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he had teachers that looked at this african-american kid and said he could do anything. >> former secretary of state and four-star general colin powell died today from complications of covid-19. he served as chair as the joint chiefs of staff. in may of 2012, he sat down with a host of npr's "all things considered" to discuss his book. [applause] >> i'm ready to leave now. as i mentioned earlier, i have seen yom kippur services less attended. good to see you again. mr. powell: good to see you, bob. bob: in your book, lessons
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you've learned from the life of public service. you write about your experiences as secretary of state at the beginning of the iraq war. one of the 13 rules originally published in parade magazine. perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. i find you the most optimistic person i have read in a long time. don't you get the decline out there? mr. powell: it is very important we have a summary of the rules. it links to the first one that says things will not get better in the morning. i start that description by saying that is not necessarily the case but the attitude you should have read things will get better and we will make them better. it is within your life to make things better.
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if you go through the rules and ends up with a force multiplier. we are always looking for ways to enhance the power of our force, whether it is communications or supply lines or whatever it is, but we look for things that make the force more effective. i have found in working with human beings, and this book is about working with human beings. i have found if you convey an attitude of perpetual optimism, convey an attitude of perpetual optimism, we can do it, then that will infect an entire organization and it becomes a force multiplier where they could be more than they thought they could. as i go around the country, i see all of the problems that are discussed in washington very often. the unemployment rate, the fact that our economy is going to come back not fast enough, the problem with overseas adventures
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we have been involved in and other crises around the world. i also see people who are hard at work, people in business and i talk to business and financial leaders and i still find that people are optimistic about this country. they have confidence in who we are and what we are in there is confidence among the people. if there's one thing that bugs them it's the sense that the leaders in washington don't understand much confidence and optimism is still out there and they're waiting for the leaders in washington to cut through the conflict and lack of compromise and get this country moving.
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in 1960 eight, bobby kennedy and martin luther king were assassinated and they may the white house didn't get burned down. then bobby, martin, getting on the war, race riots, counterculture, drug problems, racial problems and then the vice president resigned in disgrace and we had to come out of vietnam and we didn't win that war, we had a resident resigned in disgrace and there was still the soviet union and china we weren't sure what was doing but was still a communist institution aligned against us. and yet through all of that, we never lost hope and i met a wonderful man, jerry ford came on the scene as our president step a simple midwestern values and people looked at him and were reassured. he brought his back and then president carter had some difficulties with the economy but he moved along and ronald reagan shows up and he says it's sunshine morning in america.
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it's the soviet union that is gone. it's china that's trying to become a world power, not by invading anybody but by selling to us. they got pretty good at it. imagine where we are now compared to 30 years ago where china had been selling his stuff in the money we are paying them, they then loan us to buy more stuff. [laughter] >> this is our economic problem, ladies and gentlemen stop i am optimistic and americans have to be. it's what fuels us at, it what makes us americans. > i didn't know until reading the book and the subject of confidence is the movie "the hustler." >> for those of you were not bold enough to remember, it's a movie about a pool hall. paul newman goes by the name of fast eddie and he is determined
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to be the champion and he thinks he's the best in the world and he goes into this pool hall in new york and he's going to play minnesota that's played by jackie gleason. the game starts and fats is good. but minnesota fats has this manager for financer who is sitting in a chair, george see scott, watching all of this. as the evening goes on and they are drinking and shooting pool, eddie is beating the devil have minnesota fats. minnesota fats is becoming desperate and he keeps looking to george c scott, what do i do and he finally says to him, stick with this, kid he's a loser. that kind of stuns everybody and then they play some more. so fats keeps losing any says i got him, i got him. minnesota fats excuses himself and goes to the bathroom comes out three minutes later and he's reaching for his coat they think
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as the attendant is about to bring his coat out to him, instead of taking his co., minnesota fats just smiles and puts his hands out and has some talcum powder port on his hands. he rubs his hands and he looks at fast eddie and says, let's play some pool. then he beats the devil out of them of course and fast eddie is crushed. , perpetual optimism come he thought he could win and he did and he worked against fast eddie plus weakness. as i sing the book of my love that scene in many a day when i was in trouble which was equally during my public life [laughter] i had to go before congress or face a hostile press [laughter] so help me, i would put my uniform on and i go to my restroom and i wash my hands and look in the mirror and i would
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say to myself softly, fast eddie, let's play some pool. [laughter] >> as you mentioned, i never watch the last scene. fast eddie, paul newman is the start of the movie and he has to beat fats at the end but it never watch it, i don't want to see tha [laughter] >> an interesting approach. a touching story you describe when you visited a japanese school once. it was a school for kids being prepared to succeed. >> it was a private japanese school in tokyo. very intelligent, smart kids from well-to-do families. i gave my speech to the students. i love talking to students and i talk to them everywhere i go. when i was through, questions were ready. i noticed that kids were lining
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up with their little cards with your questions. i don't like that because these are the lessons that teachers had looked at and approved and made sure these were the honor roll kids. i took a couple of them and then i started looking out into the audience, anyone else? a young lady from the back of the auditorium where ice to hang out when i was her age, she raises her hand and gets up and says, general, are you ever afraid? i'm afraid every day. are you ever afraid? >> i said i'm afraid of something most every day. and i fail at something on most every day, if not every day. which you have to learn to do is to understand that fear and failure are normal parts of human existence. you have to learn how to control it. you will neville -- you will never defeated but you will manage it.
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be optimistic you can get out of the problem you're having and if it's a failure, figure out what you did wrong and then correct it and move on. take the failure, roll it up and all and throw it over your shoulder and forget about it and move on and see what's ahead. the room was deadly still and when i came away, i think everybody had that thought in their mind. kids are afraid and they have to be taught how to manage and overcome fear. it was the most moving moment for me. most of the book is like this. we will get to the tough part chapters about my time as secretary of state for this is a book of parables, book of stories come a book of reflections and memories. it's a fun book as well and that's why it doesn't have an index. just read it. it's 40 short chapters, read the book. [laughter] it'll take three hours, some of
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the chapters are a page long. i think the longest one is eight or nine pages and you can dial in anywhere. >> some readers can decide like the hustler if they don't want to read the last pages. [laughter] >> when you were a kid you are hanging around in the back of a classroom and you are not the obvious ball of fire who would be most likely to succeed? >> that's right, i come from an immigrant family and my family came here in the 1920's with my other relatives and they settled in new york after bouncing around a little bit step they all had children so there was lots of cousins in the family. we were all simply taught that we have expectations for you and he didn't come to this country to have children that will stick something up their nose or not get an education. we have expectations for you and
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don't ever do anything to change the family. that was the killer argument. we begged to be beaten rather than have someone give us the shame the family bit. it was devastating step the third thing we were taught was mind your manners, mind your teachers and, mind your adults. this embracing family expected us to go somewhere in life was that my cousins became lawyers and doctors and judges and i sort of hung around. i had a great c average all through high school and city college. i got into the city college of new york and graduated with a low average. the only way i got out of city college was because i was great in rotc. i found my calling there, i wanted to be a soldier so i got straight a's in rotc and the
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administration ruled my a's into the grade-point average and that brought me up to 2.0. [laughter] they said >> >>, good enough for government work. [applause] >> the funny part is that now i'm considered one of the greatest sons the city of -- the city college of new york has ever had. they named one building the colin powell center for leadership. my relatives are rolling in their graves. when i tell the story, it's not restart in life, it's where you end up in what you did along the way to get to where you end up. your past is not your present and it is not your future. the past is your past, it's always growing and never think you cannot make it. in my family, our graduation rates are not where they be
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these days -- where they should be these days but when i was a kid growing up i got bored with school, if i had ever gone home and told those two immigrant people who were my parents, short people about five foot three and five foot five, if i went home and said to either one of them that i'm going to drop out, the answer would have been we will drop you out and get another kid. [laughter] it ain't can happen. there's a chapter in the book called we are mammals and i love not only the hustler but i love animal planet and national geographic, wild kingdom, i love watching lions and tigers raise their cubs and kittens and all that. what i get from it is the cub finally opens its eyes and it's allowed to start moving away from mom. but only so far. the cub is given a box in which you can do things and if he steps outside that box at the
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wrong ager is not ready, grabbed behind the neck or hit him upside the head with their paw and he's back in. as the cub gains experience, you can go a little further step your daddy is out there somewhere. he is of male line and roars of makes noise but other than that, he doesn't do much, he's just around. [laughter] but the point is that i watch this and about two years old, they are sent out on their own stuff what has happened and that two years is they learn the importance of their siblings, their cousins, the emails and the pride and the males in the pride. they have passed on to them a thousand generations of what it is to be a lion. and how do we think, how can we imagine that we don't that same mammalian requirement passed on
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with all the experience we have as human beings to our children. there are too many children in america who are not having that experience passed on to them and if you don't have a good experience passed on and you don't see the good links -- good things in life you were supposed to be doing, you will find the bad things in life and that's one of the problems in our country now. >> when we spoke last week at npr, i told you i was to jamaica for the first time doing a story about the jamaican sprinters and when i interviewed them, it was wonderful and when we recorded two jamaicans talking to each other, i could not understand a word they were saying. you grow up bilingual. >> all my relatives spoke with a heavy jamaican accent. my mother and father were not too bad that i had a couple of aunts that i could hardly understand. they never lost it. i could speak with them and
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understand and it also can slip into a jamaican patch well if i had to. i was telling robert that there are certain things in the language that you have to understand so if you say to a jamaican, hey man, how are you doing, he says not bad. that means he is doing good. he asked how you're doing and i said not so good, that means it's bad. you have to understand the reversal they have in the lexicon. i love my upbringing, all of us who are immigrants are not -- have a special feeling for the family we were apart of and the place we came from where they came from. it was very tightknit it's not in the book but i told elsewhere, in my neighborhood of the self bronx, it was all tenements i had on slitting and every other tenement building. when i walked home from school come about for blocks, they were
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all hanging out the window leaning on a pillow on the windowsill. they never left. that in cook, they didn't to the bathroom [laughter] they were always there watching. if anyone of the cousins did anything wrong or got caught misbehaving, it was instant retaliation. you talk about the speed of the internet, [laughter] nothing compared to the south bronx section. we were there greatest treasure. all of our children are our greatest treasures today. they would not let us fail. we have two any children in america today, particularly in the inner cities and some inner indian reservations where children are not being raised to not fail. there is a kid and denver who
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was the hispanic kid from or family and went to a private school and he became the valedictorian of his class. he was the first person and his family to have such an honor. he's on television and the guy said well how did it happen. i was never given the opportunity to go home, they wouldn't let me. they were all there. it never allowed to fail step i had to feel that way about me i'm the first one in my family to finish high school. he paused and he said i change the history of my family. that's what we have to focus on in america these days. >> one chapter of your book is called tell me what you know. you write about rules you developed your intelligence staffs and the rules are tell me what you know, tell me what you don't know and then tell me what you think and then always
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distinguish which from which. this brings us to iraq. my big question is how but specifically, someone who we identified with with caution and the use of military force, never going in light, weighing our applications carefully, being very much the realist and foreign policy, tell me about the decision that was made to go to work in a wreck and how you figured in it and your presentation to the you and? -- to the u.n.? >> in the first year president bush's administration, iraq was an issue. we had planes flying the north -- over the north and southern person of iraq stuff for the most part, they were contained but the sanctions were starting to break down. we were watching carefully to see whether or not we could
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allow the sanctions regime to break down and iraq is free to do whatever once and oprah sits people forgo with mass -- weapons of mass destruction. they had them in the gulf war and they use them against their own people. they killed 5000 iraqis. it was not a figment of our imagination. we thought they had them they also were playing with nuclear programs but they weren't that far along and we had a good idea they were playing with biological weapons as well which are much more difficult to use but they are deadly. along comes 9/11 and the president is faced with the challenge of bringing the country together and fighting this conflict we are now in brought to us from afghanistan by al qaeda. we go to afghanistan correctly we get with seems to be that
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under control and did a terrific job but it didn't stay under control. then the president's attention turned toward iraq because his genuine concern was there could be a nexus between the weapons of mass destruction that a rack has or could develop in terrorists. the president started to ask his military authorities to make plans which they do. in august of 2002, i sensed the president is receiving a lot of military information but it hasn't been brought just been put into a broad political context. i had dinner with the president and condi rice was there and after that, we when it was private study and i said mr. president, you need to understand that if we have to use military force and take out this regime, we become the government of this country under
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national law. if you take out a regime, there are 27 million people standing there, you're in charge. we talked about a while and what that meant with the implications could be and he said what do you think we should do? i said i think we should avoid the war and go to the u.n. stop they are the offended party and see if we get them to act and get a resolution that will put the inspectors back in and see if saddam hussein wants to play by the rules and turn over everything he has and give us the information we knew he had. the present agreed and in september of 2002, he went before the you and and made the case for the u.n. to get engaged with inspectors and pass necessary resolutions. i worked on the resolution draft for seven weeks and we got one early in november from the u.n.
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putting saddam hussein on notice and demanding he turn over all the weapons information he had. he flaunts that test. i made it clear to the present that if he passed the test, he might still be stuck with saddam hussein in power but he wouldn't have met -- weapons of mass destruction. i said if it was necessary to use luke perry force, i would be pulley -- fully supportive because we try to avoid war. to speed this up in late january, none of us were satisfied with the response or the what the u.n. have been able to fully uncover. by the middle of january, the president had decided force would be necessary. at the end of january, he said we need to present our case to the united nations and the world stop he said i would like you to do it and i said by all means. and he said do it next week so i had four days to make the
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presentation. i wasn't concerned because the case was being worked on by the national security council is what we thought, at least most of us thought stop when i saw the case they were working on, it was not what we needed. it didn't connect to the intelligence. they didn't cross reference things so i asked central intelligence. they said we didn't have anything to do with it. i was concerned and i couldn't get a change in time because the president had already announced it stop i was worried because there was a national intelligence estimate asked for by congress that had gone to the congress the previous fall and based on that national intelligence estimate, congress has overwhelmingly passed a joint resolution saying to the president try to solve this diplomatically but if you can't, we will support you going to
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you can't, we will support you going to war to read almost four months before, congress had already said to the president if you have to do this, we will support you. it was not a close vote. i knew i could pull it altogether together from the national intelligence estimate and went to the cia four days and four nights with my staff pulling it together. with the director of central intelligence and with the combined wisdom of 16 intelligence communities that came together for the nie so we pulled it all together and i tossed a lot of it aside because there were not enough sources for it. the things in the presentation i was assured were very well sourced and they could stand behind it. and so went up to new york, brought charts and a slide with me and had a presentation vetted by the cia. every word was attested to. and bought by the cia.
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it was the intelligence the president had, he had been using it. my colleagues had been using it. that is what i presented and thought it went off rather well. the british and spanish foreign ministers joined in agreeing and others, such as the french and russian and others were not in agreement, but that is where we were. about a month later, the present decided to look -- president decided to launch military action and it was within a few weeks nobody was finding anything over there. we can't find anything. and then over time, it started to emerge a little bit at a time that some of the sourcing we had been assured of, congress acted on and the president acted on, we all acted on, some of the sourcing was not reliable and i was taken aback when i thought there were four sources for the radiological and bacteriological band, only to find out there was
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a single source and we had never met him. he had been getting information from the germans and we had never talked to this guy. curveball. the case of the presence of what -- of weapons of mass destruction started to fall out -- fall apart completely. we still thought they had the capability to development -- develop them. we knew he was still interested in nuclear weapons and everything imaginable that would be bad. but the thing we presented that said they were there turned out not to be the case. now, a lot of people agreed with the case and bought into it. cia stuck by it. 6 months later the cia said we still support the judgment we made last year. so the problem i have had for the last 9 years is not withstanding all of that, my presentation is seen as the defining one, the most prominent one and became the symbol of the intelligence package we put together and i have been
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answering questions about it. all i can say is i am glad saddam hussein is gone and worried we don't have to worry -- i'm glad we don't have to worry about weapons of mass destruction being present or not present. we have given an opportunity for a better life for their people and i always regret the information i presented was not -- i get offended when people say you knew better, you knew this was a line. no, we accepted the considered judgment, the analytical judgment of the director of central intelligence and the 16 intelligence agencies that feed in to him, but i am seen as the symbol of it all there it i -- of it all. that is something i have to work with. and i discuss this in the book, and i will never get rid of that, it will be in my obituary. i have to keep moving forward. host: unlike anyone else involved, i believe you apologized.
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forgiving a misleading -- gen. powell: i said i regretted it. i regretted that the information was wrong. i did not apologize for it because i was not the source of it. host: if, in fact, as you told president bush, if saddam hussein gives up weapons of mass destruction, he would be in power. he would be in compliance of what we were demanding. in reality, he did not have any weapons of mass distraction, he -- mass destruction. he was in compliance. gen. powell: he chose not to take the get out of free card. we gave him the opportunity. but he didn't want us to know that he didn't have them, and he didn't want his own people to know he didn't have them. he really thought we would not attack. that somebody would stop us, the french, the germans, somebody would keep it from happening. and president bush was determined that we had to remove him, and this potential threat , and also provide a better life for the iraqi people. still controversial to this day, but that's the story. host: did you feel strongly that
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the u.s. was sending too few troops to iraq to occupy the country? gen. powell: you didn't know what was going to happen once baghdad fell. there was no question in my mind that the capture of baghdad would be easy. first gulf war brought the iraqi army down in size considerably. so i had no question about that. but as we developed a plan, i was concerned that perhaps maybe not enough force was going in in anticipation of what else might be a problem once we got there. and so i called general franks, who's the commander, and i said, tommy, colin, don't want to get in your business, but you sure you have enough troops to deal with this? and i don't know what "this" is. that's the interesting thing about war. you don't know what's going to happen after you have achieved that initial objective. and he was satisfied that he did. i presumed the joint chiefs were satisfied, and secretary rumsfeld was satisfied. and these are the military
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authorities, and they persuaded the president. baghdad fell quickly. and what surprised me is that as soon as baghdad fell, you could almost see within a week or so that ministries were being burned down, old animosity that saddam hussein had kept suppressed have popped up between shia and sunni and kurds. and then the bombing started. and my colleagues dismissed all of this as sort of, well, these are just dead-enders, as one of my colleagues described them. seemed to me they were not dead enders. while this was emerging, we were sending troops home. and we had stopped the flow of the additional troops that were supposed to come because we expected some sort of iraqi government to sort of spring into place rather quickly and that there would be no need for these large number of troops. some of you may remember when general shin secty, then the -- general shinseki, then the
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chief of staff of the army, now secretary of veterans department, but he was asked at a hearing, how many troops do you think it will take, general? and he said a couple of hundred thousand. and he was immediately credited -- criticized by the leadership of the department of defense the next day as saying can't be right. we don't agree with the general. this is a general who lost a leg in vietnam, who's been around for around 30-odd years, who was involved in the balkans. he knows a little bit about all of this, but his judgment was immediately dismissed because we didn't expect that to happen. well, the things that you don't examine to happen are the things you plan for and be ready for when they do happen. host: compounding this, you write in the book that the decision had been made to keep the iraqi army in uniform so that they could help to maintain order in the country once the regime was decapitated. and you were quite surprised when paul bremmer, the man who
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was the u.s. chief of the operation there, disband the -- disbanded the iraqi army. gen. powell: there was a serious discussion of how are we going to keep order if we don't have enough troops to do it? and would we need some force that would help us keep order? and the iraqi army was one of the few functioning institutions in the country, not functioning that well, but a functioning institution. ambassador bremer, our man on the scene, he felt strongly the army ought to be disbanded because it was such an instrument of oppression, and that was his point of view. but we had studied this, and we had received three separate briefings from the pentagon saying that they were counting on getting rid of the really bad leaders of the iraqi army and filling it back up with trusted individuals, because the structure was still there, rather than building an entirely new army. the c.i.a. felt that was the
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right way to go. i did. my staff did. and the president was briefed that this was what we were going to do. and so suddenly, between the pentagon, and it's not clear where it all originated, mr. rumsfeld, mr. wolfowitz, mr. fife, gave jerry bremer the necessary guidance and instructions to disband the army if that's what he thought was right. and jerry issueds the order, -- issued the order, disbanding the army. i didn't know it was going to happen. i know senior members of the joint chiefs of staff didn't know it. cia didn't know it. the suddenly the army is totally disbanded, and you have these hundreds of thousands of people who are armed and trained in the use of arms who are set free. and within a few weeks, they're lining up wanting their pensions, and we had to pay some of them in order to keep some peace. and then we started to rebuild an iraqi army, and it's taken some time. so i think it was a bad decision.
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if jerry bremer was here, he would tell you it was the right decision. but i think it was the wrong decision. and most importantly, it was not what we told the president we were going to do. host: given that the u.s. is now out of iraq, at least in terms of being a combat force, what ultimately is the -- what's the legacy within the military, and within policymaking community, as you understand it, what are we going to be like because of the iraq experience? gen. powell: let me start with the military. the military has remarkable capacity to learn from experience. they are one of the most introspective organizations in american society. they look in the mirror and see the reality. they don't hide from the reality. so i'm absolutely confident that the united states armed forces will recover, and recover rather
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quickly, now that they're not going back and forth every few months, and they have time to get back into training and re-fit their forces, and they will learn the lesson. and one of the lessons they're looking at now, and i still keep in touch with my army friends and read all of the necessary magazines and literature, so even though i've been out 19 years, i want to keep my finger in, you know? i'm retired, but i haven't resigned. they may call me back. [laughter] right after the cub scouts, they'll call me back. we're not that desperate, trust me, but they're great, and they'll learn from it. i think one of the things they're looking at right now is what is counterinsurgency? what's the best way to go about it? a lot of what i iraq and -- saw in iraq and afghanistan was called counterinsurgency. but to an infantryman, it just looked like fighting bad guy. -- infantry fighting bad guys. you call it anything you want, but for a young private or young sergeant or lieutenant, they're in fire fight with somebody or
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they're getting blown up by ied's. i think what the military is looking at now and what doctrinal concepts are appropriate to this new 21st century world that we're living in now that we're out of sandroik will be coming out of -- iraqi and we will be coming out of afghanistan in due course. the good news here is that there really is no peer military competitor to the united states of america. the only two nations that even have the potential economic capacity or the population to challenge us, i would think, would be china and india, because they're large, big countries. but there is absolutely no intent on challenging us that way. the chinese are building up their forces, and we have to watch that and ask for greater transparency. but they're doing too good a job selling to us. they're not going to blow that. and so while i watch china with great interest as a professional matter, i'm not of the view that china is going to become an
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enemy because they got nowhere being our enemy in the past, and they've gotten very, very far by not being their enemy and become -- becoming the second largest economy on earth, and they still have 800 million people who are dirt poor wanting to know when is it their turn. and so we have no peer competitor like we did with the old soviet union. russia is not the soviet union. it has nuclear weapons. host: mitt romney said they are our main geopolitical rival. gen. powell: i disagree with my good friend. i don't think they are. do they get silly? do they say things that are troublesome? mr. putin does that all the time. but let's put it in some context. host: is that the russians you're talking about? gen. powell: mr. putin, the president. host: not mr. romney. gen. powell: i said putin. [laughter] host: you did. gen. powell: see what happens when you work with these guys? host: i wasn't entirely sure. in a moment we're going to take some questions from our
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audience, but i want to ask you very seriously right now, if you got your calls returned, and if you were in the discussions these days about policy, two quick questions. what would your what would your key message be about, syria or iran? gen. powell: on syria, it is extremely difficult. i know president assad. i've worked with him. i've met with him in damascus. he lies constantly. you can't believe or trust him on anything. but he is in solid control still of the country, even with all of the troubles that he is facing. and he is of a minority group, the alloway tribe, -- alowite tribe, as was his father. his father went through something like this and killed 80,000 people so. these are brutal folks who are not going to give up power easily. and even if they were to leave power easily or otherwise, it's not entirely clear what it is we'd be supporting on the other
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side. so if i was in right now, i would say be very, very careful before you start suggesting that sbr intervention is appropriate -- suggesting that intervention is appropriate or providing more weapons is appropriate, which might fuel more violence. i think finding a -- some kind of political solution is the best way, but it's going to be very, very hard. because the opposition will want him to leave, and he ought to leave. he really is a bad guy. he ought to leave. but he knows if he leaves, the consequences to his tribe and to his interests may be more than he can bear. and on the other side, we need to have a clear idea, a clearer idea of who we would be supporting who would be taking over power. with respect to iran, i think keep putting the pressure on them. they're really starting to hurt. but they're not going to give up their nuclear program easily. we've been trying to do this now for eight or nine years, and
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they keep insisting that it's just for the production of power. they don't want a weapon. but i've seen some of the things they're developing, and they're developing rockets and things like that, which up don't need -- which you don't need for nuclear power. and so you can't trust them. but the solution may well emerge that says, ok, look, if that's all you want is power, then let's talk about how you can do that in the most strenuous regime of inspection that is we -- inspections that we can come up with, and to put you in the box, so that if you make the slightest mistake for you're -- or if you're lying to us, it's detectable, and you will face the most serious consequences. host: serious consequence mean we will attack you, we will bomb your facilities? gen. powell: in my world of diplomacy and military stuff, the most serious consequences is a wonderful term, because it doesn't tell what you we'll do. let him worry about what we might do. don't tell them what you're going to do. when you are going to do, it
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you'll do it. and so he will understand, he knows what we can do to him. and the other thing that -- i've -- think that i think i am more heretical on than my colleagues in government or the academic community -- i've been around nuclear weapons as a soldier and national security advisor and chairman for close to 50 years. i was taught how to employ nuclear weapons as a young cam -- captain age 25. , as a core commander in germany guarding the narrowest part of the nato defense area, back, if -- from folder get back to wheeze button -- from the gap, if they came through me, if the corruption army got through me, they were -- it was done. they would split nature notice
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-- they would split us in half. and so my war plan had to stop them as best we could, waiting for reinforcements to come from the united states. we thought we could only do that for a few days because they had three armies facing my one corps. so we would call for nuclear weapons. i still remember we were steading this problem, and the game we were playing, the battle reached the third day, and my staff was saying we need to call for the release of nuclear weapons. and i said, let me see the target list we're going to drop these on. and they were all in west germany. because the russians had come through. i said where do all the german germans go? oh, we evacuated them. -- where do all the germans go? oh, we evacuated them. really, how? and it was so surreal. but it was real. the weapons were there. they could have been eased. -- been used. and if we had done it, the russians would have responded. and i don't think you would have stopped the escalation that would take place. and i learned from that experience that these things are really not that usable. you can deter somebody with them, but we deterred the russians. the russians deterred us. reagan is the one who wanted to put in strategic defenses to make them worthless, because you shoot one at us and we'll knock it down.
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and then as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, i had under my supervision some 28,000 nuclear weapons, 28,000, of all kinds. and my russian colleague and i would talk a lot about this. and i was telling robert backstage that when the cold war was just about ending and we were talking very candidly to one another, one day we were talking about the security systems that we had on our missiles to make sure there were no accidents, and one of the systems that we were talking about, he had a level of security that was higher than mine. he had one more level of protection to keep them from being used. and i said, how come you have this extra layer? and he said, we lost 40 million people in the great patriotic war, world war ii. we don't ever want to take that chance again. these can't be used, colin, you know it and i know it. and i said i agree.
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and the consequence of the -- the existential consequences of such use are almost unimaginable. and so when you look at iran, a country of 80 million people, i guess, that broke, is under enormous pressure, people can say they're crazy, they'll fire one of these just to hit israel. well, i find that a little difficult to internalize, because they know that they would be destroyed the next day. and they may want to go to heaven and meet somebody up there, but more important for them is to survive. host: you believe that they would buy into the logic of deterrence when it came down it it? gen. powell: i wouldn't rely on it totally, but i would not dismiss deterrence by saying they're crazy. they want to survive. just like the north koreans, they want to survive.
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the first thing to ensure that they would not survive is to use those weapons. so i think deterrence and containment plays a role in all of this, but i don't want to see them get a nuclear weapon. i don't want their nuclear program to go higher toward enrichment, toward a nuclear weapon, and to create rockets that would deliver such weapons. and so i think we ought to put all the diplomatic and scomplill -- and political and economic pressure on them that we can, because sooner or later it will cause them to rethink the awful position they're putting themselves in. i once met with the iranian foreign minister at a dinner. we both were careful not to get in trouble talking to each other, but i wanted to make small talk. i said, what's the biggest problem you have in iran these days, mr. minimummer? i thought he might say israel. unemployment. we have to find 600,000 jobs every year, and we're not doing it. the greatest political force at work around the world, and we need to understand it here in the united states is wealth creation through economic growth and economic development.
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it's what china is doing. china didn't get successful where it is now by invading anybody or attacking anybody. they did it by making things that others wanted to buy. and india is coming along the same direction. we have absolutely no reason to fear any of these countries, because they need to keep growing wealth in order to bring their people up out of poverty. what caused the arab spring, fundamentalism? no, they want jobs. they want to get rid of corrupt governments. they want to elect their own leaders. it was a fruit seller in tunis who set himself on fire because he got in an argument with the local authorities. he said enough. and he set himself on fire, and he started the arab spring movement that we now see in such full flower. host: there are two mic stands, one in each aisle in the front. we have time for some questions, and we'll alternate from one side to the other.
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let me begin with this microphone here. >> general powell, i'm very proud that you're here tonight, and i appreciate you and robert both being here to talk to us this evening. since you've been on both sides, i like to say, of the last couple of decades political from the military side and also from the state department, do you think with our military force, which is incomparable to anything else in the world in terms of doing their job, but are we asking them to do a lot, to not only defend us, but also to do nation-building? gen. powell: the principal reason for the existence of the military is to defend us and to apply the state's power against an enemy. it doesn't mean we can't do other things, but that has to be the principal mission in my humble view as an infantry officer.
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the way the constitution is written, you raise and support armies. we don't need them, get rid of them. you need them, you raise them. but fundamentally, they're there to fight. but when you look at japan and germany after world war ii, they weren't run by diplomats. douglas mcarthur and a series of generals in germany, and they were doing peace making and peacekeeping. they created constitutional governments for these people. and so the military can do just about anything that they're asked to do, very, very competent skilled group of young men and women, and we should be very proud of them. but they exist to fight the nation's battles, first and foremost. host: question here? >> is this on? host: yes. >> general powell, i would personally -- host: get a little closer.
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>> i was disappointed you didn't run for president, and i would like ask you personally to consider running again. [applause] gen. powell: ma'am, i hit my sell-by date long ago. [laughter] as robert said, and it's in the book, it was an enormously difficult time, because i felt this obligation that was being put upon me by many people. there were a lot of people who said we don't want to see you anywhere near politics. we don't want you. we don't like it. so it was all a unanimous -- as unanimous as is suggested. but what finally pushed it over the edge was, there was not a singe morning i woke up and deep -- single morning i woke up and deep inside of me did i think it was the right thing to do. it just didn't fit me. i'm not basically a politician. i'm still basically a soldier
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with some other suits. and there was never a morning where i wanted to get up and go out and do that. i'm so glad that we have the obamas and romneys and bushes and kerrys and all the rest of them, and they have that feeling for it, which i don't have. and also, my wife was not in favor of it. people think, well, it was because of your wife. no, you see, we've been married this year, this summer, in two months, we've been married 50 years, and we've been a team for 50 years. [applause] in this case, the decision was 100% beginning with me, of course, she shared my view, and people say, well, you know, gee -- look, she didn't marry me when i was chairman. she married me when i was a young captain heading off to vietnam for a year, leaving her behind with a baby that would be born while i was away. and we're close, very close.
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host: sir? >> there's another part of the book that says the best thing about being disappointed is you get over it. [laughter] >> well, i think a lot of us -- host: see, everything is in this book. you got to get it. >> we need you. think about it again. gen. powell: thank you. host: sir? >> a little different, some of us are really good in engineering, some of us are really good in rotc. do you think that educators should allow more choice among the younger undergraduates the first two years so they can select those careers and those subjects that they have an interesting in, stay way from -- interest income and stay away -- interest in, and stay away from those that they really
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can't do that well? gen. powell: this is a fascinating question that we could spend an hour on. my public school education, i flunked out of engineering. that's what you're suggesting. i know that. [laughter] host: but now you're being asked to theorize about higher i had -- higher education. gen. powell: one of the things i found, i only tripped up in the -- tripped over this in recent years. in the last few years, i've gotten older, trying to bring up old memories, in high school, i was exposed to stuff that bored me to death at the time. but 30, 40 years later, i remember it with such warm vividness, and i'm sure it was there all the while, having an now me. -- having an influence on me. we had art appreciation. we had music. i could still hear ravel's "bolero" coming out of the 78 r.p.m., the night watch by rembrandt. canterbury tales by chaucer. all of these things our children
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need to be exposed to, and not just, how do i pass this math and science test to get it the -- get to the next grade. it would be a shame if in the course of our education of our children we don't expose them to lots of things, and we don't give them greater choice in what they want to do with their lives. most of them at that age are not sure, so expose them to lots of things. give them a menu. and sooner or later something will catch them and turn them on, just like rotc turned me on. if rotc hadn't come into my life when i was 17, i wouldn't be here. i don't know where i'd be. that's what i found that i fell love with. that's what i tell kids, graduation speeches, keep looking for the thing that you do well and the thing you love doing. don't stop. it isn't fame and fortune. it isn't the amount of money you make or the titles you get. it's doing that which you do well and which you love doing. and i was talking to a group of students not too lock ago, and -- not too long ago, and said i didn't come in the army to be a
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general. i came in the army to be a soldier. and they could have sent me home any time they wanted, and i would have been happy, because i only came in to be a soldier for as long as they wanted me as a soldier. and so we have to get kids down from this, oh, i got to make a zillion dollars as a hedge fund manager, or i'm going to be the next, you know, guy who invents facebook or something. and get them to find out which they love doing and not stop seeking it until they find it. host: sir? >> general powell, sir, i -- most of iraq, i was in europe at the time working for nato. and i had a very different sort of environment than you had here, where i was the crazy american and all these europeans were talking about why are we doing this?
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and i tried to hold tight my corner pretty well there. but i had a couple of puzzles that i couldn't account for. one was, there were so many leaks that shocked me so completely, and there was an awful lot of rumor that just before the outbreak of the iraq war, there was caravans loading what might be weapons into syria. can you say anything about either or both? gen. powell: yeah, i saw those reports, and we looked into them pretty thoroughly, and there were a lot of people who said, well, the weapons were there, and they were either buried or sent to syria. i've seen no evidence that either of those things actually accounts for the absence of weapons. there were no weapons, any -- in my humble judgment, and the judgment of the intelligence community now. host: yes? >> general powell, you say that you feel the u.s. military has no peers or significant
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geopolitical rival. why do you think so many of our politicians, and obviously so many of their constituents, feel that the same level of military spending needs to be maintained to the detriment of domestic spending that could benefit nation-building here at home? [applause] gen. powell: well, a couple of answers to that question. i'm not sure what the right level should be. i'm not in anymore. at the end of the cold war, i recommended to mr. cheney, who was my boss at the time, the secretary of defense, and to president bush, that we cut 25%, and we did. cold war was over, so we cut 25%. i don't know if that level of cut is in the cards. i don't think so. i don't think we can make that kind of cut. but i think the pentagon should be like any other government department, analyze to see what we don't really, really need. there are a lot of hardware
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programs that are going to be challenged, and if the sequestration comes anywhere close to being implemented at the end of the year, the pentagon will have to make further reductions. we should not spend a dollar more on military spending than we need to, but we should not spend a dollar less. you've got to find the right balance. and i have confidence in the generals and admirals who are over there to find the right balance. they understand the real strength of an economy comes -- of the country comes from an economy that's working well. it's always argued, and i can't agree with it, that defense spending is at the expense of domestic spending. we ought to spend what we need on domestic issues as well, domestic programs as well. we are a rich country. the thing that broke the soviet union's they could not do both. we can do both. constrained defense spending is that which is absolutely needed and as said by our commanders. and domestic spending should be what is needed to take care of
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our people. to take care of our infrastructure, education, and all the things we need. everything should be on the table. i think it was a mistake not to accept the proposal that came from simpson bowles. that would have been a start, because everybody would have came to the table ready to give up something. that did not pass political muster and we are trying to figure out how to get past that. one thing we have to do somehow, whether it is the pentagon or however we do it -- we cannot keep spending $3 trillion a year and only taking into trillion -- in 2 trillion -- $2 trillion a year. as one businessman said, we cannot run a 711 like that. we borrow the money and our grandkids will pay for it. that is not fair. we ought to start now to figure out how to bring our government spending down. which means having to give up something. i could think of several things to take away tomorrow and i would not complain about it. there are ways to cut spending in a sensible way and reform our
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tax code, which is terrible. get rid of loopholes. there are things we can do. but you cannot find the right combination of political support of politicians who will move in this direction. and it isn't going to happen just because of an election. neither mr. romney, mr. obama or -- are superman. the super people are those of us here and around the country, you better start examining the issues and what all these folks stand for and not only what they say they will do. what are they able to do because of the political strength or the strength of their party? we are in charge of this now. not the super pac's and rich guys writing checks to people. american people have to back away from the far left and far right. back away from the television commentators commenting on other commentators and start taking a hard look at where we are and what we are doing. [applause]
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host: just to stand up for the commentators for a second -- were you saying that the cuts that would take effect, if -- under the sequestration, if nothing else happens, that is doable? do you think you would be sounding the alarm? gen. powell: i think it will not happen, even though it is on the books. in my judgment it will not happen. i'm not a political handicapper in this, but i don't think it is going to happen because the consequences will be too severe for domestic spending and defense spending. that would definitely take the defense department down to low. they are already kicking in between $400 billion and $500 billion. the sequestration would double that number and the pentagon could not take that kind of reduction. nor do i think congress would allow it to take place. since congress put this into the law, they are just as capable of taking it out of the law. host: we have time for just two
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more questions. one here and when there. let's go to this phone. >> it is an honor and privilege. thank you for being here. i was wondering if you could say -- expound on some leadership principles you took away from your leadership experience in the bush administration, specifically president bush coming in as a young and inexperienced individual. but also veterans who had very strong personalities that crashed and created a change in -- that often clashed and created a leadership debacle, if you will. what team leadership advice can you give to leading a team well that has such a strong personalities? gen. powell: strong personalities don't necessarily create conflict. bush 41, george herbert walker bush, personalities were very strong as well, to include some
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of the personalities in the second bush first term. me, mr. cheney, and others. we got along well. this time around we got along well on so many wishes. -- issues. if you look at what we did to expand nato, to support the expansion of the european union, what we did with hiv-aids investment, what we did to increase the amount of assistance we give to the rest of the world. a lot of things were done very well, in total harmony. principally because there were not strong feelings about the issues. on the issue of iraq, that was a key one. we had different points of view of how many troops are needed. we had different points of view about how we should resolve some of the issues. finally, it reached a point where i said to the president early in 2004 that we were not working as well as we should as a team. it seems like there is somebody who is more at a frequency with
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-- out of frequency with the others than anyone else, it's me. i only wanted to stay one term. right after the election i want to step down and the president agreed. he understood the problem in my view, we were not functioning as a team. how do you function as a team? everyone has to have a common purpose of what we are trying to achieve, mutual respect with each other, and trust with each other. and i think we could've done a better job with that. i will, as i say, i was probably the one who was most out of sync with the others. that's why i left when i said i was going to leave. and the president but it was a -- thought it was a good idea too. >> for the record, i appreciated your point of view the most, personally. thank you. [laughter] -- [applause] host: one more question from the audience. >> my question is simple. a lot of us americans are always
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saying, what is wrong with america? i still believe we are still the land of prosperity and opportunity. in your opinion, what's right with america? gen. powell: so much. we've got wonderful democratic system that is noisy, looks like it's riddled with conflict. -- driven -- riven with conflict. it has always been that way. it was designed that way. right now it is getting harder to resolve conflicts. our democratic system has to the dashes withstood -- has withstood the test of time. we faced slavery, we faced civil war is, we faced all kinds of challenges and we ultimately come out the other end in pretty good shape. if the other guys who fell apart. the soviet union said they would beat us to death and they collapsed. china said, this is working, we -- is not working, we have to be friends with america and not their enemies. we will be trading partners. we have this resiliency in our makeup as a nation and people that takes us through difficult times. i've seen difficult times.
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when you look at some of the founding fathers and what they went through, these guys really argued. they fought with each other. they had duels, they would shoot each other. hmm, never mind. [laughter] but, you know, the two documents that i like to read our -- are jefferson's first and second inaugural addresses. in his first, it is a beautiful soaring address talking about america and what it means, and what we are going to do for the people. beautiful. but four years later, when he wrote his second inaugural address, he was mostly mad and annoyed, and he was mostly mad and annoyed at the press. [laughter] right? there is a long section in an inaugural address where he goes on and on about how they should be in jail. why don't the states walked -- lock these people up?
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i'm serious. i am paraphrasing a little bit. but not much. he said they ought to be thrown in jail. they are violating the laws for what they say about me and others. but then he pauses and atypical -- in atypical jeffersonian manner, he says, but, given the choice between allowing people to speak freely or throwing them in jail, i choose the former. and the reason he said he could choose the former was because, if everybody speaks long enough, the truth will win. the truth will always beat the lies. the truth will always overcome falsehood. and we have lived by that principle. second, we have the best economy. even with her difficulties, it's the strongest economy in the world. we are number one. and have been and will continue to be. and so resilience and a strong economy, strong military. i think political wealth creation processes and policies are more important now.
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above all, we have a glue that holds us together as americans. we are all proud to be american. and when i really think about this, and see the wave of -- waves of immigrants that come to this country, and the speeches -- and i will end on this, about what it means for americans to understand how we affect the rest of the world. even though people are complaining about us, people are lined up at out of our -- all of our embassies and consular offices, and tomorrow they will stay the same thing, i want to go to america. two stories. the first has to do with a japanese businessman. very rich. owns many conglomerates, he was being interviewed one night. the interviewer on japanese television says, of all the cities that you visited, which is your favorite? he says, new york. they guy says to him, why new york, why not rome, london or paris? he says, new york city is the only city were i walked on the
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-- when i walked down the street, people come up to me and ask for directions. [laughter] gen. powell: try that in paris. it's remarkable. we are a nation of nations. we are renewed, refreshed. we have immigrants coming here. immigrants go to europe to get jobs. immigrants come here to get jobs but also to become americans. try that in half the countries in europe. see if you can become one of their citizens. you can't. the final story, which my assistant with me knows so well. whenever i am in new york i love to walk up fifth or park avenue on a beautiful day and look at the shops and churches, the synagogues and everything, and admire all the people going by in the other direction. but i always have to stop at one of the numbered cross streets where there is a pushcart hotdog peddler.
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sabrad hotdogs, for those of you in new york. i always have to have one. special hot mustard and red onion relish. i've gotta have one. even when i was secretary of state, i would come out of my suite of the waldorf-astoria. [laughter] start up park avenue and have five bodyguards around me and three police cards on park -- cars would roll alongside me on park avenue to make sure nobody whacked me as i was going up park avenue. i always stopped and ordered my hotdog. a guy would look up a bodyguards -- at the bodyguards and police cars and say, i've got a green card, i've got a green card. [laughter] but now i have no bodyguards. i'm all alone and i still do it. it goes something like this. hotdog, mustard, red onion relish. he fixes it. he starts to hand it to me.
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he says, i know you. i have seen you on television. you are general powell. he hands me the hotdog and i hand him the money. it happens over and over, general, no. you cannot pay me, you don't have to pay me. america has already paid me. i will never forget where it -- where i came from. but now i'm here, my children are here. we are americans. general, please, i have been paid. take a hotdog. i take it and continue walking up the street. it washes over me, this is still the same country. -- country that greeted my parents that way 90 years ago. don't ever sell this place short. we are still the top. we are still the leader of the world that wants to be free. thank you. thank you to the synagogue. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit]
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