“Have a set of principles, have a set of values, believe in something deeply-but be prepared to deal with the world.”
These were the words of former Secretary of State Colin Powell as he addressed the Miami University community Tuesday evening, speaking on his past role in international politics and the current state of the nation.
Returning as the eighth speaker in the Farmer School of Business’ Jack R. Anderson lecture series, it was Powell’s second visit to Miami after he served as the inaugural speaker for the series in 2000.
Powell touched on several issues throughout the night, deviating slightly from the title of his speech, “Diplomacy: Persuasion, Trust and Values.” While Powell is perhaps best known for his role in sending the U.S. to war with Iraq in 2003, the former secretary of state spoke on a variety of issues that spanned his expertise as a general to a modern crusader for disenfranchised youth.
Powell briefly touched on environmental sustainability, dropping the term “global warming” twice during the evening. The issue of conventional warfare was also discussed, especially pertinent in light of Powell’s 35 years as a professional soldier.
Modern warfare is changing, Powell explained in a question-and-answer session before the speech, but the U.S. has the capabilities of meeting these challenges if it will only recognize its shortcomings.
“We have always fought wars with armies designed to fight another enemy,” Powell said.
Powell also appealed to the youth in the crowd, urging the students present to “get off their butt” and become active in their communities, give back to others and vote.
As founder and chairman of America’s Promise Alliance-a group that works to provide children and youth across the nation with education and safe home-Powell spoke most passionately on education, urging for the current system to be reformed.
A small contingent of Miami students, however, were less than pleased with Powell’s visit, staging a protest against Powell’s role leading up to the war in Iraq before the event.
And while it is true that Powell has received heavy criticism for his work as part of the Bush administration-particularly his 2003 speech to the United Nations (U.N.), presenting the case for war in Iraq-there is still debate as to the level of guilt that he still shoulders.
“It’s still not clear how many people associate him with the Iraq war,” said John Forren, associate director of curriculum and co-curriculum in the honors and scholars program at Miami. “We won’t know the good or the bad he’s done until the current administration leaves office.”
In the 2003 address to the U.N., Powell presented evidence that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction and were willfully evading U.N. inspectors.
Later, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, most of this evidence was proved to be false.
Patrick Frank, a junior political science major, participated in the student protest beforehand and said that the decision to do so was based on Powell’s speech at the U.N.
“First of all, he did go to the United Nations and lie,” Frank said. “After hearing his speech, I am satisfied that he probably didn’t want to lie and was pressured into by the (Bush) administration.”
According to Forren, Powell has stated that he has taken a hit for his speech at the U.N., and on Tuesday evening he openly acknowledged his previous faults while conceding that he tried to avoid war as long as possible.
“The information that intelligence gave to policymakers was the Iraqis were building weapons of mass destruction … We all believed it. We turned out to be wrong,” Powell said.
Powell admitted that the current administration has made serious errors since the fall of Baghdad, and that what is needed now is for Iraqis to regain control over their nation.
In fact, Powell said it is this crucial power transition-from the hands of U.S. soldiers to Iraqi officials-that will be one of the most important responsibilities of whoever is elected to office this November.
“As I look at the world, whoever comes in will have to shift the burden of Iraq to the Iraqis,” Powell said.
Powell said that whoever is elected will speak in a “different tone of voice” from the current administration, although he said he has yet to decide which candidate he supports.
Reactions to the speech and question-and-answer session were generally warm, with a few reminisces from Powell eliciting laughter from the crowd. Despite attending the protest beforehand, Frank was impressed with Powell’s wisdom-and even more so with the crowd.
“What I was most excited to see was that Miami students came out in force to listen to a political leader,” Frank said. “I think (Tuesday) night’s protest, questions and speech demonstrated that slowly, but surely, Miami is becoming a vibrant and diverse political campus.”
It was words such these-words of leadership-that served as Powell’s underlying message throughout the evening. Leaders who can convey a sense of purpose, vision and goals, Powell urged, are absolutely crucial if America wants to regain the respect it has lost over the years.
“We have to start adjusting our policies because the U.S. is sending the wrong message (to the world),” Powell said.
And even with the burden of the Iraqi war still weighing down the collective conscience of the nation, Powell said that only selfless service and a solemn obligation to those entrusted in the nation’s care will inspire the American people to even greater heights.
“Never has this kind of leadership been as important as it is now,” Powell said.