'It Worked For Me': Life Lessons From Colin Powell If you're looking for advice on leadership, it's good to start with a four-star general. In his new memoir, former Secretary of State Colin Powell offers advice and anecdotes drawn from his childhood in the Bronx and his military career — and reflects candidly about the lead-up to the Iraq war.
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'It Worked For Me': Life Lessons From Colin Powell

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'It Worked For Me': Life Lessons From Colin Powell

'It Worked For Me': Life Lessons From Colin Powell

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Colin Powell has a new book out. It's called "It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership." It's a mix of lessons learned, anecdotes, tales from the life of the professional public speaker - right down to what's wrong with the modern business hotel - and it also includes some candid reflection on the most controversial moments in General Powell's career, the lead up to the war in Iraq and his presentation to the U.N. Security Council an evidence of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Secretary of State Powell, welcome.

COLIN POWELL: Thank you very much, Robert.

SIEGEL: First, there is a theme throughout your stories - from your days in ROTC at City College of New York right up to becoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - you love the United States Army.

POWELL: I loved the United States Army. I entered the City College of New York just short of my 17th birthday, a kid not sure where he was going. His mother said, take engineering. That's what you need. Engineering didn't take to me. And what saved me and kept me in college was I ran into ROTC cadets who were in a fraternity called The Persian Rifles.

And I found my place. I found discipline, I found structure, I found people that were like me and I liked. And I fell in love with the Army that first few months in ROTC, and it lasted for the next 40-odd years.

SIEGEL: You never fell out of love.

POWELL: Never fell out of love. No. People have asked me: what would you have done if you hadn't gone into the Army? I'd say I'd probably be a bus driver. I don't know.

SIEGEL: In this book, you write what you describe as your first and last account of the famous presentation to the U.N. Security Council on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, weapons that turned out not to exist. First of all, it's pretty clear from your writing about this, this still rankles. I mean, this episode is something that you haven't been able to completely leave behind.

POWELL: Oh, I'll never leave it behind, because it was the most vivid presentation of the intelligence information that we had. And it was designed to be the most vivid presentation. That's why we did it at the U.N., and I spent a great deal of time getting that presentation ready. And so everybody sort of remembers that.

But the case for war was being made over a period of months and had been accepted by the president, by all the world leaders, and certainly by an overwhelming vote of the Congress. But nevertheless, I will always be the one that saw to, hey, he presented it to the U.N.

And when I presented it to the U.N., I had every assurance from the intelligence community that the information I had was correct. Turned out not to be. Some of it turned out not to be.

SIEGEL: You write that the draft that you and then-CIA Director Tenet were presented with hadn't actually come through the National Security Council at the White House. It came through - it came from Vice President Cheney's office.

POWELL: That's right. But I didn't know that at the time. I knew when the president asked me to make the presentation, I knew that the NSC was supposed to have been working on it, and therefore I would get something that was a near-finished document. And when I got it and talked to Scooter about it...

SIEGEL: Scooter Libby...

POWELL: Yes, Scooter Libby...

SIEGEL: ...who was counselor to the vice president.

POWELL: ...is an old friend of mine. He said he had wrote it up as a lawyer's draft. And I wasn't aware that he was the person who was working on it within the White House. And so it was not connected to the intelligence material. And so I couldn't use it as it was given to me. And that's when we went into a four-day, intensive preparation to get the intelligence information.

And I was shocked when I asked George Tenet, hey, why isn't this stuff connected? He said, we had nothing to do with it. It went into the White House and we never saw it again. And it was only a couple of years later that Condi - Condi Rice - now Secretary of State and National Security advisor, but she mentioned to me: Oh, by the way, you know, it was - Mr. Cheney asked the president if Scootie could do it because he thought it ought to be done as a legal brief, and not the way I would have preferred to have seen it.

SIEGEL: You remark that when CIA officials later wrote their accounts of this and remarked on how bad the intelligence had actually been, you say, where were those guys when the national intelligence estimate was being assembled...

POWELL: Yeah. And some of them say that they tried to get it up to the top levels of the CIA, that those sources should not be used. But it was a little disturbing after, you know, my presentation and then the intelligence information - some of it, not all of it - the intelligence information fell apart, these folks who were in the system were saying, well, we know they never should have been used by Powell. Well then, it shouldn't have been used by the president and shouldn't have been used by the Congress. Shouldn't have been available to anybody.

SIEGEL: Now that I think we're at the end of the war in Iraq, and we can see some arc of what happened there, for you - both as former Secretary of State, but also as someone who loves the Army as you do - what's the take away from that experience, and what do you think the legacy for the U.S. Army is?

POWELL: The Army will take its lessons learned. They're excellent at looking into themselves and reflecting on what did we do right, what did we do wrong. I think they did quite well. I think there were some command issues that were not done well. A junior general should not have been suddenly given command of all of Iraq at that time. And some of the more senior commanders were sent home. And the central command, Commander General Franks, essentially left and went into retirement.

There was an assumption and thinking that this was all just going to snap right back in place. It was going to be easy once Baghdad fell.

SIEGEL: It would be easy, yeah.

POWELL: But it became obvious early on that was not going to be the case. And even before then, I had spoken to General Franks about do you really have enough troops in the Army to really handle this? And he felt strongly that he did, and so did Mr. Rumsfeld. And they are the ones who are in charge of military planning and execution, and they said to the president that it was adequate.

SIEGEL: But, General Powell, does that mean that the legacy for the Army is that likely no one will ever do anything without having three times as many troops, as you could possibly imagine doing that (unintelligible).

POWELL: I can't predict that will be the legacy, nor would I say that the answer is always three times as many troops. You know, there's a chapter in the book called "The Powell Doctrine," where I say once you've decided what the political objective is and that you have to go to war, put in enough troops to be decisive.

In this instance, the decisive point that they focused on was the fall of Baghdad and the elimination of the regime. But as I cover in the book, that wasn't the end of the conflict. It was the beginning of a new phase of the conflict. And military planners should always be thinking about what happens? After you accomplish that first thing, what else are you going to have to do?

And we were not prepared to do that or think about it - mission accomplished - and start thinking about bringing the troops home, whereas we should have been surging them at that point, and we ended up having to surge them years later.

SIEGEL: Four years ago, despite your having spoken to two Republican National Conventions and being very closely identified with Republican presidents, you said in October of 2008 that you would vote for President Obama. He's up for re-election, I think you're aware.

POWELL: I've noted.

SIEGEL: Do you think you'd vote for him again?

POWELL: I'm not prepared to say. I'm proud of the vote that I cast for him in 2008. I think he was absolutely the right choice. I think he's done some very, very positive things to stabilize our financial system, to save the auto industry, to bring some regulation into the mix. And we've ended one war, the one in Iraq. We're working on phasing out Afghanistan, and we haven't gotten into any new ones.

But I always that as a private citizen and not a, really a political player, I want to hear what the other side has to say.

SIEGEL: That's a pretty positive account you've just given, though, for the administration.

POWELL: Yes. But there are some things that are not so positive. We didn't close Guantanamo as I would have hoped, and we still have an unemployment rate that's too high, and the economy has not quite recovered. Whether that's all the fault of the president or not will be up to the people to decide.

But I've known Mr. Romney for many years. I think he's a very distinguished gentleman, and I want to hear what he has to say. I want to see what kind of policies. You're not just voting for an individual, in my judgment, you're voting for an agenda. You're voting for a platform. You're voting for a political philosophy.

And I want to really hear what Mr. Romney has to say about that now that he's gotten through the primaries where he had to act in a somewhat different manner.

SIEGEL: You're waiting for the, as someone once said, for the Etch A Sketch to be shaken up a little bit, no?

POWELL: Oh, I'm not going to talk about Etch A Sketches. I haven't seen one in 40 years.


SIEGEL: Former Secretary of State General Colin Powell, thank you very much for talking with us today.

POWELL: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: And Colin Powell's new book is called "It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership."

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