STRATEGY: POWELL DOCTRINE
Background, Application and Critical Analysis
By Doug DuBrin, an English/History teacher and editor/ writer.
here for a more extensive Powell Doctrine lesson plan.
the end of Persian Gulf War in 1991, Colin Powell, then chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined his vision for efficient and decisive
military action. His plan is now referred to as the Powell Doctrine, although
there is not an actual formal document named as such. Powell, currently
the U.S. secretary of state, has recently invoked the Doctrine in articulating
the justifications for the Bush administration's preparations for war
in Iraq. Essentially, the Doctrine expresses that military action should
be used only as a last resort and only if there is a clear risk to national
security by the intended target; the force, when used, should be overwhelming
and disproportionate to the force used by the enemy; there must be strong
support for the campaign by the general public; and there must be a clear
exit strategy from the conflict in which the military is engaged.
this strategy for warfare in part on the views held by his former boss
in the Reagan administration, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger,
and also on his own experience as a major in Vietnam. That protracted
campaign, in Powell's view, was representative of a war in which public
support was flimsy, the military objectives were not clear, overwhelming
force was not used consistently, and an exit strategy was ill defined.
with key quotes attributed to Colin Powell and others.
Extra story covering the beginning of the military campaign.
to national standards
Introduction: First mention Colin Powell's role in the Persian Gulf War
and now as the secretary of state. Note the difference between being the
chief military commander of the U.S. forces and then later, its chief
diplomat. Then, you may wish to provide pertinent biographical information
on Powell. Born in New York in 1937, he was raised in the South Bronx.
He spent 35 years in the military and is a decorated Vietnam veteran.
Politically, Powell is thought to be a moderate Republican, but he has
been sought by both Republicans and Democrats alike to run for president.
Powell also is the highest-ranking African American in U.S. political
with quotes attributed to Powell (the first four). Then, in either small
groups or individually, have the students closely study the quotes to
determine what part of the Doctrine the quote alludes to.
discuss with the class the tenets of the Powell Doctrine. Help them to
see that the Doctrine was an outgrowth of U.S. involvement in previous
military campaigns (such as Vietnam and Korea) that were ambivalent, tentative
and poorly planned. The Persian Gulf War in 1991, as orchestrated by Powell
himself, was a significant departure from those previously less-committed
campaigns. The Persian Gulf War was indeed overwhelming, generally well
supported by the public, and doubtlessly decisive.
receiving sufficient background on the Doctrine, have the students analyze
Extra story on the military activity to see if there are parallels
to Doctrine. Instruct them to determine whether the force being used is
indeed overwhelming and if it reflects an overall commitment to success.
Then Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, when asked about
his military strategy against the Iraqi army in the Persian Gulf War of
"First we're going to cut it off, then we're going to kill it."
Powell, from his speech "U.S. Forces: The Challenges Ahead":
"We owe it to the men and women who go in harm's way to make sure
that this is always the case and that their lives are not squandered for
"We must not, for example, send military forces into a crisis with
an unclear mission then cannot accomplish -such as we did when we sent
the U.S. Marines into Lebanon in 1983. We inserted those proud warriors
into the middle of a five-faction civil war complete with terrorists,
hostage-takers, and a dozen spies in every camp, and said, 'Gentlemen,
be a buffer.' The results were 241 Marines and Navy personnel killed and
a U.S. withdrawal from the troubled area."
Powell, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on January 17,
2001 (prior to 9/11), when asked about the Bush administration's plans
for U.S international military involvement:
"Our armed forces are stretched rather thin and there is a limit
to how many of these deployments we can sustain. So we are going to take
a look at that, talk to our allies, consult and make on-the-ground assessments
of what we are doing now, what is needed now, but also what is going to
be needed in the future."
Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post columnist:
"The Powell Doctrine found its ultimate expression in the Gulf War.
The idea was not to match Iraqi power but to entirely overwhelm it in
planes, tanks, technology, manpower and will. That would make the war
short and make the victory certain. It did. Today, the Powell Doctrine
seems obvious, but it was not at the time. For decades, the United States
had followed a policy of proportionality: restraint because of the fear
of escalation. It was under this theory that Maj. Powell watched his men
bleed and die purposely in Vietnam."
Ruth Rosen, San Francisco Chronicle columnist:
"The impending war in Iraq, however, arguably meets only one criterion
of the Powell Doctrine. Weapons inspectors have just begun their work,
which is why France, Russia, and China argue that war is not yet a last
resort. Public support for a war in Iraq is hardly strong. In the most
recent New York Times/CBS News poll, while a majority of Americans support
the use of force as an option, 59 percent want to give the United Nations
and weapons inspectors more time. The divided opinion reflects the lack
of a well-defined national interest in going to war now. The Bush administration
has tried to portray a pre-emptive war against as essential to the war
on terrorism, but the evidence of the 'links' between Saddam Hussein and
al Qaeda is highly questionable."
to National Standards:
explanations, please consult
6: Power, Authority, and Governance
Standard 3: Civics and Government
from "Colin Powell, 'U.S. Forces: The Challenges Ahead,'" Foreign
Affairs Winter 1992 (qtd. in <http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/history/johnson/powell/htm>).
Charles. "What Happened to the Powell Doctrine?" Washington
Post 20 Apr. 2002.
Jim. "What will 'Powell Doctrine' foreign policy mean?" Journal
of Aerospace and Defense Industry News 23 Jan. 2003 http://www.aerotechnews.com/starc/2001/012301/powell_doctrine.html.
Doctrine." Wikipedia <http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/PowellDoctrine>.
"Whatever Happened to the Powell Doctrine?" San Francisco Chronicle
(qtd. in the History News Network 3 March 2003 http://hnn.us.articles/1290.html).
Author Doug DuBrin taught Social Studies and
Literature at the Arizona School for the Arts for 4 years. Before that
he taught at the Near North Montessori School and the Monroe Middle School
in Rochester, NY. He has a BA from the University of Rochester and a MA
from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
To find out more about opportunities to contribute
to this site, contact Leah Clapman at email@example.com.