Colin Powell... An Interview
Q: Your career was almost spotless. Does it bother you that your most recent public position was a low note? You've said it was very painful.A: Yeah, it hurt. Let me point out that the same intelligence I provided that's subject to so much controversy—that's the same intelligence that the Senate and House used four months earlier to vote for a resolution. It's the same information the President thought was accurate after his director of intelligence told him it was a slam dunk. And it was the same kind of intelligence that President Clinton used to bomb Iraq in 1998. But nevertheless there was no spotlight on this issue like the spotlight I had on me at the UN. I wasn't alone in believing those stockpiles were there—our commanders believed they were there, and they were prepared to fight through chemical attacks to get to Baghdad—and our President believed it and Congress believed it. So when it turned out that part of that information was wrong, the spotlight was on me. And I'm disappointed. I'm sorry it happened and wish those who knew better had spoken up at the time. But there isn't anything else I can say about it. When people ask me, "Is this a blot on your record?" Yeah, okay, fine, it's a blot on my record. But do you want me to walk around saying I have a blot on my record every day? I have a blot on my record. There it is. It's there for everybody to see forever.Q: You've always had the attitude that everything looks better in the morning: "It ain't that bad." Did you feel that way in this case? Did it look better in the morning?A: Ummm, it took a few mornings. You know it wasn't right away that I discovered this stuff was wrong. We sent 1,400 people to look for the stuff that we were sure was there. So the only part that kind of annoys me is "Well, did you lie? Or were you misleading?" No, I didn't lie, and I wasn't misleading. If I was lying and knew what the truth was, which has to be the basis of a lie—you know the truth—we wouldn't have sent 1,400 people wandering around Iraq looking for the stuff. They didn't find it. So the intelligence was wrong. And that's all you can really say about it. Yeah, it comes up almost every day.
Q: I'm sure it does, and I'm sure you get tired of talking about it.A: I really don't, because it gives me a chance to explain it.
Q: Many people wonder, once you knew the intelligence was wrong and we were already in there, why did you stay? Where do you draw the line between being a good soldier, loyal to your superiors, and true to your own beliefs and values?A: Why would I have quit? Because we had bad intelligence? If I had been lied to, that would be different.
Q: For reasons like Vice President Dick Cheney doing end runs around you.A: He did his end runs, I did mine. He's the Vice President. It's all bureaucratic warfare.Q: But was there never a point where you felt any sort of tug between being loyal to the boss, particularly in Iraq, and what you believed?A: This comes up all the time, so I have to be very precise. What about Iraq did you think challenged my loyalty to the country? Why would there be a suggestion that I was disloyal because I stayed with the President on policy?
Q: It goes back to lessons from Vietnam. You like to quote famous military strategist Karl von Clausewitz, who wrote that without all three legs of the "triad" engaged—the military, the government, and the people—war cannot stand. Once we knew the intelligence was incorrect, didn't we lose the people part of that triad?A: When the weapons of mass destruction argument fell apart from the standpoint of stockpiles—there's no doubt he [former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein] had the intention, he had the capability, and he'd gassed people in the past—what was missing now were the stockpiles we thought were there, and the stockpiles gave the urgency to action. When that went away, some of the American people said, "Oh, wait a minute, it wasn't that urgent. We could have perhaps used diplomacy longer."