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oral history: colin powell

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Interview with Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
that had been presented on the 11th of October. And we'd come up by now with a good plan. Lots of people worked on it, I don't think anyone can claim ownership of that plan. It was a plan that almost emerged out of what the Iraqis were doing and the situation that presented itself.

And so I had come back to present this plan to my political masters and we assembled in the Situation Room. Brent Scowcroft led off the meeting and Brent said "We are...Mr President," solemnly he said, "Mr President, we are at a Y in the road. Down one branch we can continue sanctions, which was the policy, and we can just be prepared to defend Saudi Arabia. Down the other branch we start to get the necessary political authority to go on the attack."

They chatted about that. This conversation broke out between Baker and Scowcroft and Cheney as to when we might go to the UN, this, that and the other. The President got just tired of it after a while and I was standing there with all my maps and he said "Fine, fine, fine. Colin let's hear from you."

And for the next...oh thirty or forty minutes I took the President through two plans. I had a big map of the region, I draw up the first graphic overlay and said, "This is General Schwarzkopf's plan to defend Saudi Arabia, which is the mission he has been assigned. And here's how he would accept an Iraqi invasion in the empty desert, here's how he would counter attack, here's how he would cut it off, here's how we would do that."

They listened with passive interest because they knew we could do that. And then finally I said "Mr President, that satisfies the original mission you gave us." I rolled up my overlay, took it off, put on another overlay and I said, "Mr President, if you direct us to attack in order to eject the Iraqi army out of Kuwait, this is how we're going to do it."

And I rolled it down, no longer passive interest, active interest. Everybody leaned forward. And I described how we would have the secondary air campaign, the secondary attacks, the amphibious feints, and then finally the deep hook around the left side of the Iraqi forces and took 'em through that in considerable detail and then told them it would take a much larger force. And then I laid out the size of that force.

There were some gasps, there were some (...sound of gulping...). The President listened very carefully and the President said, "Now Colin, you and Norm are really sure that air power alone can't do it?" And my response was, "Mr President, I wish to God that I could assure you that air power alone could do it but you can't take that chance. We've gotta take the initiative out of the enemy's hands if we're going to go to war. We've got to make sure that this is...there is no ordained conclusion and outcome, that there'll be no guessing as to, you know, we're going to be successful with this plan and this is the plan we recommend."

Secretary Cheney then joined in and said he recommended it fully as well and so did all of my Joint Chiefs of Staff colleagues. There was some more discussion, as there always is in this meeting of old friends and colleagues and sometimes adversaries and protagonists, but always friends.

And then finally, when the meeting had gone on long enough for the President to have gotten everybody's views and drifters, everything, he simply looked up and he said, "Do it."

And I left that meeting after that with a firm decision, no question about it, that sanctions had about three months left to produce a result and if they did not produce a result in three months we were going to war. And so I had no further questions about what our mission was or what our policy was or where we were heading.

Q: Let's spool back, early 1990...before he's moved in on Kuwait...Saddam was obviously building up a nuclear program, an arms program, chemical weapons. What was your assessment of this guy?

Powell: I had some relationship to this situation as National Security Adviser to President Reagan in 1987, 88 and the early part of 89, and during that period essentially we were tilting toward the Iraqis because Iran was our mortal enemy at that time. In fact, we were hoping for what Kissinger hoped for, that they both could lose...they both couldn't lose.

But when we got the ceasefire arranged between Iran and Iraq in 1988, as National Security Adviser, I was a little bit nervous about that because there we had Iraq with a very powerful, trained, experienced million man army and no enemy to use that army against any longer. In fact, when people suggested that we should go forward and try to get a peace agreement between Iraq and Iran, I said "No, more better if it's a ceasefire so they stare at each other forever hopefully, and not turn their attention elsewhere. But I was concerned that Iraq was now as much a danger to our interests as Iran was perhaps, and we had to be very, very careful.

I then left the White House and went to another command and then rapidly found myself as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in late '89. We had to get through the Panamanian invasion and some other things that came along but, by early 1990, as we were looking at our overall national security strategy and looking at that part of the world, we shifted our strategy quite deliberately a little bit away from Iran and more toward Iraq because of the belicose nature of the mutterings that would come from the Iraqi leadership from Baghdad, because Saddam Hussein had this enormous military capability and, frankly, he was on the right side of the Persian Gulf to cause mischief, more so than Iran on the other side of the Persian Gulf.

So we started to watch it more carefully but we never saw it as an immediate pressing threat to our interests or to our friends in the region, but we were watching it and we shifted our defense guidance to pay more attention to Iraq than Iran.

Q: What do you make of the administration policy--trying to pull them into the family of nations--misguided?

Powell: Well I don't know that I would characterise it as misguided. I think it was a reasonable thing to try to do at that time. A new strategic situation existed in the Persian Gulf with a ceasefire in place brokered by the much maligned United Nations, but that's what we had, and so I think it was reasonable to try to persuade the Iraqis that this was the time now to look at broader interest and regional aggression or regional challenges and to pull them into the community of nations. It was a very rich country, I mean oil riches, and they could do so much for their people and so much for their neighbours in the region if we could get them into the community of nations. But we were dealing with somebody who was not interested in becoming a member of the community of nations--Iraq headed by Saddam Hussein.

Q: June 1990, just before all this starts, sum up how you viewed Saddam Hussein.

Powell: Saddam Hussein was not an enemy of ours but he had a capability that was troubling. He had started to make some statements that were causing us concern but, as of the end of June 1990, we did not yet see anything that presented a real and present danger to our interests or to our friends in the region.

Q: In your book you tell the story, third week of July, Mike McConnell turns up with his photograph album. Can you tell me that story?

Powell: About the third week in July, or thereabouts, my intelligence officer, Admiral Mike McConnell, recently joined, I mean he'd only been there a short period of time, came in and started to show me satellite photos and other intelligence which suggested an Iraqi build up in the Southern part of Iraq. It wasn't immediately troubling because it was just a build up within their own country. It did not have the back up that one would expect to see for an invasion of another country. The logistics system was not in place to support an invasion, they had not brought forward artillery, we couldn't see their communications coming up in a way that one would expect to see. And so although it was of interest and troubling, it did not yet become something of great concern.

Then over the next few days, or a relatively short period of time, more and more information came forward that started to put these pieces in place, artillery was coming forward, logistics units were being seen, signals--networks were coming up, to the point that finally it could not be ignored and I called General Schwarzkopf and said "Norm, are you looking at what I'm looking at?" and he says, "Yes," and we were both going from the same base of intelligence. And I said, "We'd better start thinking about this".

It turned out that Norm was getting ready to go out on a command post exercise, if I might call it that, and exercise some of his contengency plans, and I said, "You'd better factor this real life situation into your exercise plans and I want you to look at two tiers of possible response should this turn out to be something. Tier one would be a short incursion by the Iraqis against the Kuwaitis or the Saudis and we would have to retaliate in some way and it's just a single, limited incident with a retaliation on our part. And then the second tier I want you to look at is, if this turns out to be much more than that, an invasion or seizing a port...part of Kuwait and a threat to Saudi Arabia, what would we do at that point."

Norm went to work on that and then for the last week in July we watched the intelligence build up and it became more and more troubling to us to the point that I said to Norm "I want you to come up"--I guess it was the1st of August--"and brief all of the Chiefs and Secretary Cheney on what you see and what your contingency plans would be." And so that was all flowing along.

Meanwhile, we kept receiving these assurances from all of our friends around the world, President Mubarak, the President of Turkey, our Saudi Arabian friends--Prince Bandar. We sent Ambassador Glaspie in to ask about this. And all the assurances we got coming back were of a nature that said not to worry, yes there's a bit of a problem, yes, you know, the Iraqis are posturing, but they would not attack an Arab brother, you should not worry about this.

So while we were worrying about it and starting to make military plans, in a political diplomatic world we were being told not to worry about it. And so there were mixed signals in this environment during the last week of August, mixed signals that we couldn't see our way through.

Q: You had this very good intelligence, here's the build up, here are the tanks, it's all coming in and yet nothing was happening. What was your take on this at the time?

Powell: My take and General Schwarzkopf's...we had a common view of it as we proceeded along. It looked like bluster, it looked like an armed threat really for the purpose of achieving some diplomatic or political objective, but it didn't look like an invasion. But as you got deeper into July, as you started to approach the end of July, it was just too much to merely be a futile or empty threat for political purposes, it was just too much to ignore. And we started to look at options and one that came along was well should we start moving our prepositioned equipment into the area. Another option that was discussed was should we speed up the aircraft carrier that was moving to that part of the world. I was uneasy about jumping the gun and precipitating something and so was Dick Cheney and so was....

Q: Jumping the gun on the White House?

Powell: Jumping the gun on the politics of it. I mean there had been no suggestion that we were going to undertake any political or diplomatic activity to issue a warning or a threat to him. Quite the contrary, all those political signals we were getting were to the contrary. And so we were uneasy about starting military actions that might make a bad situation worse.

Further, the military actions we were taking would have no real deterrent effect. I mean they really were quite distant. The carrier could not have gotten there that quickly and the pre-positioned ships were some days away from being in the region.

So we hesitated and as I subsequently said in my own memoirs, we probably should have looked a little harder at those sorts of deterrent actions, we probably made a mistake, maybe we should have done something, what would have been lost. But I'm not sure anything would have been gained. I'm not sure that these sorts of limited deterrent actions, in the absence of a clear political message that linked these deterrent actions to some overall strategy, would have had much effect--or any effect.

Q: What's your take on why the administration preferred the advice of the Mubaraks and Fahds, and so on, to the advice they were getting from their own intelligence people?

Powell: I'm sure you've talked to the intelligence people on this one, but the intelligence was mixed until you got to the very end of July. It was really in those last few days before the invasion that it became crystal clear that this had to be something more than just posturing. And it was only within the last two days, I think, that the CIA, and especially Dick Kerr, declared himself and said that this is going to be an invasion. And even then it wasn't clear what the nature of the invasion was.

General Schwarzkopf thought that it might be sort of a limited incursion to seize part of the oil fields or some of the offshore islands. It just wasn't clear that Saddam Hussein planned not only a full invasion of Kuwait but the actual absorption of Kuwait into Iraq as a new province.

And it was really only in the last forty-eight or seventy-two hours that this all started to become clear as a possibility. And it was really the last day when it crystalized for me was when Norm came up to the tank, as we called it--the meeting place of the Joint Chiefs of Staff--on the first of August and spent that afternoon, and he presented not only an intelligence estimate but also an operational estimate. He saw the Iraqi plans as an operational matter and he was thinking about our counter plans or what we would do in the event that they actually attacked.

And it was in that meeting that it all sort of clicked for me that this could no longer be just a feint or a demonstration but it was a serious, serious threat to Kuwait. Whether it was all of Kuwait, part of Kuwait, I could not tell, but as I walked out of that meeting with Secretary Cheney I said, "Dick, this can not be just a feint and we've got to try to get some kind of message off immediately." But by then it was too late.

Q: On that final day, nothing was done. All day the stuff was coming in and I've heard from Richard Haass that they did turn up and were going to get the President to call but it was too late. Why was no signal sent at this last moment?

Powell:There are lots of things going on in Washington in any day and that particular day we had foreign visitors in town. Part of my day was spent with the President of Togo, and it just did not gel early enough for us to deal with as a single problem that required immediate effort on our part to send a deterrent message to Saddam Hussein. And it was only late afternoon, early evening when all of the pieces came together and it was clear that some kind of message had to go back to Saddam Hussein immediately. But by then it was too late.

The question has to also be asked whether or not Saddam Hussein would have paid any attention to such a message. The question that I don't know the answer to is how committed were the Iraqis at this point. At what point had they made their decision that we're going forward. I suspect it was some time much earlier and we did not divine that they had made such a decision and, in fact, they had a marvellous dis-information plan to keep us away from that decision. Their dealing with April Glaspie, the signals they were sending out.

So they had a very coherent strategic strategy, put all these pieces in place, put out political and diplomatic dis-information to keep us off the case and we didn't get on the case until the very last two or three days and it was the very last day where it all came together and by then it was too late.

And it seems to me that a case can be made that, notwithstanding any messages or anything else that might have happened in that last two days, that Saddam Hussein had made his decision some time earlier that this was what he was going to do.

Q: You get the news. What do you feel? What are you thinking?

Powell: A sinking feeling. I got the news that evening that we are into a major major crisis with profound implications, not only for the region but for the United States, and that somehow we were going to get involved in this one way or the other. I knew that the next day would be a very very challenging and difficult, as would the days that followed.

Q: Everyone tells me that this 8 am meeting was a fiasco....I see you've got it in your book. What was going on?

Powell: It was eight o'clock in the morning when we assembled. The President had to leave shortly after the meeting began to go out to Aspen, Colorado to meet with Prime Minister Thatcher and also to give a speech announcing the new re-structuring of the armed forces of the United States that I worked on so hard, as had all of my colleages in the administration. And you have to remember the invasion was only about twelve hours old. Invasions don't come full blown and you know exactly what your enemy is doing and how many forces he's pulling, putting in and what his political objective is.

And so at eight o'clock that morning we still did not have a complete picture of what was going on. And I had General Schwarzkopf come up so he could present the plans that we had developed over the last two weeks, the tier two plans, tier one, you know, the retaliatory strike that I talked about earlier, no longer relevant.

But the meeting became quite a garble as people talked about the price of oil and what this would do to the oil markets and financial markets and then finally, with the time that we had available, we focused on the actual invasion and what reaction we should take. And what came out of that meeting was that one, we would go to the UN and seek the necessary authority to condemn this and then go from there.

And I came out of that meeting realising that we clearly would have to make sure that this did not go beyond the border of Kuwait. We clearly would probably be in a situation where we would defend Saudi Arabia, or at least offer to defend Saudi Arabia, if the Saudis would allow us to defend them. And so that's what Norm and I left with.

But nothing was decided at that meeting with respect to Kuwait. Kuwait had not been totally overrun but just about overrun. And so the President went off to Aspen to give his speech and to meet with Mrs Thatcher and I went back to the Pentagon to start to draw up plans for the deployment of forces, if that's what was called for, and I sent Norm back to Tampa, Florida....

Q: And did the President say anything at that meeting? What was your take on the President?

Powell: My take was that the President, in George Bush fashion, he was keeping his counsel. He was listening to his advisers, he was formulating things in his own mind, he was asking questions, but the only decision, if one can call it a decision, the only guidance I walked out of that meeting with was that Saudi Arabia was our immediate first problem. We may have to deal with Kuwait in due course, and we would, but Saudi Arabia is the thing we had to worry about right not. And then the President went off.

Now you may recall that at the beginning of that meeting when the President was asked, "Well, are you going to do something? Are you going to intervene, are you going to get involved?" And the President just said "Nobody's talking about intervention now. We're just here to review the situation."

So that's how it started, nobody's talking about intervention now, we're just here to review the situation, see where we are. A perfectly reasonable statement when you have only been watching an invasion for twelve hours. And so he went off to Aspen and we knew we would meet once he came back from Aspen.

Q: In those early hours, did you think Kuwait was worth fighting a war over?

Powell: I think that was the question...did it measure up as a regime, as a nation and, frankly, as the source of twenty percent of the world's oil. So it seemed to me that Kuwait did measure up, it was worth an effort to get the Iraqi army out of Kuwait and to restore it to its legitimate status. The question was how best to do that. That was the question we had not answered and didn't answer it for some weeks and months.

But that was ultimately the political question that I kept pushing to the forefront. So when military options were being asked for during this contentious meeting that's been reported, I kept asking, "Military options to do what?" and all I kept getting was "Military options". And I said, "OK, but military options--where are we going with this?"

And I have been repeatedly criticised for always asking these questions and in my own memoirs I talk about the fact that Cheney took me to the woodshed on it. But I felt my responsibility and, not just because of my background in Vietnam, but Beirut and a lot of other places, my responsibility was to push that question in front of our political leaders at the very first instance, at the very first opportunity, so we would know what it is the military was being asked to do and we would know how to do it for our political leaders.

Q: Well let's talk about that August 3rd meeting, the NSC meeting. The people I've spoken to, they basically remember saying "Yep, we've gotta do something," and Richard Haass, who was taking notes, remembers the mood around the table was, "OK, let's do it", there was no longer really a debate about what the United States had to do. And then you're the party pooper, you ask this question. Tell me what happened.

Powell: The third of August, Friday, the President's back from Aspen and we're debating the status of the invasion, how far has it gone. Remember, Saddam Hussein had said he was going to be withdrawing soon and this was just a temporary thing, which was nonsense but nevertheless it's what he said. And our Arab friends were still saying there would be an Arab solution and so we had to make some decisions. Not one troop had been ordered to go anywhere yet.

And so the decisions that came out of that meeting, the key decision that came out of that meeting is...we will defend Saudi Arabia. There was no debate about that. The question I then posed is "Then what. Should we be prepared to go forward and fight for Kuwait, to eject the Iraqi army out of Kuwait to do what"? And I guess some people suggested that that was not the correct thing for me to ask but I asked it.

And it was later that day that Secretary Cheney said, "Look, you just do military options. Don't be the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense or the National Security Adviser"--which he used to be--"You just do military options."

And my response to Secretary Cheney is that--"I will do military options; we've been doing military options. The troops are waiting now, I mean they're on alert. But it is important that we start off with a common understanding of what it is we are trying to achieve."

And keep in mind also, to this point, the President had made no public statements and had not recorded any decision of where he ultimately is prepared to go or what he ultimately is going to commit to this effort.

Q: How much is Vietnam running through your minds?

Powell: Vietnam is running through my mind very much. For those of us who were Vietnam veterans and rose to positions of leadership in the American armed forces later, and we all have a view that says "If you're going to put us into something then you owe the armed forces, you owe the American people, you owe just your desire to succeed, a clear statement of what political objective you're trying to achieve and then you put the force to that objective and you know when you've accomplished it, you take the initiative out of the hands of your enemy.

But it's not just Vietnam. The one I like to point to as an example is Beirut, where you have a situation that nobody can really quite understand. It is a horrible war taking place between people who have a vital interest and are prepared to die for their vital interest and we stick our troops in the middle of it without thinking through what it is they're trying to accomplish. And it sounded nice and neat at the beginning, an 'interpositional force' was the very lovely term that was invented for it.

But suddenly someone started killing those Marines and then the Marines fired back and then political officials said "Let's shoot battleship shells at them." This wasn't military judgement, this was a political judgement, and guess what, we made people very, very mad that they were being shot at, and they knew how to respond....

These Marines at the airport, that were essentially relatively defenseless with no particular mission, and I carry that to its logical conclusion: it resulted in the death of 240 Marines and another 70 French soldiers. And so this is also weighing on my mind.

We came to the same sort of situation when we did Panama in the fall of 1989. The question was how do we get rid of the Panamanian regime, not just Manuel Noriega. And the solution I took to the President, once I understood what he wanted accomplished, was "We take down Noriega, we take the whole Panamanian defense force and we restore democracy in its totality by putting in a new President and rebuilding the defense force. That will solve this problem. Now that will achieve your political objective in a decisive way."

Q: Very briefly, what did you say and what was the reaction?

Powell: My statement, as best I recall, was, "Good, you know, we're going to draw a line in the sand now. Does everybody agree it's worth going to war to reverse the invasion of Kuwait," and that was not a well received statement.

Q: Were you the ghost of Vietnam sitting at the table?

Powell: Perhaps I was the ghost of Vietnam, the ghost of Beirut, and I think as the senior military adviser to the President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense it was my responsibility not only to provide for military options but to help them shape clear political objectives for the military to help achieve.

Now, I'm not usurping their authority and I'm not, in my judgement anyway, going beyond my own authority. I think I'm doing my job as the principal military adviser to the President of the United States.

There had been cases in our past, particularly in the Vietnam period, when senior leaders, military leaders, did not force civilians to make those kind of clear choices, and if it caused me to be the skunk at the picnic...(sniff) take a deep smell.

Q: Camp David. What was decided there as far as you were concerned?

Powell: Camp David was an exceptionally good meeting, I thought. We all assembled early in the morning, fresh. Norm had come up from Tampa. All of the principal leaders were there in that marvellous cabin that the President has for conferences. The President and his political and civilian advisers were on one side of the table, Norm and I and our assistants were on the other side of the table.

There were several cross currents going on in the meeting. One cross current was "Can we get the Saudis to accept the forces that we want to send." Keeping in mind that this general, who sometimes is accused of not having military options, sat with Prince Bandar at three o clock the Friday--the 2nd--in Dick Cheney's office, and laid out to Prince Bandar a deployment of US forces that would initially go up to one hundred thousand and my dear friend Prince Bandar said, "Whew, you guys aren't kidding."

Now this is thirty-six hours after the invasion, so the suggestion that we didn't have military options, we weren't providing military options, I think falls a little flat when we presented to Bandar our military option involving one hundred thousand US troops going to the Kingdom, immediately, and this was less than thirty-six hours after the invasion.

Q: But the decision at Camp David--was it a decision to defend Saudi Arabia or a decision to send a force that would later be used to take back Kuwait?

Powell: The Camp David meeting was very, very interesting and a very, very constructive meeting because we were able to lay out to the President what we could do right away to deal with the immediate problem, which was the defense of Saudi Arabia. Kuwait was at this point gone, it had been invaded and occupied.

Our immediate problem that Saturday was to start moving forces that could defend Saudi Arabia and the bulk of Norm's very, very fine briefing dealt with the movement of forces and the disposition of forces to defend Saudi Arabia.

At the tail end of that briefing, in just a few minutes, Norm then said, "If, Mr President, your decision is to go beyond the defense of Saudi Arabia and the mission is given to us to eject the Iraqi army out of Kuwait and restore the legitimate government in Kuwait, here are the additional forces that would be required." Note, here are the additional forces that would be required on top of the forces needed for the mission we're talking about, which was the defense of Saudi Arabia.

And the President took note of that, he understood it, and Norm even gave a time line, which turned out to be reasonably accurate compared to what we did subsequently.

And so what we left that meeting with what was an urgent need to convince the Saudis that they should let US forces begin to arrive in the Kingdom in large number. That was the major outcome of the meeting and an understanding of what it would take if we had to go beyond that and eject the Iraqi army from Kuwait.

But I did not leave that meeting with that as a decision. It was an option, it was something we had to consider, it's something we might well have to do. But the crisis that was before us that day was the defense of Saudi Arabia. And as you know, it was the next day before we could get Secretary Cheney off with General Schwarzkopf to go visit His Majesty in the Kingdom.

Q: "This will not stand"--Tell me that story and why it mattered.

Powell: You have to remember that the major issue before us, Saturday through Sunday, was to get the Saudis permission to allow us to start moving troops. If they didn't give us that permission and we couldn't defend Saudi Arabia then we wouldn't be able to eject the Iraqis from Kuwait if that ultimately became our objective.

So Saturday and Sunday were sort of a waiting time for us, waiting for Cheney to get to the Kingdom to talk to His Majesty. And then suddenly the President returns Sunday afternoon from Camp David and he is walking toward the White House residence, he is getting shouted questions, "What are you going to do? What are you going to do?" "What's your reaction to the invasion?" And the President just turns and says, "This will not stand." He's pressed. "Wh... What?"

"This invasion of Kuwait. This will not stand".

And that was, for me anyway, the first direct expression from the President that he has crossed the line and there's no question he will do what is necessary to get the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Whether it's by sanctions, sanctions and force, force alone, whatever it's going to take. And so he had crossed the river at that point in my mind and I sat up and said, "Wow." I wasn't perturbed, I was just surprised to hear it in that manner and I immediately started thinking about what I called this new mission that we had just received.

For me and for Schwarzkopf it was a new mission. Now maybe for some of my other colleagues, they had thought that direction had been given earlier or the President had crossed this line earlier, but for me, and I think for Norm, and I'll let Norm speak for himself, for at least for me this was a new mission you had to start getting ready for.

Q: Now he gives this speech on August the 15th. Tell me about that.

Powell: After the President uttered this famous expression "This will not stand" and I started to internalise this and Schwarzkopf was on his way to the Kingdom with Cheney, the next day, Monday, we waited anxiously for the results of the Cheney/King Fahd meeting. And then late that afternoon Cheney called the White House and then he calls me and says "We have permission. Start the force moving." And I immediately contacted the commanders concerned and a massive airlift began to move forces. So not only were options available, the options were ready to be executed some four days after the invasion of Kuwait.

For the next week and a half our interest was getting forces on the ground. As I said to Cheney and to my other political leaders, "The most important thing is to get an American flag in the desert." Because I didn't think the Iraqis wanted to fight America and I didn't think they had made a decision yet to invade Saudi Arabia, but they might be tempted to.

The first chance we had to bring the President over to the Pentagon and give him a more formal briefing and to meet with all the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was on the 15th of August and the flow had began. We had oh maybe ten or twenty, maybe as high as thirty thousand troops already in the region after just a week and a half.

I wanted, at that point, to put in the President's mind firmly the time line and the decisions that would be needed as we went down the road. And after the briefing in the tank we adjourned to Secretary Cheney's office, Secretary Cheney, myself and one or two others. And using a simple chart I described to the President the build up and how fast it would occur, when we would have to bring in the decision to call up reserves, when we would have to bring in the decision to activate all of our civil airlift fleet...the various decision points.

And I told him that sometime about the third week in October we would have reached the level of force needed for defending Saudi Arabia. Without question we would have the ability to defend Saudi Arabia. And by the third week in October we would be putting the last unit in the pipeline at this end to arrive in Saudi Arabia sometime in late November. And at that point he would have to make a decision as to whether he wanted to continue to just defend Saudi Arabia or we kick more troops into the pipeline because we wanted to go on to the offense.

So as early as the 15th of August the President knew the time lines against which we were operating and he would have to make decisions. And by then, the 15th of August, the international community had adopted a sanctions policy and that was the policy of the United States and the policy of the international community as reflected in the UN resolutions.

After that briefing the President just took note of it and said, "Thanks, it's good to know what these time lines are." He then went out in front of the Pentagon where overnight the White House advance team had created a podium and a platform and a place for people to assemble so the President can speak to them.

Schwarzkopf was there, and the President's speech was very very attuned to the military and Pentagon audience. It was tough, it was unyielding and in different words, he re-enforced his point of 4 August that this will not stand and there is no question that he was going forward with this and he was going to reverse the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. How we would have to do it remained to be determined.

Q: Lots of people have talked about it...that you became concerned that containment--sanctions--wasn't receiving proper consideration. Tell me what the President said back to you when you laid out this particular option.

Powell: The build up continued through all of August and into September. The sanctions policy was in effect by then, we were intercepting ships at sea and we were building up.

The President had a major political problem. How do you keep this coalition together, how do you get public support for whatever we might have to do and how long are we going to be stuck with this problem.

There were a number of people around who were suggesting to the President that--just bomb them a little bit and they'll quit. We were getting this from the Egyptians, we were getting this from the Saudis, we were getting these ideas from a lot of different people and it went counter to my view, counter to the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff frankly and to Norm Schwarzkopf. We could not just rely on a simple strike as the way to get this taken care of and therefore we should not jump into a war that we were not prepared to prosecute to its conclusion.

But the President had a problem, he wanted to get this on. My concern was that it was going to take us a while to build this force up and the President should not be just looking at a single option of invading at the end of a time....I felt it was important that he look at all options available to him.

The option that was being executed at that time was not a counter invasion or an offensive option, it was a sanctions option. And so I wanted to make sure he understood how we could prosecute that until some point when the force was built up.

I also wanted to make sure he understood that there was yet one more option and it was an option that said "Maybe you don't want to undertake a major regional conflict in the area. You might want to adopt a policy of continued sanctions and strangulation to bring the Iraqis to their senses and reverse the invasion without having to go to war."

And so on during this period in early September, Cheney and I talked about it, I talked about it with Paul Wolfowitz, I talked about it with Jim Baker who had some slight enthusiasm for it. Scowcroft and I also talked about it. He listened to it but Scowcroft, he was, "You know, this just isn't going to work in a timely manner and I don't think the President will buy it."

And then finally on a Monday afternoon, I think it was the 24th of September, it's been reported as some time in October but it was the 24th of September, Cheney and I got to talking about it again and he says, "Well let's just go over and talk to the President."

At this point he was allowing me to give all kinds of advice again having, you know, put me in my box. But Dick was wonderful in that regard. He gave me full opportunity to vent whatever was on my mind that I felt was important.

We go to the White House. It is not a full meeting of the NSC, nobody from the State Department was there, Baker's not there, Eagleburger's not there. It's just sort of a regular afternoon meeting that Cheney occasionally had with the President and the President, myself, Cheney, Scowcroft and Sununu were the only ones in the room.

And we sat around the President's desk, we didn't even go off to the normal seating area, and just leaning over the President's desk I took him through the state of the build up following up from what I said earlier, how the build up was going and from the 15th August now to the 24th of September.

I laid out for him when we'd be ready to go on the attack and then I laid out for him what a sanctions policy might look like and how it would work. And when I was through, he listened intently in that way he has, somewhat slouched in his chair with his chin slightly down. The picture's been published and it's kind of famous. And when I was through he took it all in. We chatted for just a moment or two and his response was "Well Colin, that's all, very very interesting. It's good to consider all options but I just don't think we're going to have time for sanctions to work."

And I said "That is the problem. You don't know how long it takes sanctions to work, you're not seizing the initiative from your enemy, you're essentially hoping that this pressure will cause your enemy to come to a decision rather than you making the decision for him. That's the problem with sanctions but I felt you should hear it all."

Q: What was your thinking at the time? What was your preferred option...

Powell: My thinking was that it would be great if sanctions would do the job because then we would avoid a war with unknown consequences and therefore we should give sanctions as much of a ride as was politically possible. In the meantime, let's continue to build up our forces so that you have every option available to you.

Some people think that was the only policy I was pushing at that point but I would take issue with that. I felt it was important that the President hear all sides and meanwhile, while he was considering all sides, I was doing everything I could to put in place, with Schwarzkopf, a powerful, powerful force that would win decisively if that's what the President wished for.

I had no preferred option at that time. I was hoping sanctions would work. I was not making a recommendation that we should ignore or don't consider or set aside the offensive option and just go straight for a strangulation policy that might take years to work.

Q: In terms of the reluctant warrior, do you object to the characterisation of reluctant warrior?

Powell: No I'm guilty. I say quite candidly that if you can solve a crisis of this nature without a war, you certainly should try to do that and take a look at it. But what I discovered as the months went by was that it wasn't going to work without a war. And the most important meeting, at least in my mind, was the meeting at the end of October when just as I had suggested to the President on the 15th of August, I would be coming back to him at the end of October to say, "Here are your choices." And by then it was clear that sanctions were not going to work in any kind of reasonable time.

The President could not keep this coalition together for the length of time it might take for sanctions to work. As we have seen from recent events, sanctions might now be working, but it's taken four years for sons-in-laws and daughters to start leaving Baghdad.

Q: October the 30th, a big decision day. What did you say to the President? What did the President say?

Powell: October 30th, we assembled in the Situation Room at the White House. I'd just returned from Saudi Arabia where Norm and I and all of his commanders sat down and went over what troops would be needed for a more workable plan than the plan that had been presented on the 11th of October. And we'd come up by now with a good plan. Lots of people worked on it, I don't think anyone can claim ownership of that plan. It was a plan that almost emerged out of what the Iraqis were doing and the situation that presented itself.

And so I had come back to present this plan to my political masters and we assembled in the Situation Room. Brent Scowcroft led off the meeting and Brent said, "We are, Mr President," solemnly he said, "Mr President, we are at a Y in the road. Down one branch we can continue sanctions, which was the policy, and we can just be prepared to defend Saudi Arabia. Down the other branch we start to get the necessary political authority to go on the attack."

They chatted about that. This conversation broke out between Baker and Scowcroft and Cheney as to when we might go to the UN, this, that and the other. The President got just tired of it after a while and I was standing there with all my maps and he said, "Fine, fine, fine. Colin let's hear from you."

And for the next...oh thirty or forty minutes, I took the President through two plans. I had a big map of the region. I draw up the first graphic overlay and said, "This is General Schwarzkopf's plan to defend Saudi Arabia, which is the mission he has been assigned. And here's how he would accept an Iraqi invasion in the empty desert, here's how he would counter attack, here's how he would cut it off, here's how we would do that."

They listened with passive interest because they knew we could do that. And then finally I said, "Mr President, that satisfies the original mission you gave us." I rolled up my overlay, took it off, put on another overlay, and I said, "Mr President, if you direct us to attack in order to eject the Iraqi army out of Kuwait, this is how we're going to do it."

And I rolled it down, no longer passive interest, active interest. Everybody leaned forward. And I described how we would have the secondary air campaign, the secondary attacks, the amphibious feints, and then finally the deep hook around the left side of the Iraqi forces and took 'em through that in considerable detail and then told them it would take a much larger force. And then I laid out the size of that force.

There were some gasps, there were some (...sound of gulping...). The President listened very carefully and the President said, "Now Colin, you and Norm are really sure that air power alone can't do it?" And my response was "Mr President, I wish to God that I could assure you that air power alone could do it but you can't take that chance. We've gotta take the initiative out of the enemy's hands if we're going to go to war. We've got to make sure that this is...there is no ordained conclusion and outcome, that there'll be no guessing as to, you know, we're going to be successful with this plan and this is the plan we recommend."

Secretary Cheney then joined in and said he recommended it fully as well and so did all of my Joint Chiefs of Staff colleagues. There was some more discussion, as there always is in this meeting of old friends and colleagues and sometimes adversaries and protagonists, but always friends.

And then finally, when the meeting had gone on long enough for the President to have gotten everybody's views and drifters, everything, he simply looked up and he said "Do it."

And I left that meeting after that with a firm decision, no question about it, that sanctions had about three months left to produce a result, and if they did not produce a result in three months we were going to war. And so I had no further questions about what our mission was or what our policy was or where we were heading.

Q: Can you sum up--so my mother understands it--what's the policy of overwhelming force.

Powell: Well, just for your 'Mum' to understand, I like to use the term decisive force which essentially says, "If this is important enough to go to war for, we're going to do it in a way that there's no question what the outcome will be and we're going to do it by putting the force necessary to take the initiative away from your enemy and impose your will upon him. If you're not serious enough to do that, then you ought to think twice about going to war.

It's the equivalent of being the biggest bully on the block. "I've got my knife, I've got my gun, I've got my stick ball bat, are you sure you really want to challenge me?"

Very often, if you go into a crisis situation in that way, you can perhaps even avoid the crisis, avoid going to war. And if you do have to go to war then you will achieve your objective with minimum loss of life and that's been my approach. Does that mean it fits every situation and you could never do anything else? No. But it seems to me that that ought to be the way to look at a problem in the first instance. If you can not do that then do something less but be prepared for achieving something less than a success.

Q: By having this massive call up, by calling up the reserves, were you actively trying to make sure the American people were behind this endeavor?

Powell: No, we called up the reserves because we can't go to war without them, a war of this size. One of the things that was done back in the mid-seventies, after Vietnam, was that the structure of the armed forces was changed and back then they may have had more than the military motivation but a political motivation. General Abrams and some of those key commanders and leaders back then, made sure that the reserves were an essential element of the armed forces structure so that the whole nation would get involved.

So when my turn came along, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with my colleagues in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to put together an operation like this, you could not perform such an operation without calling up the reserves. So it wasn't a matter of gamesmanship that I was doing it to make sure that the American people were totally committed to this effort but we couldn't have gone to war without them.

Q: The period that followed, there was outcry when the announcement was made over doubling the forces. How concerned were you that once again the military would be out in front and there'd be no public opinion behind them?

Powell: I wasn't concerned about that at that time. Frankly when we decided to double the size of the force there was even a debate as to whether we had to announce it or not. Finally I pressed and said, "This is not a trivial matter."

And we had a formal announcement of it and there was a great deal of...of controversy principally in the Congress, and a great deal of editorial commentary.

Because what that decision said was, "We're going to war and three months of sanctions haven't worked." And there were those who did not want to go to war under any set of circumstances, they wanted the sanctions to have a full period of time to run. But I wasn't concerned at that point about public support. I think we were starting to garner public support.

Q: But were you thinking about Vietnam?

Powell: No. The American military has constantly been nailed about the so-called Vietnam syndrome. Does it affect our thinking? Sure it was the most definitive military event in our lives and in our career.

But it is not a syndrome, as if it's some sort of mental disease we have. It's the right way to go about dealing with war: have a clear objective, know what you're doing,... It's know what you're getting into, know what you're trying to achieve. And if it's important, and if you're going to send young men and women to die to achieve that objective, then by God give them every advantage to achieve it and go in for a decisive win. Maybe you can't always do that. But you should always look to do that in the first instance.

And so it is more than just a syndrome that we're suffering from. Sometimes I think it's some of my civilian political friends and media friends who are suffering from the syndrome. What those of us in the military are trying to do is to use all of the lessons in military history, to make sure that our political leaders understand the consequences of going to war and how to go to war well and do it well.

Q: What were your concerns over the President demonizing Saddam Hussein?

Powell: When you demonize an enemy such as the President tended to do with Saddam Hussein and others did--and frankly I did it from time to time because it was useful putting a face on this crisis--but, in so demonising him, by the President and the rest of us, you raised expectations that you would do something about him at the end of the day.

But we never had a plan that said we were going to go to Baghdad and actually remove this guy from power the way we removed Noriega from power in Panama. Because we had no international authority for that, we had no agreement within the coalition, especially the Arab members of the coalition, that we would do such a thing. They were anxious to see Iraq stay together, the Iraqi army out of Kuwait, Saddam gone preferably but the son of Saddam, figuratively, or another Sunni leader emerge to hold this country together and so that the country's not so prostrate that Iran could walk over it.

Q: The first night of the war you describe in your book seeing a pilot come back from a mission. Tell me about that and why it mattered so much.

Powell: The first night of the war was the most difficult night for me, frankly, because we had put this plan together, could not avoid war, sanctions did not work, they were a failure. And I was quite confident we would be successful because we had put together a decisive force.

But no plan survives first contact with a real enemy and so I was anxious to see how the plan would start to unfold. It was also the first war that was about to be broadcast in living color, complete with commercial breaks, to the whole world at once.

And so I sat in my office watching and waiting. I knew where every plane was and I knew where the B52s were that came all the way from the United States, I knew when the cruise missiles were launched, and all I could do at this point was wait for the results.

And while waiting for the results, suddenly there is CNN with my three friends, the CNN reporters, in the Rashid Hotel reporting something. Green tracers flying up into the sky and the whole world starts to watch this war in real time.

Finally Norm starts to give me spot reports and then he gives me one summary report early the next morning which is quite good. We'd only lost one perhaps two airplanes and we'd had good target coverage. So Norm's taking care of that war and it's going to go fine. But how are the American people reacting to the war, what are they seeing, what is the world seeing?

It's a new environment. You have to pay as much attention to what people have seen in real time as you do with what's going on in the war in real time.

And so I was anxiously waiting to see how the people would react to this. And suddenly one of the first scenes coming off one of our airfields is of this F16 landing and we finally have allowed some reporters aboard...on the airfield to watch it. Rolls to a stop, canopy pops open, pilot comes out. I met him later, his name is Jet Jurnigen I mean, right out of Hollywood Central Casting--Jet Jurnigen is the young man's name.

And so he comes down, and he's walking away, he's just finished his first combat mission, the adrenalin's flowing out of him and...and he just wants to be alone for a while but the reporters are persistent.

And I'm watching this in real time in my office and suddenly the youngster turns around to talk to the reporters and I say, "Oh, no telling what Jet Jurnigen is liable to say to a pushy reporter."

And what Jet Jurnigen says is, "I'll tell you what it was all about, what is what like. First, I want to thank God that I completed my mission successfully and I got back to my base safely." That's pretty good. American people are hearing this. Confident, that American pilot.

He starts to walk away and he looks over his shoulder a second time and he says, "I want to thank God for the love of a good woman."

He starts to walk away again and he looks over his shoulder a third time and he says "I want to thank God that I'm an American." And then he looks over his shoulder a fourth time and he says, "I want to thank God that I'm an American fighter pilot." I about swooned.

And for the next number of weeks American people saw this spirit of confidence, spirit of professionalism, well-trained, well-equipped, well-led young Americans, the best and brightest, side by side with well-equipped, well-trained Brits, Canadians, Italians, all of the twenty-eight nations or thereabouts that sent troops to the region. And they sort of fell in love with them and they felt very, very good about what they were doing at that point. There was a feel good that we had not seen since World War II....

When we came home from Vietnam we had lost faith. You didn't wear...a uniform.

And this time we would try to do it right, we were trying to do it with the right blend of political objectives, decisive military means and making sure that when we had accomplished that objective, we would know it and we would stop the war. The American people understood that, they supported it, and they saw political and military leaders who seemed to know what they were doing.

And the American people, and I suspect, the people of Britain as well, you didn't have a Vietnam experience like we did, you were kind of off the wind from the Falklands war, but the American people, and I would also say the British people, kind of fell in love with their armed forces again. And at least in America, a spirit was recreated that we hadn't seen since 1945--VE Day and VJ Day--and we were very proud of that.

Q: You gave this amazing press conference. "Here's our plan for the Iraqi army. We're going to cut it off, then we're going to kill it." Why did you give that press conference?

Powell: The first night of the war everybody was in heaven, they saw these strikes going very successfully, casualties were almost nil, television pictures of bombs going down chimney stacks and all that sort of stuff. And some of the reporters were running around saying, "This is going to be over right away."

And I had to call down to the Pentagon press office and tell them to shut those guys up. We have just started a war, it isn't a one day affair. It is not going to be over before the next commercial break, tell 'em to cool it.

And after a week of this you could sense the angst and anxiety and unease throughout the American body politic. "Gosh, it's been going on for a week. Why isn't it over? Maybe it's not going well? What are we trying to do?"

And we had not been sort of on stage to explain what we were trying to do. So I went up to see Secretary Cheney and said "You know, we...we've got to do something because now we're starting to lose the public on this one."

And Dick agreed readily. And the next day, Tuesday, we set up a press conference. And Cheney and I worked so closely together that we almost always knew who would say what, we could always mesh it very, very well. And he was always good about letting me do the military stuff as the Chairman and he would handle the diplomatic and political context.

And so we went down to the press office and Cheney put it all in political context, what we were trying to achieve. And I had thought through what I wanted to say and I wanted to describe to the American people the whole campaign.

Everybody remembers that line "Cut it off and kill it." I wished they'd remember the rest of the briefing as well where, essentially, I laid out the campaign plan, all phases of the air campaign, how we had isolated the battlefield, how we had tried to cut communications, how we'd done this, how we'd done that. And then finally I moved from Baghdad South and said, "Now the immediate objective is the Iraqi army in Kuwait and our strategy for going after this is very very simple."

And then I used the line that "we're going to cut...first we're going to cut it off and then we're going to kill it." And I had thought that through. It wasn't just a spontaneous expression. I needed something to capture the essence of what we were trying to do and so that's why I used that line.

And then the other one that became well known was, "Trust me, trust me," where I put some dummied up data of how we had knocked out Iraqi radar systems. I didn't want to put the real data up so I used charts without numbers on them. And the reporters immediately started looking at them very suspiciously and all I could says was--"I can't tell you what the numbers really are, but trust me, trust me."

Q: Were you surprised you got away with that one?

Powell: Got away with it, God (laugh) I got away with it, and...but they could trust me. I was not trying to deceive them, I was trying to give the American people a sense of how it was going.

We knew that when you stood up in one of those press conferences, you weren't talking to reporters, you were answering their questions but you were talking to the American people, you were talking to a hundred and fifty capitals, you were talking to the enemy and you were talking to your troops. So you always had to have a message that would fit all five audiences and the fifth audience of course being the reporters themselves.

And so I tried to make sure that "to cut it off and kill" was something that would reassure the American people, communicate a signal to Baghdad, give assurance to our coalition friends around the world, each of whom has a President, a Prime Minister or a King with their own political constituencies, that we knew where we were and where we were going and also make sure the troops understood it.

Q: What do you say to those people who feel..."Hey, if only we'd been allowed to carry on bombing Baghdad, we could have won the war ourselves."

Powell: Air power advocates have been saying this forever and one of these days it may prove to be true. But it wasn't demonstrated in Desert Storm and the lessons of the bombing of London and many other cities in the course of history suggest that that is not necessarily the outcome that you get from sustained bombing in Baghdad.

Keeping in mind also that we were bombing very selectively in Baghdad. In fact it's one of the cleanest bombing campaigns that's ever been held so I just can't accept the judgement that if they were allowed to bomb for, how long, two years, it would have produced a result. I wish it had produced a result in the first thirty eight days, but it didn't.

Q: The meeting about the Gorbachev approach on the eve of the land war. Can you describe your contribution to that meeting?

Powell: Earlier in the evening, while the President was at the theatre, we heard about the Gorbachev approach. And I came over early, went to Scowcroft's office and sat with him for a while and started thinking about it and jotted some notes to myself. And then we went to the President's private residence when he returned from the theatre.

We were all assembled, it was late at night, the last thing we needed to have is this thrown into our laps. The President was irritated by it. But at the same time Gorbachev had been helpful all along, for his own purposes not necessarily always for ours, but nevertheless helpful. And so the President was anxious not to lose him at this point.

The first response that came out of the...the policy crowd that was there was, "Stiff him," and that was essentially it. The President became irritated. He said "Can't do that. Come on, I need something different."

And then we chatted about it for a while and I looked at the notes I had scribbled myself and then sort of looked at the President in a questioning way and he said "Well Colin, do you have something?"

And I said "Well sir, yes sir. An alternative might be not to stiff him directly but to stiff him by putting out a deadline. Mr. Gorbachev, glad you're for peace but we're going to set a deadline and if you can get these guys out of Kuwait by that deadline, or essentially out of Kuwait by that deadline, fine--you can put yourself in for a Nobel Peace Prize. But if you don't, we continue. We take this to a conclusion."

The President heard that, there was a bit of silence in the room for a moment and then it was kicked around. And, "What time should we make this deadline for?" and finally everybody agreed to it. And that's what the President announced the next morning.

Q: On the eve of the land war, great pressure's on Schwarzkopf. You have this big-flare up with him which is now put to bed. But can you tell that story?

Powell: Well we'd established a date for the beginning of the ground campaign and General Schwarzkopf came back and asked for the date to be slipped for a couple of days and he gave us the reasons for that. And we took that to the President and got his approval. But we have a President who is anxious to get this on and I've got a Secretary of Defense who is anxious to get this over with, and he's trying to convey the President's desires.

So when General Schwarzkopf came back again and said he had a problem with the date it was a little bit difficult to see his problem while I was having my problem.

And I went and talked to Secretary Cheney and said "Look, Norm's thinking about changing the date again." Dick was not happy to hear that.

And so then I went down to talk to Norm on the phone and said "Norm look, this is getting hard to explain." And I took him through why it was getting hard to explain and he exploded and said "You know, you do not understand my problem, you're talking in political terms. If you don't care about the lives of young people well I do".

That did it. I exploded and I started shouting back at him. You know "I care as much as you do but there's a limit. And I have to work in both the political world and the military world. I am not privileged to be isolated over there where I don't have to consider these political implications and that's what the Chairman does."

And we got into a pretty good row. But then we have the utmost respect and affection for each other. I think the world of Norm. And we knew we'd better stop talking. And so I said, "Look Norm, we got a problem, we'll work our way through."

He said "Colin, I think I'm losing it. I feel my head's in a vice." I said "You're not losing it. You have our total confidence but you got a problem. We'll work our way through this problem. You know, at the end of the day, I will carry your message forward. You're the guy in the field."

And so I just hung the phone up, and saw Cheney and told him just, we've got to wait a little while. And then about thirty minutes later Norm called and said "Weather's fine. We can go."

This is what crisis in the war is all about. People argue, people fight, people disagree, people apply motives to other people. You argue, you shout, he's for sanctions he's not for war, he's for war he's not for sanctions. This is part of the normal process of going through a crisis together.

These are not simple matters and that's what we went through during this six-month period. And at the end of the day, when it was time to go to war, we were all knitted up, civilian leaders, military leaders, commanders in the field, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we were all knitted up and knew what we had to do, with a great coalition from around the world, and we went and we did it. But it's never simple or easy, there are always these kinds of debates and disagreements and fights.

Q: The land war starts. Didn't you overestimate the Iraqis totally. Why was that? Does it matter?

Powell: I don't know that it matters and I'm not sure how bad the overestimate was. I think at the height of the Iraqi build-up they had probably had close to the amount of force there that we thought they did, whether it was four hundred or four hundred and fifty, five hundred thousand. People will quibble it wasn't five fifty it was five twenty five, we didn't know. The only way we'd know is by looking at units on the ground with satellites and then estimating what level of strength is within those units and then adding it up.

I never worried about the number particularly. There were about forty-four divisions and I knew where they were and it was those divisions that had to be defeated.

I suspect that by the time the ground war started, as a result of defections, deserters, the air campaign, an intense air campaign, that that forty-four division force was a lot, lot smaller and much less capable than it had been at the beginning. I'm not sure how much less capable, but certainly much less capable.

And in different ways the front line units were pretty much I think shattered by the time the ground war started. The second echelon units, a little bit better, heavier units, not quite devastated, and the Republican Guard further to the rear still capable of putting up some kind of fight.

But it doesn't make a whole lot of difference to me whether there were four hundred thousand, three hundred thousand, five hundred thousand. There was an army in the field with forty-four divisions that had fought for eight years against the Iranians and had some capability, and we put in place a force that would deal with that.

I was asked once, "Well, you know, you overestimated--they only wanted four aircraft carriers and you gave them six. Why did you give them six?"

And my answer was "'Cause I didn't have time to go get the rest of them." I mean, the Cold War was over. We had this enormous power. We could put insurance policy on top of insurance policy. Why not? I would never apologize for that.

So we put in place one hell of a force with our coalition partners and the Iraqis may not have been as strong as we thought they were and they probably deteriorated enormously during the time they were out in the desert, but that doesn't make a whole lot of difference to me. We put in place a force that would deal with it-- whether they were three hundred thousand, or five hundred thousand.

Q: When the land war started, what was your nightmare scenario? What was the thing at three in the morning that...? Powell: Biological weapons, chemical weapons...would be a major political and public relations problem. But I did not see them as a military problem. We could fight in a chemical environment. Out in the wide expanses of the desert, you can get out of chemicals. We had equipment, we knew how to deal with that.

Biological weapons, if they had been delivered in some way, not so much at the troops in contact, but against the Saudi population, that could have caused--I don't know what we would have done at that point. I don't think it would have affected the troops on the ground but it may have fundamentally changed the political and public relations environment.

I never thought they had a nuclear weapon. I wasn't worried about a nuclear weapon. They just were not that far along. I still don't think they're that far along.

Q: What is your estimate as to what would have happened if they'd started throwing around non-conventional weapons?

Powell: I think we would have greatly expanded the strategic campaign. We would have put things in the target list that we might not have had otherwise, things that went to the heart of their ability to survive as a nation.

In my memoirs I make note of a list of things that I started to jot down as a warning: infrastructure, highways, airports, anything that would destroy them as a nation without causing, you know, unnecessary loss of civilian life.

And one of the things we actually kicked around was knocking off the dams on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers which would have caused enormous destruction downstream. I'm not sure that's one we ever would have done because the loss of civilian life would have been terrible and we really had not thoroughly analysed. We knew how to hit the dams but I don't know if we analysed what the effect downstream would have been. But, nevertheless, it would have been a good one to threaten the Iraqis with.

And of course there was always the implicit threat of nuclear weapons. I don't think we ever would have used them but, nevertheless, the Iraqis didn't know that and we could have if provocation was serious.

Q: The morning of February the 27th--and Walt Boomer is parked outside Kuwait City, about to take a pleasure ride through the city. Franks, the evening before, has made contact with the Republican Guard, and they'd been fighting through the night. It's clear you thought the time was coming to end this war. Why?

Powell: We pretty much saw the entire Iraqi army leaving Kuwait. They had ordered a withdrawal and they were fleeing out North in any conveyances they could get on. We owned Kuwait City. That part of the mission clearly had been achieved.

We were fighting well along the Western flank and large numbers of Iraqi units were being overrun. We had prisoners of war totalling something like seventy thousand. And so the fundamental objectives were well on their way to being achieved. The question was, "How much additional destruction do we want to inflict upon the Iraqi army that was in the Kuwait theatre?"

And that's what I saw on the morning of the 27th. General Schwarzkopf and I had talked about it and I told him that I sensed that we were approaching end game on this. He agreed. He had the same view of the battlefield that I did, or I had his view because the reports essentially are coming from him.

We also were starting to see some scenes that were unpleasant. The 'highway of death'...it may be a horrible name to give it and sort of gives it an emotional contact, but that's what the press was calling it. At the so-called 'highway of death' where people were just being slaughtered as our planes went up and down.

Q: Isn't that what armies do?

Powell: You don't do unnecessary killing if can be avoided. At some point you decide you've accomplished your objectives and you stop. And on that morning both General Schwarzkopf and I thought that we were on the verge of accomplishing our objectives and we were in the window of putting an end to it so there was not unnecessary additional loss of life on the part of American and coalition forces or on the part of Iraqi youngsters and shi'ite conscripts.

Q: Could I just ask--I'm still unclear in my mind what the war aims were.

Powell: They were in the campaign plan we wrote and they were the objectives that the President used publicly to get public support.

One--the ejection of the Iraqi army from Kuwait. Notice the word I use, the 'ejection of the Iraqi army from Kuwait.' Second--there is restoration of the legitimate government in Kuwait. Third--providing for the release of all third country nationals who are in danger or who are hostage and fourth--achieving a level of strategic stability in the region. An objective that we had within our campaign plans was destroy the Republican Guard.

And so on the morning of the 27th the strategic political objectives were all on the verge of accomplishment. We had no objective that said go to Baghdad. We had no objective that said, split apart Iraq.

It has to be remembered our Arab friends were not going to go into Iraq, their soldiers would not step foot in Iraq. They were going into Kuwait to kick the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. That was the resolution passed by the United Nations and that's what the Congressional resolution provided for.

So there was no doubt in my mind or in General Schwarzkopf's mind that we were close to accomplishing the assigned objectives given to us by our political leaders.

And so on the morning of the 27th these things were coming together. After talking to Schwarzkopf and having our common view of the battlefield, I went over to the White House with Dick Cheney, and Dick I had briefed by this time, and we briefed the President as we'd been doing every morning and the gang of eight....

Q: So what did you say to the President? What did he say to you?

Powell: I essentially set up my map as I would always do for those briefings, pull out my little laser pointer, which always amused the President, and I took him through the situation on the ground, where our units were, where the Iraqis were, how they were fleeing.

I pointed out they were starting to pick some bad vibes because of the highway of death and the fact that we were in the exploitation phase of the operation.

And after laying out the entire battlefield for them, I told them I thought we were approaching end game and I would expect that within the next twenty four hours--at our next meeting tomorrow morning--I would be bringing you a recommendation with respect to the cessation of hostilities.

The President then said "Well, if that's the case, we're within the window, why not end it now?"

And we thought about that, we kicked it around. He said, "We're picking up some unfortunate baggage right now, some public baggage, he was thinking also in political terms, and he said, "I'd like you to consider that. I'd like you all to consider that," talking to all of the civilian advisers in the room as well as to me.

And I certainly primed the pump on that by laying out the situation in the battlefield and giving him the view that Norm and I had of the status of the battle at that point.

And so I say, "It's certainly something to consider but obviously I've got to go talk to Norm."

And so I went and called Norm and told him of our conversation in the Oval Office and he said, "Yeah, I think that's probably the right thing to do," or words to that effect. "But let me check around, let me take another look and I'll get back to you."

Keep in mind while we were having this conversation in the Oval Office, Norm was giving the 'mother of all briefings' where, in effect, he said "I am essentially waiting for political leaders to say that we can end this". So it wasn't as if something was happening in the Oval Office that was totally foreign from Norm's view of the battlefield and what was happening in Saudi Arabia.

And so we talked about it some more, all the President's advisers had a chance to speak on it and none of them was negative to the idea.

We realised at the time we were talking about it that it wasn't going to be VE Day or VJ Day. It wasn't going to be a total capitulation, units would get out, Saddam would survive, but the President felt he had accomplished his objectives and, if that's the case, why not stop the killing.

We then took that under advisement and we all had other things to do. Mr. Cheney and I went up on the Hill to brief the Congress, other advisers went to start thinking about this and contacting coalition members, I guess, and also starting to write up the announcement.

And then Secretary Cheney and I came back to the Oval Office that afternoon. Meanwhile I'd had my Vice Chairman, Admiral Jeremiah, consult with the Joint Chiefs of Staff who concurred in stopping it.

Then at about three minutes to six that evening, back in the President's private study, and having talked to Norm again and gotten his concurrence, the President made a decision to stop the war, have a cease fire at that point.

Q: What did he say?

Powell: We returned from the Hill, Mr Cheney and I, and we joined the President in his small office. We had talked to Schwarzkopf, I'd gotten input from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and at five fifty-seven, three minutes before six, the President reaffirmed his decision and said, "I think this is the thing to do." And that was it, that was the decision.

We then adjourned back to the Oval Office, others joined and we had phonecalls with Norm Schwarzkopf. The President talked to Norm, got Norm's personal concurrence and satisfaction with the decision. The same thing with Cheney. He talked to Norm.

We then shifted the time a few hours from the original plan to make it midnight our time in Washington, which was eight o clock in the morning in the region, which essentially gave Norm a few hours of daylight in order to check things out and clean up the battlefield. And frankly, gives him the other day almost that he'd asked for.

So assuming that we were only planning to fight for another day, that was shortened by about twelve hours maybe. But I can't tell whether the war might have continued for another day or two. As it turned out, after the cease fire, Iraqi units did continue to challenge us and one of the big battles took place after the cease fire when Barry McAffery's division wiped out a large Iraqi force trying to go up the Euphrates River Valley.

So we killed another several hundred vehicles after the cease fire, and that's the decision the President made and I think it was the correct decision.

Q: Were you concerned about the reputation of the American forces who'd won this wonderful victory? Were you thinking that--we don't want to be seen to be slaughtering ...? Powell: What was going through my mind on that morning, was that we were on the verge of accomplishing the mission we had been assigned. The objectives were being achieved.

At some point we have to decide when to end this war and I guess, once again, I'm the one who essentially is teeing up a decision rather than it just sort of floats around.

And so, on that morning, as I had done throughout Desert Storm, I made the President aware that some time in the next twenty-four hours we were going to be reaching the point where we'd probably be coming to you with a recommendation to stop the war because we'd accomplished all the objectives that had been assigned. I did not make a recommendation at that point to stop the war. I made a point to the President, that we would be coming forward within the next twenty-four hours more likely with a recommendation to stop.

So as I tried to do throughout this period, I gave the President forewarning of decisions that he would be asked to make.

Q: The other version has a slightly grudging Norm Schwarzkopf, left to his own devices--that's what he told me--he would carry on, go to the sea and encircle them and you say, "Well, do you think you could cease fire tomorrow morning?" in the first telephone conversation. And the Gates and the Scowcrofts and the Bakers, they all say, "Aah, the initiative came from Colin Powell. If it hadn't been for him we'd have just carried on." But the military guys told us, "We'd achieved everything, they were cut off, they were all destroyed," etc., etc. What's your take on that?

Powell: Everyone of the President's advisers was present and General Schwarzkopf was consulted. And if any of them thought it was the wrong thing to do they could have spoken up and we could have continued.

If Norm had said one word about "No, I've really got to keep going because I haven't inflicted enough damage on the Republican Guard, we want to go all the way to Basra and come around the other end," we would have continued. But none of them spoke out for it.

I think I faithfully reported Norm's input to me to the people in the Oval Office. I still think it was a wise decision. I don't shrink from it, and to the extent that they wish to put it all on my shoulders, I won't accept it.

Q: What price did President Bush pay in this end game for demonizing Saddam Hussein?

Powell: I think that the American people would obviously have preferred to see--bring me the head of Saddam Hussein. It would have made for a much much cleaner win. Even if we hadn't killed that many more members of the Republican Guard, if we'd got Saddam Hussein that would have made for a much more, you know, a much more decisive outcome.

But it has to be remembered that for months after the end of Desert Storm, President Bush was riding at eighty, even ninety-one percent popularity, with Saddam Hussein there.

It must be remembered that the President was anxious to bring all the troops home as quickly as possible and the President was anxious to turn his attention to domestic affairs. So even though it wasn't quite as clean as we might have liked it, I don't know that it hurt the President that much.

As I go around the countryside and talk to the American people as opposed to the analysts, it is still viewed as a very very successful conflict that we won and we did it in a way that minimized the loss of life.

It's easy to second guess it without remembering the panic that existed in the country, that's five, ten, fifteen...and some of the most respected analysts in town said twenty thousand casualties...one hundred and forty seven. There were parades all over this country welcoming the troops home and congratulating the President and those who participated in the operation.

And so even though it is subject to criticism, we're all, subject to some criticism for the way it ended, you have to step back and look.

The Iraqi army is not in Kuwait, the Kuwaiti government is. Saddam is still there, if he serves any purpose it's allowed us to keep the sanctions in place which we might not have been able to keep in place if say he had been replaced by H...Hamel Hussein or his son.

Sanctions have kept Iraq weak. They are not able to project power. The Iraqi army is about forty...thirty-five to forty percent of its original size. It is not a threat to Kuwait in my judgement. The principal reason it's not a threat to Kuwait is that Kuwait has a new strategic relationship with the United States and the Clinton administration has demonstrated twice in the last year that it's a good relationship that exists. Following the end of the war, the Madrid peace conference was held, which led to the Middle East peace progress we've seen in the last couple of years. Within a year afterward, the weakness of Yasser Arafat and others, allowed us to resolve the situation of our hostages in Beirut. They're all now out and we have no hostages in Beirut.

And so when I tally that all up, I think it was a pretty good outcome, and it was an outcome that was achieved with minimum loss of life.

We can grind our teeth forever as to whether we should have fought a day or two longer, we could grind our teeth forever as to who was for sanctions, who teed up what, who influenced somebody to do this, that and the other.

But while we're doing all that and having great fun with it, we ought to recognize the significant achievement that Desert Shield, Desert Storm was. President Bush said "This will not stand." That did not stand. The American people have continued to believe that it was a successful operation and that we did well.

Q: Saddam took terrible retribution against the Shi'ites and then the Kurds, and George Bush had encouraged people to rise up. Shouldn't you have helped them?

Powell: That is a good question. I don't know who we would have been helping. I mean the Shi'ites...it wasn't so much a revolution as it was some sort of spontaneous uprising. I don't think any of us knew who they were or who they were being led by.

The only issue that came up is, should we do something about the Iraqi helicopters that are being used to suppress them. But the more important question is, do we get involved in this conflict to keep the Iraqis from suppressing them with helicopters or with any other weapons.

The Iraqi army had the capacity, either with the Republican Guard or those units that were never near Kuwait, to put down this kind of minor uprising from some lightly armed guerrillas. And it had never been one of our objectives to get involved in this kind of civil uprising between factions within Iraq and the Iraqi government. And so it was not clear what purpose would have been achieved by getting ourselves mixed up in the middle of that.

I think we can be criticized though for having encouraged such an uprising. But those uprisings never had a chance, never had a chance, of overthrowing the Iraqi regime.

People have suggested "Well you didn't destroy all of the Republican Guard and that's why Saddam's still in power." If Saddam was relying upon the Republican Guard to keep him in power, the Republican Guard would not have been in the Kuwaiti theater of operations. He had more than enough force to keep himself in power in Baghdad. I'm not even sure if he was in Baghdad. If he was smart he was in a mobile home somewhere in the middle of an open field, he was safer there than in any of his palaces.

Q: To draw back to the idea of the quick, decisive war, that at the end of it, America scurries back into itself and leaves a mess....

Powell: We didn't create the mess that exists within Iraq. We didn't create the difficulty between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites and the Kurds. We didn't draw the map that created Iraq in 1920, if I'm not mistaken I think it was done by British diplomats.

What we came to do, and what the UN authorized us to do, and what the American Congress authorized us to do, was to kick the Iraqi army out of Kuwait, restore the legitimate government of Kuwait, bring about a new relationship in the region and please try to do it with minimum loss of life. All of that was accomplished.

Q: And your advice to the President throughout this period of the uprising?

Powell: My advice to the President throughout the period of this uprising is that this did not seem to me to be an operation that we needed to get involved in because I couldn't figure out who was doing what to whom. And it would have required us to move further into Iraq and take responsibility for that part of Iraq and for putting down the fighting between the Iraqis and the Shi'ites and for a purpose that was not stated.

Now that's a decision that was made by all of us that is subject to criticism. I'm sure there were many others in the policy world that were advocating this, although I don't have a clear memory.

Q: Cal Waller, when he heard that the war was going to be ended, he thought it was a joke, he thought Schwarzkopf was joking and he said "It was bullshit. We've haven't destroyed the Republican Guard....we haven't encircled them." And Cal Waller says, "You've got to live by your mission accomplishment and our mission was to cut these guys off and destroy them and we hadn't done it." What do you say to him?

Powell: All I could say to Cal is that on the 27th of February, when we reached that point, and when the question was put to us as to whether or not we had done enough to say we've accomplished our mission in a way that minimized the loss of life, clearly had accomplished the mission, and we were now just killing and destroying for the purpose of killing and destroying, it was a legitimate political question being asked by the Commander-in-Chief, and the answer was "Yes."

It came from me. It came from General Schwarzkopf. I'm sure it didn't satisfy every commander below that level who are like I want them to be, aggressive guys who want to go all the way to the top of the hill and destroy the enemy.

But the political judgment was made with my military advice and with General Schwarzkopf's concurrence, that this was the time to stop the war. And I think it was a sound, sustainable, justifiable, political decision for the President to make.

Q: That Washington parade, were you thinking about Vietnam?

Powell: I was just thinking, as I sat in the stands watching Norm and the guys walk by and as I rode in the New York parade, this is incredible. We have come a far piece from the early 1970s when we came home to a state of being ignored. "You guys just go off and leave us alone, forget about the draft....We're going to cut you short on resources and we're not going to think about you very much."

We had come a long way to rebuild the armed forces of the United States and the American people had seen in Desert Storm a professional, first rate, well led, military organization, led by very very solid political leaders and the President, through Secretary Baker, Cheney and all the others, who had set out to accomplish a mission and had done it in a way that achieved the political mission that had been assigned. Did we achieve every military objective that we might have wanted to achieve? No. But you don't to go to war for military objectives, you go to war for political objectives.

Q: And was it the end of the....

Powell:....If we had fought for another day and killed another...just pick a number--whatever number you want or pick several more numbers...would that have fundamentally changed the relationship in the region? I don't think so. And the reason for that is the Iraqis with a nation of twenty million people will always be a threat to Kuwait with a population of seven hundred and fifty thousand people.

What protects Kuwait now is its relationship with the West, and with the United States of America especially. Not the fact that there is one more or less Republican Guard division or Iraqi division. Their real security comes from this new relationship and we acquired that new relationship by fighting a limited war in a limited way and doing it successfully.

Our Arab friends were not interested in us going into Shi'ite land for the purpose of helping the Shi'ites rise up. Our Arab friends would have liked to see more Iraqis killed I'm sure, but at the end of the day, they understood we were fighting a limited war and we achieved the purposes of that limited war.

And as I said earlier, criticism is legitimate, but in that criticism, let's not lose sight of the fact that we have fundamentally changed the situation of that region.

Saddam Hussein is an anachronism, he will pass in due course, and then we will see what will rise in Mesopotamia to replace him. I'm not sure it will be a Jeffersonian democrat who's just waiting for his chance. I think it is unlikely that we will see a conflict of that nature any time soon in that region, because of the new relationship we've structured with our friends there.

Q: Did this whole thing represent the end of a journey from Vietnam for you? Did you see it in those terms?

Powell: I wasn't on a journey from Vietnam. Vietnam was a chapter that I closed long ago. From 1973 roughly, to the time of Desert Storm, we rebuilt the Army, we got rid of our syndrome, we internalized the way we're supposed to fight wars. We fought war that way in Panama when we went in and took down the Noriega regime, and we fought it again in Desert Shield and Storm.

And those policies that we put in place, that strategy of how to fight wars, remains intact to this day. Those policies still remain the national policies.

For some it might be the end of the journey from Vietnam, but my journey from Vietnam ended in the mid-seventies when I tried to be a part of the process of rebuilding the American Army. We suffer less from a quote syndrome than people like to think we do.


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