MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: February 5th, 2003, then Secretary of State Colin Powell goes before the United Nations to lay out the case against Saddam Hussein. Much of it turns out to be based on faulty intelligence. Four years later, what does he think about the war in Iraq? We’ll ask him. Our guest retired General Colin Powell.
Then, as she seeks the Democratic nomination for president, new books emerge about her life and career. With us, the authors of “Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton.” New York Times reporters Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.
But first, joining us now is the man who served first as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then secretary of state.
Retired General Colin Powell, welcome.
GEN. COLIN POWELL (RET.): Good morning, Tim. How are you?
MR. RUSSERT: Before we talk about Iraq, I want to bring you back 10 years to Philadelphia. Here you are with four presidents in attendance: former President Bush, President Clinton, Vice President Gore, President Carter. This is when you announced the formation of America’s Promise: Alliance For Youth. What have you achieved in 10 years?
GEN. POWELL: We’ve created a great organization called America’s Promise, which has become one the leading organizations, an umbrella organization for youth serving programs throughout the country. And in that 10-year period, we have created communities of promise, universities of promise. We have mobilized the corporate sector. We have assisted in, in leveraging up the ability of youth-serving organizations to get more resources. For example, in 1997 the Boys and Girls Clubs of America had 1500 clubs throughout America. I think as a result of their effort, but with our support in providing an umbrella to it overall, we now have 4,000 Boys and Girls Clubs. We have two million more kids who have mentors. We have millions more kids who have acquired health care because, I think, America’s Promise has served as sort of the leading edge of the youth movement. We have millions of kids who are still in need, however.
And now, to celebrate our tenth anniversary, we want to go for an even bigger goal to try to touch the lives of 15 million kids over the next five years with those same basic things that we were talking about 10 years ago: Make sure that every child has responsible, caring adults in his or her life, in their life; make sure that every child has a safe place in which to learn to grow; every child has a healthy start in life and access to health care; every child is getting the education that they need to become a useful citizen; and finally, make sure that every child gets an opportunity to give back, to serve the community.
And the focus in this next part, this next phase in America’s Promise life is going to be on getting health care coverage for our kids through C—CCHIP, SCHIP, the children’s health insurance program, and also to make sure that schools become the center of gravity of youth service. You build a school, how do you connect it to a Boys and Girls Club? How do you connect it to a Big Brothers and Big Sisters program? How do you put other youth-serving programs attached to that school? Because that’s where the kids are most of the day. And we also want to make sure that, as part of our movement forward with America’s Promise, that we give youngsters the opportunity to serve, especially in middle school. At that age, start teaching these kids that is a part of being a responsible citizen to help and serve others. And by so doing, they get a better understanding of who they and what they are and what may be in store for them in life.
MR. RUSSERT: We’re going to talk a lot more about that on our Web site after the show. Let me turn now to something that—a little bleaker, and that’s the war in Iraq. We have lost 3,484 soldiers; 25,830 injured or wounded; 70,000 Iraqis killed; $350 billion spent. Is the war in Iraq worth the price we’ve paid?
GEN. POWELL: We won’t know for a while yet because the war in Iraq is not yet over. It is an extremely difficult situation. I have characterized it as a civil war even though the administration does not call it that. And the reason I call it a civil war is I think that allows you to see clearly what we’re facing. We’re facing groups that are now fighting each other: Sunnis vs. Shias, Shias vs. Shias, Sunni vs. al-Qaeda. And it is a civil war. The current strategy to deal with it, called a surge—the military surge, our part of the surge under General Petraeus—the only thing it can do is put a heavier lid on this boiling pot of civil war stew. That’s only one part of the overall surge. The other two parts of the surge, building up Iraqi forces, military and police forces, so that they can take over responsibility for security and getting the Iraqi political leadership to understate—undertake reconciliation efforts and to do something to turn out the fire. And so General Petraeus is moving ahead with his part of it, but he’s the one who’s been saying all along there is no military solution to this problem. The solution has to emerge from the other two legs, the Iraqi political actions and reconciliation, and building up the Iraqi security and police forces. And those two legs are not, are not going well. That, that part of strategy is not going well. And that, I think, is the real challenge that we’re facing. These three elements are not in synchronization. And it’s one thing to send over 30,000 additional troops, but if the other two legs—Iraqi political reconciliation and the buildup of the Iraqi forces—are not synchronized with that, then it’s questionable as to how well it’s going to be able to do. Will it, will it succeed?
But if, at the end of the day, when this civil war resolves itself, as every civil war eventually does resolve itself, one way or the other, and we see a government emerge that does represent the interests of its people, then maybe that’s the best success we can hope for, even though it might not be a government that looks exactly like, you know, a government we have—would have designed back here in Washington, D.C., or we would have designed in Philadelphia based on Jeffersonian principles. And so it’s a tough road ahead, but increasingly the burden has to rest on the Iraqis and not on the American troops.
MR. RUSSERT: At the end of December of last year, you were at Robert Morris University, and you predicted that we’d have a significant drawdown of troops in early 2007. That hasn’t happened.
GEN. POWELL: It hasn’t happened. A different choice was made by the president. The president received advice from his military advisers last fall that said do not send more troops. General Abizaid went before the Congress, the, the commander of Central Command, and said he had consulted with all his division commanders in Iraq and all of the senior commanders, and none of them wanted to send additional troops. They thought the strategy at that point should be to put the burden on the Iraqis to resolve what I call a civil war. They didn’t call it civil war, but I think that’s what it is. And in the course of the fall, the Baker-Hamilton Commission came up with their report, which said a temporary surge might be useful, but, as a way to getting to a different kind of strategy, which is to pull back from direct confrontation in places like Baghdad and provide a security net around it and let the Iraqis deal with the civil war, and our focus should be on training the Iraqis to do that. Not pulling out. We’re not going to walk away from this problem, Tim. Even if we wanted to, we’re not going to walk away. So cut and run is not, is not anybody’s option. It can’t be an option. The question is are we doing it in the best possible way? Are we delaying the inevitable conclusion of this civil war that ultimately will be fought out between Sunnis and Shias, Shias and Shias, Sunnis and al-Qaeda?
You know, al-Qaeda is relatively small percentage of this overall problem, but a very violent percentage. As the national intelligence estimate characterizes al-Qaeda, it says they are the accelerant. They have the most effective bombs, the, the more vicious soldiers that are on the battlefield in this civil war. And so they have to be dealt with. But it is not just an al-Qaeda problem, it’s much bigger than that. It is a sectarian conflict that I choose to call a civil war.
MR. RUSSERT: In light of the fact that the president fired his secretary of defense, fired his chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has now taken line responsibility for the war away from his national security adviser and given it to a war czar in the White House, isn’t that an acknowledgement that the war has been, if not a mistake, terribly managed?
GEN. POWELL: I think it is acknowledgement that the president is not satisfied with the way in which the war has been managed. Now, you can, you can move the deck chairs around, and you can bring in new people and you can change the organizational arrangements, but, ultimately, the president has the responsibility. I didn’t think the war was a mistake at the time we entered into it. It was a war that I would have preferred to avoid, and I said to the president in August of 2002, “Let’s take this to the UN and try to solve it, because there are consequences, both unintended and intended, associated with entering into a conflict with Iraq that are going to be difficult. We break it, we’re going to own it. We’re going to be liberators, we’re also going to be occupiers.” And the president did that, he took it to the UN. But he did not get a satisfactory solution from the UN, and he made a decision to use military force, and I supported him in that. But I think we have handled the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad in, in a very ineffective way.
MR. RUSSERT: In light of the fact that we did not find the weapons of mass destruction, the president still describes the war as a war of choice—war of necessity, rather than choice. Vice President Cheney said we would do the same thing all over again. Knowing what you know today, would you do the same thing all over again?
GEN. POWELL: If we knew today—or knew then what we know today, that there were no weapons of mass destruction, I would’ve had nothing to take to the United Nations. The national intelligence estimate, which was the basis of my presentation and, by the way, was the basis of the intimation that was given to the Congress that caused them to vote a resolution of support four months before my UN presentation, we rested our case on the existence of weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to us and could be given to terrorists, making it another kind of threat to us. I think without that weapons of mass destruction case, the justification would not have been there, even though Hussein was a terrible person, human rights abuses abounded, he was cheating on the UN food, Oil for Food program. But I think it is doubtful that without the weapons of mass destruction case, the president and Congress and the United Nations and those who joined us in the conflict—the British, the Italians, the Spanish, the Australians—would’ve found a persuasive enough case to support a decision to go to war.
MR. RUSSERT: Prior to the war, Walter Pincus wrote that you were provided, the president was provided some information from the CIA. Let me read it here. “On August 13th, 2003, the CIA completed a classified, six-page intelligence analysis that described the worst scenarios that could arise after a U.S.-led removal of Saddam Hussein: anarchy and territorial breakup in Iraq, a surge of global terrorism,” “a deepening of Islamic antipathy toward the United States.
“According to then-CIA director George Tenet, it was relegated to the back of a thick briefing book handed out to President Bush’s national security team for a meeting on September 7th, 2002, at Camp David where the Iraq war was topic A.” Do you remember that?
GEN. POWELL: I don’t remember specifically that book, but I’m sure it exists. But a week earlier, the 5th of August 2002, the president and I, with Dr. Rice present, had a conversation that touched on many of the likely outcomes and the realization that it would probably tie up a significant percentage of our armed forces for a long period of time, it would cost a great deal, we’re getting inside of a sectarian conflict that we would have to keep a lid on, and we would have to get Iraqis up and moving as quickly as possible in order to hand the responsibility off to them. And so I don’t think any of us were unaware of the kinds of problems that we might face. I certainly was not unaware, and I was informed by my own thinking, as well as CIA documentation, not just the one Mr. Pincus makes reference to. But all along the way, those who had experience in this part of the world and those that had experience in war understood that we were taking on something that was going to be a major burden to us for many years, and I think the president was well aware of that. And my, my judgment is that we didn’t prepare ourselves well enough for the kinds of challenges that occurred in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad.
MR. RUSSERT: The public posturing, however, some supporters of the war saying it would be a cakewalk, the president—the vice president on this program saying we’d be greeted as liberators, the public was not in any way girded with the notion that this could be tough slogging and could, in fact, result in deep sectarian violence and anarchy as evidenced by the CIA report.
GEN. POWELL: I never used terms such as cakewalk, and I never had any illusions about this being simply a stroll into Baghdad and then everything was going to be wonderful. But let’s go back to around 10 April of 2003. Saddam Hussein’s statue fell on the 9th, and from the 10th of April, for a month or two, everybody in the United States thought this was a terrific outcome. And it looked like it was going to work, just as the administration has said it was going to work. We were liberators for a moment, and then we simply did not handle the aftermath. We didn’t realize we were in an insurgency when we were in an insurgency, and we watched as the ministries that we were counting on, the government ministries we were counting on to help us take over, were being burned and looted. And we didn’t respond. And we didn’t have enough troops in the ground. That’s my judgment, not the judgment of military commanders at the time, but it’s certainly my judgment, and we didn’t have enough troops on the ground. Because once the government fell, the whole structure of government collapsed. Once the government in Baghdad came down, everything came down. And it was our responsibility then, under international law as the occupying authority as well as the liberators, to be responsible for restoring order, and we didn’t have enough troops there to restore that order nor did we have the political understanding of our obligation to restore that order.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me bring you back to February 5th, 2003. This is Colin Fowell—Powell before the United Nations.
MR. POWELL (United Nations Security Council, February 5, 2003): My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.
MR. RUSSERT: When you uttered those words, you believed them deeply.
GEN. POWELL: I spent five days out at the CIA going over every single piece of information that was going to be in my presentation. There were a lot of other pieces of information that different people would have wanted me to use and it was all rejected. Everything in that statement was blessed by the director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet; his deputy, John McLaughlin; and all of their senior officials. They believed it, too. George has said he believed it. And so I went to the UN having dumped a lot of stuff on the side of the road because it wasn’t multiple source. It might have been right, but it wasn’t multiple source and I wouldn’t use it. And the reason you see Director Tenet sitting behind me is because I wanted to make sure and he wanted to make sure that people understood I was not making a political statement. I was making a statement of the facts as we knew them.
Now, those same facts, that same set of facts, was available to the Congress the previous fall in the National Intelligence Estimate that the Congress asked for. But I notice a lot of candidates are now saying they didn’t read it. But it was up there and they asked for it. The mobile biological laboratories was up before the Congress months before. The president used that in his State of the Union speech. So over a long period of time, the CIA and all of the other intelligence agencies of government had created a, a statement for all of us that said, one, this is a regime that has used these kinds of weapons on the past; two, they have retained the capability of making such weapons; and three—and here’s where we fell down—they have stockpiles of these weapons. And we all believed it. Our military believed it going into battle. Other governments believed it. The reality is they did not have those stockpiles. We were wrong.
Fourth point I’d like to make. Suppose that the UN sanctions had subsequently broken down. We didn’t go into a war with Iraq and Saddam Hussein was free of all UN constraints because of the collapse of the Oil for Food program. Would you believe, would anybody believe, that with the capability and with the intent he would not then go back to trying to build up those stockpiles? That’s the chance the president did not want to take, that’s the risk he did not want to take.
MR. RUSSERT: Your own State Department intelligence agency, however, had a real caveat about the use of aluminum tubes. They did not think they could be used for nuclear centrifuges. And yet you put forth that testimony.
GEN. POWELL: With the caveats. There was a big debate about the aluminum tubes, whether these tubes are for centrifuge or rocket bodies. CIA was absolutely convinced that they were for centrifuges. Department of Energy, IAEA, others and some of my people in the State Department said, “We’re not sure. We think they probably could be used for rocket bodies.” We challenged that repeatedly, and the CIA kept coming up with technical reasons why they had to be for centrifuges. Even after the, the war was fought and over, the debate continued. But I was aware that it was an important piece of information, so when I presented it to the UN, I said, “It is our belief, based on the CIA making the call,”—they’re the referee in such matters, the director of Central Intelligence—“that they were for centrifuges.” But I included in my statement, “This is not a uniform opinion. Everybody does not believe this, therefore we have to keeps studying it.” And so I included the caveats with respect to the cen—the aluminum tubes in my presentation.
MR. RUSSERT: The, the mobile trains and trucks and track—lab stories, David Kay, the former UN inspector went before the Senate and said that members of the intelligence community knew some of the information not to be true, and yet they still sent you out there. Tyler Drumheller, who headed up the European section for this CIA, writes in his book that he saw your presentation the day before it was going to be given, and he took out that reference to the mobile labs because he knew it wasn’t true. And yet it never got to you that he had taken it out. What happened?
GEN. POWELL: I can’t answer that, and I would ask a question of Mr. Drumheller: Why didn’t you take it out when it appeared months earlier in other intelligence documents? Suddenly, the night before I’m giving a speech, we decide we have to take this out? There was a total failure in the intelligence system with respect to those mobile biological labs which turned out not to be. And the reason I made such a point of those labs in my presentation was that I got assurances from CIA that they had multiple sources, four sources, that could verify this, the existence of these labs. And then when the war was over, after the 9th of April, we found some things that looked like the labs, and everybody was saying, “We got it. See, we have it.” And then after examination, people started to say, “Wait a minute, this is not—this is not clear, doesn’t, doesn’t look like what we thought it was going to be.” And even a month afterwards, the CIA put out a paper, a 28-page paper saying, “Yes, it is. It’s a mobile biological lab.” But it’s turned out that it, it really doesn’t pass the smell test, that that’s what it is.
I cannot tell you why, within the intelligence community, the people who had put out burn notices—meaning don’t trust this source—those burn notices never rose to the right level. And one of the things I’m most irate about is that I have reason to believe in, in, in the CIA, the nights we were out there till midnight every night putting this presentation together, trying to make it airtight, there were people in the room who knew that burn notices had gone out on some of these sources, and that was not raised to me or to Mr. Tenet.
MR. RUSSERT: Why not?
GEN. POWELL: I can’t answer that question. This is, this is for others. You know, I’m not, I’m not the investigator of the intelligence community. But if I was, we, we would be having very long meetings about this. But I do not know why the information did not surface. I don’t know why it came—did not come to the proper analysts, I don’t know why it went—did not go to Jami Miscik, it did not go to John McLaughlin. And Mr. Tenet says he has no recollection of these conversations, nor does Mr. McLaughlin.
MR. RUSSERT: But, general, we went to war on this rationale. Why hasn’t there been accountability?
GEN. POWELL: Wait a minute. We, we didn’t go to war on the sole rationale of the biological labs.
MR. RUSSERT: Of weapons of mass destruction.
GEN. POWELL: We went to war on the basis that we have a terrible regime and what makes—it’s been terrible forever. What makes it so terrible now, in the aftermath of 9/11, is that they had demonstrated that they will use these weapons. They’ve used them against their own people, they’ve used them against the enemy. They had them at the time of the first Gulf war when I was chairman. And the intelligence community said and had every reason to believe that they not only had the capability of having them again, but they have stockpiles. And that was the precipitating cause. Now, some in the administration have subsequently been saying, “Well, yeah, but maybe the weapons aren’t there, but they’re bad guys anyway. I’m glad the regime is gone.” I’m glad the regime is gone. I’m glad Saddam Hussein is gone. But the case that we took to the world and the case that we took to the American people rested not just in his human rights abuses or his cheating on the Oil for Food program, it rested on the real and present danger of weapons of mass destruction that he could use against his neighbors, or terrorists could use against us. That was the precipitating issue in my judgment, and it turned out those weapons were not there.
MR. RUSSERT: If that was the case, and you were the commander in chief, wouldn’t you demand to know what happened, what went wrong and why?
GEN. POWELL: There have been a number of investigations. I mean, Mr. Silverman—Judge Silverman did an investigation. We have different congressional investigations under way. But, you know, the responsibility for looking into all that rests with the president of the United States, the national intelligence community, and, and the Congress. And I don’t know if Congress has been using all the oversight power that it has to look into these kinds of matters.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about a quote from your former chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson. He say I—he said, “I recall vividly the secretary of state walking into my office. He said, ‘I wonder what will happen if we put half a million troops on the ground in Iraq and comb the country from one end to the other and don’t find a single weapon of mass destruction?’”
GEN. POWELL: Larry has a better recollection of that than I do, but I wouldn’t—I’m not going to dispute Larry. I wish we had put a half million troops on the ground. We would be in an entirely different situation whether there were weapons of mass destruction or not. We didn’t put a half million troops on the ground. But there was always a possibility that we were wrong. We believed we were right, and the basis of fact that the CIA was using, the intelligence community was using, was consistent throughout 2001, throughout 2002, and all the way throughout 2003, long after the war. The agency was still looking for these weapons of mass destruction stockpiles. Dr. Kay went over and spent a long time, thousands of people went over to, to work with him. And then Charlie Duelfer took it over, and he looked for a long time. And they all came to the conclusion there are none, and they’re not buried in the ground, they weren’t shipped to Syria. We got it wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: But you might of—it seems like you had some doubts.
GEN. POWELL: Well, we—you know, until somebody could show me something, you have to always keep, in the back of your mind, some element of questioning. I’m a soldier. I’m trained to consider all possibilities. But when we prepared for this presentation at the UN, and, of course, it was the most vivid demonstration of our intelligence, but it was not something that was made up just for that presentation. It reflected the consistent view of the intelligence community over time to 2001, 2002, 2003, and also reflected the kind of intelligence that President Clinton was being given in 1998 when he operated—executed Operation Desert Fox, which bombed Iraq for a period of four days. Same reason. They had this capability and they had these stockpiles, and something had to be done about it.
The thing about it, Tim, is when we decided to take it to the UN, I worked for seven weeks to get a UN resolution, a unanimous resolution. as it turned out, 1441, and that resolution had a get out of jail card for Saddam Hussein. It gave him, I think it was 30 or 60 days, to come forward and answer all the questions that are outstanding about your capability and your stockpiles and what you’ve done with it. And, instead of seriously trying to answer that question, he just dumped a whole bunch of stuff on us that really wasn’t credible or believable. And it was at that point that he set us on the road to war. He had a chance to stop this. And when I briefed the president in August of 2002 about the potential consequences of the war, and he said, “What do we do?” I said, “I recommend we go to the UN.” He accepted that recommendation, we went to the UN. But I said to the president at that time, you know, “He could satisfy us, and if he satisfies us, if he makes it clear that here is it—here it all is, then you have to be prepared to accept that, and there may not be a war, and we may have a changed regime but not a regime change.”
MR. RUSSERT: What did the president say?
GEN. POWELL: He said yes, he understood that.
MR. RUSSERT: Karen DeYoung wrote a book called “Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell,” and she quotes someone very close and near and dear to you, your wife of almost 45 years, Alma Powell, and this what she says: “Powell’s wife Alma thought Colin had been callously used to promote a war she wished had never happened. ‘They needed him to do it,’ Alma said, ‘because they knew people would believe him.’” Do you feel used?
GEN. POWELL: No. I feel that when—I was part of an administration that, over a period of years, had created a body of evidence and intelligence that said this is a dangerous regime. And I had no love for Saddam Hussein, as you can appreciate. For 12 years I’d been listening to, “Well, why didn’t you take him out back in 1991?” So I had no truck with this regime, and we had a steady stream of intelligence reports that suggested he was a danger. And he became more of a danger after 9/11 when the possibility emerges that some of these terrible weapons he was working on—and let there be no doubt that he was continuing to work on these. He was continuing to hope that he could escape the boundaries of the UN sanctions and get back to making these kinds of weapons. And if you believe otherwise, I think that would be a naive belief. And so, throughout that time, we had this consistent body of evidence. And when the president called me in and said, “I want you to go to the United Nations and make the presentation,” I didn’t blink in the slightest because I had been using that intelligence all along in my presentations and had every reason to believe it. The problem we had in the next five days was that a product was being worked on in the White House and the NSC which was unusable. It was more a legal brief than it was an analysis.
MR. RUSSERT: But did you think at that time a pre-emptive war was the best course for the US, or did you think that Saddam was already boxed because of the sanctions?
GEN. POWELL: I would’ve preferred no war because I couldn’t see clearly the unintended consequences. But we tried to avoid that war with the UN sanctions and putting increasing diplomatic and international pressure on Saddam Hussein. But when I took it to the president and said, “This is a war we ought to see if we can avoid,” I also said and made it clear to him, “If, at the end of the day, it is a war that we cannot avoid, I’ll be with you all the way.” That’s, that’s part of being part of a team. And therefore I couldn’t have any other outcome, and I had no reservations about supporting the president in war. And I think things could’ve turned out differently after the middle of April if we had responded in a different way.
MR. RUSSERT: After your presentation to the United Nations and you realized the information that you’d been given was faulty, did you ever thing of resigning?
GEN. POWELL: The information was faulty, but it wasn’t faulty because people in the intelligence community were lying or trying to deceive. It was faulty because intelligence sometimes can be faulty, and it wasn’t managed properly, it wasn’t processed properly and we should have realized the inadequacy of some of our sourcing earlier. But it wasn’t venal behavior on the part of the intelligence community.
MR. RUSSERT: Four years later, are we safer now with the situation in Iraq the way it is?
GEN. POWELL: I think in terms of another 9/11 attack, we are safer, not because of Iraq necessarily. We are safer because we’ve done a better job of integrating our intelligence and law enforcement activities. We have done a better job of protecting the nation and also protecting the traveling public. So in 9/11 terms, I think we are safer.
With respect to Iraq, we have a very dangerous situation. You know, most of the world is moving in a positive way in many, many ways, whether it’s the trans-Atlantic relationship or our relationship with China, but in this arc, which is centered now in Iraq, we have serious difficulties, serious difficulties that have to be resolved, one, by getting this civil war resolved. And it’s going to take the Iraqis to do that. Two, I believe we should be talking to all of Iraq’s neighbors. I think we should be talking to Iran, we should be talking to Syria. Not to solve a particular problem or crisis of the moment or the day, but just to have dialogue with people who are involved in this region in so many ways. And so I think it is shortsighted not to talk to Syria and Iran and everybody else in the region, and not just for the purpose of making a demand on them “and I’ll only talk to you if you meet the demand that I want to talk to you about.” That’s not the way to have a dialogue in my judgement.
MR. RUSSERT: Guantanamo, the torture. When John McCain was seeking ways to deal with the issue of torture, you wrote him a letter and you said this: “The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.”
GEN. POWELL: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: What do you mean?
GEN. POWELL: They are. Guantanamo has become a major, major problem for America’s perception as it’s seen, the way the world perceives America. And if it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo not tomorrow, but this afternoon. I’d close it. And I would not let any of those people go. I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system. The concern was, “Well, then they’ll have access to lawyers, then they’ll have access to writs of habeas corpus.” So what? Let them. Isn’t that what our system’s all about? And, by the way, America, unfortunately, has two million people in jail all of whom had lawyers and access to writs of habeas corpus. And so we can handle bad people in our system. And so I would get rid of Guantanamo and I’d get rid of the military commission system and use established procedures in federal law or in the manual for courts-martial. I would do that because I think it’s a more equitable way to do it and it’s more understandable in constitutional terms. I would always—I would also do it because every morning I pick up a paper and some authoritarian figure, some person somewhere is using Guantanamo to hide their own misdeeds. And so, essentially, we have shaken the belief that the world had in America’s justice system by keeping a place like Guantanamo open and creating things like the military commission. We don’t need it, and it’s causing us far damage than any good we get for it. But, remember what I started in this discussion saying, “Don’t let any of them go.” Put them into a different system, a system that is experienced, that knows how to handle people like this.
MR. RUSSERT: The only two countries from the original NATO group that do not allow openly gay people to serve in the military are the U.S. and Portugal. Is it a time to do away with “don’t ask, don’t tell” and allow openly gay people to serve in the military?
GEN. POWELL: I think the, the country has changed in its attitudes quite a bit. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was an appropriate response to the situation back in 1993. And the country certainly has changed. I don’t know that it has changed so much that this would be the right thing to do now. My, my, my successor, General Shalikashvili has written a letter about this.
MR. RUSSERT: Yes.
GEN. POWELL: He thinks it has changed sufficiently. But he ends his letter by saying, “We’re in a war right now, and let’s not do this right now.” My own judgment is that gays and lesbians should be allowed to have maximum access to all aspects of society. In the State Department, we had a very open policy, we had gay ambassadors. I swore in gay ambassadors with their partners present. But the military is different. It is unique. It exists for one purpose and that’s to apply state violence. And in the intimate confines of military life, in barracks life, where we tell you who you’re going to live with, where we tell you who you’re going to sleep with, we have to have a different set of rules. I will not second-guess the commanders who are serving now, just as I didn’t want to be second-guessed 12 or 13 years ago. But I think the country is changing. We may eventually reach that point. I’m not sure.
MR. RUSSERT: Is it inevitable?
GEN. POWELL: I don’t know if it’s inevitable, but I think it’s certainly moving in that direction. I just don’t—I’m not convinced we have reached that point yet, and I will let the military commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Congress make the judgment. Remember, it is the Congress who put this into law. It was a policy. And that’s all I wanted it to be was a policy change, but it was Congress in 1993 that made it a matter of law. And so there are some proposed pieces of legislation up there. I don’t know if all of the candidates the other night who were saying it ought to be overturned have co-signed that or introduced law. But it’s a matter of law now, not a matter of military policy.
MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, Newsweek magazine reports that Senator Barack Obama has sought you out for your advice on foreign policy. True?
GEN. POWELL: True. I’ve met with Senator Obama twice. I’ve been around this town a long time, and I know everybody who is running for office, and I make myself available to talk about foreign policy matters and military matters with whoever wishes to chat with me.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you ever come back in the government?
GEN. POWELL: I would not rule it out. I’m not at all interested in political life, if you mean elected political life. That is unchanged. But I always keep my, my eyes open and my ears open to requests for service.
MR. RUSSERT: Any endorsements?
GEN. POWELL: Oh, not yet. It’s too early.
MR. RUSSERT: But you’ll support the Republican?
GEN. POWELL: It’s too early.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you support an independent?
GEN. POWELL: I’m going to support, I’m going to support the best person that I can find who will lead this country for the eight years beginning in January 2009.
MR. RUSSERT: Of any party?
GEN. POWELL: The best person I can find.
MR. RUSSERT: General Powell, thank you for your views.
GEN. POWELL: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: We’ll have more with General Powell in our MEET THE PRESS Take Two Web extra. Watch it on our Web site this afternoon, mtp.msnbc.com. Find out what you can do to help mentor young people all across this country.
Coming next, will there be another Clinton in the White House? With us, the authors of “Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton.” Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr., the authors. They are here, next, only on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Hillary Clinton, her race for the White House, after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’re back with the authors of “Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton.” Welcome both.
MR. DON VAN NATTA JR.: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Let’s go right to it. One of the important parts of this book is this notion of a grand design by Bill and Hillary Clinton to each serve two terms in the White House. This is the way you write about it: “By the summer of 1993, the ways of Washington had not dissuaded Bill or Hillary. According to one of their closest friends, Taylor Branch, they still planned two terms in the White House for Bill, and, later, two for Hillary.” You know what’s happened now, this is The Washington Post reporting on this: “The authors report that the Clintons updated their plan after the 1992 election, determining that Hillary would run when Bill left office. They cite two people,” former Times reporter “Ann Crittenden and John Henry, who said Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and close Clinton friend, told them” “the Clintons ‘still planned two terms in the White House for Bill and, later, two for Hillary.’ Contacted last night, Branch said that ‘the story is preposterous.’” “‘I never heard either Clinton talk about a “plan” for them’” both to “‘become president.’” What do you say?
MR. JEFF GERTH: Well, Tim, I interviewed Ann Crittenden and John Henry, and they both separately recalled a barbecue dinner in Aspen, Colorado, in 1993 at a rodeo with Taylor Branch, and they were remembering him saying that he’d just come from the White House—he’s a historian, and he’d begun talking with President Clinton, and he told them about—that Bill Clinton was going to serve eight years and then, at some point, Hillary was going to do eight years in the White House. I later contacted Taylor Branch, asked him if he remembered the dinner in Aspen. He said he didn’t, but he said he wouldn’t deny it. Then he later, when the book came out, said it was preposterous. I think I would add, Taylor is a respected historian, but he himself has admitted that when it comes to Bill Clinton he can’t be objective. So there are two people—you know, Ann Crittenden’s an award-winning journalist—two people who say yea, and Taylor Branch says nay. I mean, I think more interestingly and more surprisingly, the ambition of the Clintons going back to when they were in their 20s, and the 20 year project that Leon Panetta remembers Bill Clinton describing to him.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, Panetta said Bill Clinton running for president, but it was never about Hillary.
MR. GERTH: No. But, but Bill Clinton, of course, at that point in the ‘70s, even before they married, was talking about Hillary Clinton, that she could be president, but she had to subordinate her plans, of course, to his, coming to Arkansas.
MR. RUSSERT: Phillipe Reines, the press secretary for Senator Clinton, offered this statement to MEET THE PRESS: “I have an on-the-record, named source extremely familiar with the facts of her life—and I’m telling you it’s absurd, bogus, nonsensical, conjured. Take your pick.” His source obviously being Senator Clinton.
MR. VAN NATTA JR.: Well, Senator, Senator Clinton didn’t speak with us for this book, Tim, and...
MR. RUSSERT: Did you ask her?
MR. VAN NATTA JR.: We did. We went to her at the very beginning. In fact, I reached out to Howard Wolfson, her communications person, and when we told him about this book, he sighed audibly and it was as if somebody had punched him in the stomach, and he let us know that she had heartburn, basically, about this book, and so did Lorraine Voles. And it went beyond just Senator Clinton not cooperating with us. She put out the word not only to her aides and friends not to cooperate, and we were lucky that some did, but she also had—some of her people on her staff urged some senators not to talk to us, including Harry Reid. So I’m not at all surprised by Philippe’s statement.
MR. RUSSERT: Jeff Gerth, also supporters of Hillary Clinton say your wife is a foreign policy adviser for Chris Dodd, and that’s a conflict of interest, because he’s running against Senator Clinton, and you shouldn’t be authoring a book against one of Senator Dodd’s opponents.
MR. GERTH: Well, we disclose in the book who my wife is and who she works for, and, you know, she works for Coke and I work for Pepsi, and we’ve kept our lives separate for 25 years.
MR. RUSSERT: She’s not a source?
MR. GERTH: No. There’re 1800 footnotes in this book. She’s not a source for one of them. And The New York Times ran 8,000 words of this book at the cover of their magazine, and they independently fact checked the book and knew who the sources were and know that my wife was not a source for anything.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to some more of the substance in the book, Iraq. And you write that, one, Hillary Clinton did not take advantage of reading a classified briefing, national intelligence estimate, on the war in Iraq. She admitted to that in a previous debate a few weeks ago, saying that she had been briefed from other sources and places. But you also say that when she suggests that she wanted a more diplomatic solution to the war, that she voted against attempts to do that, and that her vote that she cast in October of 2002 for the war, in effect, does stand alone because she had a chance to vote for an amendment from Senator Levin and didn’t do it. Fair?
MR. VAN NATTA JR.: That is fair, and she had plenty of opportunities to discuss that, and she has not. She—in 2002 she voted, when she voted for the war resolution, prior to that when she had the opportunity to vote for Senator Levin’s amendment, she didn’t even go to the floor. She made no statement about it whatsoever. And so since then these arguments that she’s made that she was for diplomacy really ring hollow. She had a chance to vote for diplomacy and she passed that up.
MR. RUSSERT: You say that she didn’t talk about diplomacy as a reason for interpreting her vote until June of 2006. Supporters of the senator will say, “Wrong, October 17th, 2003, on the floor of the U.S. Senate, she talked about it.”
MR. GERTH: No, well, that, that’s not correct, Tim. What we said in the book and in The New York Times magazine article was that it was—that her, her first public speech about the president misusing his authority, making the charge “misusing the authority” took place in June of 2006 on the Senate floor. What you’re referring to is remarks that she made in October of 2003 where she said she regretted how the president used his authority. And supporters of the, of Senator Clinton tried to get The New York Times to correct this one sentence, and The New York Times decided there’s nothing to correct because accusing the president of misusing his authority, which is really—it’s starting down the road to impeachment, is different than saying, “I regret how he used that authority.”
MR. RUSSERT: She did say “I disagree with the way he used his authority” back in 2003.
MR. GERTH: Yes, she did. But she didn’t accuse him of misusing the authority, which is an escalation of the—of, of her statement.
MR. VAN NATTA JR.: And they demanded that—the Clinton campaign demanded a correction from The New York Times on this point. It was one sentence that was in our New York Times magazine cover excerpt last week, and the Times editors looked at it carefully and decided it should not be corrected.
MR. RUSSERT: What’s the most important thing in this book? Important information that viewers, voters should know?
MR. GERTH: Well, I think, you know, we, we spent a lot of time looking at her record as a senator, as a political leader. She’s now running for president, and we felt that people needed to understand how, how she acts in the political arena and, and use that as a basis for deciding whether she’s qualified to be president or not. And, you know, in essence, we sort of found that there’re two Hillarys. In, in one case, there’s the well-informed, the battle-tested, the diligent senator who does her homework. And then we found another Hillary. When it comes to a bump in the road—whether it’s on Iraq or on energy policy or on the environment—where she has a problem, that she plays fast and loose with the facts, she won’t admit a mistake, and she sort of, you know, retreats into a shell. And, you know, voters will have to decide which, which Hillary is the Hillary that might become president and is that what they want as—for their next commander in chief.
MR. RUSSERT: What’s your sense?
MR. VAN NATTA JR.: The same thing. I—more than half—about half of our book deals with Senator Clinton’s record in the Senate. That’s the record where she is standing on her own. That’s the record that she wants the American people to judge her as she attempts to become the first woman president of the United States. We not only look at Iraq in detail, we look at her energy policy, her position on global warming. We also show that she has a sort of secret side to her Senate office. We call it the mysteries of Hillaryland in the book where she actually had people on her—employees of hers, people on her payroll, who she did not divulge as she was supposed to, according to Senate rules, and we have ethics experts raising questions about that.
MR. RUSSERT: They did file those documents later on.
MR. VAN NATTA JR.: They did after we raised questions about it and looked into it. She—six years went by, she only filed one document for dozens of these fellows who worked for her.
MR. RUSSERT: You also talk about when the—Bill Clinton first ran for president, she headed up a defense team.
MR. VAN NATTA JR.: Yes. The defense team in 1992, she was in charge of it. They chased away the accusations about women as well as the draft. We have documents that have never been made public before from that period that show how active Senator Clinton was in that period of time.
MR. RUSSERT: Professor Robert Dallek, who reviewed this book for The New York Times, says it is very negative, it focuses on the negative aspects of Hillary Clinton and doesn’t give—it gives us “insufficient clues as to what sort of president she might be.”
MR. GERTH: Well, I think in terms of Professor Dallek, he misunderstood, I think, what we were trying to do. We weren’t writing about dead presidents, we were writing about someone who’s actively trying to become the next president. And it’s an investigative biography. We looked at her professional political career. And the headline to that review by Professor Dallek said “Shedding—Showing a Halogen Spotlight on a Senator’s Dark Corners.” And that’s what we did. We—we’re, we’re investigative reporters. We did what you do, you put up on the screen information, we put into the book information that sheds light on her career. And it’s up to voters to decide whether it’s too negative, it’s too positive, or, or whatever her record is. But that was, you know, how we saw our job, and we—we’re proud of what we did.
MR. RUSSERT: Don Van Natta, you say the mainstream press has not been covering Hillary Clinton in, in a good way.
MR. VAN NATTA JR.: Well, I, I, I think the mainstream press has done an adequate job. But they, they, they don’t have the time that Jeff and I had to devote to really digging deep and looking, for instance, on her Iraq vote. She says it was the most important vote of her career, it was the hardest decision she ever had to do, and, and we really were able to look very deeply at that. And, and, and I think we found out quite a bit of interesting information about that, for, for, for readers.
MR. RUSSERT: The book, “Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton.” We thank you very much for sharing your views.
MR. GERTH: Thanks for having us.
MR. VAN NATTA JR.: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: Start your day tomorrow on “Today” with Matt and Meredith, and the “NBC Nightly News” with Brian Williams. That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week at our regular time. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.