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CNN Larry King Live
Interview With Colin Powell
Aired November 15, 2010 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight General Colin Powell.
Any second thoughts about President Obama?
GEN. COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: He should have focused on the economy and doing something about unemployment.
KING: How strain the relationship between him and Cheney and Rumsfeld. And can the United States win in Afghanistan. Looks back at his role in history and ahead to America's place in the world.
Colin Powell is next for the hour on LARRY KING LIVE.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
KING: It's a great pleasure to welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE a good friend. We've got a month to go with this show and I'm so honored to have him kick off this week.
General Colin Powell, United States Army, retired. He was secretary of State under President George W. Bush. He was former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, founder and chair of the Colin Powell Center in Harlem.
I'm going to visit that center next month. That's a center for policy studies affiliated with the City College of New York.
And he's the founding chairman of America's Promise.
It was six years ago today that Colin Powell announced he was resigning as secretary of State.
Boy, time goes.
POWELL: Time goes. Yes.
KING: Do you miss government?
POWELL: Not really. I try not to miss anything in life. I enjoyed my government service. I was in government service for 40 years, between the military and the State Department.
But I always like to look forward. As I say to so many audiences, you always should go through life looking through the front of the windshield, not the rearview mirror. So I'm always looking for something new and exciting.
KING: You're always a general, though, right? The correct -- the correct title, once a general, always a general.
POWELL: The protocol is general, Larry. I'm a former secretary, but I'd rather be a general rather than a former secretary.
KING: Of all the jobs you've had, what do you miss the most? You don't think about it, but which was --
POWELL: In the 40 years of service that I had, what I miss the most is just being with fellow servicepersons, people who were GIs or diplomats or foreign specialists. I miss working with people.
The tension, the pressure, the challenges -- that was an important part of all of those assignments. Being in combat, the peacetime service, all of that was important. But the thing you miss the most late at night, the thing you reflect on are the people that you were privileged to serve with.
KING: All right, let's get right into it. You endorsed the president, Mr. Obama, for president. Two years in. Any second thoughts?
POWELL: None whatsoever. When I endorsed then Senator Obama in 2008, I thought he was the right choice for the country. The country was in deep economic despair. I think the country needed a significant and transformational change and I thought President Obama would provide that for us. It was hard --
KING: Disappointing at all?
POWELL: No, well, let me -- I'll get to that. It was -- it was a hard decision for me because I was so close to Senator McCain. I had known him for three decades, a fellow veteran and all that. But I thought this was the right choice and that's the choice that I made.
Now, in the almost two years since, I think the president has done a good job in stabilizing the economic system. I mean Wall Street was collapsing, the whole economic structure of the country was falling apart. And that's been stabilized.
I think he's done a good job in moving in a number of directions with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan and trying to launch the Middle East peace process again.
But where I think it has not gone as well and reflected in the late -- the election just a few days ago was that he has not communicated to the American people what we're going to do about getting jobs back and getting the economic recovery down to the retail level, where people are still unemployed.
But Wall Street is doing fine. Wall Street has got a lot of bonuses still going out. But the American people are losing some focus on President Obama and what he's trying to do. And when you look at the election results, as he said -- I mean he got shellacked. But I think it was more than a shellacking, I think it was a real body blow that he now has to reflect on and figure out how to come back.
KING: But does it surprise you? Because he was such a great campaigner and a mover of people -- when he spoke, people listened -- that that perception fades?
POWELL: I'm a little surprised because he is such a great communicator and he spoke with a sharpness and a directness that I think everybody appreciated. And that's why he was elected. But I think a little of that has been dissipated now.
My own view is that he should have focused on the economy and doing something about unemployment to the exclusion of almost everything else domestically. It's not that other things aren't important. Health care is important. Our energy policy is important, education policy. All of this is important.
But when you're starting out as the president, you have to figure out which is the most important. In military terms, we say what's the main attack? Everything else is important, but what's the main attack?
And in my judgment, the main attack was to do something about the jobs situation, the unemployment situation. And everywhere I go in the country, this is what I hear fed back to me.
If I may, Larry, there are other aspects to that, as well. The deficit is of deep concern to the American people, the amount of debt we're piling on, the national debt. And the election results that we saw were not good for President Obama, not good for the Democrats.
But at the same time, my Republican friends had better be careful, because I think the American people were expressing displeasure with the entire political system in Washington, D.C.
And so the next year, I think, is going to be very, very important to see how the Republicans use their majority in the House, how the Democrats respond with their majority in the Senate, and how the president responds as still the president for the next two plus years.
KING: Governor Rendell, a Democrat of Pennsylvania, suggested that General Powell be asked to be the chief of staff. Would you?
POWELL: I haven't been asked and I don't expect to be asked. And --
KING: If asked?
POWELL: Well, I don't know what I would do if asked. But I don't expect to be asked because I've had 40 years of government service so I have no --
KING: But you're the kind of guy -- POWELL: I have no interest in government service.
POWELL: Governor Rendell would make a great chief of staff.
KING: Oh, you're turning it around, huh?
POWELL: Well, he's been running around throwing my name out. This is the first chance I've had to suggest that Ed Rendell is an accomplished politician and an accomplished governor and mayor of a great city. I think he'd be a terrific chief of staff.
KING: But you're used to serving your country. In the past, General --
POWELL: I have served my country for 40 years. And I believe that in my current life, post-government service, I'm still serving my country.
KING: You're just back from a major -- Obama is back from a major trip that produced mixed results. What do you make of that? The eyes -- in the eyes of the world, he was held above the grain. Now what?
POWELL: Well, I think it was a trip that had some successes, but some disappointments. He didn't get what he wanted with respect to a trade agreement with South Korea. He wasn't able to persuade some of his G-20 colleagues of the direction to move with respect to the financial situation.
He didn't get what he was looking for with respect to trade policy changes. But at the same time, I think one of the great achievements of the trip is that he showed that America still recognizes that it is an Asian Pacific power.
And when you look at the rise of China and the importance of China these days, I think he set the right message that as you concern yourself, my Asian friends, with China, the United States is here as part of the Asian Pacific community.
We should not think that China is a nation to be contained because you're not going to be able to contain it. It's a nation we have to work with. But every now and then, China demonstrates its newfound influence and power to the distress of some of the other Asian nations.
And for the president of the United States to be in the region, to go do Indonesia, to go to South Korea, Japan and to participate in the G-20 meetings that were held in Asia, I think -- and especially in India, I think that shows that America still is engaged. People look to us for leadership, look to us for influence.
And the issues that he didn't achieve success with are still there and they have to be worked.
KING: We'll be back with General Colin Powell right after this.
KING: I think any American would agree that Colin Powell is a great American, the former general, not -- still general, the former secretary of State, the moderate Republican. Whatever -- what is a moderate Republican?
POWELL: I think a moderate Republican is someone who believes in a strong national security and defense policy, who believes in low taxes, who believes in keeping government as small as necessary, but making sure it's a government that performs the functions that the American people want.
But a moderate Republican, in my judgment, is also someone who is quite sympathetic to the social needs of our citizens, who is open toward immigration. Immigration is keeping this country thriving.
And the issue of civil rights and the issue of taking care of those in our society who are not doing as well as the rest of us, I think that should be part of the Republican mantra, too.
KING: And you recently suggested that, "The Tea Party movement might well be a fad unless it converts itself into something that's a real political organization." That's a quote from your appearance on "Meet the Press" last month -- two months ago.
KING: Where do you think they're going?
POWELL: Well, it's not clear yet. And it's not clear yet how they are going to mesh with the Republican Party, both conservatives in the Republican Party and moderates. But I think it's a fascinating thing to watch.
What a great country we have where a group of people get together and decide, we're not happy with what's going on in Washington, so let's grab this motto of Tea Party, which has great historic significance, and create a movement.
When they started that, I thought it would just be a passing fad. Well, it turned out to be something much more than that. And I hope that all of our political leaders in Washington, whether you're a Democrat, Republican, moderate, conservative, liberal, to reflect on the fact that this is a movement of Americans who are concerned about the future of our country and don't dismiss them as a fad.
But at the same time, they are not yet a political party that has an agenda -- a clear agenda -- that has standing in Congress.
KING: What about the stories, though, that the base -- the central aspect of the Republican Party doesn't like them, that in a sense it's going to affect them?
POWELL: Well, I think the Tea Party movement is going to put pressure on Republicans and on Democrats. And at the same time, some of the things that the Tea Party movement is asking for are not achievable. And I'm not sure it's right. It's not doable to say we want to cut spending, we want to reduce the deficit, but we don't want to increase revenue.
This algebraic equation will not work. And so I --
KING: You can't have it both ways.
POWELL: You can't have it every way. And so when I hear people say, well, we're going to cut spending and the moderators or interrogators, such as you say, how are you going to do it, they say we're going to freeze spending.
Well, freeze spending doesn't tell you anything. They never do it. Don't tell me you're going to freeze spending, tell me what you're going to cut. What service are you not going to provide to the American people that they now are expecting?
When you look at the growth of government in the last 10 or 15 years -- and people complain about that -- do you want to get rid of the Transportation Security Administration? Do you want to get rid of the Homeland Security Department? The director of National Intelligence?
All the other things that have been created in the last 10 or 15 years because the American people needed them. And so I've always been a believer in let's have the government that we need to perform the functions that we need.
Anything that is not necessary let's get rid of it, of course. And let's take a hard look at everything that people say is necessary and make sure that, hmmm, are we sure, and let's get rid of it.
And so the only way to reduce the size of the government is to cut things, not freeze things and not pretend that we're only going to give it a certain percentage of increase. You've got to eliminate things.
KING: And what is the General's read on the former governor of Alaska?
POWELL: I think Governor Palin -- former Governor Palin is a fascinating individual. I think she has become a political celebrity. And notice I put the two words together. She is a political force and she is quite a celebrity.
Now whether she will run for president or run for any other political office in the future, I will leave that up to Governor Palin to decide.
KING: But what is she to a moderate Republican?
POWELL: She's --
KING: That's who she's very critical of? POWELL: Yes, she is -- she is more to the right side of the political spectrum than I am. And I don't think anybody would object to that statement. And, you know, her positions are very populist, but they are not that specific as to what she would cut or what she would eliminate, or how she would solve this algebraic equation of less government, less spending, and no more revenue, in fact, cut taxes.
How do we solve that equation, Governor?
KING: We'll ask about Afghanistan right after this. Our guest is General Colin Powell. Don't go away.
KING: We're back with General Powell.
The United States troops in Afghanistan -- 100,000. Obama says there will be a drawdown of the surge troops in July. Reports now say the United States is eyeing a plan to end combat mission there in 2014.
POWELL: Well, 2014 --
KING: Is this his Vietnam?
POWELL: No, I -- we shouldn't make these kinds of comparisons. They're totally different situations.
2014 is the date agreed upon in general by President Karzai and by our administration. But the president --
KING: It seems forever off.
POWELL: Well, it's several years off. Now what President Obama has said when he sent in the additional troops was that he would take a look in July and try to begin or begin -- it's a little unclear exactly what he -- what the various officials in the administration say. But begin the drawdown of our overall troop level in Afghanistan in July of next year. That's when he would make the decision and begin.
It doesn't mean we're pulling out 100,000 troops. I don't know how many troops we'll pull out. And he has said, and his associate have said in -- inside the national security team, is that it's conditions-based. It depends on what things look like in July.
And so right now, my analysis -- and I'm not doing it from any official information I get -- is that our troops, as you would expect, are doing a terrific job. When you put an American infantry battalion or a Marine battalion some place on the ground, things change. And when you use our Special Forces to go after these folks and find them and take them out, things change.
And so I see some signs of improvement. But I cannot tell how firm that is and how real it is and whether it will still be there a couple of years from now. It really is going to require -- the only answer to this is for us to do the best we can, but then it's the Afghan authorities that have to take it over -- the Afghan Army, the Afghan National Police and the civil authority, you know, the Afghan government.
KING: But in the meantime, men and women die.
POWELL: Yes. That's why wars are terrible things and should be avoided. But right now, men and women are dying. Most of them are dying at the hands of the Taliban. And what we're trying to do is to put them out of business or force them out of the area or persuade them that they're not going to win.
And they won't win because, one, we have our troops there. But beyond that, we can't stay there forever. It's the Afghan National Police and the Afghan Army and effective Afghan government that the people can believe in. That's the weakest part.
KING: Has anybody consulted you on this?
POWELL: I have been in regular touch with authorities within the administration and the president.
KING: You talk to the president?
POWELL: From time to time, yes.
KING: And do they talk about Afghanistan with you?
POWELL: All the time.
KING: What do you make of Mr. Karzai? What's your read on him?
POWELL: Mr. Karzai is a nationalistic leader. He has said some things in the last few days which show some discomfort -- displeasure on his part with respect to some of the things that we are doing -- the late night raids.
But, you know, he wants American troops to eventually leave his country. And guess what? So do we. And so there is a difference of opinion as to how this strategy should be pursued. Should it be strictly going after the terrorists? Should it be trying to essentially do an effective counter-insurgency mission, where you're in, in a large extent, taking over the running of a country?
When you send an American infantry battalion into a province and say straighten it out, that battalion commander is going to go in there and become almost the government for a while. But we have to make sure that doesn't turn out to be the permanent case. You've got to bring in the real Afghan government.
So there is a difference of view right now, but I don't think it's fundamental. I don't think there are loggerheads between Mr. Karzai and General Petraeus.
KING: Do you try to walk in his shoes? Is that a good idea to do that?
POWELL: You know, he has been in power since the Taliban collapsed in 2001, early 2002. And he has been under pressure for all these years. And he is committed to his people. He's sacrificed for his people. He put himself in danger for his people years ago. And we have to try to support him to the best of his ability.
But there are weaknesses in his government. And there are weaknesses in the way in which he has conducted his office. The level of corruption is unacceptable and we've got to do an even better job with respect to the drug trade.
KING: In an interview with our own Candy Crowley, George W. Bush denied that his administration took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan when he ordered the United States into Iraq. He says what happened was that some NATO allies turned out not to be willing to fight.
What are your thoughts on that?
POWELL: I'm not entirely sure what former President Bush meant by that. We were joined in Afghanistan by a number of our NATO allies. There are a number of them there now. And I would not want to diminish in any way the contributions they have made.
But you have to remember that they come in as NATO allies but under the control of their own prime ministers and presidents. And in some cases, they were not given the same kind of authority to engage the enemy that U.S. forces were given. And I think that's the point the president was trying to make.
But at the same time, if we need 100,000 now to stabilize the situation and hundreds of thousands of Afghan police and soldiers, then maybe we should have concluded some years ago that the light footprint we had in the early years, 2002-2003, was not adequate.
I think that's -- we might have been better served with a larger footprint earlier. But I am always of the view that if you're going to do something, do it. Put a large force in.
KING: We're going to ask the general -- we'll quote to him what President Bush said about him in the book and get his comment right after this.
KING: We're back with General Powell.
All right, writing in his new memoir about your February 5th, 2003 speech to the U.N., which has now become historic, here's what the president -- the former president, says.
"Colin's presentation was exhaustive, eloquent and persuasive. Coming against the backdrop of Saddam's defiance of the weapons inspectors, it had a profound impact on the public debate. Later, many of the assertions in Colin's speech would prove inaccurate. But at the time, his words reflected the considered judgment of intelligence agencies at home and around the world."
Do you wish you had been less exhaustive, eloquent and persuasive?
POWELL: No. That was my job at the time. And the information that I was being given by the intelligence community hung together. And I spent four days and nights out at the CIA going over it and asking every way I could, are you sure of this? Do you have multiple sources on this?
And I got those assurances. They're the same assurances that the intelligence community gave to the president, the same assurances the intelligence community gave to the Congress four months earlier, at the request of the Congress. And the Congress passed a resolution supporting the president if he decided he had to take military action.
That was months before I ever gave my U.N. speech.
KING: But a lot of people counted on you.
POWELL: I know.
KING: You changed the ball game.
POWELL: I changed -- I -- I turned the dial. There's no question about it.
KING: Yes, you did.
POWELL: And that's what the president wanted me to do and what I was supposed to do.
KING: Do you regret it?
POWELL: I regret it now, because the information was wrong. Of course I do. But I will always be seen as the one who made the case before the international community. But there wasn't a word in that speech, in that presentation, that was not vetted and approved by the intelligence community.
KING: But are you --
POWELL: That's neither here nor there.
KING: Are you ticked?
POWELL: You know, I've had members of Congress say to me, well, you know, I voted for the resolution --
KING: Because of you.
POWELL: -- because of your presentation, and I had to remind them, no, you didn't, you voted for the resolution three months before my presentation.
KING: But you helped public opinion, you know?
POWELL: I swayed public opinion, there's no question about it.
KING: Yes, you did.
POWELL: But you know for months afterward, when we didn't find any weapons of mass destruction, we didn't find the biological vans or any of that, until six or eight months later, the intelligence community still insisted that the items were there. And they weren't.
KING: When you left you're an unhappy man, weren't you?
POWELL: No, I wouldn't say I was an unhappy man. I was glad to be moving on in my life.
KING: Glad to leave.
POWELL: At that point, yes. And the president and I had conversations in the early 2004 when he was getting ready for -- you know, the next campaign. And I said to him that I thought it was time for me to leave at the end of my first four years. I had no desire to stay on for a longer period of time.
And I also made it clear to the president that I didn't think our system, our national security system, was working as well as it should. Wasn't serving him as well as well as it should. And that he should think about making some changes and I think the changes began with me.
KING: Osama bin Laden is still at large. Why?
POWELL: Because we haven't caught him. I don't know where he is. He is somewhere, I'm reasonably sure.
POWELL: I have no reason to believe he's not living, but, you know, you can't prove it. Every six months or a year, out comes a tape that suggests he's still living. But he has proven himself to be a master at hiding himself.
People think it's easy to find somebody who is making every effort not to be found. I have faced this in a number of situations. With all of our satellites, with all of our electronic means, with all of our spies, still, people are able to hide from us for an extended period of time.
We couldn't catch Manuel Noriega right away in Panama. We couldn't catch Mr. Aidid in Somalia right away.
It's not easy to find somebody who knows how you're looking for them...
KING: Somebody that tall? POWELL: Somebody that tall. Well, we haven't found him. It's been 10 years now and still we haven't found him. And he is still a force.
But here's an important point. He's not walking around giving television interviews. And he is hiding. And as long as he is hidden and afraid to use a telephone, afraid to use a satellite radio, afraid to do anything except give a video interview every six months, he is not the same force he was 10 years ago.
He is trying to stay alive. And, therefore, we have a different kind of al Qaeda that we're dealing with than the al -- al Qaeda that struck us on 9/11.
KING: To your knowledge, have we ever come real close?
POWELL: I have no idea. Some people say that, you know, in the early days, when we were going through the mountains, we might have missed him. But I -- I have no idea whether that is accurate or not.
KING: That is rough terrain, isn't it?
POWELL: It is difficult terrain. I mean, we -- we often think about that region as if you can just go anywhere you want in a few hours. And we -- we have to keep this in mind, too, when we talk about Pakistan, because our Pakistani friends are an important part of the...
KING: You just met with them.
POWELL: Yes. I just met with General Kayani, the Pakistani chief, in my home a few weeks ago. And he's got a tough problem. This is the most difficult terrain imaginable. And he has troops, but he doesn't have the kind of mobility or intelligence capability that he needs.
So if there's one recommendation I would give to our government, we've got to do a better job of giving General Kayani and the Pakistani armed forces the wherewithal to get into these very difficult areas.
KING: Let me pick up on that right after this.
We'll be right back.
KING: Concerning General Kayani, has the government listened?
POWELL: So far, I think the government understands the problem. And I think they are trying to provide him more resources, more money. But I still think it's inadequate to the task that he's facing.
KING: Mr. Netanyahu has apparently agreed to this deal. He gets more planes, he stops the settlements.
I know you've had to deal with this as secretary of State. We've dealt with it all of our adult lives.
What do you make of the whole Middle East?
POWELL: Well, it's as complicated as it is -- as it has ever been. I struggled with it. My predecessors struggled with it. My successors have struggled with it.
Now, what I think the deal is that Secretary Clinton worked out with Prime Minister Netanyahu is another period of suspension of settlement activity...
KING: In return for?
POWELL: -- another stoppage. Yes, in return for incentives, as they call it, which is more airplanes and whatnot. That leaves me a little cold, because why does it require airplanes to do what is a sensible thing to do, and that is to suspend settlement construction in order to try to get this peace process moving forward?
But we've had a suspension of settlement activity for a number of months, and that didn't break through. So I'll be anxious to see what Mr. Netanyahu is able to obtain from his cabinet and whether he gets the flexibility he needs to engage in a serious way.
But if we just go back to exchanging talking points with each other, the Palestinians exchanging talking points with -- with the Israelis, and Senator Mitchell doing the best he can and Secretary Clinton doing the best she can, but 60 days from now, we're right back where we started, then that's not going to be helpful.
KING: What's it like for you, when you were secretary of State, to go back and forth there?
POWELL: It -- it could be very frustrating. And in the days I was secretary of State, Yaser Arafat was still there as the president of the Palestinian Authority. And it was extremely frustrating, because he would make claims and he would say he was going to do things and he didn't. And so we could never get the process really going.
And at that time, Israel was still suffering from a large number of terrorist attacks. And Ariel Sharon was the prime minister during my time. And they finally decided, look, we're going to put up walls. We're going to seal it off. And we're going to get rid of Gaza and see if that breaks any of the logjams we have.
And what we have now is that while we are trying to find a way to move forward, Israel is more secure than it has been in -- in many years, because of the wall and the other things that it has done. The West Bank is not doing badly economically. And hopefully, the people in the West Bank will start to say, you know, we really don't need this kind of conflict and start to build up.
And so Mr. Netanyahu is in a rather stable, secure position. And so he also is being held far to the right by his cabinet. So he is -- he's not under the same kind of terrorism pressure that other earlier prime ministers have been.
Meanwhile, on the Palestinian side, you have the split between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. And so who are you negotiating with? Fatah and Prime Minister Abbas. And what do you do about what's going on in Gaza and under the control of Hamas?
KING: So do you see any -- any optimism?
POWELL: You always have to -- if you want to play in the Middle East, you always have to have a sense of optimism. You can never quit. You can never walk away. The stakes are too high. Lives are at risk. Our interests are at risk in the region.
So you have to stay engaged, as difficult as it is.
KING: If they ever got together, wouldn't they be a major power?
POWELL: They being the Israelis and the Palestinians?
POWELL: I think they would be a --...
KING: Intellectual and otherwise.
POWELL: -- intellectually and they -- both have been, the Palestinians and the Israelis, have, believe it or not, an entrepreneurial spirit about them. And if we get --..
KING: They're cousins.
POWELL: Aren't we all?
KING: Good point.
POWELL: And so if we could ever create this two state solution that we've all wanted for these many, many years, and bring them together with a sense of respect for each other -- it has to be a real Palestinian state, not some Bantustan cut up in 1,000 pieces. And if we could ever cause that to happen, I think it would be a terrific place.
KING: What do you think of the job Secretary Clinton is doing?
POWELL: I think Secretary Clinton, a good friend and associate of mine, is doing an excellent job. She's still stuck with the same problems that we gave her, but she's doing an excellent job.
KING: More from the Bush book, after this.
KING: You were young then.
We're back with General Colin Powell.
Waterboarding -- the president kind of defends it, I guess, in the book.
POWELL: You know, when we were going through this, America had just been struck and we were trying to make sure we were protecting the American people in every way possible. And the intelligence agencies came forward with some procedures they wished to use to get as much information as they can. And we all talked about these. And we were concerned about the fact that, you know, we had responsibilities under international law.
And I think all of us felt that waterboarding was if not over the line, very close to the line. But the president of the United States, who has a responsibility to protect the American citizens, felt that in that circumstance, waterboarding was appropriate. And as he clearly said, he approved it and takes responsibility for the approval of it.
I think subsequently, as you kind of go down the years and take a look at what has happened over the years, I think it can be called now torture. You'll know that the CIA stopped doing it. And there was a school of thought within the FBI and elsewhere that you don't really get good information from this kind of thing. You can get it through more vigorous and professional interrogation.
But the president of the United States is the one who has the responsibility for our safety. And at that time, the one thing we were most concerned about is to make sure that we were getting everything we needed to prevent another 9/11 attack. It's easy...
KING: You wouldn't support it now?
POWELL: No, I wouldn't support it now.
KING: The book describes many tensions between you and Dick Cheney and you and Don Rumsfeld.
As memory serves me correct -- and I'm going back to the Gulf War -- weren't you and Cheney on the same plane?
POWELL: Yes. Secretary Cheney...
KING: I seem to remember.
POWELL: Then Secretary Cheney and I, I think we have a very good relationship for the almost four years that we were together.
So what happened?
POWELL: Well, you know, during the -- President George W. Bush's administration, there were many areas of cooperation where we all agreed on things. We got a treaty with Moscow, reducing significantly the number of nuclear weapons that exist in the world. We made significant increases in money for HIV/AIDS prevention and the president's emergency program for AIDS relief. We increased our funding for foreign assistance around the world.
So a lot of things were done well. But people like to focus on the areas of disagreement. And the principle area of disagreement that people like to focus on is Iraq and some of the things that were done related to Guantanamo.
My view of Iraq was that this is a war we should avoid if we can. And, therefore, my recommendation to the president was that he take it to the United Nations. He did that. And after getting a resolution, we found that the Iraqis would not give us what we needed to assure ourselves they didn't have weapons of mass destruction.
And the president decided that it was necessary to undertake combat operations. Since I pushed him down the diplomatic track or encouraged him to do that, knowing that if it didn't work, combat would be necessary, I -- I was fully supportive of going into combat...
POWELL: We had lots of different points of view during that period. But, you know, that's --
KING: Do you ever keep in touch with Cheney or Rumsfeld?
KING: Well said. A direct answer.
You helped usher in Don't Ask, Don't Tell. In fact, I think you were the main promoter of it.
POWELL: The main promoter of it, I -- yes. I -- it was my position...
KING: Because it seemed like it was your baby.
POWELL: We were -- it had a lot of -- it had a lot of fathers. I mean Senator Nunn was the main proponent of it up in Capitol Hill. President Clinton came in and we discussed this. And my recommendation to him was not to press this right now because it was not as simple as people made it out to be. We had real issues with respect to living accommodations, with respect to its effect on the force, with respect to our spouses, our chaplains, our non- commissioned officers.
And he did never -- he never said, "implement this policy." He said, "we need to study it."
KING: Clinton never said --
POWELL: He never -- KING: -- do it?
POWELL: He never gave the order. And he would never -- he would never tell you, if he was here today, that he gave the order. And so we studied it. The problem we faced early on was that if we didn't do something, the Congress was going to go back to the old policy of not letting anybody in. We would ask the question before you came in.
And so the compromise was Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And Congress made it a law.
KING: What would you do now?
POWELL: We did --
KING: Would you change it now?
POWELL: My position has been, it's been 17 years since we put that policy in place. Lots of things have happened. Attitudes have changed within our society. But I always believe, as I believed in 1993, that we have to take into account the views of our military leaders who are responsible for the well-being of the armed forces. And if --
KING: So you support the McCain view?
POWELL: -- if -- yes. But, you know, our military leaders have now spoken. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of Defense, there is some -- some difference of opinion among the chiefs that will have to be resolved.
But I wish that we would just let that study be finished, let it be published, and let everybody read it and not leak parts of it. So I share Senator McCain's view that we ought to let the process unfold and not try to intercept it with court rulings or with people trying to get a vote out of the Congress when the Congress is not ready to vote on it.
KING: Back with more of General Powell.
Two more segments to go.
Don't go away.
KING: We're back with General Colin Powell.
Tell me about this thing you've got in Harlem.
POWELL: Well, you know, among the various interests that I have now in my life, one is The Colin Powell Policy Center at the City College of New York.
KING: Your -- your alma mater?
POWELL: My alma mater. I graduated from there 52 years ago. There was a certain expectation they would never name anything after me, just get out of here.
POWELL: But I went into the Army and did reasonably well. And so they have named this center after me. It's focused on bringing along the next generation of young people to leadership positions in our country. They are 80 percent minority. They are 50 percent immigrants. They are immigrants, not the children of immigrants. So --
KING: Immigrants themselves?
POWELL: Immigrants themselves. So it's -- it's the melting pot. It's the same --
KING: From where?
POWELL: From all over. You name it. Name a country in the world and there's somebody at CCNY and in The Powell Center from that country.
It is the nature of our society to bring in immigrants, immigrants who will bring culture, bring in new ideas, keep us fresh and alive; immigrants who will work and keep our working population relatively young compared to Europe and compared to Asia.
I'm also involved in other aspects of -- of youth work. You know, I founded America's Promise.
POWELL: -- is now the chair of the America's Promise Alliance. And we're continuing to reach out to your young people. We have to become a nation of graduates. We have too many kids not finishing high school. The Chinese, the Indians, everybody's investing in education. America has to do a better job.
And it is not just our schools and our teachers that we have to make an investment in. We have to make an investment in our families and our communities. Kids --
KING: When did we fall behind?
POWELL: Kids started -- we fell behind when family structure, I think, started to fall, started to crack. And we have children having children. And this is where we have to put our energy back, to make sure that kids have a safe place in which to learn and to grow, to make sure they have adults in their lives who are -- who are positive adults, to make sure they have a healthy start, give them the skills they need and teach them to give back to others.
And so our approach to fixing our education problem and making us a nation of graduates is not just a schoolhouse problem, it begins in the home. I like to say, a child starts learning the first time that child hears its' mother's voice and knows it's its mother's voice. From that point on, that has to be nurtured in the home and then into the school.
KING: And these kids are 18, 19, 20?
POWELL: The students at -- at The Powell Center are 18, 19, 20, 21. They're really young adults. They usually work. Some of them have families. But they want that education. They're hungry.
KING: I'm going to come talk to them next weekend.
POWELL: I look forward to it.
KING: You invited me to talk to --
POWELL: I invited you. Bring a check.
KING: We'll be back...
KING: I will. He never stops.
We'll be back with our remaining moments with General Colin Powell, right after this.
KING: We're back with General Colin Powell, our remaining moments.
We asked about chief of staff. Let's put that aside, because you want Ed Rendell to be the chief of staff.
POWELL: Anybody else.
KING: Mr. Gates -- Mr. Gates is leaving. Supposing President Obama say, General, be my secretary of Defense.
POWELL: You know, when a president asks you to do something, you have to listen and consider it. But I'm not interested in another government position. And I think that the president has many options out there, both for chief of staff and for secretary of Defense.
KING: But knowing you, you would consider ?
POWELL: I would -- I would have to listen to him. But I'm not -- I'm not interested in another government job. I'm...
KING: But retirement is not in your ball park either, right?
POWELL: I'm having a great time in retirement. I just -- I just described --
KING: You are retired?
POWELL: Well, let's say that I have a very active retirement. And I'm not -- I'm not looking for a -- a job. I -- I think that 40 years of government service and I'm -- I'm at an age, Larry, where I'm looking forward to a more diverse kind of experience in life.
KING: With all you see around you, all you've lived through, all the positions you've held, the rise you've had to make, the odds that were against you, are you optimistic?
POWELL: I'm always optimistic. And you know what makes me even more optimistic is going around the country, meeting people, talking to audiences. Even though we have economic problems, even though we have a couple of wars, the American people still believe in this country. They still believe that we can surmount all the problems we have.
What they're waiting for now is their political leaders in Washington to get on with the solution to problems and not just continue to argue with each other.
So the next year is going to be important. If Congress comes back and decides to remain as polarized as they have in the last couple of years and just sort of keep going all the way through 2012, it will be a missed opportunity. The American people will -- will not take that kindly.
And so they're a great people. They believe -- they have the same optimism that I've tried to live with all my life. And don't ever sell this country short in its ability to get on top of its problems.
KING: As a minority, though, don't you have any bitterness...
POWELL: I can...
KING: -- of what went on?
POWELL: Of course. And I -- you know, the more I read about some of our history, it really strikes me deeply. But, you know, that was our history. We can't escape our history, but we have to look to our future. And I came along at the right time, after most of that was over. And I was told, you just perform. Don't worry about your color, that you're an immigrant family kid, that you're a poor kid from the Bronx, that you were born in Harlem, we don't care. All we want you to do is perform.
KING: Love you, Colin.
POWELL: Love you, Larry.
And thanks for your 25 wonderful years, buddy.
KING: I'll -- I'll be there next month. The end of January, I'm coming with a check. Our senior executive producer, Wendy Walker, is here tomorrow night. And we have an exclusive with Oksana Grigorieva on Wednesday night -- a riveting and revealing hour. You won't want to miss it.
Time now for "A.C. 360" and Anderson Cooper.