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Powell Interview on BBC Television with Jon Leyne

Interview on BBC Television with Jon Leyne

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
June 24, 2004

(10:35 a.m. EDT)

MR. LEYNE: Mr. Secretary, it's just under a week till the handover of power in Iraq. Another terrible day of violence. Is this the shape of things to come?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's a terrible day of violence because, as we get closer to the handoff, those who don't want to see a successful handoff, who don't want to see the Iraqi people begin to build a society and a political system that rests on freedom, they're going to do everything they can to disrupt it. And I hope that this is a spike that will start to go the other direction once the Iraqi people see that they have their own leaders in charge and the United States is no longer the government there, the Coalition Provisional Authority has gone away, and that we are there now as a normal embassy to help them. So I hope that the transition to full sovereignty will demonstrate to the Iraqi people that this kind of violence should end.

MR. LEYNE: But those enemies are going to be trying to pit you against the new Iraqi government -- you, the Americans. How are you going to prevent that?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm sure they are going to try to do that and we have to defend against that and we have to keep making the point to the Iraqi people that we are there with billions of dollars in reconstruction money for your schools, for your hospitals, for your sewers, for your power plants, for your oil infrastructure; we are there to help you and your own forces are now being built up to protect you. Now, do you think these elements that are conducting this kind of violence are going to take you into a better future? And the answer is they are not, and I hope that message gets across.

MR. LEYNE: Is Zarqawi the man behind many of today's attacks?

SECRETARY POWELL: He is certainly one of the enemies of the Iraqi people who is there and I think there are others who are involved. I am always reluctant to put it all on one individual, but he is certainly the worst of the breed, the worst of the lot.

And why is he doing this? What is he there for? Is he there to help the Iraqi people? Is he there to put up hospitals? Is he there to create a political system so the Iraqi people can vote for their leaders? Is he there to help write a constitution? He's there for death and destruction, the death and destruction of the Iraqi people and the death and destruction of the dreams of the Iraqi people.

MR. LEYNE: What mistakes did you, the United States, make in the occupation?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I think we have done a lot of things well. We have put in place a political transition. A new government is coming in on the 1st of July, as we have discussed, and we have got a UN resolution that endorses that and takes us out through constitution writing and full elections.

I think we underestimated the nature of the insurgency that we might face during this period and so the insurgency that we're looking at now, fueled by old Saddam regime loyalists and terrorists, has become a serious problem for us, but it's a problem that we now have to deal with. But we underestimated that.

MR. LEYNE: Fueled also, by most accounts, all Iraqi experts think, by the decision to disband the Iraqi army early on. Regretting -- do you regret that?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I don't know. I can't be that categorical about that as to whether it was a mistake or not. What we had to do the last year was to make sure that those who were responsible for the reign of terror of the Saddam Hussein regime were not going to be around to continue that reign of terror and they had no role in the future of Iraq.

Now, whether we went too deep with respect to the "de-Baathification" or with respect to the elimination of the Iraqi army is something that we can debate and discuss for many years into the future. The fact of the matter is the Iraqi army had pretty much disbanded itself in the course of the war toward the end of the conflict. We weren't fighting any organized units. They had disbanded. Unfortunately, some of those elements that disbanded decided to come back out, at least individuals in those elements, and fight the Coalition Provisional Authority and the new Iraqi force.

MR. LEYNE: Well, the other error everybody points to is you didn't send enough forces in right at the beginning. You, yourself, before the Gulf War, the first Gulf War, said we had to go in big and end it quickly. Why didn't you do it this time?

SECRETARY POWELL: We did go in big and we ended it quickly. We fought a very, very brilliant battle, I think, on the field and defeated the Iraqi army rather quickly. And the debate that is raging as to whether or not there were enough forces there to actually occupy the country and dominate the towns and cities, and more would have been perhaps useful, but the military thought they had the forces that they needed for the job they were given.

MR. LEYNE: But you didn't even have enough to secure the suspected WMD sites, for example.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, you know, the suspected WMD sites, what does that mean? I mean, every bunker in Iraq was a potential WMD site and it was clear that the target array, the array of places to be guarded, was so large that no size force that was within any reasonable calculation would have been there and available to secure all those sites sitting around. So what we have done is to create forces, indigenous forces over the past year, that can secure all of the sites that need to be secure, and not just potential WMD sites but where bombs, rockets and all the other paraphernalia of war that Saddam Hussein spent all his money on, where those items are located.

MR. LEYNE: Going back before the war, your UN presentation, perhaps it may end up, frankly, being the one thing that is remembered above all in your term as Secretary of State. Richard Armitage, your loyal Deputy, says that this UN presentation is a great source of distress for you. What did he mean?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, it's distressful in the sense that some of the information that I presented that day we have not been able to subsequently source. Some of the sources that we used on some of the parts of the presentation I made turned out to be wrong. That doesn't mean that I felt something was wrong in my making that presentation. At the time, we believed it. At the time, we believed the information was accurate and it was the best judgment of the intelligence community, not only of the United States but of other nations as well.

And so what I presented on that day was the best information we had. Some of the information has turned out now to have been inaccurate and I'm distressed by that.

MR. LEYNE: But in that presentation you said many times, you said these are facts, not assertions.


MR. LEYNE: Now you're saying --


MR. LEYNE: -- well, we're not quite so sure about the facts. Do you not think you owe at least your allies something of an apology on that?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. I think what I did on the 5th of February was present the facts as we knew them. We presented not just assertions; they were facts that were given to us by sources. This is intelligence. This isn't mathematics. And the intelligence community came together and said we stand behind this presentation and I stood behind the presentation at the time.

Now, what has not been challenged in what I said was that: one, the Iraqis have the intent to have such weapons of mass destruction and never given up that intent; second, they are keeping in place and have in place the capability to move forward in all of these areas if let free by the international community; third, they gave us a false declaration, they did not answer the questions that the UN had been asking of them for so many years.

The failure in my presentation subsequently is that we have not found weapons stocks. We have not found the stocks -- yet.

MR. LEYNE: Right. But you also said in that presentation that Iraq presents a real and present danger, not future danger, now; they're a danger now. How can that be the case, talking about what we now know?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, at the time, we believed it was the case and I think it was the case that if Saddam Hussein had ever been released from the constraints that the international community was placing up him -- and that was his sole desire in the beginning of 2003, to escape judgment, to escape judgment for 12 years of bad behavior, 12 years of lying -- and if he had escaped judgment at that point, and the United States and the United Kingdom and other likeminded nations had not acted, I'm telling you right now, all the sanctions would be gone, all the constraints would be gone. Saddam Hussein would still be there, he would still have the intention, he would still have the capability, and he would be producing weapons of mass destruction and that would be a real and present danger.

And go talk to the people of Halabja where he used these weapons and killed 5,000 people in the spring of 1988 and see whether or not those survivors think that this individual with that kind of intention and capability is a real and present danger.

MR. LEYNE: How was the war in Iraq part of the war on terror, when the links with terrorism at the very least are tenuous, and you haven't found any WMD?

SECRETARY POWELL: The link with terrorism was what I portrayed it to be in my presentation in February of 2003 to the United Nations. There were connections, there were links with terrorist organizations, the presence of Mr. Zarqawi was pointed out at that time and he's there now. I never overstated that or overplayed it.

And what we said that day, and what the President has said, is consistent with what the subsequent commissions that have looked at this have found. I think there is a nexus between a nation that is producing weapons of mass destruction and that does have linkages with terrorism. And it was that linkage that caused the President and Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Berlusconi and so many other world leaders -- Prime Minister Howard, President Aznar -- to believe that action was necessary and appropriate.

MR. LEYNE: Can you really say the world is a safer place as a result of the war in Iraq? Because many people think quite the opposite.

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm absolutely sure that the world is a safer place with Saddam Hussein and that regime gone. Let's not lose sight of what the goal was and what we accomplished. The regime of Saddam Hussein is gone. A man who filled mass graves, a man who destroyed the economy of his people, a man who was moving in the direction of weapons of mass destruction and super-cannons, you may remember, that he was trying to build, and everything else he was doing.

Now, does that mean that everything has become peaceful and nice? No. We have a difficult situation in Iraq. And we will deal with this difficult situation. We will get the security under control. We will not let the remnants of this regime deny the people the benefits of the destruction of the regime.

MR. LEYNE: You, yourself, said Iraq isn't going anywhere. You said it in 2002. What changed?

SECRETARY POWELL: It isn't going anywhere. It's there. The President made a decision, and I was a part of that decision and supported it fully, that he should take this problem to the United Nations and he did in September of 2002. He didn't declare war; he went to the United Nations and said for 12 years, this regime has been violating the instructions, the directives, the orders of this international body. President Clinton found the same problem in 1988 -- in 1998, and he bombed Iraq for several days for the same reason. And Iraq used that as an excuse to get rid of the inspectors who were supposed to be checking on them.

And so the President of the United States went to the international community at my recommendation and the recommendation of all of the other security advisors. But it was principally my recommendation, "Take this problem to the UN."

And as we go down this UN path, we may find one of two things at a fork in the road: the UN has acted properly and Iraq has come into compliance, and if it doesn't, the UN is willing to act; or Iraq does not come into compliance and the UN is unwilling to act. And under that case, it may be necessary for likeminded nations in the coalition to act. And we were all together in that. There's no question that this individual Secretary of State Colin Powell was not in for this, did not believe that this problem had to be dealt with, either diplomatically, through the use of the United Nations and the compliance of Saddam Hussein, or through the use of force. The President came to that fork in the road; he came to it with Prime Minister Blair, he came to it with President Aznar and so many other world leaders, and they made a judgment, the correct judgment, which I supported fully, that military action was now appropriate.

MR. LEYNE: One very brief question. Your legacy as Secretary of State or what is going to -- what is the case now? The United States is as unpopular around the world as it's ever been. How do you feel about that as your legacy of Secretary of State?

SECRETARY POWELL: The United States will get through this period of unpopularity. We've seen periods like this before. The last really unpopular moment I remember was when we introduced Pershing missiles and GLCM missiles into Europe to check the Soviet's SS-20s in the mid-'80s. And people were marching up and down Greenham Common and all sorts of other places and we were wildly unpopular.

And three years later, four years later, I was privileged to be the National Security Advisor when we negotiated, along with Secretary George Shultz, with the Russians, an agreement to eliminate all of those weapons. And it was a great success, but it started at a period of great disappointment and unhappiness with U.S. policies.

We believe that if our policies are right, and if we have done the right thing, that ultimately, people will see we have done the right thing. In this case, we did the right thing. We got rid of Saddam Hussein. We got rid of a terrible regime that did terrible things to their people and caused great instability in that part of the world. And if it was not for the security problem that we're having right now in Iraq, if that could be dealt with right away, people would be congratulating the coalition for the reconstruction effort that's underway, for the democracy building effort that's underway, for the writing of a constitution. And I am confident that in due course, all of that will be clear to the world and you will start to see this attitude change.

You'll also see that as the President continues to engage in the Middle East peace process -- we had a Quartet envoys meeting over the last 24 hours -- we're going to stay engaged with it. People will see that we are trying to bring a solution to that difficult issue as well between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

History will look back on the legacy of this Administration and perhaps my own contribution to it favorably; I'm not worried about that. What we have to do is do the right thing, and we believe we're doing the right thing, and take the slings and arrows of outrageous public opinion, which tends to be transient and transitory.

MR. LEYNE: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.




Released on June 24, 2004

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