Powell on Iraq, Domestic Spying and Baseball

On a special holiday edition of "This Week," former Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed Iraq, the current debate on domestic spying and life after the State Department. Following is a transcript of his interview wtih George Stephanopoulos.

Stephanopoulos: Mr. Secretary, Merry Christmas.

Powell: Same to you, George, and to your family.

Stephanopoulos: Thank you. How are you spending Christmas this year?

Powell: I'm going to be home with all of my children assembled and my grandchildren, to include a brand-new granddaughter.

Stephanopoulos: Brand-new granddaughter? How old?

Powell: Six weeks.

Stephanopoulos: Terrific. You know, you had to spend two Christmases away from home during Vietnam. What do you say to the young military families who are now going through that for the first time?

Powell: Be thankful that you are married to someone or you have a loved one who is this caring about America and this concerned about our need to preserve our security and also provide an opportunity for freedom and democracy for someone else. So be proud of the service that your loved one is performing. Think of him or her and know that every effort will be made to bring them home safely.

The reunion makes up, usually, for the separation.

Yes, I was away for more than two Christmases in the course of my military career. But that's what we ask of those who enter service -- military service, diplomatic service. Service to the nation is an important value that we have in our society, and we should be so proud of the young men and women who are willing to do this, who are willing to step away.

Some of them are not so young, and they've done it for many years -- career officers, career noncommissioned officers, career diplomats. I have to add diplomats, because that's what I was ...

Stephanopoulos: You are one.

Powell: ... privileged to do for the last four years, and I am one now. And they often serve under conditions of danger and separation from family. And their children serve as well.

Stephanopoulos: Is it harder for the folks back home?

Powell: I think it is because there's the uncertainty and there's the danger, and you're not quite sure where your loved one is or what the level of danger is at a particular moment. And your loved one tries not to make you completely aware of the danger they might be in. They want to comfort those at home, at the same time those at home want to comfort those who are away.

So it's a difficult time -- holiday periods -- for those who are away from their families.

Iraq Elections

Stephanopoulos: Most Americans, now, are of course serving in Iraq and are just coming off what looks like successful elections. More than 10 million Iraqis voted. Yet it does seem, from the early results, that the voting is falling along ethnic lines: Kurds voting for Kurds, Shiites voting for Shiites, Sunnis voting for Sunnis.

Are you worried at all that this election might actually harden the ethnic divisions and increase the prospects for civil war?

Powell: I think it is something we all have to be worried about. But as you say, it was a historic event. Ten million people came out. They came out in the face of bombs, in the face of guns, in the face of resistance, and said, "We want to choose who our leaders will be." And so it was a significant achievement for the Iraqi people and for our policy.

But now the tough work really begins, because, as we can see from the early results, there's a lot of voting strictly along -- as expected -- political, ethnic and tribal lines and religious lines. And there appears to be, anyway, from early results, great support for a Shiite majority that is somewhat more fundamentalist than, I think, we all would be entirely comfortable with.

But, you know, we've got a long process ahead of us. The way this has been designed, it's going to take a while first to document the results. Secondly, for the national assembly to be formed -- now called something different, a council of representation, or a representative council. And then it will take more time yet for a president and two deputies to be selected, and more time yet for a prime minister to be selected.

So, it's going to be six to eight months before we really know ...

Stephanopoulos: Of uncertainty?

Powell: Yes, of uncertainty, before we really know what this government looks like. But, to the heart of your question, we have to be concerned because, especially in the south, one concern I have is that there are a lot of militias at work. And their loyalty is to their tribe, to their ethnicity and to their region and not necessarily to the national effort, not necessarily to a central government.

We have to make sure that, as we move through this period, we have the interest of the minorities, the fears of the minorities -- and here, I mean the Sunnis -- their concerns and fears are taken into account by the Shias and by the Kurds.

Stephanopoulos: What are we going to do about that if they have been outvoted? Or is there anything we should do about it? Or do we have to have our hands off?

Powell: We have known from day one that the Shias were going to have the ascendant position. They are the largest component of the society, roughly 60 percent. So we've known this from day one.

The question is, are the Shias going to be wise enough, as they take over this authority, to do it in a way that protects the interests and the rights of the Sunnis -- Sunnis who had oppressed them for all these years? If the Shias just see it as an opportunity to oppress the Sunnis, then we're going to have a very tough time. And it could lead to a civil war.

So this is the time for great statesmanship on the part of the Iraqis. Increasingly, the future of Iraq is truly in the hands of the Iraqis and not in the hands of American ambassadors and the American government. And I think we are very blessed to have somebody like Ambassador Zal Khalilzad there, who is very expert in this region and is quite skilled at working in this kind of tricky, difficult environment.

Stephanopoulos: He is an impressive and tireless man.

Powell: He is an impressive (inaudible)

Pre-War Intelligence

Stephanopoulos: Last Sunday, the president, in the most high-profile way he ever has before, acknowledged that the intelligence going into the war was false and he took responsibility for it. Should he have done that earlier?

Powell: Well, I think it's been known for some time. And I've heard him express, not as clearly as he did last weekend, but I've heard him express responsibility for this.

But the reality is that some of the intelligence was right. There's no question that Saddam Hussein had the intention of having such weapons, and he was retaining the capability to have such weapons.

What we got wrong, dead-wrong, was that there were actual stockpiles of chemical weapons and biological weapons and the mobile labs that became so famous. And the reality is, all of that was gone.

Were we deceived in believing it was there by Saddam Hussein or those who had other motives for wanting us to believe that? I don't know. But it was something that we believed and our intelligence community believed.

The intelligence community made that case to me, to the president, to the secretary of defense, to the vice president, to all of us, to the Congress. And everything we presented was consistent with what the intelligence community was telling us.

Stephanopoulos: Granting that it was an honest mistake, had you known that no weapons would be found, would you have advocated invasion?

Powell: I don't know how to answer that question. I think it would have changed the basic calculus, because when the president went to the United Nations in September of 2002, that was the principal case he made.

But he also indicated, as I did, in my Feb. 5th presentation of 2003, that there were human rights violations, there were other violations of U.N. resolutions, there was terrorist activity.

So the case could have been made that Saddam Hussein...

Stephanopoulos: But realistically ...

Powell: ... had to be changed ...

Stephanopoulos:... there would have been less -- more opposition in the U.N. and more opposition in Congress.

Powell: I think it would have been a far more difficult decision for the president to make if it was certain at that time that all of the stockpiles had been destroyed and there were no stockpiles.

Stephanopoulos: And would your advice have been different?

Powell: I can't tell you that. I think I would have said to him, "You have a far more difficult case, and I'm not sure you can make the case in the absence of those stockpiles."

But let there be no doubt where we are now is I'm very pleased that Saddam Hussein is gone and that regime is gone and these kinds of questions will never be discussed again. Because no matter how this political process unfolds over the next six to eight months, I don't see any outcome that will produce a regime that is going to be interested in weapons of mass destruction or threatening its neighbors or doing the kinds of things that Saddam Hussein had been doing for the last 20 or 30 years.

Iraqi Control

Stephanopoulos: And next Christmas, fewer Americans will be serving in Iraq?

Powell: I'm quite sure of that. And I base that on two things. One, I don't think we can sustain this level of presence with the size force that we have. You can't keep sending them back over and over. So I think the numbers will come down for that reason.

And the other reason is, I think that by next year we should have built up, and I think we're well on our way to building up, the Iraqi forces to a point where they can take over more of the burden, both the military and police forces.

One concern I have, and it reflects something I said earlier, we can't let militias run around. Something has to be done about the militias. If the militias ..

Stephanopoulos: Only we can stop them.

Powell: Well, no, the Iraqis, I think, are going to have to do this. We don't want to go out and fight all the militias, but somehow the Iraqis are going to have to put in place a political system that says the only ones who hold the power of the state, the military and police power of the state, is the state and not individual militias that are loyal to a particular secular or religious figure.

And the real challenge, George, is not just putting together this council of representation or the proper name for it, it's really the institutions of government, the political institutions, the cabinet ministries and the other institutions that you need in order to control a country, in order to fix the economy, in order to fix the petroleum system, and all of the other things that have to be done to make this a functioning society.

And so, just don't see it as we create a new parliament and we get some new leaders for the country, and that does it. No. What you really need is institutions, what you need is the rule of law.

And the rule of law says that the power of the state has to belong to the state and not to militias. And I think this is going to be one of the real challenges for the new political leadership of Iraq, as well as for the United States and the coalition partners.

Domestic Spying

Stephanopoulos: We're been right in the middle of a debate about the rule of law here in the United States this week, now that the president has acknowledged that he authorized the National Security Agency to spy on Americans without a court warrant.

You were secretary of state when this started. Were you aware of this?

Powell: No. And it is not the kind of thing that would have been brought to the secretary of state. I'm very familiar ...

Stephanopoulos: Why not?

Powell: Because it was an internal domestic matter of the highest sensitivity. And I was not aware of this particular use of his authority.

But I'm very aware, from my earlier incarnation as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as a national security advisor, of these kinds of activities.

And in the aftermath of 9/11, the American people had one concern, and that was to protect us. And so, I see absolutely nothing wrong with the president authorizing these kinds of actions.

But where we're going to have the debate -- and we're having the debate now -- is these actions are authorized as a matter of law, laws passed by Congress.

Stephanopoulos: Well, that's the issue.

Powell: That's the issue. And so the president made a determination that he had sufficient authority from the Congress to do this in the way that he did it, without getting warrants from the courts or reporting to the courts after doing it.

And the Congress will have to make a judgment as to whether or not they think the president was using the law correctly or not.

Stephanopoulos: What do you think?

Powell: And that's going to be a great debate.

My own judgment is that it didn't seem to me, anyway, that it would have been that hard to go get the warrants. And even in the case of an emergency, you go and do it. The law provides for that. And then, three days later, you let the court know what you have done and deal with it that way.

But for reasons that the president has discussed and the attorney general has spoken to, they chose not to do it that way, and they have briefed members of the Congress over the years on this program.

So hearings will be held, clearly, at the beginning of the new year. But I don't think anybody objects to the president doing this. He was trying to protect the nation. And we have done things like this in the past.

So there's no objection to it being done. The question is, was it done in the way that is consistent with the law ...

Stephanopoulos: With the law. Isn't that the most important question for a president?

Powell: Well, yes, that's exactly it. And that's -- the president says he did it in accordance with the law. And some members of Congress dispute that. So there will be a debate about this and there will be hearings held.

Stephanopoulos: And the president, in the meantime, says the program is going to continue. Do you think it should continue?

Powell: Yes. Of course it should continue.

Now, what -- I think, however, the president, he'll have to determine what he wishes to say to the Congress about it or what they wish to do with respect to the court that's established for this purpose. I'll let them work that out.

But you have to do this in order to protect ourselves. And everybody understands that. I don't think you'll find any member of Congress that says, "Don't do this anymore."

The issue is, does the Congress believe that the president had been given the authority by the Congress not to use the procedures that had been set up? And this will be a subject of a lot of commentary, and it will go to congressional hearings, and an answer will emerge in due course.

It could have been avoided if the administration had chosen to use those procedures. But in the exigency of the situation, in the immediacy of the situation, the president made a judgment that he would not move that way. And he felt he had more than sufficient authority not to use those procedures.

Stephanopoulos: But it does sound like you think it would be wiser to go to the Congress now and get this authority.

Powell: I didn't say that, I don't think. I said the administration will now present to the Congress their point of view. The Congress will hold hearings on it.

What I said was that there was an alternative, which was to use the procedures that were in place, the FISA and other procedures, where you get a warrant beforehand or you take it to that special court designed for this purpose. Or, if you have to move so quickly that you don't have time to take it to a judge, then you notify the judge -- you notify the court several days after you have taken the action.

It seems to me that would have been another way to handle it. But the president chose not to and felt that he had sufficient legal authority to do it the way that he did it.

Presidential Power

Stephanopoulos: This is part of a much bigger debate about presidential power and what kind of power the president needs and has in a very dangerous time.

Vice President Cheney just said today, because of the threats we face, the president of the United States needs to have his constitutional arguments unimpaired. Do you agree with that?

Powell: Well, I don't know entirely what the vice president means by that. The president has his powers under the Constitution, and the Congress has its powers under the Constitution. It's the Congress that passes laws. It's the president who derives commander-in-chief authority from the Constitution. There have been debates about this issue, oh, I would say for the last 230 years.

Stephanopoulos: Most recently over torture, which you were involved in.

Powell: Yes, I was. It's been a debate in the course of our nation's history: presidential prerogative versus the prerogatives of the Congress.

And when you have this kind of a debate, then let's have congressional hearings, let's have debate and discussion between the president and between members of his administration and Congress to see if they could not find a solution.

The nation is not going to collapse over this issue. What the president is determined to do and what the Congress and the American people want him to do is protect us from terrorism. And if eavesdropping does that, then more power to it. And nobody is suggesting that the president shouldn't do this.

The whole issue is what is the shared responsibility of the Congress in this matter with respect to the laws that it had previously passed. And some members of Congress do not see a problem; other members of Congress do see a problem, on both sides of the aisle.

And as Senator Specter said, he'll be holding hearings on it in January to get to the bottom of it.

Post-Katrina Relations

Stephanopoulos: One of the other things the president said in his press conference this week is he wishes he could find a way, a better way, to talk to African-Americans and to overcome any suspicion the African-American community may have with the president, particularly after Katrina. What should he do about that?

Powell: I think that he should reach out more to the African-American community. I think he tries to do that.

I think he should spend more time with the major civil-rights organizations of America that really represent the African-American community, perhaps spend more time at historically black colleges and universities.

But he needs to reach out and talk to them as well as listen to them, listen to the frustration that still exists within minority communities in America, especially the African-American community, with respect to educational opportunities, with respect to economic opportunity, with respect to housing opportunities.

And we still have a long way to go. We've come so far, especially in my generation. But there's still a long way to go.

In Washington, D.C., our public schools are still, essentially, totally segregated, not by law, but by economics, by housing patterns. And we still have a long way to go.

And I think the president knows this. He's sensitive to it and, as he himself said, as you noted, wants to find better ways to communicate his concern and actually do it.

Buying the Nationals?

Stephanopoulos: You mentioned Washington, D.C. You want to be owner of the Washington, D.C., baseball team, the Nationals.

Powell: Well, I'm on a club that is trying to purchase the Washington Nationals from Major League Baseball, yes.

Stephanopoulos: Think you're going to get it?

Powell: I certainly hope so. The first thing we have to get is the stadium issue resolved. And the city council has now put that off until early next year.

And I hope the city council will find a way to support the stadium deal. That will work itself out one way or the other. And I think, after that, Major League Baseball will announce who they wish to see own the team.

And I'm fairly confident in the group I'm with, led by Fred Malek, a longtime Washington resident. And there are a lot of us on that club who have roots in this community.

And I think we can do, perhaps, a better job than any other group to represent the interests of the community and to make sure that the Washington Nationals reach out to the community, bring baseball back into the inner city, get more young African-American kids and other minority kids interested in baseball.

Stephanopoulos:Frank Robinson talked about that all the time.

Powell: Yes. And we can can do it. I think our club is perhaps better positioned for doing that.

But, George, you're giving me a golden opportunity to talk about my club and my company, but there are seven other competitors as well. They're not as good as us, of course.

Stephanopoulos: Well, it sounds like you think you're going to get it, then.

Life After the Secretary's Job

Stephanopoulos: You have now slowed down at all since you left the secretary's job. You're an investment banker now. You're teaching at City College in New York. You're still running America's Promise here.

Of all the different things you're involved in right now, which one gives you the most fulfillment?

Powell: Well, I have to make one correction. My wife is now the chair of America's Promise. She leads America's Promise.

Stephanopoulos: You're just helping her out?

Powell: I help her out from time to time.

I'm enjoying the speaking circuit. It lets me get around the country, and I learn so much.

And I enjoy being in venture capital with the Silicon Valley guys. And I enjoy looking at health-care issues with Revolution Health Group, led by Steve Case.

Trying to raise money for the Martin Luther King memorial and for an expansion of the Vietnam Memorial so that we can have an educational center. I'm taking over chairmanship of the Eisenhower Fellowship Program and a number of other things.

But the one that perhaps excites me the most is City College of New York. There's a Colin Powell Center there, and I want to get more involved with that center, because City College, this great public institution...

Stephanopoulos: What does it do?

Powell: You might call it a think tank, but it's more than that. It's a think tank that's focusing on students, and they're mostly immigrant students.

And I went up there a few months ago and met with about a dozen of the fellows, student fellows of the Colin Powell Center. And they were from Somalia, they were from Ghana, they were from Guyana, they were from all over the world -- Slovenia. And I looked at these kids, and I saw myself 50 years earlier, an immigrant kid, or the son of immigrants.

And that this great public institution is still -- still -- taking in the poor, those who can't go to other institutions, and giving them a great education, that's what I want to be a part of.

Andy Grove is also a City College graduate.

Stephanopoulos: Of Intel.

Powell: Intel. He was an immigrant, Hungarian, and he graduated two years after me. He made it through engineering; I did not. But he just gave $25 million to City College of New York.

And I hope to raise money for the Colin Powell Center, focusing not just on conferences -- we'll do that -- but really focusing on the students themselves and preparing them for leadership roles in the future, and also on the community in which City College is located, Harlem, where I was born and started my life.

Stephanopoulos: What are you most grateful for this Christmas?

Powell: Family. A new granddaughter, the blessings of family.

I'm always optimistic about the future. I see some good things happening in the world. Maybe we're on our way to a better situation in the Middle East. Hopefully, we're on our way to a better situation in Iraq. I think we are in Afghanistan. There are fewer wars this year than there were the year before.

So there is a feeling of hope in my heart anyway, and I want to see peace. And I am privileged for having had the opportunity to serve my country for 40 years and privileged at the opportunity to be in good health and for the opportunity to find new ways to serve.

Stephanopoulos: Well, thanks for sharing part of your Christmas with us.

Powell: Thank you, George.