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Colin Powell Interview

Aired December 14, 2008 - 13:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.
My guest today needs no introduction, so I'm not going to give him one. Welcome, Colin Powell, Secretary Powell, General Powell. Welcome.

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you very much, Fareed. You could have given me a small one. I mean, I wasn't asking for much.


ZAKARIA: Well, you've probably been knighted by the queen, so it should be...

POWELL: Yes, I have.

ZAKARIA: ... Sir Colin Powell.


ZAKARIA: So far, what do you make of President-elect Barack Obama? You endorsed him, crossed party lines. You delighted -- I remember watching you talk about his election. So far, how is he doing?

POWELL: I think he is off to a very, very good start. I think he has made some exceptionally good appointments, both in the economic side as well as in the national security side. Of course, the real test is how they all perform when they're in office and not just when they're in the transition period.

But I think he has shown the same kind of deliberate approach to a problem that he showed during the campaign. And you can see a sense of purpose and how he is looking for the best people.

As he said to me during our conversations, "I'm going to get people who are strong, and I don't mind people who are smarter than me or stronger than me, I just don't want theatrical people around me."

And I think he has demonstrated that so far. So I think he's off to a good start. And I think the American people sense that he is off to a good start. There is nothing flamboyant about it. It is solid, solid staff work at this point.

ZAKARIA: What do you think is going to happen to the Republican Party? Do you think it's moving in the right direction?

POWELL: We don't know yet. I don't know yet. I think that in the latter months of the campaign, the party moved further to the right. Governor Palin, to some extent, pushed the party more to the right.

And I think she had something of a polarizing effect when she talked about small town values are good. Well, most of us don't live in small towns. And I was raised in the South Bronx, and there is nothing wrong with my value system from the South Bronx.

And when they came to Virginia and said, you know, the southern part of Virginia is good, but the northern part of Virginia is bad, the only problem with that is there are more votes in the northern part of Virginia than there are in the southern part of Virginia. So that doesn't work.

But it was that attempt on the part of the party to use polarization for political advantage that I think backfired. And I think the party has to take a hard look at itself. There is nothing wrong with being conservative. There is nothing wrong with having socially conservative views. I don't object to that.

But if the party wants to have a future in this country, it has to face some realities. In another 20 years, the majority in this country will be the minority.

There was an article recently in "The New York Times" saying that most of our urban cities now have a minority majority as its population. And the Republican Party has to begin appealing to Hispanics, to blacks, to Asians, because that's who we have lost to a large extent in recent elections.

And you can't appeal to them just by saying, you know, "Horatio Alger, pull up yourself," you know, "pull up by your bootstraps and no more welfare," and all these sorts of loaded statements.

The Republican Party has to now start listening to the African- American community and the Hispanic and Asian and other minority communities and see what's in their hearts and minds, and not just try to influence them by Republican principles and dogma.

And so, I think the party has to stop shouting at the world and at the country. I think the party has to take a hard look at itself. And I've talked to a number of leaders in recent weeks and they understand that.

And I was impressed by an article that Mort Kondracke wrote recently that said, can we continue to listen to Rush Limbaugh? Is this really -- is this really the kind of party that we want to be when these kinds of spokespersons seem to appeal to our lesser instincts rather than our better instincts?

ZAKARIA: Are you still a Republican?

POWELL: Yes. I think I still believe in fiscal discipline. I still am a right-of-center conservative -- not as right as others would like. I have always been known to be fairly liberal when it comes to social issues and when it comes to helping people who are in need. It's my tradition as a kid in need in New York City.

And I grew up with a family in some need, not a great deal of need, but I grew up in an environment where the government, the city, took care of its people, either through assistance for people in need or giving me a quality education from kindergarten through college, and I paid not a nickel for it, nor did my parents. The city paid for it.

That's what sharing the wealth also means, not just giving to people who are, you know, not deserving of it. But sharing the wealth through taxes means that you take the wealth of the nation, the wealth of all the people in the nation, and you use it for a common good. And so, in that regard I am probably left-of-center.

And with respect to civil rights and affirmative action and issues like that, I tend to be to the left. I also think it would not be in the best interest of America or African-Americans or Hispanic Americans if there was only party, because then they would never have to do anything to keep you. They've got you.

And so, I think the Republican Party has to take a look at itself, realize the change in demographics in this country, and arrange itself and reorganize itself accordingly to appeal to that broader population.

ZAKARIA: So Governor Palin, as the standard-bearer for the next election, would not be the right direction?

POWELL: Oh, well, you know, four years is a long time. She is a very accomplished woman. I mean, at a very young age, she has been a mayor, and now she is the governor of her state. And so, you have to give her credit for that.

I think she came out in the national stage a little too soon. But she is a smart woman and she is a very distinguished woman. I just don't think that she contributed to the ticket at this time.

And we're going to have to not just rely on slogans, you know, "Joe the Plumber," and "they're socialists," and that kind of labeling, which shifted almost every day, was not an effective response to what Senator Obama was doing in showing a consistent set of views with respect to how to deal with the economic issue. And that, I think, hurt Senator McCain.

And I hope the party will not only analyze the problems we have with minorities, but take a look at how Senator Obama ran that campaign, and the kinds of things that work -- especially in information technology and how you reach out to this mass of people, not only here in the United States, but around the world, using the power of the Internet and the power of this electronic age that we're living in.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask about one social issue that you were associated with, which was "don't ask, don't tell," the policy toward gay people being in the military openly. Do you feel like the country has moved to a place where we could reevaluate "don't ask, don't tell"?

POWELL: We definitely should reevaluate it. It's been 15 years since we put in "don't ask, don't tell," which was a policy that became a law. I didn't want it to become a law, but it became a law. Congress felt that strongly about it.

But it's been 15 years, and attitudes have changed. And so, I think it is time for the Congress, since it is their law, to have a full review of it. And I'm quite sure that's what President-elect Obama will want to do.

But people have said to me, well, then, what do you think? I said, well, what I think is, let's review it, but I'm not going to make a judgment as to whether it should be overturned or not until I hear from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the commanders who are responsible for our armed forces in a time of war.

And so, I have to hear what they think and what the secretary of defense thinks before I would come down on one side or the other.

Because I've always felt that the military is a unique institution. It is not like any other institution in our system. You are told who you will live with. You are told who you will share your most intimate accommodations with. You are told whether you will live or die.

And for that reason, the courts have always upheld the ability of the armed forces of the United States to put in procedures and rules that would not be acceptable in any other institution.

So, the Congress, I think, has an obligation to review the law, and I hope that it's a very spirited review. And I hope that President-elect Obama, in one of his first actions, will ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take a look at the policy and the law and to get their recommendations before he makes a judgment with respect to the administration position.

But times have changed. This is not 1993. It is 2008. And we should review the law.

ZAKARIA: Do you think we should consider the fact that other countries -- the Israeli army, for instance, the British army -- has gays serving openly, and it does not seem to have produced any negative effects to their morale and effectiveness?

POWELL: I certainly think we should look at all the examples of countries where this is the case, and see if it is relevant to the armed forces of the United States. We are unique not only as a country, but as an armed forces. And so, yes, I would look at all of that. But that doesn't necessarily drive the decision.

I think the president will have a view on this, many people will have a view on it. But one view that we should not ignore is the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff representing not just themselves, not just a bunch of generals and admirals, but representing a very large, complex organization.

When we went through this in 1993, it wasn't just the generals, it was the chaplains, it was family members. You have issues of domicile. You have issues of marriage. And, you know, look at the debate we're having now with respect to same-sex marriage.

All of that comes in to the military, if you change the law. That may be fine. But let's study it carefully as we examine this 15- year-old law.

ZAKARIA: When you endorsed Obama, you said something that caught my eye, caught millions of other people's eye. You came out very forcefully to say that the scurrilous charge that he was a Muslim was scurrilous because, first of all, he wasn't a Muslim, he was a Christian. But secondly, so what if he were a Muslim?

This struck a chord with many people. Since then, have you gotten any reaction to it?

POWELL: I've gotten a tremendous reaction. I've heard from many Muslims. I've heard from a number of Muslim groups. I have heard from a lot of average Americans who thought that was the right thing to say.

But I also heard some people who thought it was the wrong thing to say and thought that, you know, you shouldn't have said that and he really is a Muslim. There are still people who believe it, and they want to hang on to that belief.

But I think, by and large, most Americans reacted in a way that said, you know, that's right. That's right. And that's the word I use.

You know, when I made that statement, I had thought it through. It's correct to say he is a Christian, and he's always been a Christian -- because he has.

But the right thing to say, the right thing to say is, so what? So what if he's a Muslim or a Jew or Hindu, or you name it? In our country, that is not supposed to be a discriminating or determining factor. It should be the competence of the individual, the dedication of the individual, and the ability of the individual to do the job.

And as I said at the time that I made that statement, I was getting deeply concerned that the campaign in public was turning rather nasty as people tried to point to this so-called Muslim connection.

Well, it was not correct, and it was also not right. And I felt I had to speak out on that.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back with Colin Powell.


POWELL: I feel strongly about this particular point, because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery. And she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave.

And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards - Purple Heart, Bronze Star. It showed that he died in Iraq. It gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old.

And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have the Christian cross. It didn't have a Star of David. It had a crescent and the star of the Islamic faith.

And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11.

And he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.



ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about how to organize a White House, because President-elect Obama has talked about a "team of rivals," and the thing I was wondering about was how come President Bush's team of rivals didn't quite work?

There was -- there were strong personalities with strong views -- you, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld. But it seemed as though it didn't quite work.

POWELL: Yes, I mean, we were all experienced players. And we got a lot of things done. We succeeded in expanding NATO. We succeeded in getting a treaty with Moscow. We succeeded in liberating -- helping to liberate Liberia.

We succeeded in moving out a regime that was a difficulty in Haiti. We succeeded in negotiating a north-south agreement in Sudan. We doubled assistance to the rest of the world. We quadrupled assistance in Africa. We came up with a -- what's called a president's program -- emergency program for AIDS relief.

So we got a lot done. It wasn't we were fighting for four straight years over every issue. But there were disagreements -- serious disagreements about how to handle Iraq. There were serious disagreements in the aftermath of the collapse of Baghdad.

And there were serious disagreements about detainee policy that were well publicized. And, frankly, the NSC system didn't function in a way that I thought it should have functioned. And we didn't always vet everything in front of the president in the manner that I thought should be vetted.

And for that reason I -- you know, I was somewhat disappointed. And at one point I said to the president, it's time for you to make changes and I should be part of that change.

ZAKARIA: When we look at our problems that we've been having with Russia in Georgia, Ukraine, Poland, in that whole region, there are some people who say, you know, we've blown our relationship with Russia, that there was an opportunity to have a very different kind of relationship with Russia.

You've been involved in this for a long time. How do you react?

POWELL: Well, the first thing I say to people when they ask me about this is, don't worry, the Soviet Union is not coming back. We're not quite sure where the Russian Federation may be going under Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Putin, but the Soviet Union is not coming back.

Russia is now part of the international economic and political community. And Russia has seen a degree of wealth creation that they could never have dreamed of in the days of the Soviet Union. But it rests on commodities and the sale of oil, and so, they have to have good relations with the rest of the world to do this.

At the same time they are a very proud people. And we sometimes forget that when the Cold War ended, the Russian people lost their ideology, they lost their economic system, they lost their military superiority, they lost their empire.

And Mr. Putin succeeded in restoring a level of pride to the Russian people through the Russian Federation, and they respect him for it. And he is at 85 percent popularity. And you have to take that into account when you start to deal with the Russians.

The problem is -- and I discussed this with Mr. Putin when I was in office -- he has not used his popularity or his position of influence and power in the country to put in place the institutions of a representative government.

Shutting down some channels of the media, sort of packing the Duma, the parliament -- he didn't have to do that. And so, I felt that it was unfortunate that he didn't take advantage of that, and he still hasn't.

At the same time, I think we have to be careful how we deal with this very proud nation. They don't like it when you say things like, you're acting delusionally -- which we have said to them -- or that, well, we don't care what you think, because you are becoming irrelevant.

Well, you don't say that to a country that has nuclear weapons, among other things, and that you're trying to create a better relationship with. I don't know that we approached them in the right way with respect to missile defense or the expansion of NATO. And the whole issue of ultimate admission into NATO of Ukraine and Georgia is extremely sensitive.

So I would...

ZAKARIA: You think that should be slowed down?

POWELL: I think it's been slowed down. I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon. And, you know, we're just now thinking about thinking about a Membership Action Plan at some point.

There is no reason to accelerate that at this point, in my judgment.

ZAKARIA: What about missile defenses in Poland?

POWELL: Missile defense...

ZAKARIA: You've always been skeptical about missile defenses anyway.

POWELL: I'm not -- well, to some extent, I'm saying to myself, of all the things we need to be doing now, and if we're trying to sort of quiet things down, is it really that essential to our national security right now to push this issue too fast too far?

I was there with Reagan at the very beginning on strategic defenses. But I have always said, you know, this is a hugely expensive program. Let's make sure the threat really justifies it. And if it does, then let's have it. But let's have it when we know it also is workable and it will actually perform the mission.

And so I think it's hard to step back from missile defense now just because the Russians object. But one thing we can't do is essentially say, oh, the Russians don't like this so let's not do it.

And so, I hope that under President Obama and Secretary Clinton, they'll reach out to the Russians and talk to them, and see how we can get this relationship back on track.

When we started in 2001, we faced some very tough issues with the Russians. My first challenge as secretary of state was to call on the Russian ambassador and tell him I was throwing out 52 Russian spies.

And he said, "You can't be serious."

"Yes, we're throwing them out. They're not supposed to be here."

And the next morning my Russian colleague, Igor Ivanov, called me and said, "You know what we're going to do?"

I said, "I'm sure you've identified 52 Americans that you're going to throw out of Moscow."

He said, "Exactly."

And I said, "We expected that."

And he said, "Are you going to do anything else?"

I said, "No."

He said, "Good. Let's get on with business."

So, you can be tough, but do business.

And then we had to get out of the ABM treaty, or study it, and we took nine months to discuss that with them. We didn't just do it peremptorily, as people suggest we always do.

And nine months later, both we and the Russians were convinced there was no way for us to do missile defense inside the ABM treaty. And President Bush sent me to speak to Putin -- President Putin.

And I sat in his office and I said, "We've tried. Igor and I have worked very hard, but we can't do it, therefore President Bush is going to abrogate our responsibilities under the ABM treaty."

And he looked at me, his steely blue eyes, and "You can't do that. It's wrong. You shouldn't do it. I think it's a mistake, and I'm really going to criticize you all for it."

I said, "I know, Mr. President."

And he said, "Good. Whew. Now, we won't have to talk about that anymore. Let's get on with it."

And six months later, we had a new treaty reducing nuclear weapons.

So with the Russians, you can be tough, but you should listen. And you should take into account their needs, their anxieties. They're a proud, strong, powerful nation that is now part of the international community.

And they wish to be listened to, and they wish to be listened to with respect. And I don't see anything wrong with listening to somebody from a position of respect.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back with Colin Powell.


ZAKARIA: Seven years ago, almost this week, there was an attack by terrorists on the Indian parliament. And you were secretary of state. And you had to tackle what seems like a familiar problem now.

You had to find a way to talk to the Pakistani -- to talk to the Indians to get them from overreacting and bombing Pakistan or doing something like that. And you had to talk to the Pakistanis and tell them, look, you have got to stop this footsy game you're playing with terrorist groups.

What do you do now? What do you tell the Pakistani military now, based on your experience?

POWELL: There are enormous similarities, as you noted, and the death toll this time was a lot higher. And it was in the heart, really, of India -- Mumbai, you know, the gateway to India.

And you've written, you know, very warmly about that hotel. And I know that hotel and the other hotel and the other places that were struck, the railway station. We had something like that back in 2001.

And then you recalled -- and this hasn't happened yet, and I hope it doesn't -- but a few months later there was another attack on an army barracks which made the situation volatile again.

What we did then -- myself, my deputy, Rich Armitage, and so many of my foreign minister colleagues around the world -- we all just started shuttling in to both India and to Pakistan, and to convey to them a sense of concern from the international community.

And at that time, hundreds of thousands of troops were moving to the border. Two nuclear-armed nations were about to get started with a conventional conflict, perhaps. And we had to get that all tamped down.

And we needed to take time to do it. It didn't happen overnight. It took the better part of a year.

And I think we have to do the same thing now. We have to let the emotion dissipate over some period of time. And I'm pleased that both sides seemed to have learned the lesson of seven years ago.

And they're both trying to control emotions and are trying to respond to each other's political needs without, you know, capitulating on your own position. And so I hope that nothing else happens, for openers.

And this time, as Pakistan says it is going to do, we have to do something about Lashkar-e-Taiba. I mean, they said they were going to eliminate them. Well, they haven't.

ZAKARIA: They promised you that they were going to...

POWELL: They promised. And they went about saying, see, they're not there anymore. Well, where did they go? Well, they're somewhere. And they change names and they change form.

Just the other day, the Pakistani government arrested a number of people and said they had raided seven camps. And the question then immediately occurred to me, why are there seven camps?

And so, the Pakistanis have to make a strategic choice, both a political choice, a military choice, and a choice on the part of the Inter-Services Security apparatus -- really is the one that is in charge of this, their intelligence system -- that we can no longer pay the price of having this kind of terrorist organization inside of Pakistan.

And we can no longer wink and nod and pretend that it isn't there when it is there, and they have to take them on. And if they don't, then you will have these incidents over time, and the situation will remain unstable.

There has been a lot of progress in relations between India and Pakistan since the crisis of seven years ago. And I was very pleased to see, first, bus travel start, and then cricket teams going back and forth. That's how you sort of start to build confidence. And both nations have benefited from that.

So, I sense that, as tragic as this four-day period was in Mumbai, both the Indians and the Pakistanis realize you cannot let these 10 murderers, these 10 terrorists, drive the policies of two countries where those policies have brought them some rapprochement and progress in recent years.

So, let's get the emotion out of this. Let's talk to one another. Let's see if we can find all the perpetrators.

But I would say to my Pakistani friends, don't let it happen again. Don't allow these kinds of organizations to exist, either in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir or anywhere else. I think they really have to go after them.

ZAKARIA: A lot of Americans look at this and say, this is strange. We've given this country $10 billion of aid. We've supported General Musharraf. We supported the military. You've gone and read them the riot act.

Why does it not work? Why haven't you had more influence on them? Why has the government not had any influence on them?

POWELL: I think we did have considerable influence in the aftermath of the parliament and the army strikes back in 2001 and 2002. And the number of attacks that were taking place in Kashmir went down significantly. And there was considerable rapprochement, as I've said, and progress between the two countries.

So, I think things were going along in an improving -- on an improving azimuth -- and still were until what happened in Mumbai recently. And I hope we can deal with Mumbai, get the perpetrators, and then continue to move forward. So I think there has been progress.

But Pakistan has had its own political turmoil, as you have seen in recent months. And the situation boiling over from Afghanistan into the tribal areas makes it that much more difficult.

And we have a new government, a relatively new government, that I don't think is yet completely secure in power. And we have to be sensitive to that, and we've got to help this new government.

So, I think that we should continue to try to do everything we can for President Zardari and his team, continue to provide aid to Pakistan, and see if we can help them deal with the Taliban problems in the tribal areas as well as go after Lashkar and other terrorist organizations.

ZAKARIA: We'll be right back.


ZAKARIA: One of the few areas that McCain and Obama both agreed on was sending 20,000 more troops, roughly speaking, into Afghanistan.

But there you face a similar problem, which is, you have these groups. In many cases, you sort of know where the groups are, and you can play this whack-a-mole game of going after one or the other.

But it does seem as though there is a broader system of support and across the board in Pakistan -- or there is some reason why these -- these counterterrorism raids or counterinsurgency raids don't seem to be working.

What should we do in Afghanistan?

POWELL: This is the toughest one, I think, that we have to face. Iraq is sort of resolving itself in the manner that the Iraqis have chosen.

But Afghanistan, we have a government that is not as strong as it should be. We have a history, a tradition of warlordism. And we have a population that really isn't separated by the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The same people live in both sides.

And there are tribal connections going back hundreds of years. And there's a reason they call them the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, because they have never, really, ever truly been under the control of the government in Islamabad.

And so it is a very tough issue. I don't know if 20,000 troops will make a difference. I don't know if 40,000 will make a difference.

But I think one of the real challenges that President-elect Obama will have when he goes into office is sitting down with his military commanders and with his diplomats and with his economic advisers -- because it's an economic problem as much as anything else -- and making a judgment as to what is the right approach.

It isn't going to be just 20,000 troops. It's going to be, what do we do with more -- do we do more provincial reconstruction teams? Do we give them more aid? How do we get the economy going? How do we end corruption?

What do we do about the real thing that's liable to be more dangerous to the survival of this country than the Taliban, and that's drugs? I mean, it is the center of the drug culture, of the drugs that are coming into Europe and elsewhere.

And so the president-elect, when he becomes president, with his team, is going to have to come up with a comprehensive approach to the problems of Afghanistan.

And, of course, it is not just the United States. We are joined there by so many NATO nations. And I think it is going to be very hard to believe that troops in and of themselves can put down this conflict. It is much too complicated for that.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about another challenge. One of the things Obama talked about in the campaign was, of course, talking to Iran. I think we probably both agree that it's a complicated matter.

But I want to ask you about talking to another country which might be more promising which you've talked to, which is Syria. You spent a lot of time talking to the Syrians. There's a great deal of possibility, it seems to me, that the Syrian-Iranian alliance is actually not that strong.

Would you try to in some way have a rapprochement with Syria as a starter rather than, you know, talks with Ahmadinejad?

POWELL: Well, I would talk to both of them. And you'll notice that I always use the word "talk." I don't say "negotiate," and I don't say "place demands on the table."

These are difficult countries to talk to. I visited Syria twice. My deputy, Mr. Armitage, went at the request of President Bush.

We have an embassy there. The embassy is open and issuing visas, we just don't have an ambassador there. And I think that it would be in our interest to once again begin talking to the Syrians.

It's difficult. They have promised me things, and they didn't deliver. Other times they have promised me things when I went over there, and they did deliver.

They are difficult to deal with. But that is not a reason not to talk to them. It's a reason to talk to them and see if you can penetrate difficultly.

So, I believe that it would be in our interest to start talking again to the Syrians. And I believe now it would be in our interest to see if we can begin some kind of conversation with the Iranians.

We were talking to the Iranians through multi-party meetings that we were having in Geneva or elsewhere in Europe at a low lever with my assistant secretary for that part of the world. And there were no breakthroughs, but we were talking to them.

And when issues came up, for example, when we went into Afghanistan in 2001, the Iranians were quite helpful. And they were quite helpful in sort of getting the Taliban under control and getting Mr. Karzai in.

And then along came the Iraq matter and...

ZAKARIA: Along came your president calling them the "axis of evil." POWELL: Yes, that probably was not received well in Tehran at the moment.

But they are -- they're not a nice -- it's not a nice regime. I mean, they support terrorism. They have done some rather despicable things. They have not been helpful in Iraq. And we should not overlook any of that.

And I don't cut them any slack whatsoever. I know the nature of that regime. But I also know that by not talking to them, we are not engaging with them. More importantly, when we don't talk to them, we give them another tool with their population.

"See? The Americans won't talk to us. We're Persians. We don't have to put up with this."

And I think that that youthful population in Iran is of such a nature that they really are looking outside. They know what's going on in the West. They watch television. They like to come here. I have many Iranian-American friends who love going back to Iran.

And I think that we should work with those young people, because they're looking for a better life. Right now they're isolated from the international economic community. They're looking for a better life.

And we should not give them excuses to -- give excuses to the government to demonize us.

Now, I'm not sure the Iranians would immediately want to talk to us if we offered. But put the burden on them, take it off us. But that's not the position of the administration.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back with Colin Powell in a minute.


ZAKARIA: We're back with former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

You've worked for President Reagan, President Bush senior, President Bush junior, and you've also worked for President Clinton, because you were chairman of the Joint Chiefs for a while.

Who was the president you most enjoyed working for, and why?

POWELL: Now, Fareed, you know I would never answer such a question, because I was privileged to work directly, in a senior position, for four presidents. I respected and admired them all. And I was a servant of them all, and a servant of the American people.

And I could give you a three-hour lecture on what it's like to work for each one of them, and the differences among them, but I would never compare one to the other as this one compares to this one, and this one I liked better than that one.

I just feel that I was privileged to be given the opportunity to work for four presidents -- and to some extent at a lower level, President Nixon and President Carter as well.

ZAKARIA: If you had one piece of advice to give Secretary of State-to-be Hillary Clinton, what would it be?

POWELL: Get to bed early.


POWELL: And take the weekends off. Stay home on weekends. Unless there was a crisis, I did most of my work on the weekends from home electronically. I worked hard. I worked all weekend.

ZAKARIA: You're on the e-mail...

POWELL: You know how I am, Fareed. But -- and I got the whole department on it. I bought 44,000 computers and converted the department into the electronic age. And we started using e-mails.

And I used to tell them, get rid of all the books in your office. You don't need them anymore, as long as you have a couple of search engines and Wikipedia. And then I challenged my people to try to keep up with Wikipedia in terms of changes in countries. That was a challenge.

But I believe the electronic age has fundamentally changed the way in which we do business in every aspect of human life, but in diplomacy and politics as well -- instantaneous transmission of information, instantaneous knowledge.

As I like to say, we've gone from a lunar world where you measured everything in days, weeks and months, to a transactional world where every single transaction has to be put into your information system, into your decision system.

And so, it was my practice -- and Mrs. Clinton, of course, will do it her way, as she should -- it was my practice to try to do everything on the weekends at home, even if I had six briefcases full of material, so that I could get some rest, and also so my staff could get some rest.

If a crisis broke out, I'm in the office. But if there's no crisis -- or even if there is, because I had more communications at home than you can shake a stick at, and I could talk to anybody in the world from home and often did.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about something we've talked about earlier. We have all of these foreign policy crises around the world. But the biggest crisis we probably face is the domestic economic one.

And you think, I know, because we've talked about this, that President Obama rightly should spend a lot of his time first consolidating or fixing the American economy and, thus, American power.

POWELL: I completely agree with that. And not only should he, he has to. That's what the American people, frankly, elected him for, among lots of things. But I think it was the economic problems that the American people saw that pushed him over the top.

We are in something. I don't know whether it's a recession on the way to a depression. I've seen some articles recently that says that we are in for a long, steep decline into recession.

I travel all over the country, as you know, Fareed, and I run into people who are very anxious. And these are people who have paid their mortgages, who are not going into bankruptcy, and they're still very, very nervous.

And so, they're pulling back in their spending. They're putting money in the mattresses. And you can see it spreading throughout the country.

And because it is an international economic system, it's all over the world. There is nobody who is unaffected by this.

Chinese workers are being laid off, because Americans are not buying as much at Target and Wal-Mart. If you don't need a flat- screen TV or can get by with the one that's only, you know, 32 inches instead of 42 inches, you're going to stick with the 32 inches.

And so, that's what is happening. And you can see, tourist destination travel -- destinations have started to slow down. Las Vegas is starting to have trouble. So, it's very wide and deep, and I think the president has to focus on it.

As you and I have also discussed, I believe that the greatest political force at work today is economics, political force, economics, wealth creation. All of these nations that were behind iron curtains and bamboo curtains and the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, they're all interested principally in one thing now: How do we create wealth to keep our people moving up?

The Chinese have to continue to create wealth, because they have a billion people who haven't benefited in the slightest from the wealth they have created over the last 30 years, even though 300 million have.

And so, it is an international economic system that is driven for the purpose of wealth creation, not just for those at the top, but for everybody. And that takes energy. And energy means you're throwing more stuff up in the environment.

And the thing that I focus on all the time, and I know that President Obama will be focusing on, is the education of our young people to be successful in this kind of world.

ZAKARIA: You've occasionally said, when people have asked you, how do you want to be remembered, you've said, I want to be remembered as a soldier.

What does that mean to you? Why do you want to be remembered as a soldier? What did it teach you? POWELL: Because that's what I was. I mean, people see me in different positions, national security adviser, secretary of state, is he a political candidate or not. But my profession was soldiering.

And so, I left New York in 1958 to be a soldier. And I was a soldier for 35 years before, you know, I did mostly anything else outside of soldiering.

And so when I'm gone, I hope that people remember me as a good soldier, a good service person, because I served in other ways as well. And then I tried to do my best and I left behind some great children.

If there is -- and I believe there is somebody, something, some spirit out there -- that's how you will you be measured at the end.

ZAKARIA: Colin Powell, a pleasure.

POWELL: Thank you, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: We'll be right back.


ZAKARIA: And now, the question of the week.

Last week, in anticipation of my interview with Colin Powell, I asked you: Would you like to see General Powell serve in government again? And if so, in what capacity?

The majority of our viewers said "yes." And many said they'd like to see him in a very different role, as secretary of education.

A minority of our viewers, however, cannot forget the role Powell played in the Bush administration during the run-up to the war in Iraq. One viewer, Bill Marshall, expressed it this way.

"Unfortunately, Colin Powell has become one of the casualties of this war and, like the others, will remain so."

I respectfully disagree. In my opinion, Colin Powell is, was and will remain a great statesman.

Now, to this week's question.

What do you think was the most important international story of 2008, and why?

Let me know what you think.

I want to recommend a book, as always. It's by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, "The Impact of the Highly Improbable." And he argues that it is impossible to predict such things as stock market trends, because improbably events throw off the curve so much that experts simply are useless. It's fascinating stuff. Remember, as always, you can visit our Web site,, for highlights from this program, our weekly podcast, and some new Web- exclusive conversations. And you can also e-mail me at

Thanks for watching. Have a great week.