Colin Luther Powell (born 5 April 1937) was the 65th United States Secretary of State, serving from 20 January 2001 to 12 November 2004. At the time, he was the highest ranking African American government official in the history of the United States.
- Our strategy in going after this army is very simple. First we are going to cut it off, and then we are going to kill it.
- Remark made as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announcing the U.S. gulf war plan against Saddam Hussein's army. Pentagon press briefing (23 January 1991).
- The United Nations will spearhead our efforts to manage the new conflicts (that afflict our world)....Yes the principles of the United Nations Charter are worth our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."
- General Colin Powell, 21 April 1993, receiving the UN-USA Global Leadership Award.
My American Journey (1996)
- The healthiest competition occurs when average people win by putting in above-average effort.
- The policies — determining who would be drafted and who would be deferred, who would serve and who would escape, who would die and who would live — were an antidemocratic disgrace ... I am angry that so many of the sons of the powerful and well placed ... managed to wangle slots in reserve and National Guard units. Of the many tragedies of Vietnam, this raw class discrimination strikes me as the most damaging to the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe equal allegiance to their country.
- Many of my generation, the career captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels seasoned in that war [Vietnam], vowed that when our turn came to call the shots, we would not quietly acquiesce in halfhearted warfare for half-baked reasons that the American people could not understand.
Letter to Patrick Leahy (1999)
- Dear Senator Leahy, thank you for your recent letter asking my views on the proposed flag protection amendment. I love our flag, our Constitution and our country with a love that has no bounds. I defended all three for 35 years as a soldier and was willing to give my life in their defense.
- Americans revere their flag as a symbol of the Nation. Indeed, it is because of that reverence that the amendment is under consideration. Few countries in the world would think of amending their Constitution for the purpose of protecting such a symbol.
- We are rightfully outraged when anyone attacks or desecrates our flag. Few Americans do such things and when they do they are subject to the rightful condemnation of their fellow citizens. They may be destroying a piece of cloth, but they do no damage to our system of freedom which tolerates such desecration.
- If they are destroying a flag that belongs to someone else, that's a prosecutable crime. If it is a flag they own, I really don't want to amend the Constitution to prosecute someone for foolishly desecrating their own property. We should condemn them and pity them instead.
- I understand how strongly so many of my fellow veterans and citizens feel about the flag and I understand the powerful sentiment in state legislatures for such an amendment. I feel the same sense of outrage. But I step back from amending the Constitution to relieve that outrage. The First Amendment exists to insure that freedom of speech and expression applies not just to that with which we agree or disagree, but also that which we find outrageous. I would not amend that great shield of democracy to hammer a few miscreants. The flag will be flying proudly long after they have slunk away.
- Finally, I shudder to think of the legal morass we will create trying to implement the body of law that will emerge from such an amendment.
- If I were a member of Congress, I would not vote for the proposed amendment and would fully understand and respect the views of those who would. For or against, we all love our flag with equal devotion.
- The sanctions exist — not for the purpose of hurting the Iraqi people, but for the purpose of keeping in check Saddam Hussein's ambitions toward developing weapons of mass destruction ... And frankly they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors. So in effect, our policies have strengthened the security of the neighbors of Iraq.
- What the hell, what are these guys thinking about? Can't you get these guys back in the box?
- Remark made to Joint Chiefs of Staff General Shelton regarding comments by Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, advocating an attack on Iraq, even before the battle plan for attacking the Taliban was formulated, shortly after the “the crucial meeting took place on September 15 in the Laurel Lodge at Camp David, at which Wolfowitz made the case for action against Iraq.” Halper, Stefan; Clarke, Johnathan (2004). America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. p. 149-150. ISBN 0-521-83834-7 hardback Invalid ISBN. . Also see Woodware, Bob (2002). Bush at War. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Simon and Schuster. p. 61. ISBN 0743215389. . (Remark from 9/2001 shortly after 9/11).
- Far from being the Great Satan, I would say that we are the Great Protector. We have sent men and women from the armed forces of the United States to other parts of the world throughout the past century to put down oppression. We defeated Fascism. We defeated Communism. We saved Europe in World War I and World War II. We were willing to do it, glad to do it. We went to Korea. We went to Vietnam. All in the interest of preserving the rights of people.
And when all those conflicts were over, what did we do? Did we stay and conquer? Did we say, "Okay, we defeated Germany. Now Germany belongs to us? We defeated Japan, so Japan belongs to us"? No. What did we do? We built them up. We gave them democratic systems which they have embraced totally to their soul. And did we ask for any land? No, the only land we ever asked for was enough land to bury our dead. And that is the kind of nation we are.
- MTV Global Discussion (14 February 2002).
- Capital is a coward. It flees from corruption and bad policies, conflict and unpredictability. It shuns ignorance, disease and illiteracy. Capital goes where it is welcomed and where investors can be confident of a return on the resources they have put at risk. It goes to countries where women can work, children can read, and entrepreneurs can dream.
- As quoted by Ambassador Cameron R. Hume in a speech on U.S. Government Initiatives in South Africa at the American Chamber of Commerce, Johannesburg, South Africa (18 September 2002).
- My heart grieves when I think about the situation in the Middle East. I've worked very hard on this for two years, and for years before that. But trust is broken down. We have to do everything we can in our power — all of us, the United States, the European Union, any other nation that has the ability to influence the situation in the Middle East — to work with the Palestinians to put in place a leadership that is responsible, with representative institutions of government that will clamp down on terrorism, that will say to its people, "Terrorism is not getting us anywhere. It is not producing what we want: a Palestinian state. It is keeping us away from a Palestinian state."
And we also have to say to our Israeli friends that you have to do more to deal with the humanitarian concerns of the Palestinian people, and you have to understand that a Palestinian state, when it's created, must be a real state, not a phony state that's diced into a thousand different pieces.
- Address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (26 January 2003), as quoted in "Secretary of Incoherence" in National Review (27 January 2003).
- There is nothing in American experience or in American political life or in our culture that suggests we want to use hard power. But what we have found over the decades is that unless you do have hard power — and here I think you're referring to military power — then sometimes you are faced with situations that you can't deal with.
I mean, it was not soft power that freed Europe. It was hard power. And what followed immediately after hard power? Did the United States ask for dominion over a single nation in Europe? No. Soft power came in the Marshall Plan. Soft power came with American GIs who put their weapons down once the war was over and helped all those nations rebuild. We did the same thing in Japan.
So our record of living our values and letting our values be an inspiration to others I think is clear. And I don't think I have anything to be ashamed of or apologize for with respect to what America has done for the world.
We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we've done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to seek our own, you know, to seek our own lives in peace, to live our own lives in peace. But there comes a time when soft power or talking with evil will not work where, unfortunately, hard power is the only thing that works.
- Response to a question by George Carey (a former Archbishop of Canterbury), after the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (26 January 2003), as to whether the US had given due consideration to the use of "soft power" vs "hard power" against the regime of Saddam Hussein; this has sometimes been portrayed as an accusation by an Archbishop of Canterbury that the United States was engaged in "empire building", in which Powell's response has been paraphrased:
- Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.
- There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.
- Remarks to the United Nations Security Council (5 February 2003); in an interview (September 2005) with Barbara Walters, Powell was asked about the Security Council speech and responded that it was a "blot" on his record... "it will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now."
- There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.
- As quoted in The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell (2003) by Oren Harari, p. 164.
- I'm sleeping like a baby, too. Every two hours, I wake up, screaming.
- Upon hearing that President Bush was "sleeping like a baby" on the eve of war with Iraq, as quoted in "The Tragedy of Colin Powell" (19 February 2004).
- You break it, you own it.
- As quoted in Plan of Attack (2004) by Bob Woodward, a book in which he was a key source, cautioning President Bush before the Iraqi war that he would be responsible for the fate of the Iraqi's after the fall of the Hussein regime.
- This may sound a little improper, but when the Vice President and I are alone it's Colin and Dick.
- As quoted in Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees (23 April 2004).
- There is only one China. Taiwan is not independent. It does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation, and that remains our policy, our firm policy.
- Interview with CNN (27 October 2004), as quoted in "Warnings by Powell to Taiwan Provoke a Diplomatic Dispute" in The New York Times (28 October 2004).
- We want to see both sides not take unilateral action that would prejudice an eventual outcome, a reunification that all parties are seeking.
- On Chinese and Taiwanese relations, in interview with Phoenix Television of Hong Kong (27 October 2004), as quoted in "Warnings by Powell to Taiwan Provoke a Diplomatic Dispute" in The New York Times (28 October 2004).
- Nothing was spun to me... What really upset me more than anything else was that there were people in the intelligence community that had doubts about some of this sourcing, but those doubts never surfaced up to us. (Powell told David Frost in a BBC television interview)
- Quoted in Breaking Ranks Larry Wilkerson Attacked the Iraq War. In the Process, He Lost the Friendship of Colin Powell. Washington Post, by Richard Lei (19 January 2006)
- I wonder what will happen if we put half a million troops on the ground, and scour Iraq from one corner to the other, and find no weapons of mass destruction?
- Quoted by Lawrence Wilkerson in Breaking Ranks Larry Wilkerson Attacked the Iraq War. In the Process, He Lost the Friendship of Colin Powell. Washington Post, by Richard Lei (19 January 2006)
- I wouldn't characterize it the way Larry has, calling it a cabal... what Larry is suggesting in his comments is that very often maybe Mr. Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney would take decisions in to the president that the rest of us weren't aware of. That did happen, on a number of occasions.
- Quoted in Breaking Ranks Larry Wilkerson Attacked the Iraq War. In the Process, He Lost the Friendship of Colin Powell. Washington Post, by Richard Lei (19 January 2006)
- I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards — Purple Heart, Bronze Star — showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way.
- I think he is a transformational figure. He is a new generation coming into the world — onto the world stage, onto the American stage, and for that reason I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama.
- Meet the Press (19 October 2008).
- That's not really a number I'm terribly interested in.
- Reported as a comment on "the number of Iraqi dead from the combined allied air and ground campaign" by Tyler, Patrick. "After The War; Powell Says U.S. Will Stay In Iraq 'For Some Months.'" New York Times, March 23 1991, pp. 1,4. 
The Powell Principles (2003)
- Quotes of Powell from The Powell Principles (2003) by Oren Harari
- Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.
- Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.
- If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.
- Every organization should tolerate rebels who tell the emperor he has no clothes.
- There's also a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party. What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is they still sort of look down on minorities.
- As quoted in NBC's Meet the Press (2013).
It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership (2012)
- As you will see, there are no conclusions or recommendations, just my observations. The chapters are freestanding. You can read them straight through or jump in anywhere. Everyone has life lessons and stories. These are mine. All I can say is that they worked for me.
- p. xii
- I may be down, but never out. An infantry officer can do anything.
- p. 6
- Whenever I'm faced with a difficult choice, my approach has always been to make an estimate of the situation- a familiar military process. What's the situation? What's the mission? What are the different courses of action? Which looks most likely to succeed? Now, follow your informed instinct, decide, and execute forcefully; throw the mass of your forces and energy behind the choice. Then take a deep breath and hope it works, remembering that "hope is a bad supper, but makes a good breakfast."
- p. 14
- Success ultimately rests on small things, lots of small things. Leaders have to have a feel for small things- a feel for what is going in in the depths of an organization where small things reside. The more senior you become, the more you are isolated by pomp and staff, and the harder and more necessary it becomes to know what is going on six floors down.
- p. 18
- It is the human gesture that counts. Yes, medals, stock options, promotions, bonuses, and pay raises are fine. But to really reach people, you need to touch them. A kind word, a pat on the back, a "well done," provided one-on-one and not by mob email is the way you share credit. It is the way you appeal to the dreams, inspirations, anxieties, and fears of your followers. They want to be the best they can be; a good leader lets them know it when they are.
- p. 21
- When things go badly, it is your fault, not theirs. You are responsible. Analyze how it happened, make the necessary fixes, and move on. No mass punishments or floggings. Fire people if you need to, train harder, insist on a higher level of performance, give halftime rants if that shakes a group up. But never forget that failure is your responsibility. Share the credit, take the blame, and quietly find out and fix things that went wrong. A psychotherapist who owned a school for severely troubled kids had a rule: "Whenever you place the cause of one of your actions outside yourself, it's an excuse and not a reason." This rule works for everybody, but it works especially for leaders.
- p. 21-22
- In the "heat of battle"- whether military or corporate- kindness, like calmness, reassures followers and holds their confidence. Kindness connects you with other human beings in a bond of mutual respect. If you care for your followers and show them kindness, they will reciprocate and care for you. They will not let you down or let you fail. They will accomplish whatever you have put in front of them.
- p. 23
- Naysayers are everywhere. They feel it's the safest position to be in. It's the easiest armor to wear... And they may be right in their negativity; reality may be on their side. But chances are very good that it's not. You can only use their naysaying as one line in the spectrum of inputs to your decision. Listen to everyone you need to, and then go with your fearless instinct. Each of us must work to become a hardheaded realist, or else we risk wasting our time and energy pursuing impossible dreams. Yet constant naysayers pursue no less impossible dreams. Their fear and cynicism move nothing forward. They kill progress. How many cynics built empires, great cities, or powerful corporations?
- p. 27
- Always do your very best. Even when no one else is looking, you always are. Don't disappoint yourself.
- p. 36
- When I was a young second lieutenant, I loved my job. I loved the Army. I put everything I had into doing the job well. And I was content. Nothing was promised, and I had few expectations. Count on maybe becoming a lieutenant colonel and retiring with twenty years of service at half pay, I was told. Just be thankful for anything that comes after that and thank your soldiers for making it happen. If you hit the walls of the pyramid, find satisfaction there. Be happy with that prospect. And I was.
- p. 65
- In the Army, we are measured constantly and exhaustively. We get evaluation reports annually and every time we change jobs or our supervisor changes jobs. Our immediate supervisor evaluates us. So does our next higher superior, and his evaluation compares us with all our peers who serve under him. Our school performance is graded. Our spouses are silently observed. Our careers are obsessively examined and managed. The reason is simple and obvious. We do not hire from outside. If we need a battalion commander fifteen years from now, we have to grow one now from a promising new second lieutenant. Sergeants major are not hired in from Walmart or Hertz. It takes many years to grow them from basic training recruits.
- p. 67
- But leaders are not gods. Their understanding is never totally clear, totally accurate, totally certain. Every leader is human... imperfectly human. Water-walkers sometimes fail, and quiet walkers sometimes end up on top. Leaders need to watch all their subordinate; work with all of them, encourage the hotshots, but invest in the others. Always be prepared to change your mind, however firmly made up, when dealing with those infinitely faceted beings we call people. The leader must never forget that he may end up working for one of them.
- p. 70
- I believe that when you first take over a new outfit, start out trusting the people there unless you have real evidence not to. If you trust them, they will trust you, and those bonds will strengthen over time. They will work hard to make sure you do well. They will protect you and cover you. They will take care of you.
- p. 75
- You can't make good decisions unless you have good information and can separate facts from opinion and speculation.
- p. 113
- Facts are verified information that is then presented as objective reality. The rub here is the verified part. How do you verify verified? Facts are slippery, and so is verification. Today's verification may not be tomorrow's. It turns out that facts may not really be facts; they can change as the verification changes; they may only tell part of the story, not the whole story; or they may be so qualified by verifiers that they're empty of information.
- p. 113
- Verified facts don't always come pure, but with qualifiers. My warning radar always goes on alert when qualifiers are attached to facts. Qualifiers like: My best judgement... I think... As best I can tell... Usually reliable sources say... For the most part... We've been told... and the like. I don't dismiss facts so qualified; but I'm cautious about taking them to the bank.
- p. 115
- Don't get me wrong. I don't look down on intelligence gatherers, and I don't mean to condemn any specific intelligence staff or the intelligence community. It's a hard, stressful, vitally necessary job. During my career I've worked with intelligence agencies and experts of every kind, from a young lieutenant, battalion-level intelligence officer to all sixteen branches of the U.S. intelligence community. With rare exceptions, intelligence analysts do all they can to give you the information and facts you need to understand the enemy and the situation and come up with the best decision. I found over the years that my intelligence staffs told the best story when I worked with them as they were putting it together. I questioned them constantly; I sent written analyses back, loaded with scribbles in the margins; I challenged them to defend their analyses. Staffs appreciated the challenge. They wanted to get the story right as much as I did.
- p. 115
- As successes come your way, remember that you didn't do it alone. It is always we.
- p. 266
- The people in my life made me what I am.
- p. 279
Quotes about Powell
- After touring the South, General Colin Powell concluded that there was no impediment to a black being elected president in America, noting that he received his strongest support from white Southerners.
- Ann Coulter, How To Talk To A Liberal (If You Must) (2004), p. 175-176
- Why didn't the doubts reach Powell? Perhaps because then he wouldn't have given the speech at all? "That's right," Wilkerson says, shooting a hard, solemn stare across the restaurant table. "That's right." He also says, "I am prepared to entertain the idea that they used him."
- Breaking Ranks Larry Wilkerson Attacked the Iraq War. In the Process, He Lost the Friendship of Colin Powell. Washington Post, by Richard Lei (19 January 2006)
- I can tell you that having been intimately involved in the preparation of Secretary Powell for his five February 2003 presentation at the UN Security Council, neither of those dissents in any fashion or form were registered with me or the Secretary by the DCI, George Tenent, by the DDCI, John McLaughlin, or by any of their many analysts who were in the room with us for those five, six days and nights at the Central Intelligence Agency... In fact it was presented in the firmest language possible that the mobile biological labs and the sketches we had drawn of them for the Secretary's presentation were based on the iron clad evidence of multiple sources.
- Lawrence Wilkerson in Interview transcript of the PBS program NOW about pre-war intelligence, PBS (February 3, 2006)
- Colin Powell: America's Best Leaders from US News & World Report
- Remarks to the United Nations Security Council (5 February 2003)
- Complete text, audio, video of Colin Powell's Remarks to the UN Security Council AmericanRhetoric.com
- "Colin Powell On the issues"
- African Americans in the U.S. Army
- "Curveball" Revelations Indicate falsified info used to start Iraq war and esp used for Powell's UN presentation on Iraq WMDs
- Colin Powell Quotes
- The American Presidency Project: Remarks on the Retirement of General Colin Powell in Arlington, Virginia, September 30, 1993
- Interview at Frontline (PBS)