Return to Transcripts main page
STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING
Interview with Colin Powell
Aired July 5, 2009 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, HOST: I'm John King, and this is our "State of the Union" report for this Sunday, July 5th. As the United States celebrates its birthday this weekend, one of the country's most prominent citizens is calling for a recommitment to community service. General turned diplomat Colin Powell is right here to discuss his efforts to rally help for at-risk youths and troubled schools. General Powell also shares his thoughts on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and on whether the country can afford President Obama's ambitious agenda.
And we'll show you service up close, one young woman's remarkable work to help low-income students in the nation's capital. That's all ahead in this hour of "State of the Union."
On this Fourth of July weekend, as America marks its 233rd birthday, service is our major focus. For members of the military overseas, that service is a mix of risk and optimism. Risk in Afghanistan, as President Obama orders a major offensive against the Taliban. Cautious optimism in Iraq, where U.S. troops met the deadline this past week to pull back from most day-to-day front-line patrols in major cities.
A bit later on the program, we'll get a detailed breakdown from the nation's top military officer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen.
We begin today, though, with soldier turned diplomat Colin Powell. He once served in the job Admiral Mullen now holds, and was secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration. General Powell is out of government, but still eager to serve, especially young Americans in struggling broken households and subpar schools.
KING: America's Promise is your passion, your organization for community service. A lot of debate sometimes about how much of this is the government's job and how much of it is private citizens and private organizations doing community service.
POWELL: It's a job that belongs to all of us, and not any one of us can solve the problem.
When we created America's Promise back in 1997, at the request of President Clinton and all the living presidents, we said, you know, a country as wealthy as we are should not have kids in such desperate need. So let's start a campaign. And the campaign focused on getting mentors into the lives of our children, giving children a safe place to learn and to grow, make sure they have a healthy start in life, that they were acquiring a skill that would give them a job, and finally making sure that youngsters early in life got a chance to serve others. And that's what America's Promise has been doing for the last 12 years. And it's now headed by my wife Alma, who's the chairman of America's Promise, with Marguerite Kondracke as the president.
But what that is to mobilize the private sector as well as the government. The government's got lots of programs, but the great wealth of the nation is in the private sector. Businesses, churches, all sorts of organizations that are coming forward to help kids. And we've seen over the last 12 years a great mobilization. And now with President Obama being heavily committed to service and putting more emphasis on it and more money on the programs -- united we serve as he talked about recently -- I think the country is coming together, realizing that it's a problem for all of us.
KING: Well, some of the statistics are numbing, and we'll get to those in a minute. But first, I want to introduce you to someone, because you are among her heroes. We spent some time looking at this, at the grassroots level. We went to a D.C. public school this week. We met a young lady, 19 years old. Her name is Tora Burns. She grew up in Detroit. She has vivid memories of watching people shot and killed. At Howard University, she saw a table one day. She walked up to donate a few bucks, and she decided to sign up. The organization is America's Promise, your organization. She mentors. Now she's also in an AmeriCorps program. And we sat down with her and we said, Colin Powell, why would he be one of your heroes? Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TORA BURNS, AMERICA'S PROMISE VOLUNTEER: I admire him for not only -- I feel like he's done a lot of work for the community, and he's been the first -- many a times, he's been the first taking lead in doing the things that nobody wants to do, saying the things that nobody wants to say. And I feel like he took a lot of risks -- he's taken a lot of risks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You're a general, you were the secretary of state? Is she your legacy?
POWELL: She's my legacy. And I'm very proud of a young person such as that, who came out of difficult circumstances, but didn't quit, kept coming on, kept performing, getting her education and moving on.
We somehow have to get into the lives of every single one of our kids and let them know that we all start equal in life at the moment of birth, and it's what we do with the gifts we've been given by an almighty and how we have to prepare ourselves, and how we as adults have to prepare our children.
So she's a perfect example of what we're trying to do, not only with America's Promise, but with hundreds, thousands of other programs throughout the country.
KING: And here's one of the statistics that's frankly quite numbing. 40 percent of all births in the United States are out of wedlock. 72 percent of those are in the African-American community. Again, it's a question of government, community service and leadership by individuals like yourself.
POWELL: One of the things we're going to have to focus on is how do we restore the concept of family. Now, I would never say that a single parent, either mom or dad, cannot raise a child who just goes on to great success. But the odds tend to be against it, particularly if you're in a lower socioeconomic level. You really should focus on having two people coming together and a family unit, and it's in that family unit you raise a child.
When people ask me, well, how did you get where you are? You weren't a great student, how did you do it? I had a family. I had a family of mother and father and aunts and uncles and cousins, who kept us all in play, kept all the cousins in play. You weren't allowed to drop out. You weren't allowed to think about not meeting the expectations that your parents had for you.
We've got to get back to that. And where the family's not up to it, when the family is in trouble, then others have to come in -- mentors, big brothers, big sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs, Salvation Army programs, coaches, ministers, you name it. The other adults in the community have to come together to give that child that sense of belonging and to show that child what he or she is capable of. And we're not going to let you fail. We have expectations for you.
Kids need a team. They need a posse, as some people often call it. They need a gang. And they either get a good gang, or they are going to find a bad gang, and the bad gangs are waiting for them. And we're losing too many kids to the bad gangs when we need to give them good gangs.
KING: You mentioned ministers and coaches. I would add a general seated right here with me. And this past week, the president had a fatherhood summit at the White House, and he tried to deliver the message you're here to deliver. Let's listen to a bit of the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If we want our children to succeed in life, we need fathers to step up. We need fathers to understand that their work doesn't end with conception. What truly make a man a father is the ability to raise a child and invest in that child.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now, this is not just an issue or a problem in the African-American community, but you remember years ago Bill Cosby got in a lot of heat when he spoke a very similar message to that. Has the conversation changed in the African-American community when you have an African-American president delivering that message standing in the White House?
POWELL: I certainly hope so. And I agree with much of what Mr. Cosby said a few years ago, and I've given the same message.
But it is a message -- let's not just talk about the African- American community, because you'll find the same kinds of problems in the white community, although the statistics are not as bad.
Kids need a mother presence and a father presence. Hopefully it's their own parents, but saying it isn't going to make it happen. So when that situation doesn't exist, we can't just say, well, that's too bad. We've got to substitute. We've got to have surrogates. We have got to have others who will step forward and provide that kind of presence.
But I certainly agree with the president that men who father children become fathers of children. They have responsibility. But when you look at some of the things you see on television about who's the baby daddy and paternity tests as a gimmick on talk shows during the day, it's deeply troubling.
And I'm kind of a simple guy on things like this, John. I watch "National Geographic" and "Animal Planet," and I love to watch lion shows or tiger shows, where a cub is born, and there is the mother and the father. The father may be away at a distance, but he's providing protection for the family. And the family unit knows exactly how much a cub is able to do at what age. Until you're four months old, you never leave the mom. And then when you're six months old, you can go out a little way, but you'll get smacked back if you ever exceed the limits of what you're capable of managing.
Are we the only mammal who thinks we don't have to follow these rules, that we don't have to pass on a thousand previous generations of experience? That's not acceptable. We can't keep going in this direction.
And so fathers have a responsibility to support the child that they have brought into this world.
KING: You mentioned the statistics. I'm going to ask you to take a walk with me over to the wall, because this map demonstrates what you were just talking about. This is the national high school graduation rate. And if you're red or orange, that means you're on the low end of the scale, 34 percent down here. If you're in the yellow or the light green, you're in the middle, and the darker green states are the ones with the highest graduation rate.
I just want to show you this. This is white single-parent families. And you see these states that come up in the elevation and you see the numbers. Some states get much worse. And this is African-American single-parent families. And frankly, that right there is quite alarming when you look at -- if you go from a national average here -- remember these states that are bright red. The national average here, and then you bring in black single-parent families. What is the challenge here, especially now? And are your groups -- are people more dependent on community service at a time when the government frankly doesn't have a lot of money in a recession?
POWELL: Well, the government seems to be putting a lot of money into these kinds of programs. But community has a responsibility. Corporations have a responsibility. And the issue of dropouts within the African-American community is spread uniformly across the country. It tends to be in the larger cities.
And the dropout rates in some of our very large cities are absolutely astonishing, as high as 74 percent of those kids are not finishing school. Now this is not only a problem for the kid, it's a problem for the community. But more importantly, it's a problem for the nation.
We're wasting this human talent at a time when the world is globalizing, when the information revolution is upon us, and we're wasting these kids. And we've all got to get in this and do something about it.
You go to the high school graduation now at one of the better high schools, which I have done in recent weeks, and you see the kids coming across the stage. And they're Asians, they're Hispanics, they're all moving up.
And in the Army, we always used to try to get high school graduates to be in the volunteer Army. Why? Well, first of all, it means they have more skill than a non-high school graduate. But there was another reason that we pushed for high school graduates. The kids stayed with it. They did not quit. They didn't drop out. And that tells us they won't drop out, we make them soldiers.
And so we cannot have kids who do not have the perseverance, who have not been given the tools of sticking in high school, thinking that they can go in the job market and be successful.
So we're hurting ourselves economically. We're hurting ourselves in terms of our national security. And, of course, it is a moral responsibility that we're falling down on. So we've got to get into this. We've got to do something about it.
KING: Much more of our conversation with General Colin Powell just ahead, including his thoughts on the July 4th weekend and our men and women serving overseas. Stay with us.
KING: Colin Powell made history as the nation's first African- American national security adviser during the Reagan administration. He went on to become the first black chairman of Joints Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush. And the first African- American secretary of state under President George W. Bush. A soldier turned diplomat who knows all too well the personal toll of war.
I spent some time at Walter Reed this week. And it is a heroic place. And you meet many heroes. You also see some things that leave you with a very sober opinion (ph), these men and women coming back with these horrible injuries and yet they are survivors and they are smiling and they are fighting to get back into the community.
And you have the injuries. You also have the PTSD issues. And we've seen the suicide rate go up. Do you believe as the man who once led our military that the government of the United States and the people of the United States understand the 10-, 20-, 30-year commitment that is going to have to be made for these men and women?
POWELL: I think we do. In the early years of this conflict, I don't think we were sensitive enough to the fact that some of these horribly injured soldiers coming back, youngsters who would have died during in an earlier war, were going to require not just hospital care and then a little bit of transition, but they were going to require life-long care.
At the Memorial Day concert on the lawn, we celebrated one of these soldiers who was grievously injured in the head and he's going to require custodial care from his mom and sister for the rest of his life and the rest of their lives. And I'm not sure we have ever prepared ourselves for that kind of intense demand on our system.
It's going to require the government, including the Veterans Administration, the Pentagon, but the community is going to have to step forward as well. Because they're going to be living in a community. And so we need community assistance as well.
KING: We saw a critical deadline this past week in Iraq, the deadline for the United States forces to pull out of the major cities. And they have pulled back. I spoke to General Odierno. He says he's confident that this plan will work and that U.S. troops ultimately will be out by the end of 2011 as now planned.
One of the striking scenes on the streets was Iraqis celebrating this and essentially criticizing the occupiers and saying they had a great victory over the occupiers as the United States forces pulled back from their major cities.
Did that strike you as odd in a sense that these people, and we're watching them on the monitor, would not have the right to be out in the streets like this. Has the relationship, I guess, become poisoned over time?
POWELL: No, I don't think it has become poisoned. But I think we should just pocket this. They are happy. They made it clear from the very beginning that they wanted to be free and independent. And they didn't want to be an occupied nation, which is what they were when we were there. And now that is starting to change. But this is not yet over. As General Odierno has said and as the president said recently, it's now up to the Iraqis to solidify their representative government system and to make sure they have the security forces that can handle all of this.
But I'm glad that the deadline that was set by President Bush some time ago with Mr. Maliki has been met and our troops were able to step back from those kinds of active operations on the 30th of June.
And the Iraqi people are happy. They're now responsible for their own destiny.
KING: As you know, the war remains quite a political -- politically thorny issue here in the States. I want to read something you wrote back in September of 2003 in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece that was titled "As Long as It Takes."
You wrote" "How long will we stay in Iraq? We will stay as long as it takes to turn full responsibility for governing Iraq over to a capable and democratically elected Iraqi administration."
At the time, I assume you never thought six years later we would be having a conversation with the mission undone. But just now that you're out of government for a bit, just your reflections on the moment.
POWELL: I'm very pleased that we've reached this moment. It took a lot longer than I thought it would have taken, and longer than any of us would have thought it would have taken, but we have reached it.
It reminds me of what Benjamin Franklin was asked after they had written the Constitution so many years ago. And somebody said, well, Dr. Franklin, what have you created, a dictatorship or a republic? And he said, a republic, if we can keep it -- if you can keep it.
That's what we've done in Iraq. It's a republic if they can keep it. So they now bear the responsibility for their own future and destiny. We never have to consider weapons of mass destruction, whether they were there or not there. The dictator Saddam Hussein and his regime is gone.
And they have been given a chance for a better life. They've been given a chance for a representative government that will live in peace with its neighbors and with the rest of the world. And that's where I hope the leadership of Iraq will take their people.
KING: And it has cost more than $700 billion, and more importantly, more than 4,300 American men and women have been killed in Iraq. Looking back, was it worth it?
POWELL: Well, that's a judgment history will have to make. You never know what these costs will be. And it's not just the young Americans who gave their lives nobly, but thousands more who were injured and live with those injuries.
So history will have to make a judgment. A dictator is gone. A despicable regime is gone.
POWELL: And the Iraqi people have been given a chance to have a representative form of government living in peace with its neighbors.
We'll have to see what history's judgment of that will be. KING: I want your reflections on the lessons learned, at least in the short term. We first met 20 years ago. You were traveling, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, with Mr. Cheney, who was then the defense secretary, over to the Middle East to build support for the first Persian Gulf War.
And one of the legacies of that war was the Powell doctrine, that if you're going to take such a momentous step to put U.S. forces at risk overseas, you would do so with overwhelming numbers and overwhelming force.
In the more recent Iraq war, it was the Rumsfeld doctrine: go in as lean as you can, as mean as you can, a quicker force, the way it was designed. Have we learned that the Powell doctrine from this war -- is the lesson that the Powell doctrine trumps the Rumsfeld doctrine?
POWELL: No, I wouldn't quite characterize it that way. First of all, you will never find, in any Army manual, something called the Powell doctrine. It was an invention of a reporter. And that's fine, because I'm glad to have a doctrine named after me.
But it essentially says, have a clear political goal and then apply decisive force is term I prefer, rather than overwhelming, because it doesn't always have to be huge.
In case of the recent conflict, or the conflict of the last six years, a judgment was made by the commanders, General Franks and Mr. Rumsfeld and the Joints Chiefs of Staff, and presented to the president, that a much lighter force can take down Baghdad. And they were absolutely right.
And on the 9th of April, 2003, Baghdad fell and everybody was cheering, saying, this is terrific; it worked just the way we thought. Unfortunately, the war wasn't over. It was just beginning. And then it took, in my judgment, too long to recognize that we needed to put more force in.
I think we would have been in a much different place if we had surged in the fall of 2003 rather than many years later.
KING: A general who is now serving in a position that you once served in, as national security adviser, is just back from Afghanistan. And I'm sure you saw the story in The Washington Post, talking about, "My strong view is that we are not going to succeed simply by piling on more and more troops. We tried that for six years."
Where are we heading in Afghanistan, and do you agree with that prescription that the emphasis needs to be on government-building, economic development, not more troops?
POWELL: I think it has to be all of the above. Now, whether you need more troops on top of the 20,000 that the president has already added to the force, I'll let that be a judgment made by the commanders on the ground.
And General Petraeus certainly understands this better than anyone, as does general Jones. I have great respect for both of them. But General Jones makes an important point, that it can't just be a military solution. Because, if the people don't see their lives getting better through an economic development; if they don't see a government that seems to be responsible for their well-being and acting on that responsibility; if they don't see a government that is functioning properly, that is not corrupt and is working hard to better their lives, then all the troops in the world are not going to make this better.
KING: An issue you wrestled with as a commander in the military is back in the news today and that is whether gay and lesbian Americans should be allowed to serve openly. The president, as a candidate, promised to reverse that policy and he has faced quite a bit of criticism from that community for not acting more quickly.
But this past week he had an event at the White House for gay and lesbian Americans, and he promised them this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I believe "Don't ask, don't tell" doesn't contribute to our national security. In fact, I believe...
... I believe preventing patriotic Americans from serving their country weakens our national security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And Secretary Gates is now saying he's exploring some flexibility in the current policy, waiting for whether Congress passes a law reversing it -- some flexibility that, under some circumstances, perhaps some openly gay or some people who have been outed, perhaps, should be allowed to stay and serve. What would you do?
POWELL: Well, the policy and the law that came about in 1993, I think, was correct for the time. Sixteen years have now gone by, and I think a lot has changed with respect to attitudes within our country, and therefore I think this is a policy and a law that should be reviewed.
I am withholding judgment because the commanders of the armed forces of the United States and the joint chiefs of staff need to study it and make recommendations to the president and have hearings before the Congress before a decision is made.
It is not just a matter of old generals who are, you know, just too hidebound.
There are lots of complicated issues with respect to this, and I think all the issues should be illuminated. And I hope that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commanders, working with the secretary of defense, will give this the greatest consideration and make their recommendation to the president and to the Congress.
KING: More of our conversation with Colin Powell when "State of the Union" returns.
KING: I'm John King and this is "State of the Union." Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning. An autopsy is scheduled today on the body of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair. He was found shot to death yesterday in a Nashville condominium. Police say he had been shot multiple times, including once in the head. The body of a young woman was found lying nearby with a single gunshot wound. Police say they are not actively looking for suspects.
Two monorail trains crashed at Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida this morning. One driver was killed. In a statement, Disney officials say the Monorail has been shut down and the company is working with law enforcement officials to determine just what happened. Officials says no Disney guests were seriously injured in that crash.
French investigators say a submarine has picked up signals from the flight recorders of that downed Yemeni Airbus jet. It's unclear when the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder might be recovered. But they could contain key information into what caused the crash. The Yemeni jet went down in the Indian ocean Tuesday killing 152 people. There was one survivor, a 13-year-old girl.
Michael Jackson fans will soon find out if they're going to the singer's memorial service Tuesday in Los Angeles. Registration to win tickets ended last night with 1.6 million signing up. Officials will eliminate all duplicate and suspect entries and then hold a random drawing; 8,750 winners will receive e-mail notifications later today.
New legal trouble for former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. He was arrested yesterday after a woman flagged down a police officer and complained Barry was stalking her. He was charged with misdemeanor stalking and released. Barry was arrested on drug charges in 1990 as part of a federal sting operation.
KING: A showdown in the making in Honduras today. President Jose Manuel Zelaya is scheduled to return to the capital city this afternoon. Zelaya was ousted in a coup just a week ago. Supporters of the ousted president demonstrated yesterday. Last night, the Organization of American States suspended Honduras' membership because the nation's new leaders refused to reinstate the ousted president. Honduran officials have vowed to arrest Zelaya if he returns.
Vice President Joe Biden says the Obama administration, quote, "misread how bad the economy was." He made that admission earlier this morning on ABC's "This Week." But Biden stands by the administration's stimulus package and insists it will create more jobs as the pace of spending picks up. Vice President Biden says it's too early to tell if a second stimulus package will be needed. Those are the headlines this hour. More of my interview with General Colin Powell, including his reaction to the death of Michael Jackson. That's ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.
Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. Let's continue our conversation with former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
We are about to have a Supreme Court nomination confirmation hearing, and it is clear now from all involved that we're going to have a spirited conversation about affirmative action. It is an issue that you have discussed many times over the course of your life.
Any advice for the senators in both parties as this goes forward? Let me ask you first if you know Judge Sotomayor?
POWELL: No, I do not.
KING: She's from the Bronx.
POWELL: She's from my neighborhood, yes. She seems like a very gifted and accomplished woman. She certainly has an open and liberal bent of mind, but that's not disqualifying. But she seems to have a judicial record that seems to be balanced and tries to follow the law.
And so I hope we do have a spirited set of hearings. And Supreme Court confirmation hearings tend to always meet that standard. And she ought to be asked about everything from both the left and the right. What we can't continue to have is to have somebody like a Judge Sotomayor who is announced, and based on one simple tricky but nonetheless case at the Supreme Court has now decided, have her called a racist, a reverse-racist, and she ought to withdraw her nomination because we're mad at her.
Fortunately the senators who will sit on this hearing in the Judiciary Committee after a few days of this kind of nonsense said, let's slow down, let's examine her qualifications the way we're supposed to at a confirmation hearing.
KING: You wrote in your book some time ago about this issue, about serving in administrations. You wrote: "Never in the two years I worked with Ronald Reagan and George Bush did I detect the slightest trace of racial prejudice in their behavior. They led a party, however, whose principal message to black Americans seemed to be, lift yourself up by your bootstraps. Some did not have boots. I wish that Reagan and Bush had shown more sensitivity on this point."
Let's fast forward to where we are today. Does the Republican Party have that sensitivity now? You just mentioned the divergence of opinion when this nomination first came up. Are you confident those in, let's say, elected leadership positions have that sensitivity now?
POWELL: Well, if you look at the results of the election last fall and make a judgment on the basis of how the party did with respect to the Hispanic vote and the African-American vote, realizing that President Obama -- candidate Obama had a significant advantage with those constituencies, we haven't done well enough.
And when you have non-elected officials such as we have in our party who immediately shout racism or somebody who is quite prominent in the media says that the only basis upon which I could possibly have supported Obama was because he was black and I was black, even though I laid out my judgment on the candidates, then we still have a problem.
Now, affirmative action is an issue that I thought about and worried about for many, many years. But let me summarize it this way. If you have a public institution, say, a college, such as a college I went to, City College in New York, where you're responsible for educating the public, not just a part of the public but the public.
And as you are looking at your student population, if you find that there are some parts of the public who are not properly represented in your institution, shouldn't you do something about that? Don't you have an obligation to do something about it?
You don't have an obligation to bring in anybody who is not able to do the work. You should always have qualifications. But once you've established those qualifications, is there something wrong with a taxpayer-funded institution not making sure that it is representing the entire public, the entire population?
And I think that's a good rule for private institutions as well. Call it affirmative action, call it diversity. It goes under a lots of different names. I have a hunch that maybe 55 years ago somebody took a look at my rather mediocre high school grades, but at the same time, thought, maybe this kid can make it, and let me into the City College of New York.
KING: Worked out OK.
KING: The guy who used the term "reverse-racism," you didn't name him, but it's Rush Limbaugh. And he has said some not so favorable things about you, saying this guy says he's a Republican but then he supported Obama, so he's not really a Republican.
You're a Republican.
POWELL: Yes. And Mr. Limbaugh, of course, is entitled to his opinion but he's not on any membership committee. He doesn't decide who I am or what I am no more than I decide who he is or what he is.
So we've had this running debate, let's call it that. And he's entitled to his opinion and I'm entitled to mine.
KING: One of the questions people would ask when you say, I'm still a Republican, you've supported President Obama and you did make quite clear your reasons for doing so. Are you going to support him for reelection or is it too soon to answer that question?
POWELL: It's too soon to answer that question. And I get asked questions like that all of the time. I have voted Democratic over the years, I've voted Republican. I voted twice for Ronald Reagan, twice for the first Bush, and twice for the second Bush.
And I voted for Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson. I always try to find the person that I think is best qualified for the highest office in the land. I believe that our country is best served when there are two strong parties, strong parties that have opposing points of view -- political points of view. That's what makes this country great. And they can debate those points of view.
I think we run into dangerous territory in this country when the two ends of the political spectrum become so dug in and nasty and everything is ad hominem and driven by cable television and blogs and all kinds of other things that our positions get so hardened that we can't find a way toward the center, which is where the country is.
KING: You're very complimentary of the president when it comes to community service, that message he gave on fatherhood. I want to ask you a question about some of his other priorities. But I want to ask in the context of the speech you gave to the Republican National Convention in 1996.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POWELL: I became a Republican because I believe, like you, that the federal government has become too large and too intrusive in our lives. We can no longer... (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
POWELL: We can no longer afford solutions to our problems that result in more entitlements, higher taxes to pay for them, more bureaucracy to run them, and fewer results to show for it.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: First reaction looking at that clip is you could probably sell your aging secrets because you look great.
KING: But has the president of the United States in that regard, when it comes to financial institution bailouts, General Motors bailouts, spending by government, whether it's health care reform, whether it's the debate now about climate change, when it comes to spending and the reach and role of government, does President Obama meet the test Colin Powell laid out in '96?
POWELL: Well, first, let me say, that was a pretty good statement, I thought. And I believe in all of those things. But I also believe that we should have a government that works. I don't like slogans anymore like "limited government." That's not the right answer.
The right answer is, give me a government that works. Keep it as small as possible. Keep the tax burden on the American people as small as possible. But at the same time have a government that is solving the problems of the people.
People want their problems solved. And very often it's the government that has to do that. So let's have good government, effective government, whether you call it limited or not. And I think the think of the challenges that President Obama has now is that he has got so many things on the table and these are issues that the American people find important, health care and so many other issues.
But I think one of the cautions that has to be given to the president, and I've talked to some of his people about this, is that you can't have so many things on the table that you can't absorb it all and we can't pay for it all.
And I never would have believed that we would have budgets that are running into the, you know, multi-trillions of dollars and we're amassing a huge, huge national debt that if we don't pay for in our lifetime, our kids and grandkids, and great-grandchildren will have the pay for it.
So I think the president, as he moves forward with his initiatives, has to start really taking a very, very hard look at what the cost of all of this is and how much additional bureaucracy and will it be effective bureaucracy be needed to make all of this happen.
KING: So it's early, but you're a little worried.
POWELL: Hmm? Yes.
KING: Is that a fair way to put it?
POWELL: Yes. I'm a little concerned. Concerned would be a better way. I'm concerned at the number of programs that are being presented, the bills associated with these programs, and the additional government that will be needed to execute them.
KING: As you go forward, you say you talk to his people (INAUDIBLE). You say you talk to his people. What's your relationship with him?
POWELL: Very good.
KING: Have you talked to him much? Does he seek your advice?
POWELL: I have met with him not too long ago. I don't insert myself. But we stay in touch.
KING: I want to close with a couple of questions. One, on a cultural discussion in the United States right now, the country is saying farewell to Michael Jackson. He was without a doubt a trailblazing entertainer. There are other parts of his life that people have found quite troubling.
KING: I was watching on our air this past week a tribute to him at the Apollo Theater, which, of course, is near where you...
POWELL: Know well. KING: Where you grew up. What did he mean to America?
POWELL: He was a great entertainer and he crossed so many lines with his skill and the skill of his brothers. I always remember him most vividly as a young boy with his brothers, the Jackson 5. These fresh, exciting kids with the 'fros in the early '70s singing those wonderful songs, "ABC." Don't ask me to sing it.
POWELL: But that was what I remember about Michael. During the heyday when he was doing "Thriller" and the other things, I was either in Vietnam or Korea or somewhere. So he is not quite of my generation.
But his art spanned three generations and is worthy of all the tribute that he is receiving for his art. Yes, there were some challenges in his life, yes, there was a great deal of controversy about him, but he has now passed on, let's celebrate his art.
KING: We live sometimes at too fast a pace, I would argue. And I wanted your reflections on what July 4th means to you. And I want, before I let you speak, to tell you when I was at Walter Reed, and it was a stunning visit, I asked -- we were sitting down with two men in the Army who had served overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, who are now helping the wounded warriors at Walter Reed.
And when I said to them, you know, this is the holiday where we will put flags in our yards, or you'll see flags all out in the streets and people will have their barbecue and they might go to a parade, but you guys wear them right here every day on your shoulder. And the gentleman I was speaking to got a little choked up. I got a little choked up. What does July 4th mean to you and do you think sometimes in our rush we forget?
POWELL: These young men and women who have volunteered to serve their country and who have paid a price for serving their country are so deserving of all the tribute we can give them. And even after they've been wounded and even after you've seen them up at Walter Reed, they wear that patch proudly and they're proud of having served. And it's something they will never forget when they go back into normal life.
And so July 4th still represents a remarkable date for us to all stop and reflect on what our founding fathers achieved on July 4th, 1776, and the noble sentiment they gave to the rest of the world that all men are created equal and governments serve the people and the people serve the nation and no group of individuals serves the nation as bravely and with such courage and sacrifice as our young men and women in uniform.
So July 4th, let's, as we were told by our founding father, shoot rockets and celebrate, let the bombs go off and celebrate and praise our flag, but let's not forget that the freedom we enjoy, the freedom that we declared we would have in 1776, still has to be won every single day. And it's won by all of us but especially by these young men and women in uniform.
KING: Seems the perfect place to say thanks coming in.
POWELL: Thank you, John.
KING: General Powell, thank you, appreciate it.
Just ahead, more talk about community service. The focus on one program helping schoolchildren right here in the nation's capital.
KING: In debating where to travel this July 4th holiday week, we decided to focus on community service, people who selflessly give their time and talents to help others. Later in the program, we'll show you an inspiring effort down here in Central Florida to bring health care to uninsured Latinos. But first a trip that took us only a few miles from our offices right here in Washington, D.C.
And look at these numbers. They are staggering. The national graduation rate, nearly 70 percent. But here in Washington, D.C., below 50 percent and down almost 9 percent from just last year. Nationally, 12.5 percent of the nation is below the poverty line. In Washington, D.C., it is staggering, nearly 20 percent.
So the need is obvious. And one way to help is through community service. The AmeriCorps National Program of Community Service has 75,000 participants, 1,500 of them right here in Washington, D.C. There will be 6,000 additional spots come September because of the new Obama stimulus funding.
Now in the summertime, a lot of that community service work is focused on helping low-income neighborhoods with struggling schools. That's where we met a remarkable young woman. Her name is Tora Burns.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody, I should see your eyes on me. Wiggle your fingers. We're going to get all of the jitters out. Everybody check it out. Give me a smile.
KING (voice-over): Leading the classroom with an infectious smile.
TORA BURNS, AMERICORPS: What I want you all to know is that we can all make a difference.
KING: Recycling is the lesson of the moment. Community service her cause as long as Tora Burns can remember.
BURNS: I would ask my mom, well, can you help the old lady out of the building or something? She was like, you're only 6 or 5, why are you trying to help everyone?
KING: An urge reinforced, she says, by a jarring memory from her high school days in Detroit. BURNS: And I saw a man kill another man. And I was just sitting at the red light. And it was kind of like you have that moment where you're like, oh my gosh, someone lost their life.
No child should live like that. No child should have to see things of that nature.
KING: Tora is spending her summer at this Washington, D.C., school as an instructor for Heads Up, a local mentoring school targeting low-income neighborhoods that is aligned with the AmeriCorps National Community Service Organization.
BURNS (singing): We recycle every day, just to show the world the way. Recycle!
KING: And during the school year, while attending Howard University, she is a volunteer mentor in a program run by America's Promise, the organization founded by retired General Colin Powell.
BURNS: I've always wanted to be a teacher. And I feel like this experience will help me in the long run as far as my career and understanding children.
We're going the teach you. That's my job. I'm supposed to teach you. So by the time you're out here, (INAUDIBLE), you're going to be able to count better than anyone else your age, OK?
KING: Valuable experience for Tora and invaluable help to Chancellor Michelle Rhee and her efforts to turn around D.C.'s struggling public school system.
MICHELLE RHEE, CHANCELLOR, D.C. PUBLIC SCHOOLS: When you have a school system like ours where the kids are so far behind where they need to be, then one of the most precious resources at your disposal is time. And our children need more time. So this year we've significantly increased the number of kids who are participating in summer school.
BURNS: Will it prevent the sun from going black? Is that your question?
Yes, OK. They say the craziest things, but every now and then you have that "a-ha!" moment. And I feel like you learn a lot more from them than they learn from you. When you see that -- it's like a sparkle in their eye and they're happy when they're learning, I think that's when you see the change.
KING: Just 19 years old, (INAUDIBLE) by her parents and by her teachers, now Tora is just herself and her 12-hour days while her family and friends are enjoying summer vacations.
BURNS: It all boils down to the children, you know? How dare I be a student in college and be selfish and not do something to help my community.
BURNS: And I feel like children are in the center of it all. (END VIDEOTAPE)
KING: The visit that still has us smiling. And as you know, one of our goals is to get out of Washington as often as we can. We've traveled from California to Florida and many, many states in between. So where next? You can e-mail us at StateoftheUnion@CNN.com and tell us why we should come visit your community.
We want to say good-bye to out international audience for this hour. But up next for our viewers here in the United States, we'll speak to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen about the risky new operations in Afghanistan, North Korea's defiance and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from major Iraqi cities. Stay with us.