Note: I'm posting this for a newbie who doesn't have privileges yet. He's a freshman at a liberal arts college in the Northwest who recently attended a talk by Colin Powell at his school.
I recently had the lucky chance to hear General Colin Powell speak at a Question and Answer forum. I do not use the words "lucky chance" without reason; to me this really was a great opportunity. As political active citizens, we, myself definitely included, some times get intensely wrapped up in our political views and allow such blindness as an acceptable excuse to fail to listen. So when I went to this forum I had hopes to gain some insight into the person, if not the politics, behind the former Secretary of State.
General Colin Powell was much as you would expect of a man who served 35 years in the military and Secretary of State for the current Bush administration. The questions were varied across a multitude of topics and I will attempt to piece them together, hopefully coherently and more importantly accurately, in this entry.
The first point that really stuck into my head was his inability to remove himself from a Cold War mindset. When asked by a socialist student a question relating the capitalistic structure of economics as a system that also fostered the discrimination against women, the General promptly responded with, and this is not an accurate response but something on the lines of, "your system does not work." His evidence to back this up was the failure of the USSR and Communism in Russia and China. He went on for a bit to expound upon the virtues of the capitalist system in America, but surprisingly used Socialism almost interchangeably with Communism. I didn't catch this at first, but a transfer student brought it up in a discussion in a later class from Russia who was greatly unsettled by his comments. She felt that the General had put the image of the USSR back onto Russia. She was also sitting next to a Swedish exchange student, who was equally upset by his comments on Socialism's failure. I think that her anger is understandable without further explanation.
The second question and answer exchange that I noted was in the generals response to a question concerning his stance on the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy concerning homosexuals. The General explained his reasoning behind his supportive stance on this policy because the military was, in his opinion, an exception to the rule. The military was the opposite of any other function of a democratic government due to its extremely undemocratic nature. It should come to no surprise to anyone with any knowledge of military affairs that the military resembles a totalitarian dictatorship more than any kind of a democracy. It was in the interest of efficiency in the military that the General supported the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy concerning homosexuals in the military. It should be noted that the General did not agree with such a policy in any other part of the government except the military, that view was made quite clear a number of times during the General's answer.
Another question was asked about the future of the military. It has been noted during President G.W. Bush' first term that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell disagreed on the future of the military before and after the 9/11 attacks. The Secretary of Defense had repeatedly called for a reforming of the military into a lighter and more mobile force able to deploy with quick and decisive action. However General Powell was quick to point out that such a force is undesirable and unable to cope with situations such as the current occupation of Iraq. It is obvious however, which of these two officials won out in the end as the former Secretary of State did not get the attention paid to his concerns, as he would have liked. In Sharon Jumper's diary
, a quote was taken from Ann Wright.
"As you probably know, on the key issues of the first four years of the Bush administration, the State Department was essentially iced out. I mean, look at the Iraq War. Colin Powell and the State Department were just shoved aside and all State's functions put into the Department of Defense. Tragically, Colin Powell, who was trying to counsel Donald Rumsfeld behind the scenes that there weren't enough troops in Iraq, never stood up to say, "Hold it, guys, I'll resign if we don't get this under control so that logical functions go in logical organizations and you, the Defense Department, don't do post-combat civil reconstruction stuff. That's ours." He just didn't do it."
The General's solution was to keep the military in readiness for any situation, whether it is for a long-term occupation of a country that might include nation building, a quick special-forces raid into a terrorist hideout, or a large-scale ground war the military should be ready to perform any of those tasks if necessary. The General believed that is where the military's future goals should be, and did advocate for an increase to the military budget to pay for such preparation.
On a more personal note, I wanted to point out that the General was extremely personable during this forum. He openly joked and laughed with the students, making fun of him and other students at the same time. After a few questions had been answered he lightened the mood by asking the next student to come up a number of questions such as name, major, future job, and GPA. The General's questioning was quickly halted a number of times after questioning a couple of students on their GPAs, which turned out to be 3.9s. When given this answer the General simply smiled and looked down as the crowd let loose some laughter and good humor and when that died down the General allowed the student to ask the question. I really enjoyed hearing the General speak on his own in such an atmosphere.