cataclysmic pronouncements, he needs to think carefully.” When asked if he regrets not running for president, Powell responded, “I had to think about it because it was expected of me...After a few weeks, I realized this is just not me.”
A transcript of the interview is below, if used please credit “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
Links to embeddable clips:
ANDREA MITCHELL: And joining me now, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, author of the new book "It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership." Congratulations on the book.
COLIN POWELL: Thank you very much, Andrea.
MITCHELL: Great to see you. Why did you write the book? What did you want to accomplish in this book that you haven't said before?
POWELL: I really wanted to share some of my life experiences with people. Not a political memoir. Couple of chapters might say political memoir. But it's really warm stories about things that happened to me. How I interacted with people, how people interacted with me, what I learned from those experiences. I wanted to put a book out that youngsters would read. I gave it to my son to read, and after he was halfway through, he turned around and gave it to my grandson to read. Read this! So it's a book for young people, it's a book for business leaders, it's a book for my military colleagues. A lot of lessons on leadership, lot of lessons not just on leadership, but on life. One of my buddies emailed me this morning saying we're going use it for Bible study this weekend.
MITCHELL: That really means something.
POWELL: There are some parables. There are some parables in the book.
MITCHELL: Let's talk about leadership. One of the things that you say is, after thirty days you own the sheets. It’s an old army expression meaning you have to take ownership of it. So when we look at foreign policy, and when we look at politics in this election year - after thirty days you own the sheets? So by now, three years in, should President Obama own the economy and no longer be saying yeah, but I inherited all of this from George W. Bush?
POWELL: Yeah, that's the way we do it in the military. But you know I did have a little observation in that same chapter that says, this applies everywhere except in politics, where you continue to blame the guy before you as long as you can. But that's not the way we did it in the military. You know, after a while you take accountability and responsibility. You can’t blame anybody else, it's all yours. You own the sheets. And the sheets, they're your problem. I would suggest that that's not bad for politics either. We don't want to keep hearing about what the last guy did. What have you done? And what are you going to do to fix the problems that we have in front of us? Now I think that's the challenge the president has for the next few months.
MITCHELL: The after action report - which is the military's way of approaching everything - what is the after action report as we attempt to wind down this war in Afghanistan?
POWELL: I think there'll be a lot of after action reviewing. What did we do right, what did we do wrong, what's the proper role of insurgency actions, and is this at the expense of regular conventional forces? And my military colleagues are hard at work. They’re designing new strategies, new equipment, new techniques, and my caution to them is, you know, don't always think that the next war, the next conflict is going to be just like this one. And I’ve always advocated having a full, conventional force capability. Be ready to handle whatever comes along. You can't predict it. And in my own experience, we fought Desert Storm - the first Desert Storm - I used the army we had prepared for Germany and for the Russians and used it in the desert. And so you never know what’s coming, so make sure you have a very, very strong, capable, comprehensive force. And I hope that's the lesson learned. And I also hope a lesson learned, not only for my military colleagues, but for political leaders is - make sure you know what you're getting into. You can't predict everything, but have a pretty good idea of what might come next, after you've taken the first hill.
MITCHELL: As the president has reframed it at the NATO summit, we can't stay there forever. Ten years in, they have to take over. We still have not proved that they can lead in the south and in the east, in the most highly contested areas. So will it be mission incomplete?
POWELL: I wouldn’t' characterize it that way. I would say, mission realistic. We have been there for ten years, and I think what the NATO leaders led by the president, did over the weekend was pretty sound. They essentially said look, we're going to cease active combat operations in 2013, and pull out by the end of 2014. And it's yours. We have helped you train hundreds of thousands of soldiers and policemen, we've taught you what a Democratic representative form of government should be like, we told you the importance of ending corruption, killing off the poppy fields and not becoming a source of drugs for the world, but how much more can you do? At some point it becomes their destiny to control, their destiny to design. We’re seeing the same thing in Iraq, where once we left, it's up to the Iraqis to figure out. It’s a little choppy, a little uneasy, but our birth was a little choppy, a little uneasy, for a couple of hundred years. And so you're just going to have to let them go, be there to give support, give advice, give some assistance, but it's time to bring our active duty soldiers home. They’ve been at this for ten straight years.
MITCHELL: You write -
POWELL: And our reservists, of course.
MITCHELL: And our reservists. And the tempo of these repeated tours of duty have been so, so burdensome for the troops, for the families at home, and for the nation, of course, economically. You write, "Before we invaded Iraq, we should’ve listened to more people with ground truth, with ground truth experience in the region. These people were out there. And fewer idea-heavy big egos in Washington."
POWELL: The reality is that none of us thought it would be hard to go to Baghdad and take down the regime. We had pretty much knocked it around in the first Gulf War. They weren't the same army. But what we were saying, a number of us, is that they, that isn't the end of it. You’re going to have to secure this place. You break it, you own it. And there were a lot of people who thought that it would just snap back in place in some manner after 90 days. That was the original thinking. And that wasn't going to happen. And we quickly found out that it wasn't going to happen, we couldn't have victory parades. We had a problem on our hands. And the insurgency started, and it took several years before we realized that the insurgency was our problem. And President Bush ordered the surge. My own view is that I wish that surge had been there at the beginning, or had been implemented earlier, rather than thinking everything was just going to snap back in place. And I think the key turning point was when that UN representative, Dimello, got killed. It was a wakeup call. Hey, this is not in good shape.
MITCHELL: More on that, we’ll talk about WMD, Iraq, Iran, lessons learned, that UN speech, when we come back with Gen. Powell.
MITCHELL: Welcome back, we’re here with Gen. Colin Powell. Feb 5, 2003, a day I will remember forever, but it’s seared into my memory. You write “It’s burned into my memory as my own birthday. The event will earn a prominent paragraph in my obituary.”
POWELL: I get asked about that speech almost every day, every appearance that I give. And the reality is that it was the most visual dramatic presentation of the evidence that we had. It came out as the national that had been given to the Congress months before. Congress used that to pass resolution supporting war. This was real show. I worked hard on it. Everything I said that day was testified to by intelligence community. Yes. So did they. They shouldn’t have. There were a lot of people in the agency, in the community, that knew some of this Information wasn't as solid as was being presented to me. And it was also been presented to the president. There was nothing that I used that the president hadn’t used in the State of the Union, that wasn’t in the NIE. After the presentation, and then I was – my appearance seconded by British and Spanish colleagues. They agreed, they had same intelligence. As weeks went by, suddenly this mobile van that was supposed to be making bacterial elements –we discovered it couldn't be, it was a piece of junk almost, and yet 6 weeks after we had captured this thing, the CIA was still saying that it was design to be for bacterial warfare. And my intelligence staff by now said, hey let me look at this thing still, and don’t say that anymore. And six month later in August, the CIA was putting out report saying they stood behind their original judgments from last year, even though they hadn't found anything.
MITCHELL: Do you worry that the skepticism, the healthy skepticism now about American intelligence could be taken too far? When we look at Iran right now in negotiations going on, there is so much disbelief about what the US says about the possibility of Iran really planning for weapons, and that really does go back to Iraq and what happened.
POWELL: To some extent, yes. But I think to the skepticism that the intelligence community is showing is that they don’t whether or not, or they not saying that Iran is going for a weapon, so they’re not leaping ahead to say since they have a program they must be producing a weapon. I don't deny that they might be or want to be producing the weapon, but the evidence is not there yet. And I noticed that in the last 24 hours, we see some development with IAEA Chief with potentials solutions.
MITCHELL: But Mitt Romney – has already suggested, even going into these negotiations, that the president is showing weakness towards Iran.
POWELL: i don't know what Mr. Romney would prefer to do. The fact of the matter is that we need negotiated solution. And the only way that you can get a negotiated solution is to talk to the other side. Now, with Iran, I think all of us know by now that the will pull a football out from under you in a heartbeat. So don’t go in there with a lofty expectation but you talk to them. But at the same time, remember the weakness of Iran. They are under enormous econ pressure results in sanctions, they are totally isolated, and nobody is on their side. And they have a program they have been working on for all these years, in like ten years of chairman Secretary of State, I kept hearing Iran’s going to have a weapon in next year. Well they haven't. They haven’t been that successful at it. But I don’t deny that they may really want to be moving in this direction. I think it’s still possible to find solution that stops them at the point where they're developing power. Electric power from a nuclear facility but you can stop them from going up the chain of enrichment to producing the weapons.
MITCHELL: Do you worry that Romney campaign, Mitt Romney, has been too adversarial, too hardline on foreign policy? He's has said that the greatest adversary is potentially Russia. He’s lining up some very very conservative foreign policy advisors whom you know well.
POWELL: I know many of them; some of them are my good friends. Some of them I agree with, some of them I don’t. But I think he needs to really not just accept these sort of cataclysmic sort of pronouncements, I think he needs to really think carefully about these statements. They are now on the wall for people to see. And when you see a Russian federation that has its own internal problems, a Russian federation that is going through transition/ transformation, that has a GDP of a mid-sized European country, that’s only half population that old Soviet Union used to be. And the population is dropping. They need good relationship with us. They need to trade with us, sell with us, just like the Chinese did. And let's not go creating enemies where none yet exist. Does this mean that we should trust Putin and Mayeta? No, let's be matured people and look at the reality of the situation and not find ways to see if we can hyperbolize the situation.
MITCHELL: Speaking of hyperbole at the same time, do you worry that the rhetoric on both sides. You’ve worked in private sectors, you are on boards, you understand private equity. Do you believe the president has framed this campaign correctly when he goes after vain capital?
POWELL: We are now in a political season and each side will find which ever weakness he thinks exist in other side. But I find nothing evil about equity capital. i am in a venture capital company. I am a limited partner in one of them. And so they perform and essential role in our capitalist system. Venture capitals, equity companies, they bet on things that are going to be successful, they miss as lot of their bets, that's part of the business, and sometimes they kill off companies that need to be killed off because they are simply no longer relevant. So, that’s part of our system, now whether the president will make a case that what Mr. Romney has been doing isn’t the good part of our system, needs to be seen. But we are now in that season where shots are going to be going back and forth from any angle the opposite side think will hit.
MITCHELL: Why haven’t you endorsed yet? You supported president Obama before, have you been disappointed with his leadership?
POWELL: I’m on book tour. I came out of my book tour and I am under no pressure as a private citizen to endorse or not endorse. I enjoy watching what both sides. I think that president Obama has been successful at stabilizing the economy, or at least the financial aspect if the economy and fixing the auto industry. In other things, I think that he has to improve his relationship with the business community. I would love to see Guantanamo shut down right away with congress. I think that Simpson Bowles great possibility and a missed opportunity. Missed on both sides because that commission was supposed to be congressionally mandated, and congress wouldn't do it. And then they had a good group of bi-partisan folks that got together pretty and put together what I think was a pretty good approach to problem. And the president wouldn't accept it, for reasons of his own, and it wasn’t really accepted on other side. So now we lots of suggestions, but no real plan. The only plan that would work in my judgment to deal with our fiscal problem is for everything to be on the table. Defense has to be on the table, entitlement has to be on the table, revenue increase has to be on the table. I think that a lot of government can be cut. When you are talking about cutting three departments, that’s rhetoric that’s non-sense, you gotta find what programs you're gonna cut in the departments. And there are a lot of things that I think that you can do that are more efficiently and less cost. Why can't we reform tax code? If they were really serious, they would go to work tomorrow morning and lay out all the stuff, all the tax code stuff. Why do you and I get mortgage reductions, why are our housing, the nice houses that we live in, you know my house I know your house - but why should average American citizen be subsidizing that? If I want a nice house and I can afford it then pay for it. I mean, there lots of things like that.
MITCHELL: Any regrets you didn't run? You write in the book how wrenching the decision was, you loss sleep. What did you go through?
POWELL: It was an ugly time because I never expected to be approached in that way, and had so much pressure put on me. And I had to think about it because it was expected of me. I’m a solider. But after a few weeks of it, I realized that this just not me. This not what i could be and therefore I followed my instinct, which was right and my wife was not interested in it either. But it wasn’t her, it was me. I didn't have the passion to do what politicians do. I’m so glad we have them, we have to have them. The Romney, John McCain, The Barack Obama, the Bush’s, everybody is terrific but it just wasn’t me, and when I said no, I’d find other things to do to serve the country.
MITCHELL: You’ve done so many things in education, America’s promise that you have done. Do you still think of yourself as a soldier?
POWELL: Yeah, I was asked about this not too long ago – about being a general. I didn’t come into the army to be general. I ran into army when I was 17 as a cadet and said this is for me and stayed with it for rest of my adult life. And I made general, but just came in to be a solider. And that soldier ethic and culture never really leave me. I get nagged about it from time to time by some of my friends. Mostly as a soldier, but you'll find as you read those chapters that i can expand that soldier experience to corporate experience to lots of other experiences. It is all about managing and leading people, wherever they are.
MITCHELL: It worked for me in life and leadership; it’s worked for you and thank you for your service.