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Powell IV on NBC's Today Show with Matt Lauer

Interview on NBC's Today Show with Matt Lauer

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
September 8, 2004

(7:07 a.m. EDT)

MR. LAUER: Mr. Secretary, good morning to you.

SECRETARY POWELL: Good morning, Matt.

MR. LAUER: You know better than most people how difficult and deadly war can be. You've served this country in different capacities in several wars. Did you ever think, sir, that we'd be sitting here a year and a half after the invasion of Iraq with 1,000 dead and almost 7,000 wounded and still no end in sight to the insurgency?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, of course, I couldn't have known that. But what I did know was that it was not going to be a simple matter in the aftermath of the war last year, that it would take us time to consolidate, it would take us time to put in a place a new Iraqi government that would be responsible for this country of such promise. And I knew that we would lose lives in the course of that work.

We mourn the loss of every life and our hearts go out to the family members. But these young men and women died in the cause of freedom, of bringing to this country a chance for freedom, to get rid of a dictator, to get rid of the possibility that this dictator would be gassing people again or would continue to be such a disruptive influence throughout the region.

We also have lost youngsters in Afghanistan as well. But in Afghanistan, 17 candidates plus Mr. Karzai, 18 candidates total, are now out campaigning for election. So we are seeing progress. The progress comes slowly and there are dangers ahead, and we knew this period between the taking over of responsibility by the Iraqi Interim Government and through to the elections would be a particularly challenging time.

MR. LAUER: But what about the families out there who say, you know, a couple of the reasons we went to war in the first place have turned out to be unfounded, no weapons of mass destruction, the 9/11 Commission found no concrete ties between Saddam and al-Qaida. Why was it worth the sacrifice of their sons and daughters?

SECRETARY POWELL: We believe strongly, and there's nothing that we've seen to doubt it, that Saddam Hussein had the intention and the capability of having, and perhaps once again in the future using, weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons, as he had in the past. Where our intelligence was flawed was in the judgment that those stockpiles now existed. We haven't found them yet, but everybody had every reason to believe that those stockpiles were there.

So it was a real danger and the President felt that if the pressure was released, if we didn't deal with this now, after 12 years of Saddam Hussein ignoring UN sanctions, we'd have to deal with it in the future. This was the time to do it, and with a coalition of willing nations, we went in and we did it. And that's not a danger we have to worry about any longer. The danger we have to worry about now is this insurgency. And we must not lose heart. We must not fall faint now because we can prevail. We know how to deal with this.

MR. LAUER: During the early stages of the war, the Administration said on several occasions that the capture or killing of Saddam and his sons would be a turning point, that once that happened the Iraqis would no longer fear a return of the old regime and they would embrace their freedom.

Before Saddam was captured, 459 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq. Since he has been captured and his sons have been killed 541 troops have been killed. So did we miscalculate what was driving this insurgency?

SECRETARY POWELL: It was always my belief that there would be an insurgency, not fueled simply by Saddam Hussein or his sons, but by disaffected elements of the former regime who were losing power, those individuals within the Sunni triangle that had such privilege and power and money over those years and who lost so much when this dictator was removed. And so we fully expected, I fully expected, that insurgency to continue for a while until it was put down. And that's where we're directing our efforts, at putting it down with the use of coalition troops, as well as building up as rapidly as possible Iraqi security forces.

MR. LAUER: Under pressure from the new Iraqi Government, the U.S. military has pulled back from five Iraqi cities. We're talking about Najaf, Fallujah and several others. The idea, I think, was to lower the U.S. profile in that area, reduce tensions. Some critics have said it's simply created a safe haven for these insurgents. Can that situation be allowed to continue?

SECRETARY POWELL: It can't continue indefinitely and we know --

MR. LAUER: You have to change it prior to elections in January?

SECRETARY POWELL: We know fully that those places have to be brought under control. Najaf is now being brought under control after a standoff. You have to consider military issues as well as political issues in a complex environment such as this. We did that in Najaf. We did that in Kufa. The south is relatively quiet although there are always opportunities for something to happen. The north is relatively quiet. Our problem is in Sadr City in Baghdad and in the cities of the Sunni triangle. Some of those cities are not anywhere near in the kind of situation we would like them to be; Fallujah, for example.

Slowly but surely, coalition forces and improving Iraqi security forces have to take every one of these places back. We cannot go into the future with these places under the control of these dissident elements. But we have to try to do it first with political efforts on the part of the new government and then the use of force. That's what they did in Najaf. Forces came in. We squeezed the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr and then a political solution was found to get those militias out and to remove the influence of Mr. Sadr from Najaf.

MR. LAUER: Let me just turn real quickly to a final subject. I don't know if you've seen this footage we showed this morning taken inside that Russian school when those kidnappers killed all those children. Russian President Putin is said to be upset with the United States for past contacts between U.S. officials and Chechen separatists. Have we done enough to support President Putin in his own war on terror?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think we have and I think he would say that. He is engaged in a serious war against terrorists out of Chechnya and we have said that he should fight it with all the energy and resources that he has. But as the Russians have said in the past, ultimately a political solution has to be found. We have not met here in the Department at any level with any Chechen representatives for a couple of years, but we have from time to time had contacts with them in 2001 and 2002 as people were looking for opportunities for dialogue.

But there is no excuse for what has happened. Nobody can justify the killing of children. The tape is absolutely horrific and I know why President Putin feels so strongly about it. How could you not feel that strongly? And I know that he's going to go after these terrorists. And you should not negotiate with terrorists who would kill children in this manner.

MR. LAUER: Secretary Powell, I thank you for your time.

2004/947 [End]

Released on September 8, 2004

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