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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview Colin Powell and Alma Powell
Aired June 28, 2007 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, a rare interview with former Secretary of State Colin Powell. He hasn't spoken out much since stepping down almost three years ago, and now we'll talk about Iraq, Vice President Cheney and Guantanamo.
Plus, his wife Alma -- together they are now devoted to a cause that could help save America's future.
It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
A great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE -- always good to see him -- an old friend, General Colin Powell, United States Army, Retired; the former secretary of state; former chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the founding chairman of America's Promise, America's Promise Alliance for Youth is celebrating its 10th anniversary year.
In fact, the general was a guest with us 10 years ago when that just began and we'll be talking about it in a little while.
His wife Alma will join us, as well.
Do you like being called Mr. Secretary or General?
COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: General.
C. POWELL: The proper title for a former secretary is "former secretary" but a general is a general. And I won't be referred to as former general. And I was a general for many, many years, and a soldier for most of my adult life.
KING: Are you prouder of general than secretary?
C. POWELL: I'm proud of both of them, but the protocol correct title is general.
KING: Well, let's get to some headlines first, OK?
War in Iraq -- you said you won't know for a while yet if the war is worth the price we've paid.
How long is a while?
C. POWELL: I can't answer that question. I think we're in a very difficult period now as we watch our surge take place, our military surge. It's -- all the troops are there now and we're watching to see what they are going to be able to do.
The problem right now is that it is not just our surge that is a part of this strategy. There was supposed to be an Iraqi surge, a political surge where they undertook reconciliation action, where they started to end this civil war. And then...
KING: And the problem is it hasn't done it.
C. POWELL: And they haven't done it yet.
And the third part of the surge was for Iraqi military and police forces to get their capability up so they can replace our soldiers. So for our soldiers to go in and quiet a neighborhood and then say this place is quiet and then move on, but there's nothing that comes in behind, either in the form of the competent Iraqi military or police forces -- but more importantly, you don't have a political process that says to the Iraqis, OK, there's a way to resolve your differences without fighting it out.
What we have, Larry, in my judgment, is a civil war and our additional American troops...
KING: It is a civil war?
C. POWELL: That's what I'd call it. Others would not agree with that but -- the administration would not agree with that. But it is a civil war, a sectarian conflict. And it's a conflict for power and survival on the part of the Shias and the Sunnis.
And our troops can put a heavier lid, for a while with, our surge, on top of this boiling pot of sectarian conflict. But ultimately the Iraqis have to find ways to reconcile their differences and move forward.
And if they don't do that, then the civil war will continue until somebody prevails in this struggle for power.
KING: And now American support is well under 30 percent. Most -- most Americans are against this war.
Did you see it going this way?
C. POWELL: I never thought it would get this bad. We always knew that once we had gotten rid of this terrible regime, the regime of Saddam Hussein -- and I fully supported the president's decision when he said we have to use military force -- but in the aftermath of the fall of the regime and us taking Baghdad, we didn't fully realize that in addition to being the liberator, we were also the occupier. And we didn't impose order on the country. We didn't impose our will on the country. And then we began to see ministries being burned down, buildings being burned down. And then an insurgency got started and I don't think we reacted strongly enough or fast enough or with enough troops to that insurgency.
KING: What do you make -- I know you announced the other day that you are going -- you may support someone in this race. It could be a Democrat. You might even take a post again. I'll get to that.
But what do you make of Lugar, Voinovich and other Republicans, for want of a better term, jumping ship?
C. POWELL: Well, Senator Lugar gave a most thoughtful speech on the Senate floor earlier this week and I hope that everybody who is interested in this issue will read that speech. And he is concerned about the issues I mentioned earlier. It's one thing to put our troops in there -- and we can't sustain that deployment forever. But unless there is movement on the Iraqi part, unless there is reconciliation, unless they find a way to resolve their differences politically, then there's no reason to suspect that our continued surge presence is going to make the difference. And that's what I think Senator Lugar and Senator Voinovich are saying.
So if that's the case, then how long do we keep this strategy up before adopting another strategy?
KING: When you saw it going wrong or disagreed at all with it -- and it's a fair question -- why didn't you quit?
C. POWELL: You don't quite when you're in the middle of a conflict. We had a war going on in Afghanistan. We had many issues we were dealing with. We were building relations back with Russia and China after a few tricky issues at the beginning of the administration.
And so my job as secretary of state was to make recommendations to the president as to how to deal with this crisis. And I went to him in August of 2002 and said let's try to resolve it through the U.N. without a war, because it's the U.N. who is the offended party here. It's their resolutions that have been violated.
The president agreed. We took it to the U.N. and we got a resolution. But Saddam Hussein missed the opportunity to avoid war that was in that resolution. And so then...
KING: But after...
C. POWELL: ... then when we put our forces on the ground, there was never any question that we'd take Baghdad quickly. And my thought was that we should have more troops on the ground, because we really didn't know what was going to happen, after the collapse.
KING: Did you express that?
C. POWELL: Yes.
C. POWELL: I expressed it directly to the president, to my colleague, Secretary Rumsfeld, and to General Franks, who has a section about it in his book where I called him offline in a way that I probably shouldn't have, directly to him, old general to old general, saying you sure you have enough troops for this, because I have doubts about it. And then the very next time we all got together, Mr. Rumsfeld said to the president, Secretary Powell has some doubts about this. And we talked it out. And the president listened to the advice of his secretary of defense and his military commanders and his Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is his (INAUDIBLE) to do.
KING: So is this win some, lose some?
C. POWELL: Larry, what you do is you give your advice and ultimately the president decides. Now, the decision, with respect to bringing down the regime, was correct. There were enough troops to do that. And it was done brilliantly by our soldiers. It's the aftermath that I don't believe. And some would still disagree with me that we didn't have enough troops on the ground and we made the situation worse by not taking advantage of the possibility of bringing Iraqis back into their military structure as quickly as possible.
KING: I'm going to show you a quick video of February 5th, 2003, maybe a sad day in your life.
But you, as U.S. secretary of state, address the U.N. Security Council.
A brief listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, UNITED NATIONS, February 5, 2003)
C. POWELL: When we confront a regime that harbors ambitions for regional domination, hides weapons of mass destruction and provides haven and active support for terrorists, we're not confronting the past, we are confronting the present. And unless we act, we are confronting an even more frightening future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Was intelligence a poorly defined word for that?
C. POWELL: The intelligence we had made it clear that this was a regime that had the capability of having weapons of mass destruction and we had every reason to believe, according to the intelligence community, they had actual stockpiles. So the information I presented that day was not something we pulled out of the air. It wasn't something that was invented in the White House or invented in my office. It was the best judgment of the intelligence community.
KING: As you look back on it, are you sorry about it?
C. POWELL: Of course. It turned out that a lot of it was right, with respect to his intentions and capabilities.
Does anybody believe that if he had been freed of all U.N. sanctions and the pressure was taken off, he wouldn't have gone back to developing stockpiles?
The greatest disappointment is that the stockpiles were not there and we thought they were.
KING: We'll be right back with General Colin Powell.
And we've still got time, as we will, to discuss a lot on this program, America's Promise, an extraordinary organization that he founded.
And his wife, Alma, will be joining us as well.
More with General Powell after this.
KING: We're back with General Colin Powell.
I'm going to read something from your former chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson.
Quite a guy, by the way.
What is he doing now, by the way?
C. POWELL: Larry is teaching at the College of William & Mary in Virginia and has another -- a number of private business interests.
KING: He recently wrote an op-ed headlined, "Why Colin Powell Spoke Out." And he said: "Powell has been criticized since his appearance on 'Meet the Press' for not speaking out earlier and not resigning when he had the chance. To the latter charge, let me simply say that no American citizen would have wanted to witness the carnage of the first Bush administration without Colin Powell. Without him as secretary of state, America's reputation and its power would not simply be tarnished, they would be dramatically diminished."
That's a strong statement on your behalf.
Do you ever reflect and say, you know, with all the boys that have been killed and ladies that have been killed, maybe I should have left?
C. POWELL: Every one of those deaths is a tragedy for the family and I feel for the family and I feel for that loss of life. I was a soldier for many years and I know what it's like to lose troops in combat.
But the problems we were dealing with were very, very difficult. And my job was not to have a fit or to throw a tantrum and walk out. My job was to try to give the president my very best advice. And I think I've done that faithfully. And I think when you look at the entire range of issues that we were dealing with, we have many successes that aren't taken into account very often -- doubling the assistance we give to the rest of the world in foreign aid; quadrupling the amount of money we give to our African brothers and sisters; expanding NATO; dealing with the problem in Liberia by getting rid of a dictator; giving the people of Haiti an opportunity for a better life by moving out Mr. Aristide; improving relations with Russia and China; creating all kinds of free trade agreements that make the world a better place for the creation of wealth, to allow people to begin to rise in their own nations.
And so I think we accomplished a very great deal. We got rid of one of the worst regimes on the face of the Earth in Afghanistan. And we are more secure now than we were before 9/11. We haven't had another 9/11 and we have better systems to make sure we don't.
So there was a lot that was accomplished during the first term. And there are still issues that have to be dealt with in the second term. But you just don't get up and quit. You stick with it. You fight and you serve to the best of your ability.
KING: A couple of other issues before Alma joins us and we get into a lot of other things.
What's your view on torture as a method of questioning?
C. POWELL: Ah. Torture is against the United States' policy. It's against everything we teach our soldiers. I believe in the Geneva Convention. That's been the hallmark of my profession life. Every soldier believes in the Geneva Convention. And so we shouldn't torture.
It doesn't mean that there are not interrogation techniques you can use that would not rise to anybody declaring that this is torture, but those are matters that are -- that are best left for quiet discussion and not under my purview.
KING: You said on "Meet the Press" they should close Guantanamo...
C. POWELL: Yes.
KING: ... like yesterday.
C. POWELL: I've been saying close Guantanamo for four years. I said it when I was in office as secretary of state. It was my recommendation to the president. And I didn't say for the first time on "Meet the Press" two weeks. I've been saying it pretty consistently over the years.
KING: Apparently they're about to listen?
C. POWELL: Well, I...
KING: Is that the word you...
C. POWELL: ... I don't know, but the president is the one who says he wants to close Guantanamo.
KING: Oh, is it him?
C. POWELL: He's been saying it for about a year-and-a-half.
KING: Isn't he the one? C. POWELL: Well, he should be the one to just say close it, but a number of people in the administration seem to believe that the legal issues associated with dealing with these 380 not nice people -- and I'm not suggesting they be let go. I think there are ways to deal with them inside the U.S. legal system and not through the use of Guantanamo to keep them offshore or the use of military commissions. So we can have a debate about whether that is a sound position or not.
But the reason I am feeling so strongly about Guantanamo is that while we're arguing these legal issues, we are getting killed in terms of our international reputation because of the place. And we are losing around the world. And what makes it even more difficult is some of the biggest thugs in the world and people that you want to press on moral issues and human rights issues hide behind Guantanamo and say don't lecture us when you have Guantanamo.
So I think Guantanamo has long out served its initial usefulness.
KING: Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser to Bush I, said about a year ago that this is a Dick Cheney I don't know. And they were once very close. You were very close, as I remember, in the early '90s.
C. POWELL: We were joined at hand and glove. Yes, I...
KING: Joined at the hip, some said, right?
C. POWELL: Well, I will let Brent speak for himself. But Mr. Cheney has strong views on issues. And, as you would expect, he presses those strong views. We all had strong views and we pressed those views. Sometimes he went directly to the president and the rest of us weren't aware of -- of what advice he was giving, and sometimes I would do that, as well. It was not a system where we routinely exposed all points of view.
But the bottom line is that the president is the one who decides what advice he wishes to accept and act on and what advice he doesn't feel he should act on.
KING: So this is not personal?
C. POWELL: With me, it's not personal. It was business and sometimes I agreed with all of my colleagues -- Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, Dr. Rice. We all were uniformly agreed on an issue. But there were a number of issues where we had serious disagreements.
KING: And you brought it forth...
C. POWELL: Oh, yes.
KING: ... and as we said earlier...
C. POWELL: We always argued them out. When we talk about the issue of the Geneva Convention and how to treat these people we were picking up on the battlefield, we argued this all out, publicly and privately.
KING: What do you make -- and there's some subpoenaing going on now -- of wiretapping as a government weapon?
C. POWELL: Yes, well, I sense that the administration will certainly resist those subpoenas. And so I expect that this issue is heading to the courts.
KING: How do you feel?
C. POWELL: I believe that whatever we are doing in the name of protecting the American people should be done consistent with the laws that have been established. And Congress is the one who establishes those laws and the responsibility of the administration, the responsibility of the president in his oath is to faithfully execute those laws.
And so there is now a great debate taking place between the administration and the Congress as to whether that is the case. And we will just have to watch this go through the courts. My...
KING: Any candidate that...
C. POWELL: ... my impression has always been be open as you can with the public and with the Congress. Don't hide. Don't hide unless you are really protecting some jewels -- absolute jewels that you cannot possibly allow to become public.
KING: By the way, before Alma joins us, is there any kind -- I know you're -- you'll always be interested in politics. You said -- and I'll ask you about this later, as well, that you might come back and serve your government.
Is there any candidate at all of those announced you're leaning towards?
C. POWELL: Right now I'm -- I'm looking at all of them. I know almost all of them and much was made of the fact that I have met a couple of times with Barack Obama. But I've also met with Rudy Giuliani. I've also met with John McCain. Fred Thompson is my neighbor, three doors down. And so I know all of them. And I think this is a -- a critical time in American history. And I will be looking at each of these gentlemen and lady to see what vision they have for America, but what competence they will bring to the office of the president.
KING: Fred Thompson lives in Virginia?
C. POWELL: Yes.
KING: Do you give advice to people like Obama?
C. POWELL: I give advice to whoever wants to come talk to me and seek my advice, and I've had both Democrats and Republicans do it. KING: Do you -- all right, we'll take a break a minute.
Do you think you will support someone?
C. POWELL: I will vote for somebody eventually. Whether I will publicly support them and get out into the political mix is -- is another issue.
KING: The better half will join us.
C. POWELL: I beg your pardon?
KING: Oh, I'm sorry.
C. POWELL: Couldn't you just keep it "the other half?"
KING: Mrs. Powell.
You'll see in a minute why I said that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOVEMBER, 2004)
GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Both Connie and I have been proud to serve with our friend, Secretary of State Colin Powell. He has been one of the most effective and admired diplomats in America's history. He has been tireless and selfless and principled. And our entire nation is grateful for his lifetime of service.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with General Colin Powell, Untied States Army, Retired, the former secretary of state.
And Alma Powell now joins us.
The beautiful Alma Powell is chairman of America's Promise, the Alliance for Youth.
The Web site address, by the way, is americaspromise -- that's one word -- dot.org.
It was formed 10 years ago.
A couple of other things for you, though, before we get to America -- if you'll allow me, because we will discuss America's promise.
C. POWELL: Alma (INAUDIBLE)...
KING: In your book, "Soldier" -- in the book, "Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell" -- Karen DeYoung wrote the book -- wrote this about you and your husband's speech, which we talked about earlier: "Powell's wife Alma thought that Colin had been callously used to promote a war she wished had never happened. 'They needed him to do it,' Alma said, 'because they knew people would believe him.'"
Is that true?
ALMA POWELL, COLIN POWELL'S WIFE: That is true.
KING: You still feel that way?
A. POWELL: I still feel that way.
KING: Are you -- are you more angry about all this than your husband appears to be?
A. POWELL: No. Having been around Washington and politics and just general day to day living, you react to it and then you get over it. It was something that happened in it's behind us.
KING: Was it rough for you, though, when...
A. POWELL: It was rough for me.
KING: ... when it was going on.
Did she express that to you?
C. POWELL: Yes.
A. POWELL: No. Well, yes.
C. POWELL: Yes. We've been married 45 years. You don't hide things very easily from each other, even when you try.
KING: Did you ever ask him to quit?
A. POWELL: No. No.
KING: Would it have worked if she did?
C. POWELL: No.
A. POWELL: No.
C. POWELL: You keep coming back to this point...
A. POWELL: I would never ask that.
C. POWELL: You keep coming back to this would she put...
KING: Because a lot of people ask --
C. POWELL: But, well...
KING: I want to tell you something honestly.
C. POWELL: Go ahead.
KING: What most people say to me, you're a friend of Colin Powell. They say you like Colin Powell? Why did he stay?
C. POWELL: Because I thought we were doing good things.
A. POWELL: It was just his job.
C. POWELL: We got rid of two terrible regimes, the one in Afghanistan and the one in Baghdad. And I was glad to see the one in Baghdad go. And so you'll recall in April of 2003 everybody was applauding that action. Everybody thought that it was a great strategy.
KING: But when it went awry...
C. POWELL: When it went awry, that's not the time to quit. That's the try -- that's the time to just start trying to see if you can fix it.
KING: You think he should have run for president?
A. POWELL: No.
KING: Were you the one who told him not to?
A. POWELL: No.
KING: Or asked him not to?
A. POWELL: No.
KING: That's the general story.
A. POWELL: I know it's the general story.
KING: Clear it up for history.
A. POWELL: Nobody can could understand how you would not want to take on that illustrious job, but it -- this is certainly a decision that would have affected our entire family. And as a family we discussed it and what it would mean in our lives and decided this was really not for us.
I'm happy to take the blame for it, but as I have told other people, if I were a person who had that much influence on my husband, you would not have wanted him to run for president.
C. POWELL: But it was my decision, really. Obviously, I listened to my family, but it is not something that I wanted to do or the family wanted to do. And after receiving a lot of advice about it we essentially closed our doors, sat in the kitchen and talked it through as to how we had served out country so far, how we could serve in the future. But we didn't have -- if I can put it this way -- we didn't have the DNA for political life. And no apologies, it was a decision that was right for us. And we have found other ways to serve, either through America's Promise or serving as secretary of state.
KING: Before we talk about the founding of General -- of America's Promise -- one more thought on that.
There are two stories that were attributed. One, Alma thought that something bad would happen to you as the first black running for president.
A. POWELL: Yes.
KING: So that was...
A. POWELL: And I have said that on air before. That is certainly a consideration. You have to consider personal safety. And as the first black candidate, it was entirely possible that he would have been at much more risk than other candidates.
KING: Do you fear the same for Senator Obama?
A. POWELL: Senator Obama now has Secret Service protection. The other candidates do not.
KING: Very true.
And I know that you've battled depression.
A. POWELL: Yes.
KING: And we've discussed this.
Did that have anything to do with your not running?
A. POWELL: No. I don't think it did...
C. POWELL: No, I -- A. POWELL: ... (INAUDIBLE) have affected him.
C. POWELL: Well, obviously...
A. POWELL: It's something to be considered.
C. POWELL: ... It had to be considered. It had to be considered and it was part of our family calculation. But the bottom line is that I never woke up a single morning during that period and thought as I got out of bed it was the right thing for me to do or for us to do. Remember, I'm not a political figure.
A. POWELL: No.
C. POWELL: I never had any political ambitions or any political experience before 1995.
KING: Neither did Eisenhower.
C. POWELL: Well, that's true.
A. POWELL: It's a different time.
C. POWELL: It's a different time. And thank God we had Dwight David Eisenhower. But, you know, what's great about this country is that right now we have, oh, close to 20 people -- or 10 or 15 or 17 -- all have that passion. And more may yet surface.
And so we're a country of 300 million and a lot of people are offering them up for -- offering themselves up for the service.
KING: And how are you doing with depression?
A. POWELL: Depression is a thing that is easily managed if you receive the proper medical care. It is not a problem for me.
KING: Do you have lows, though?
A. POWELL: Oh, yes.
KING: How about the (INAUDIBLE)?
C. POWELL: Tell us about one, Larry.
A. POWELL: It's up and down every day.
KING: I looked at my travel schedule this week.
And we'll be right back with more and we'll talk America's Promise.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Are you inclined to run for president?
C. POWELL: I'm -- I'm inclined now to go home and enjoy my family for a few days.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
C. POWELL: At this point in my life, and knowing what I know about myself, my talent, my energies and what I'm capable of doing, this is not the right thing for me to do at this time. I will not be a candidate for president or for any other elective office in 1996. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We are back with General Colin Powell and Alma Powell. It's the 10th anniversary of America's Promise.
One other thing on the race issues, because we never discuss that very much, when the Imus thing happened with the Rutgers football team, and he said those things which he has later taken back and apologized -- I said football, women's basketball team, did that cut to you?
C. POWELL: Yes. It was pretty outrageous. And language on television and other forms of expression in this country, in the media, has started now to get totally over the line. And Imus got caught in the revolving door...
KING: You don't think he is a racist though, do you?
C. POWELL: No. I have listened to Imus for many, many years on and off, and I don't think he's a racist. I think he's done some good things.
C. POWELL: But we have to start putting some limits with respect to what you can say on the airwaves.
A. POWELL: He is just too reckless. People speak without thinking. And I think that's what happened in Imus' case, trying to be funny about something and use a little street language.
But we need to stop and think before we speak, and how this affects the people that you're talking about.
KING: And doesn't it cut to you emotionally, though? I mean, you think America has come so far.
C. POWELL: You think America has come so far and then here are these charming, wonderful, accomplished skilled young women who are getting their education and are great athletes. And to be subjected to that kind of language was just over the line.
And I think that morning Don Imus just got carried away with the kind of shtick that he does all the time. And he had to pay a price for it.
KING: So you think that we should have some barriers?
C. POWELL: I'm a great believe -- and Alma is a great believer in free speech. I mean, that's what has made this country great.
A. POWELL: What we need is a little more self-discipline.
C. POWELL: And civility.
A. POWELL: And civility.
C. POWELL: And civility in our public discourse. And you can see it every day now where people push that line and go over the line. And they keep pushing it to see whether or not...
A. POWELL: How far you can go.
C. POWELL: ... the public is going to push back.
KING: Isn't it hard, though, you two have risen above it, I mean, you became secretary of state, yet you still see it.
C. POWELL: It's still with us.
A. POWELL: It's there, everywhere.
C. POWELL: The country has...
KING: Cuts to the core.
C. POWELL: The country has come a long way. We've had two civil wars, one in the 1860s, and one in the 1960s, with Dr. Martin Luther King and your first one and Abraham Lincoln.
And so we have come so far that I can become chairman and people can be corporate leaders and African-Americans leaders throughout our society. But it isn't over yet.
KING: Sad. How did America's Promise come about? Tell us what it is? That little red wagon.
A. POWELL: Well, America's Promise - The Alliance...
KING: The little red wagon.
A. POWELL: Yes. And you will see many people around the country wearing little red wagons. The little red wagon is the symbol of America's Promise. America's Promise was founded 10 years ago at a summit called by all the living presidents. I think that you were there. And...
A. POWELL: ... covered -- had footage on it. It was an exciting time. And we called on the country to mobilize, to deliver five basic things to our young people because in a country as great as this too many children fall through the cracks.
Ten years later we've stopped and taken stock of that and know that we have accomplished an awful lot. But we are still not doing enough.
KING: What did you want done?
C. POWELL: We wanted to create a movement throughout the country, and I think we've been successful, and now we're going to leverage it up, that comes together and says every child in America should have the following things in his or her life: one, responsible, caring, loving adults. Where else does a child get all of the experience of the previous generations except from responsible, caring, loving adults? If they don't get it from those kinds of adults, they'll find the bad kind of adults to get experience from.
Secondly, every child should grow up in a safe environment where they can learn and to grow and be protected from the pathologies of the streets.
Three, how can America not provide health care to every single child in America, not to mention all of our adults? So we're focusing on giving each child a health start in life.
Fourth, in this rapidly changing globalized, flattening world of ours, we cannot afford to short our kids on education. They've got to get the skills they need to participate in this 21st Century world. So that's our fourth goal.
And the fifth goal of America's Promise, the "fifth promise," as we call it, is to give youngsters a chance to serve the community, to give back so that early in their lives they learn the value of giving to others.
And we've been successful. We've created 2 million mentoring relationships. We have created clubs and other facilities that are providing secure places for 3 million kids. Four million kids are getting health care now, coverage under the health care system that exists...
KING: These are all low income?
A. POWELL: Pretty much.
C. POWELL: For the most part.
A. POWELL: For the most part.
C. POWELL: But America's Promise was not directed toward low income or African-Americans or blacks, it was for all kids. You'll find kids in rural areas who are in trouble and need help.
KING: The Web site, by the way, is America -- it is a great organization, AmericasPromise, one word, dot-org. We'll be right back with the Powells.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
C. POWELL: We gather here to pledge that those of us who are more fortunate will not forsake those who are less fortunate. We are a compassionate, caring people. We are a generous people. We will reach down. We will reach back. We will reach across to help our brothers and sisters who are in need.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with the Powells. The former secretary of state and the chairman of America -- chairperson of America's Promise. I must get right to this because it happened earlier today, but just the Supreme Court has ruled that the public school choice plans in Seattle and Louisville relied on an unconstitutional use of racial criteria.
"The 5-4 opinion reflected the deep legal and social divides over the issue of skin color and education. The conservative majority, led by Chief Justice Roberts, said: 'The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discrimination on the basis of race.'" But they ruled against the plans of Seattle and Louisville. How do you react?
C. POWELL: I'm not that familiar with the specific plans, but I can say this: for several hundred years African-Americans were discriminated against on the basis of race. And it was only in the past 80 or 90 years that we started to interpret the Constitution the way it was intended, that all are equal.
And so we are still living with the legacy of our earlier history. And to the extent that we can have constitutionally-based systems that allow us to try to erase that legacy and give all of our youngsters and opportunity, I think we should try to do so.
I don't know the specifics of this particular case.
KING: Does this court worry you?
POWELL: Well, yes, it troubles me a little bit. Yes, it troubles me that we may -- in the desire to make it an absolutely equal system for all, we may forget that not all are yet equal. And on the basis of economics, on the basis of income, on the basis of housing patterns and lots of different bases, we still have trouble in this country, still have problems in this country.
I would like to see affirmative action go away. I would like to see busing go away. I would like to see all of these things go away. But in the process of making them go away, are we not leaving kids further behind and adrift when we could be helping them?
KING: So we go back and forth...
A. POWELL: In the case of these two communities, they were trying to, in their own way, produce integration in their schools and balance the population so that they have not solved the problem yet of how we provide equal education for everybody.
KING: But this might make it more difficult.
A. POWELL: That will make it more difficult.
KING: Sadden you?
A. POWELL: Yes. It saddens me that we're still at this point in our history.
KING: How do people -- I want to get to a lot of other things we can cover in our -- and we've got someone we are going to honor here tonight...
A. POWELL: Yes, we do.
KING: How do you people help America's Promise?
A. POWELL: How do people help America's Promise? People help America's Promise by first stepping up, not having any money, not having anything else that requires rocket science, but being there. It doesn't cost you anything to go be a mentor. And every child needs a mentor.
KING: So you can go to the Web site?
A. POWELL: You can go to the Web site, or you can go to mentoring.org, which is the nationwide mentoring organization. There are Web sites everywhere that will match you up with a mentor.
KING: There's no way...
A. POWELL: It is most rewarding.
C. POWELL: In the 10 years of America's Promise, we have seen the Boys & Girls Clubs go from 1,500 clubs to 4,000 clubs, because we're able to help with our alliance, the Boys & Girls Clubs do that.
We have had programs such as Jeb Bush in Florida, when he was governor of Florida, he committed to creating 200,000 mentoring relationships in Florida, beginning with himself. He had a mentee, he brought a kid into his office once a week.
He succeeded in doing that over a period of six years, 200,000 mentees. So we have seen lots of progress, lots of success, a lot more kids are being protected now than before.
American Bankers Association, 2,500 banks participate in our alliance to reach out to the kids in their communities. And that's what we're looking for, to leverage up these kinds of relationships.
KING: As I said, it is a great organization. More about it, and then in our last segment coming up in a little while, we will meet Rebekah Marler-Mitchell, the principal of P.S. 50 in East Harlem. She is the first recipient of the Colin & Alma Powell Legacy Award. We'll meet her and talk about that in a little while, one more segment with just the two right after this.
KING: We're back with the Powells. We'll meet Rebekah Marler-Mitchell, an extraordinary person, in the last segment.
A couple of other quick things. What did you think of George Tenet's book?
C. POWELL: I thought it was an accurate description of his years as director of the CIA. And it was very accurate. And I remember most of the details that he covered in that book. So I thought it was a very good book.
KING: Do you like George?
C. POWELL: George is a very close friend.
KING: He took a lot of flack.
C. POWELL: He took a lot of flack. And George feels terrible about the fact that what we believed to be true, that there would be stockpiles, was not true. And remember, we went into that conflict with our military prepared to fight in a chemical environment.
We sent in inspectors afterwards, and investigators under Dr. Kay, who believed there would be stockpiles. And Charlie Duelfer led a team looking for the stockpiles. But they weren't there. They just were not there. They were wrong.
KING: Your estimation of President Bush?
C. POWELL: I never give estimations of the four presidents that I have worked for. It was my pleasure to work for President Bush 41, President Clinton, President Reagan, and President Bush 43. All four of them were distinguished gentlemen who believed in this country and wanted to see the best for this country.
KING: When you're that close to the top, were there ever times you said, even though I didn't do it, I would have liked this job?
C. POWELL: No.
C. POWELL: No. We, as a family, know who we are. And we have no second thoughts about the decision we made. And we have served this country in various capacities for over 40 years. And we both are still healthy and will continue to serve the country in different capacities.
But I've never had any ambitions for political office, therefore I could not sit in that Oval Office saying, gee, I wish. I didn't wish.
KING: You did two tours in Vietnam, right?
C. POWELL: Two tours in Vietnam.
KING: Battlefield, right?
C. POWELL: Yes.
KING: How rough was it for you when he was there?
A. POWELL: It is very difficult to have a husband off in battle, so that I know exactly what the wives and families are going through during the course of this particular conflict. We were only married four months when he went to Vietnam the first time.
KING: Isn't it tougher to have been a soldier in Vietnam, a soldier in Iraq, than a soldier in World War II -- and I know death is death, when the war is unpopular?
C. POWELL: It is difficult. But what's so wonderful about the American soldier, whether it's from the Revolutionary War period, Vietnam, World War II, or the young men and women who are serving now, is they have never failed to answer the call.
We like to talk about the "greatest generation," so-called, of World War II. But we have been blessed to have greatness in every generation. And no generation is any greater than the young men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today. And they serve because they have been asked to serve. And they serve and put themselves at risk every day because of their buddies, to take care of each other and see if they can come home safely.
KING: No matter what the home front is thinking?
C. POWELL: They would, of course, not like to see this kind of disagreement. And the mission is not as clear as they would like it to be. One day we're fighting a Shia militia, the next day we are fighting Sunni insurgents, and there's al Qaeda that is mixed up in all of this.
So it is hard for them in that kind of situation. But they never falter.
KING: When we come back with our remaining moments, we will be joined by Rebekah Marler-Mitchell, the principal of P.S. 50 in East Harlem. Don't go away.
KING: We're back with our remaining moments. The Powells remain with us.
Rebekah Marler Mitchell, the principal of P.S. 50 in East Harlem, her school is the first recipient of the Colin & Alma Powell Legacy Award.
What is it, Alma?
A. POWELL: Well, we have set forth our plan for the five years. And there are three main strategies that we're going to use to impact the lives of 15 million children in the next five years.
One is using schools as hubs. This is where the kids are. This is where you can best deliver the five promises and services that they need. The other is a healthy start and to get all kids covered by SCHIP. And the other is to prepare them for the real world.
Rebekah's school embodies all of those things. It is a community school where the Children's Aid Society is involved. And I'll let her tell you about it...
KING: How did you get involved in all of this?
REBEKAH MARLER-MITCHELL, PRINCIPAL, P.S./I.S. 50, EAST HARLEM: Well, I was recruited to be a member of the Leadership Academy three years ago, four years ago when I was...
KING: Of America's Promise?
MARLER-MITCHELL: Not of America's Promise. At a leadership academy in the city, by Joel Klein and became a principal at P.S./I.S. 50 in 2004. I was fortunate enough to have partnerships existing in the school such as The Children's Aid Society, City Year, which is an AmeriCorps organization. And we have just really worked really hard to bring all of the promises to the students of P.S./I.S. 50.
And our partnerships have been the most instrumental part of transforming the school.
KING: And how did you learn of her?
A. POWELL: Well, Angela Diaz, who sits on our board, is the president of The Children's Aid Society. And we at the alliance are a collaboration of all of the organizations that impact the lives of children.
And so we learned of the work at P.S. 50 through Angela Diaz. And we felt it fitting since we were in New York for this celebration that we hold our board meeting there so that we can show our board this is America's Promise in action.
KING: Rebekah, does it work?
MARLER-MITCHELL: Absolutely. Absolutely, without a doubt. It is -- for us it's such an honor because our school that has been our emphasis is, how do we address the needs of the whole child and make sure that those are addressed so that they can achieve academic success.
KING: P.S. 50 goes from what to what?
MARLER-MITCHELL: Kindergarten through seventh grade. Next year we'll be through eighth grade.
KING: How does this make you feel, Colin?
C. POWELL: This is exactly what we had in mind, to take an inspired teacher who becomes an inspired leader and demonstrates to the kids that she cares about them totally.
And then you bring other assets into the school, whether it's from The Children's Aid Society, America's Promise, you get the parents involved, and you get the care-givers involved so that the adults are part of this. They can't just stand outside and through bricks at the school. You have an inspired chancellor like Joel Klein who understands the need to do these kinds of things, and of course, Mayor Bloomberg. And it all comes together at the school.
A. POWELL: At the school, enclosed in the school is a charter school for autistic children. And the children of the other population mentor those kids.
KING: Do they have a lot of autistic kids?
MARLER-MITCHELL: We have the New York Center for Autism Charter School is housed in our building, and we partner with them. And one of the most exciting things I've seen in 13, 14 years of working in public education is to watch our middle school students learn how to teach students with autism. It literally will bring tears to your eyes.
A. POWELL: It does.
C. POWELL: And remember what we said about teaching kids early to give back...
A. POWELL: How to give back.
C. POWELL: ...to help others. So just imagine these older kids who are fine working with autistic kids who are fine, but have some issues and problems that have to be dealt with. And who could be a better mentor to an autistic child than a slightly older child?
KING: You ought to be so proud of -- I salute you. Congratulations, Rebekah.
MARLER-MITCHELL: Thank you.
A. POWELL: Well, we're so proud of her.
C. POWELL: Thanks, Larry.
MARLER-MITCHELL: Thank you, Larry.
KING: It all started 10 years ago.
POWELL: Ten years ago, and you were there.
KING: Want more information? You go to AmericasPromise.org, America's Promise is one word. The Powells.
It's that time of the week again, our newest podcast is available for downloading. It's Paris Hilton. If you missed last night's show or want to see it again, head to CNN.com/LarryKing or iTunes. We have a new podcast for you every week. That is at CNN.com/LarryKing or on iTunes.
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The book will give you something to think about while you are deciding who you'd like to see elected to the White House in 2008.
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