Colin Powell at UNITY 2004

Office of the Spokesman
August 5, 2004


Secretary of State Colin L. Powell At UNITY 2004: Journalists of Color Convention

August 5, 2004

Washington Convention Center Washington, D.C.

(1:45 p.m. EDT)

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you so much. Thank you so very much, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a great pleasure to be with you at UNITY 2004 and to have the opportunity to talk to you a bit about foreign policy. But before I do that, let me just talk a little bit about your business and how important it is to my business.

As I go around the world and talk to so many nations and leaders of nations that are newly free and who are trying to move down a path toward democracy and freedom and the rule of law, they have to understand as part of that process of going down the road the importance of a free press. And in all of my conversations with them, I talk about American democracy, not as a system to be imposed on anybody, but as a system that has some experience that might benefit others.

When I talk about our Founding Fathers and what kind of a nation they tried to create and how they went about it, our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, and then I say, and the essential features of our system which make it work, our first and foremost, the will of the people, the will of the people reflected in who they elect as president and who they elect as their congressmen and women, the will of the people as they see how a Supreme Court is put together to stand in judgment, ultimate judgment over the executive and legislative branches with respect to what the Constitution means.

And then the other element of our society, which is so important, which keeps check on everything else is a full, free, fair, open, annoying, pressing, pushing, sometimes arrogant, but always determined to get the truth — free press; without that you don’t have democracy.

And that’s especially the case in those nations where there are minorities, just as there are in the United States. Those minorities must be represented in every branch of government, and especially within the free press, not as a branch of government, but as the surest check on the actions of a government.

I’m so pleased to be with you then, a group of professionals who represent that essential feature of our democracy. And I’m pleased to be back. It’s been a while. It hasn’t been since 1989 that I’ve had a chance to speak to such a group, and that was on the occasion of the convention of the National Association of Black Journalists and it was very serendipitous that I was speaking to them in that August of 1989, because it was just two days after President Bush 41 nominated me to be the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces of the United States.

And my first audience was the NABJ. And so much has happened since that August in 1989 to this August of 2004, 15 years. Back in 1989 when I spoke to NABJ, there was still a Soviet Union, there was still an Iron Curtain, there was still a Berlin Wall. Tiananmen Square had just happened a few months earlier in China and there was a new freezing of our relationship with China as a result of Tiananmen Square.

The Russians had not completed — were just about completing their withdrawal from Afghanistan. NATO was still an alliance that looked across an Iron Curtain at the Soviet Union, seeing it as an enemy. I was about to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and preside militarily over an organization of 4 million people, civilians and military and reserves and active, all focusing on this Cold War challenge. NATO only had 16 nations at that time, but we could see even then that the Cold War was coming to an end, and during my years as Chairman, I saw that Cold War come to an end. I saw the triumph of democracy. I saw the Soviet Union come apart.

I saw all of those nations that were behind the Iron Curtain suddenly become free and one of the first things they all wanted to do was to leave the Warsaw Pact and join NATO. And now, as Secretary of State, NATO is at 26. We have an excellent relationship with China, even though there are tensions. We have an excellent relationship with the Russian Federation, excellent relationships with all of those former enemies behind the Iron Curtain.

In 1989, there were still generals and juntas all over our own hemisphere. We were worried about Communist insurgencies in our hemisphere. Now all of the nations of our hemisphere, except for Castro’s Cuba, are on a solid path to democracy — a difficult path, but a solid path.

So many good things have happened over the last 15 years as the value system that we believed in, one based on democracy and human rights and the individual rights of men and women to pursue their own destiny, of the need to open your society so that all people in your societies can participate in this system of democracy, as that value system has become more and more prevalent around the world, we should be proud that we have been the leader of the world that has made that happen over the last 15 years.

It doesn’t mean, of course, that we are without challenges; we have many challenges and you follow them every day. You know them as well as I do. But in following those challenges and watching what we see on our television sets every day and following it in the news, we should not forget all of the good things that have been happening with respect to the march of democracy.

As Secretary of State, I receive many visitors in my office and I travel to many countries around the world and I talk to these newly freed nations, and it is such a delight to see how they are anxious to be helped by the United States, to solidify their democracies in the rule of law, and we have been working to give them that kind of assistance.

A number of the programs that we have put in place under President Bush’s leadership over the last several years go right to this point, how to help these nations embed their democracy so firmly that we never again have to see them on a field of battle.

Millennium Challenge Account is one such program. Millennium Challenge Account was an idea that President Bush put forward in his State of the Union speech in 2003, and 18 months later, the program that he announced that evening is up and running, a program where we give to those nations who are moving down a correct path of democracy and openness, practicing open-market economies, who are doing the right thing for their people, who are rooting out corruption — we give them additional funds for infrastructure development and we just announced the first 16 countries that will receive that funding and they are all undeveloped, but they are all doing the right things for the future.

As part of our efforts to help a world that is in need, we have used this Millennium Challenge Account and our other aid funding to make sure that we are helping those desperately in need. Millennium Challenge Account funding represents the greatest single increase in development assistance to the world in need since the Marshall Plan.

Similarly, we looked out early in this Administration. Secretary of Health and Human Services Thompson and I saw the challenge that HIV/AIDS was presenting to the world, especially to the world of color, especially for sub-Saharan Africa, and we went to President Bush and said, “This is something that we have got to get deeply involved in.”

And over the last three years, we helped Secretary General Annan create the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS and then President Bush said we’re not doing enough, so let’s create an emergency fund. And all told, with that emergency fund and other programs we have, it’s a $15 billion increase that will help fight this greatest weapon of mass destruction on the face of the earth, HIV/AIDS, and we have no greater, greater task to accomplish.

We have done other things with respect to the world. We have engaged with the world community. We’re often accused of being unilateralists. But if you look at some of the things we have done multilaterally, clearly multilaterally, working with our friends in Europe to expand the size of NATO, to encourage them to expand the size of the European Union, to work with the UN on a number of issues, to work with our international partners to constrain Iran’s desire to acquire nuclear weapons, to work with our friends in the United Kingdom, to make sure that Libya understood it would get nowhere with its weapons of mass destruction and to persuade Colonel Qadhafi this was time to give up his weapons of mass destruction, and he did, as a result of American and British diplomatic efforts, and the world is better off for it.

North Korea, another challenge that we have. We are working with our friends in the region — Russia, China, South Korea, Japan, and of course, the United States and North Korea itself, to denuclearize the Peninsula and make it a safer place and to help the North Koreans to a better future than the future they are now facing. All of these are evidence of our desire to work with our partners.

People think we merely have a strategy of preemption. That is not the case. Our strategy is one of working with friends and partners to improve humankind, to bring food to those who are in need, to help alleviate poverty, to create regional alignments that can put down conflicts such as we are working with so many of our friends to put down the conflict in Cote d’Ivoire, as we put down the challenge of Liberia last year, as we are working to make sure that the Congo does not explode again, as we have been working in the Sudan for the past several years to create a peace agreement, a comprehensive agreement between the north and the south, and that has now happened.

It happened at the same time, however, that the situation in Darfur exploded upon our television screens, a situation that is desperate, people calling out for need, and we have been working very hard. We have committed $300 million to help the people of Darfur. We are working with the United Nations, with the international community, but above all, doing everything we can to encourage and put pressure on the Sudanese Government to allow full access of humanitarian workers, full access to food going in, and above all, putting pressure on the Sudanese Government to do something about the Jingaweit. They must be stopped and we’re helping the African Union to do that as well.

We have seen some progress in recent weeks. The food and other supplies are moving. Humanitarian workers are getting in, but it’s not fast enough. We’ve got to do more. The African Union is putting in place monitors and we’re assisting in the provision of lift and logistics to help those monitors get around and to bring in protection troops for those monitors. The AU, African Union, has announced that it wants to put in more troops, several thousand more troops, and we will work with the African Union. And the government in Khartoum, responding to international concern and pressure, has announced that it would undertake more aggressive efforts right now to take weapons away from the Jingaweit and get the Jingaweit to pull back from what they are doing.

This administration, this nation, America, will remain engaged in this issue because where there is such suffering, we can not turn away, we can not look away, and we will work as hard as we can, using all of our energy to bring relief to the suffering people of Sudan; not to keep them in camps, but to create security conditions so they can go back to their villages, go back to their homes, plant new crops, and start their lives again free of violence, free of the fear of rape, free of the fear of torture. And that will be our goal and it will be accomplished.

America is expected to do so much. We are the superpower, we have military power, we have economic power, we have political power. And people look to us to solve problems that are out there, they look to us to solve problems such as the challenge that exists between the Israelis and the Palestinians in finding a way forward to peace. These are difficult problems, vexing problems not easily resolved. They take an enormous amount of our time and energy and people wonder why we can’t just make it happen all at once. Some of these problems cannot be solved all at once, but they must be never forgotten. They must be pursued and that’s what we do on a constant basis within the Administration, and certainly within the State Department family.

I’m so proud of the wonderful people who do this for me and for you and for the President, for the American people every day, the wonderful men and women of the State Department. One of the challenges we have had is to make sure that the folks in the State Department reflect America. We want a diverse department and we’re doing better and better. We issue a call to take the Foreign Service Exam to get into the Foreign Service a couple of times a year. It’s a most demanding exam and we have been averaging up to 30 percent now of all applicants being minorities.

We want to do even better. We want minorities in the State Department. We want to see more and more minority ambassadors, minority political counselors, minorities at every level, because in order for us to live our value system for real and to show the rest of the world what America is all about and what America looks like, I want my department to look like America.

This session is billed as a conversation with Colin Powell. So far, you have heard a brief lecture from Colin Powell, and so I am going to bring my opening remarks to a close at this time in order for us to get into a conversation. I look forward to your questions. I salute you on the work that you do in service to our nation and in service to the world. When you write an article, when you make a presentation in front of a camera, when you praise us, when you criticize those of us who are in government, you are doing important, vital work, work that shows to the rest of the world what a democracy is all about, what a vibrant democracy is all about.

We wouldn’t have a democracy if we didn’t have folks like you doing your job so very, very well. Thank you so much.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Secretary Powell. Can you hear me? Can you hear this — good. I’d like to start the questions. We’re very respectful of your limited time, Mr. Secretary. John Kerry was here this morning and spoke to the assembled UNITY group, and one of the question — one of the declarations he made was that our situation, our current situation in Iraq was a failure of diplomacy. He said that flat out, said that when he was asked about whether he would have gone to war in Iraq, he said the problem was we didn’t work, especially with Arab nations.

How do you respond to that charge that it’s a failure to diplomacy rather than the military?

SECRETARY POWELL: We haven’t had a failure in Iraq. We have gotten rid of a horrible dictator. We have gotten rid of a regime that filled mass graves. I’ve been to a place in Northern Iraq called Halabja where 5,000 people were gassed. It wasn’t a figment of anyone’s imagination; Saddam Hussein did it. We got rid of a regime that maintained rape rooms and suppressed its population and used the vast treasure of the nation, its oil wealth, to suppress its people. Instead of building hospitals and schools and building the infrastructure, he built weapons and invaded his neighbors.

He thwarted the will of the international community for years, who said, “You’ve got to get rid of your weapons of mass destruction. Your human rights behavior is intolerable and your support of terrorism is intolerable.” And when, after 12 years of resolutions from the international community — not from the United States, but from the Security Council — we took the case to the Security Council. That was diplomacy. That was the President engaging the international community, and he made the case, after 12 years of misbehavior, it’s time to do something if he doesn’t now behave.

And Hussein was given another chance. He did not take advantage of that opportunity. He tried to break the will of the international community and escape from the sanctions that he was under. After a respectable period of time, when we weren’t satisfied with his performance, the President decided that it was time to create a willing coalition that would go in and remove him from power and remove this problem from the world stage.

We did that. We did it rather promptly and we did it with a large coalition of nations. There are still 31 nations in this coalition. Most of the NATO nations are there. In the last six months, we’ve gone back to the United Nations and have gotten four straight unanimous resolutions supporting the way forward in Iraq, notwithstanding the debates we had last year.

The problem we’re fighting right now is an insurgency. It’s an insurgency that has to be beaten in order for the people of Iraq to get the kind of future they deserve, the kind of future they want. We cannot walk away from this now. The insurgency has to be defeated. Twenty-five million people have been given a taste of freedom. They have their own leaders now. They are sovereign once again, and those sovereign leaders, led by Prime Minister Allawi, want to move forward and have elections at the end of this year. It’s called democracy; that’s what they want. They don’t want to go back to the past.

Those criminals and murderers who are beheading people, kidnapping people, blowing up vehicles, trying to stop our efforts, want to go back to the past, to a past that we can’t go back to and won’t go back to. Lots of debates about the reasons for going to war, the intelligence we had made it clear that his intention to have weapons of mass destruction was there, the capability to do so was there, we thought the stockpiles were there. So did every other major intelligence organization; that’s what our intelligence organizations believed.

We haven’t found the stockpiles, not sure we will ever find any evidence of stockpiles or learn what happened to them, but there is no doubt in my mind that if we had not done what we did, then Saddam Hussein would have been freed from international constraints, and with that intention and capability, we would have faced those weapons at another time, at another place, and President Bush decided that was not something we can do.

So we’re still hard at work. We’re building up the Iraqi forces. We’re heading toward an election at the end of the year. The UN is more involved. The coalition remains involved. The Arab nations are unable to help. The neighboring nations are unable to help with troops for a variety of reasons, but they can help in other ways and Prime Minister Allawi has just spent a week traveling throughout the Arab world and is satisfied with the kind of support he is getting.

And so this is a challenge for us as a nation. Do we have the will to make sure that these 25 million people acquire the freedom they so richly deserve? Same challenge in Afghanistan. People said, “Well, you know, incidents are going up in Afghanistan.” Yes, remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaida don’t want to see success, but nine million Afghans, 40 percent of them women, have registered for this presidential election that’s going to be held in October. They’re speaking out for freedom. Three million Afghan refugees have come home, home from Iran and Pakistan because they believe in the future of their country.

And so, we have to make sure that we and our allies in Afghanistan stay the course there as well, a total of 55 million people seeking freedom, seeking to be part of this process of democracy moving forward, and we have to make sure that they achieve the dreams that they have for themselves and their children and we have to stay the course.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I’m going to discourage people from lining at the microphones because, as we said at the beginning of today’s segment, we’re going to be limiting questions from our panel, starting with Suzanne Malveaux.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, former President Clinton in his memoirs recounts the genocide in Rwanda back in 1994 — 800,000 men, women and children slaughtered at the behest of the state. He says it’s one of the greatest regrets that he has as president. As you had mentioned before, the situation in Darfur looks like the same thing could happen there: 300,000 killed, one million at risk. Congress, both the House and the Senate, has declared that it is genocide. What will it take for this Administration to declare that this is genocide in Sudan. And is the U.S. committed to using peacekeeping troops?

SECRETARY POWELL: It’s not 300 — I’ve never heard of 300,000 have died, if that’s what you said, Suzanne. I’ve never heard that statistic. But it’s clear that tens of thousands have died. The situations are not directly parallel, but that’s not the issue. The issue is, there are over one million people who are in need now. They need food, they need hospital care, they need clean water, they need sustenance, and we’re doing everything we can to make that available to them, working with the international community. We have not turned away.

The question of genocide is a legal determination. Congress did pass a resolution and it was the opinion of the Congress that it should be declared genocide. I have to gather data from people I have in the field now who are interviewing people to reach a legal definition of genocide and I’ll make a judgment in the next couple of weeks as to whether it does or does not meet that test.

But that’s not really the issue and we shouldn’t let it distract us, because declaring it a genocide does not require or cause any action that we are not now taking or could not take right now without a declaration of genocide. And so, we’ve got an open mind on it and we’ll look at the facts as the facts come in. But we’re working hard to get the food in, to get the supplies in, and to see what peacekeepers might be appropriate.

Keep in mind that there is no international resolution, there is no UN resolution that allows peacekeepers to go in without the permission of the Sudanese Government. And if you’re going in there, you have to have a clear idea of what you’re going in for and how large an area you’re going to have to occupy. The Darfur region of Sudan is the size of France. It is not a trivial military undertaking and we believe that there are other ways to deal with this problem before thinking of that kind of solution, and the principal way is to get the Sudanese to use all of the assets available to them, working with the African Union.

There is no reason the African Union cannot play a leadership role in this, both with monitors, who they have sent in, protection forces for the monitors on the way in, and now consideration being given to African Union monitoring forces and peacekeeping forces. That’s the best way to go forward with this and the strong resolution we got from the UN last week seems to have made it clear to the Sudanese Government that they have to take action now, and they will be measured by the action they take when we reconvene in August to take a look at the 30-day point on the resolution.

We have to calibrate the pressure that we apply on the Sudanese Government to make sure we get the results we need and we don’t create a more difficult situation for us and for the people of Darfur.

MODERATOR: Terry Neal (ph).

QUESTION: Thank you for taking our questions, Secretary Powell.

My question is, you know, the Administration has been criticized for shifting rationale on Iraq, as the original rationale has sort of unraveled, what we boil down to now as sort of a situation where you’re saying that it was right to remove Saddam Hussein because he killed a lot of his people and he intended to develop weapons of mass destruction. Based on that rationale, what other nations are at risk of having the same sort of action taken against them based on this new Bush doctrine?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don’t know of any other nation that, we believe, a point has been reached with that requires preemptive action of any kind. And as I mentioned earlier, we’re using diplomatic efforts. Military action is not our first choice. It is not something we immediately go to. The President has been very clear about this, and in the case of Iraq, we took it to the UN. In the case of Libya, we worked with our British colleagues. In Iran, we’re working with the IAEA and we’re working with the European Union ministers who have been designated to work on this, three ministers. And in North Korea, we’re working with our friends.

In the case of Iraq, the intelligence community, and its best judgment, was that they had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, in addition to the capability to develop them and an intention to have them. And there’s no question about an intention and capability, but the intelligence community did not get it right, apparently, with respect to stockpiles. We haven’t found them yet and they’re still looking, but I do not expect to see huge stockpiles found. But if that was the error, it’s an error and we’ll have to figure out why we got that wrong.

But the reality is that this was a regime that fully intended to move in this direction, with intention and capability, and the President made a judgment that it was not something that was acceptable to us, acceptable to the region, and was inconsistent with Iraq’s obligations under the Security Council resolutions.

But we are not running around the world looking for places to preempt, because there are better tools available for the President to use and he uses them. His strategy, if you read it, is a strategy of partnership, it’s a strategy of reaching out to countries in need, and yes, it is also a strategy that, when we feel we are at risk and we are unable to resolve that risk diplomatically or politically or with friends working alongside of us, the President of the United States — any President of the United States, has an obligation to do what he believes is necessary to achieve his first goal as President, and that’s to protect the nation.

MODERATOR: If I may follow on that. So you would say that you believe that — you and the President are confident that, in the case of Iran and North Korea, that the IAEA and the multiple-nation talks which are underway will remove any sense of risk we should feel from either of those two nations who we believe to have nuclear arms?

SECRETARY POWELL: We never take an option off the table. No President should, no President ever does. But right now, the policy that we are using to deal with North Korea and Iran is a policy essentially resting on diplomacy and political action. But no President, no President will ever remove the military option from the table because one, it adds pressure on the country involved and secondly, if you’re ever in danger, you have to be able to exercise that option.

But right now, we have found that we’ve made progress with both of those nations through diplomacy and through political action and that remains the policy that we’ll be following.

QUESTION: Angelo Henderson (ph).

QUESTION: Secretary Powell, you and Condoleezza Rice are the closest African-Americans to the center of power, ever. In many communities of color, you are still considered the man who could be President, but we’ve heard verbs like “muzzled” and “outflanked” and we’ve heard words like, you know, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld associate it with those words. And when you’re described, they say, “Oh, he’s playing a good solider,” explain, how has being a person of color made a difference in President Bush’s inner circle?

SECRETARY POWELL: I’ve known President Bush for some time. I’ve known his family for some time and I worked for his father for four years. President Bush knows who I am and what I am. The fact that I am a black man made no difference inside of our counsels. I give President Bush my best advice. He gets advice from all of his principle senior advisors. Most often, we agree and when we don’t agree, we debate it and the President sorts through the debate and makes a decision.

And so I can assure you that I have in no way been constrained, contained or kept on the outside of our discussions. It’s a lovely story that gets written over and over and over, but I’ve described to you in the last few minutes what we have done diplomatically in a number of areas around the world, what we have done with respect to development funding, and what we have done with respect to HIV/AIDS.

I could have lingered longer and talked about what we have done with respect to expanded AGOA, African Growth and Opportunity Act, for our friends in Africa. I could have expanded further on what we’ve done on free trade agreements that we are using around the world to bring wealth to other nations. All of these are solid, diplomatic achievements, political achievements.

And with respect to the issue that usually gives rise to this kind of charge that somehow I was out of the circle when we were talking about Iraq, it was my recommendation to the President that we take the issue to the United Nations and not act unilaterally, that we first had to take the issue to the offended party, the United Nations. And the President heard me out, he listened to his other advisors and then he agreed with that policy, and so did all of the other advisors.

We went to the United Nations in September of 2002, as a unified group, behind the President’s presentation the United Nations. But we all knew, and I knew, that as you went down that road and when you took it to the United Nations, if the United Nations ultimately did not act, and we didn’t solve it diplomatically, we knew then that it might be necessary for us to solve it through the use of military force and I was solidly behind that policy, solidly behind what the President found he had to do last spring, when he undertook Operation Iraqi Freedom, and I’m pleased that that dictator is gone. He’s been a thorn in my side for the last 12 years, too, I can assure you.

And so there was no split here. There was a lot of debate, a lot of discussion, a lot of different points of view; some were more skeptical than others within the Administration as to whether diplomacy would work or not. But the fact of the matter is the President heard out his strong-willed advisors, made a decision, took it to the international community, the international community didn’t act, then the President decided to act with a willing coalition and every one of his advisors, yours truly included, was fully behind that policy and none of us, to include yours truly, had his views excluded or her views excluded.

MODERATOR: Mr. Secretary, we are fully aware that you have stayed longer with us than you had intended, but I am going to abuse my privilege and ask you one final question. You’re not surprised to hear that.

SECRETARY POWELL: Sister getting uppity now.

MODERATOR: And you would know, wouldn’t you?

SECRETARY POWELL: Go ahead, girl, go ahead.

MODERATOR: It’s an election year. It’s an election year, and today we heard from John Kerry, tomorrow we will hear from President Bush. It’s an unusual election year, in many respects. Four years ago, we had not lived through 9/11. Four years ago, there was no war in Iraq or Afghanistan, yet so many people in communities of color are still primarily concerned, they tell us, about the economy, about their jobs, about their lives.

Why should, or should not, foreign policy issues, and especially the issues we’ve been talking about today, play any role at all in the decision that Americans will make, and especially Americans of color will make this November at the polls. You’ve done a little politics in your life; perhaps you can tackle this one.

SECRETARY POWELL: If I — there’s a little bit of a blowback here, so I’m not sure I heard it all, Gwen (ph), but foreign policy should be considered by the American people. The American people, when they think about who they’re going to vote for, clearly they reflect on how they’re doing in their own lives, how their family is doing, how their community is doing, their state is doing and how the country is doing, as they see it. But the country will only do as well as the rest of the world does. We are not isolated from the rest of the world. We trade with the rest of the world. We gain wealth from the rest of the world. And what we are looking for is a world that is at peace. We’re looking for a world that shares our values. And so I think as the American people make their judgment, they should consider foreign policy and they should consider which candidate they believe is better able to lead the nation’s foreign policy in the challenging months ahead.

As Secretary of State, I am obliged not to participate in any way, shape, fashion, or form in parochial, political debates. I have to take no sides in the matter, but I hope that Americans, as they go through this calculus in determining who they will vote for, will consider foreign policy. And because you’re a person of color does not excuse you from thinking about the world. And so it is an issue for all Americans, of whatever color, background, gender, you name it — all of us have to stop and think about the kind of world we’re going to be living in, the kind of world we’re going to be trading in, and which President is best able to lead this nation in such a world.

Thank you very much.