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Colin Powell on Defense


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 Defense: Colin Powell on other issues:
Pat Buchanan
George W. Bush
Al Gore
Ralph Nader

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