Colin Powell on Homeland Security
Secretary of State (Pres. Bush Cabinet)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 reporterI kept saying, Colin, remember, five audiences, five audiences.
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
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.
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.
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.
[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.
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