In 35 years of service as a soldier, Colin Powell earned a reputation as the quintessential disciplined warrior. As secretary of state in President Bush's first term, Powell was widely seen as a disciplined, moderate -- and loyal -- voice for the administration. Now out of government service, Powell is airing openly his disappointments and frustration on everything from the invasion of Iraq to the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.
Powell, 68, who recently visited storm survivors at Reunion Arena in Dallas, said he was "deeply moved" by the families displaced by the devastating storm and was critical of the preparations for Hurricane Katrina. "I think there have been a lot of failures at a lot of levels -- local, state and federal. There was more than enough warning over time about the dangers to New Orleans. Not enough was done. I don't think advantage was taken of the time that was available to us, and I just don't know why," Powell told ABC News' Barbara Walters in an exclusive interview for "20/20."
Powell doesn't think race was a factor in the slow delivery of relief to the hurricane victims as some have suggested. "I don't think it's racism, I think it's economic," he told Walters.
"When you look at those who weren't able to get out, it should have been a blinding flash of the obvious to everybody that when you order a mandatory evacuation, you can't expect everybody to evacuate on their own. These are people who don't have credit cards; only one in 10 families at that economic level in New Orleans have a car. So it wasn't a racial thing -- but poverty disproportionately affects African-Americans in this country. And it happened because they were poor," he said.
When Powell left the Bush administration in January 2005, he was widely seen as having been at odds with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney over foreign policy choices.
It was Powell who told the United Nations and the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and posed an imminent threat. He told Walters that he feels "terrible" about the claims he made in that now-infamous address -- assertions that later proved to be false.
When asked if he feels it has tarnished his reputation, he said, "Of course it will. It's a blot. I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now."
He doesn't blame former CIA Director George Tenet for the misleading information he says he pored over for days before delivering his speech; he faults the intelligence system.
"George Tenet did not sit there for five days with me misleading me. He believed what he was giving to me was accurate. … The intelligence system did not work well," he said.
Nonetheless, Powell said, some lower-level personnel in the intelligence community failed him and the country. "There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good, and shouldn't be relied upon, and they didn't speak up. That devastated me," he said.