Special Update: Colin Powell and the “Mainstream”

January 14, 2013

For many Americans in and outside national security circles, General (ret) Colin Powell, who served as National Security Advisor to President Reagan, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, has come to symbolize a sensible, non-ideological approach to security policy. This week on “Meet the Press,” Powell spoke out on several hotly-contested issues surrounding Senator Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense: the use of force – “with deliberation and care;” on Pentagon spending cuts – “everything has to be looked at;” and the wisdom of negotiating with Iran – “We should be very, very careful when we sort of toss around theories of use of military for situations that might be resolved in other ways.” Powell, not the small group of hawks casting aspersions on Hagel, defines the “mainstream” of professional and popular thought on national security.

Deliberate in sending American troops into battle. Powell said: “I, as you well know, always believe that we should try to avoid war. We should be willing to talk to friends and willing to talk to enemies and try to find a solution that’s peaceful. But when you do find it is necessary to use military force, use it with a clear political objective in mind and use it for a decisive result. That’s the kind of attitude that Chuck Hagel will bring to the equation. He will be careful. He will give the president his best advice on the use or non-use of military force, how to solve the problem diplomatically.”

Powell adds, “this is a guy who knows veterans, knows the troops, knows the USO. And when people say, well that doesn’t necessarily make him a good candidate for Secretary of Defense, I’ll tell you who thinks that makes him a good candidate for Secretary of Defense, the men and women in the armed forces of the United States and their parents who know that this is a guy who will be very careful about putting their lives at risk because he put his life at risk. He knows what war is and he will fight a war if it’s necessary, but he’s a guy who will do it with great deliberation and care.” [Colin Powell, 1/13/13]

Reshape spending to cut fat and focus on future threats.  Powell joined the bipartisan chorus insisting that the Pentagon cannot be exempt from cost-cutting – particularly as America is winding down two wars. He states, “I hope he [Hagel] does find bloat and gets rid of it… bloated doesn’t necessarily mean the whole department is bloated. Bloated means there are probably things in the department that you can take a hard look at and determine whether or not you need it in light of the current situation and the strategy that we are implementing. You know, when– when I was chairman, we saw the end of the Soviet Union, a completely different change in– in our strategic positioning. And we eliminated a million troops and cut the budget 25 percent. That’s not the case now. But there’s no reason why a secretary of defense should go into office thinking can’t change anything, can’t cut anything. You know, the people who say that, oh, that’s terrible, he is going to try to find things to cut in the department are the same people who are saying we have got to cut spending, we have got to cut spending. Everything has to be looked at–entitlements, more revenue, and yes you have to look at the Defense Department to see if there are opportunities for savings.” [Colin Powell, 1/13/13]

Reduced role for nuclear weapons in 21st century U.S. security. Powell, like Hagel and many other senior security voices, has specifically questioned the value of nuclear weapons, given their high cost and limited utility in today’s strategic environment. While serving as Secretary of State, Powell testified: “We have every incentive to reduce the number. These [nuclear weapons] are expensive. They take away from soldier pay. They take away from O[perations] and M[aintenance] investments. They take away from lots of things. There is no incentive to keep more than you believe you need for the security of the Nation.”  [Colin Powell, 1/13/13. Colin Powell, 7/9/02]

Engaging with opponents, including Iran, while maintaining strength and clarity of purpose. Powell says Hagel’s opponents “have to remember one thing, it’s President Obama, not President McCain and not President Romney, they’ve lost two elections. The American people have made it clear that they are not particularly interested in finding new conflicts to get into. And are not particularly interested in saying, you know, sanctions are just a road bump on the way to bombing. We should be very, very careful when we sort of toss around theories of use of military for situations that might be resolved in other ways. And the other thing I’d like to say about Iran is we don’t want them to have a nuclear weapon. We are punishing them severely now with the sanctions. We ought to keep it up. Multilateral sanctions, whatever unilateral things we want to do. And let’s also remember, this is a country that’s in deep trouble, does not have a nuclear weapon yet. We don’t want it to have one.” Powell added, “I think what Chuck Hagel has said is that nothing is ever off the table, but he’s one who believes in the prospects for negotiation.” [Colin Powell, 1/13/13]

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