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Colin Powell on Homeland Security

Secretary of State (Pres. Bush Cabinet)


2001: Strongly objected to tracking who enters country

[In discussing the need for a Cabinet department DHS] I mentioned the need for, if nothing else, a better way to track who was coming into and leaving the country and said that our present federal structure left enormous gaps in that regard. I said that, as a start, a few resources could be shifted to plug those gaps, but even this modest measure was roundly criticized. "We don't think it's necessary" seemed to be the consensus. And when Secretary of State Colin Powell voiced his strong objection to this plan, all of the air seemed to go out of the room. What was really needed, these officials argued, was better communication and collaboration. But, of course, from what I had experienced in my first few months in the office, communication and collaboration were in short supply.
Source: The Test of our Times, by Tom Ridge, p. 94 , Sep 1, 2009

The world doubts the moral basis of our war on terrorism

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. All of us want to believe that ideal, but the disheartening course of recent events calls it into question.

For 6 decades, we learned the lessons of the Nuremberg men and women well. We continued to stand for the right things. We didn't start wars--we ended them. We didn't commit torture--we condemned it. We didn't turn away from the world--we embraced it.

But that has changed in the past few years. There's a sense that "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism." Those are not my words; they belong to former secretary of state and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell.

If, for 60 years, a single word, Nuremberg, has best captured America's moral authority and commitment to justice, unfortunately, another word now captures the loss of such authority and commitment: Guantanamo.

Source: Letters from Nuremberg, by Chris Dodd, p. 9-10 , Sep 11, 2007

Close Guantanamo; it shakes belief in US justice system

Q: General Colin Powell was asked about the status of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, whether suspected terrorists should be housed there. He said:
FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: If it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo. Not tomorrow, but this afternoon. Every morning I pick up a paper and some authoritarian figure, some person somewhere is using Guantanamo to hide their own misdeeds. And so essentially, we have shaken the belief that the world had in America’s justice system by keeping a place like Guantanamo open.
Q: Do you agree with Secretary Powell?

A: I know it’s become a symbol of what’s wrong. It’s more symbolic than it is a substantive issue, because people perceive of mistreatment when, in fact, there are extraordinary means being taken to make sure these detainees are being given, really, every consideration.

Source: CNN Late Edition: 2007 presidential series with Wolf Blitzer , Jun 10, 2007

Pottery Barn Rule about Iraq: you break it, you own it

Colin Powell didn't think things were going to be as quick, cheap and easy as the rest of the gang. Powell seemed reluctant to entrust Iraq's postwar fate to the shady Chalabi. The Iraqi exile leader was regarded with distrust after feeding the CIA inaccurate intelligence. In Powell's view, the mere fact that he would be better than Saddam Hussein was hardly a sufficient qualification to recommend Chalabi as the next leader of Iraq.

Powell felt that the person most likely to wind up holding the bag in Iraq was his boss, George Bush. It was the Pottery Barn Rule. "You break it, you own it," Powell argued. Once the US invaded Iraq--"broke it"--it would fall to the US to govern ("own") that country and its 25 million people. To the rest of the inner circle, invoking the Pottery Barn Rule was a namby-pamby, passive-aggressive way to argue against the war itself. For Powell, it was meant as a reminder that with victory would come great responsibility.

Source: The Truth (with jokes), by Al Franken, p. 240-241 , Oct 25, 2005

2004: Stopped reporting number of terrorist attacks

The State Department boasted in its 2004 report that the incidence of terrorist attacks was down to its lowest level in more than 30 years--a 45% decrease since 2001.

It wasn't long before the State Department realized they had made a number of small mistakes, including leaving out the terrorist attacks that had taken place during an unusually busy terrorist attack season from Nov. 12 through Dec. 31. An embarrassed Colin Powell did some damage control, saying, "I'm not a happy camper on this. We were wrong. We're going to get to the bottom of it." Once the books had gone through the State Department's de-cookerator, the number of "significant" terrorist attacks had shot up from the previous year, reaching, not the lowest, but the HIGHEST level ever recorded.

The next year, the State Department's report on terrorism did not include statistics on terrorist attacks--the very activity that defines terrorism.

Source: The Truth (with jokes), by Al Franken, p.284-285 , Oct 25, 2005

1980s: Supported Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative

Powell's actions at the Reagan NSC made it plain that he was not a liberal. He supported Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. Nevertheless, Powell's tenure at the NSC was noteworthy more for his managerial talent than for any new ideas about American foreign policy. Powell did not put himself forward as a visionary or even as the leading voice within the administration. Reagan still let Americans know he had not changed his fundamental views about communism or the "evil empire."
Source: Rise of the Vulcans, by James Mann, p.158b , Sep 7, 2004

Concerned about Pakistani reaction to US's Afghan invasion

When Bush chose to be serious, he was fine. He said it was interesting Putin himself made sure the Russians didn't react last week, a clear sign the Cold War was over. Both he and Powell were really worried about Pakistan and wanted [British Prime Minister Tony Blair]'s take on how best to help. He said they were going to go for the Taliban after the ultimatum, said the country was run by a bunch of nuts and we had to get a new government in there. He said he had really beaten up on [Israeli leader] Sharon who was clearly trying to use this to go after [Palestinian leader] Arafat. 'I said Arafat is not bin Laden and you do nothing.' [Russian leader] Putin wanted to use it to go after Chechnya even harder. He said they feared Hollywood was the next target because it was high profile, Jewish and decadent. They also had intelligence they would go for Airforce One.
Source: The Blair Years, by Alastair Campbell, p.574 , Sep 20, 2001

We’ll defeat tyranny as we defeated communism & fascism

We stand at an historic turning point in world history. For the first time in almost a century, America does not face an enemy fueled by an ideology claiming to be superior to our beloved system of democracy & free enterprise.

Today, we are the most powerful nation on earth -- militarily, economically, by any measure. We are that rarity in history, a trusted nation whose power is tempered by compassion, whose leadership is earned by example and whose foreign affairs will be guided by common interests and common sense.

We defeated communism. We defeated fascism. We defeated them on the field of battle, and we defeated them on the field of ideas.

The sick nations that still pursue the fool’s gold of tyranny and weapons of mass destruction will soon find themselves left behind in the dust bin of history.

They are investing in their own demise as surely as the Soviet Union did by investing in the Red Army. They are of the past, and we are of the future. Count on it.

Source: Speech at the Republican convention , Jul 30, 2000

No new nuclear weapons initiatives

Q. Do you think there is still a place for nuclear weapons in this information technology age?

A. Yes, but at a reduced level than today. I don’t see any new big initiatives in the immediate future.

Q. That makes it hard for Sandia [a defense research contractor] to recruit new talent - who wants to come to work for a company to oversee old technology?

A. As long as there are nuclear weapons, there will be a need for Sandia. But to keep your intellectual capital, you have to create a new mission for yourself. I know you have a symposium coming up on terrorism - that’s good. You need to continue to identify those places where you can add value and state those missions. Otherwise, you will continue to see your funding go down.

Q. Shouldn’t a mission come from down from the President?

A. Yes, of course you need backing or direction from on top, but you can influence and define that mission yourselves. [You should let] the President know what your mission should be.

Source: Interview at Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, NM , Jun 9, 2000

War communication has 5 audiences, including the enemy

Q. What was it like to be in Desert Storm, in front of TV all the time?

A. Actually, I wasn’t on TV as much as you might think. But, I also realized that every time I talked to CNN I had five audiences:

1. the reporter
2. the American people
3. the heads of every state-kings, queens, prime ministers, everybody
4. the enemy
5. the soldier-who is listening to the military broadcast on his shortwave
I kept saying, Colin, remember, five audiences, five audiences.
Source: Interview at Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, NM , Jun 9, 2000

SDI is major conceptual breakthrough in nuclear stalemate

In 1983, President Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, to create a defensive shield in space, capable of destroying incoming Soviet missiles. The President immediately grasped that such a shield could change the nuclear equation. The present situation was a balance of terror, Mutually Assured Destruction, MAD. You destroy us, and we will destroy you. But if, because of this shield, they could not destroy us, then huge nuclear arsenals made no further sense.

Following the SDI speech, Senator Ted Kennedy branded the idea a “reckless Star Wars scheme,” a term which, because of the wildly popular movie, stuck. I am not ideologically liberal or conservative, but I believe the liberal community made a serious mistake by ridiculing this concept out of hand as unwise even if it could be done. The real problem, I think, was that Ronald Reagan’s critics could not bear the thought that he had proposed a major conceptual breakthrough in the nuclear stalemate.

Source: My American Journey, by Colin Powell, p. 284 , Jan 1, 1995

Oil is a vital interest; humanitarianism is not

In none of the recent crises - Bosnia, Chechnya, Somalia, Rwanda - have we had a vital interest such as we had after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the resulting threat to Saudi Arabia and the free flow of oil. These later crises do not affect any of our treaty obligations or our survival as a nation. Our humanitarian instincts have been touched, which is something quite different. Often, our desire to help collides with the cold calculus of national interest. Americans are willing to commit their diplomatic, political, and economic resources to help others. We proudly and readily allow our young sons and daughters in uniform to participate in humanitarian enterprises far from home. But when the fighting starts, and American lives are at risk, our people rightly demand to know what vital interest that sacrifice serves.
Source: My American Journey, by Colin Powell, p. 589 , Jan 1, 1995

Supports strategy of readiness for 2 near-simultaneous wars

A Clinton campaign promise was to conduct a “Bottom Up Review” (BUR) of the armed forces, which meant starting with a clean slate, as if current forces did not exist, and then building a new force to match current defense missions. This approach had a test-tube reasonableness, but Clinton had already pledged during the campaign to cut forces by 200,000 troops and tens of billions of dollars below the Base Force level.

The Base Force strategy [in the late 1980s] called for armed forces capable of fighting two major regional conflicts “near simultaneously.” The BUR ended up again with a defense based on the need to fight two regional wars, the Bush strategy, but with Clinton campaign cuts. The Base Force disappears as a term, but it was the lineal ancestor of the BUR force. What is not clear is whether the cuts have taken us below the levels required to support the BUR strategy. That mission may change, but it is appropriate for the present post-Cold War transition period.

Source: My American Journey, by Colin Powell, p. 564 , Jan 1, 1995

Originated “Don’t ask, don’t tell” as a compromise solution

[In early discussions with Pres. Clinton], I said, “we know gays and lesbians serve ably and honorably-but not openly. If they are allowed to do so, that’s going to raise tough issues of privacy.”

The chiefs of staff brought up practical problems that gay integration presented on crowded ships, in cramped barracks, and in other intimate situations. At one point I proposed, “We could stop asking about sexual orientation when people enlist.” Gays and lesbians could serve as long as they kept their lifestyle to themselves. This change would no doubt be condemned as discriminatory by gay rights activists, and military traditionalists would probably call it a surrender. I concluded, “It might provide a practical compromise.”

Nine months later, Congress approved that policy, short-handed as “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.” The courts will ultimately decide this issue once and for all. And whichever way they rule, the US military will comply with the law of the land. I stand by what I have done.

Source: My American Journey, by Colin Powell, p. 557-9 , Jan 1, 1995

Make military leaner & more efficient

Despite bureaucratic resistance, our [post-Cold War] reductions went forward and began to bite. Bases closed, troops and civilians left the service. Program cuts affected the economy and would become an election issue in 1992. The reductions, however, were carefully calibrated so that we were not whacking the forces with a meat ax as had happened before. There are still unneeded programs in the Pentagon. There are still pockets of waste and fraud that have given us a black eye in the past. I hope those scandals stay in the past. Under Cheney, the service chiefs and I tried to be responsible stewards of the funds entrusted to us by the American taxpayer. We were determined to build a leaner, more efficient, high-quality force capable of any mission. That, I know, remains the objective of the nation’s military leaders.
Source: My American Journey, by Colin Powell, p. 537 , Jan 1, 1995

Supports base closures; too many are Congressional pork

Even before the end of the Cold War, we already had too many military posts. Some had been built to fight Native Americans (Indians in those days) during the last century. Some bases were left over from World Wars I and II. Some were Cold War creations. Shutting down overseas installations was a breeze compared to closing stateside bases. People in Germany did not vote in American elections and did not have Congressmen fighting for the folks back home.

[The proposed solution was] to create an independent commission to review, every two years, closings proposed by the Pentagon. The idea was to insulate these closings from political pressures. The commission submitted a “take it or leave it” list for the Congress to vote up or down. This system worked. Nevertheless, our having to go through this song and dance to shut down expensive but unneeded facilities is an example of Congress’s shameful unwillingness to abandon the pork barrel and make the hard decisions the people elect it to make.

Source: My American Journey, by Colin Powell, p. 535 , Jan 1, 1995

Other candidates on Homeland Security: Colin Powell on other issues:
Former Presidents:
George W. Bush (R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton (D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr. (R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan (R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter (D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford (R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon (R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson (D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy (D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower (R,1953-1961)
Harry_S_TrumanHarry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

Former Contenders:
V.P.Al Gore
Pat Buchanan
V.P.Dick Cheney
Sen.Bob Dole
Ralph Nader
Gov.Sarah Palin

Political Thinkers:
Noam Chomsky
Milton Friedman
Arianna Huffington
Rush Limbaugh
Tea Party
Ayn Rand
Secy.Robert Reich
Donald Trump
Gov.Jesse Ventura
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Health Care
Homeland Security
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Social Security
Tax Reform
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Page last updated: Jul 04, 2014