Published Tuesday, April 21, 1998
Powell's latest battle is saving youth
By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
While the debate goes on whether the United Nations coalition should have pressed the Iraqis after Kuwait was liberated, retired Gen. Colin Powell defends the decision to stop the war without advancing on Baghdad and deposing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
The United States and other coalition countries had accomplished the mission set forth by the United Nations, Powell said Monday, speaking in Youngstown as the Youngstown State University 1998 Skeggs Lecturer.
``I had no wish to keep getting Iraqi teen-agers, and American teen-agers, killed so some armchair general in Washington watching the war on CNN could have a good time,'' said Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, making him the top military adviser to the president, the secretary of defense and the National Security Council.
CNN and other television news operations changed the perception of war in the Persian Gulf War. Powell joked that after General Norman Schwarzkopf would report on the war's progress, he would turn on CNN ``to find out what was really going on.''
``I was the first American general with three American reporters looking out a hotel window telling the world what I was doing,'' said Powell, who spoke passionately but mixed his rhetoric with humor and fatherly encouragement.
People are still interested in what Powell is doing, nearly five years after he retired from the Army, ending a 35-year career. Aside from traveling the country on the lecture circuit, Powell sits on the boards of organizations devoted to young people. He is chairman of America's Promise _ The Alliance for Youth, which rallies communities to provide a developmental framework missing from the lives of many young people.
The program lines up responsible adults, looks for ways to get kids involved in safe activities, teaches them marketable skills and requires them to give back to the community through service.
America's Promise is designed to provide the kind of security he had as a boy. He joked about an ``auntnet'' of women who seemed to hang out their windows all day long ``looking for the Powell kid to commit some sort of misdemeanor or felony.''
``They weren't going to let me fail,'' he said. ``They were looking out for me. They loved me.''
Powell speaks of the goals of America's Promise as ``keeping our children at play.''
``We cannot let 15 million people go down the wrong road,'' he said. ``We either build our children or we build more jails. My friends, we have to stop building more jails.''
The son of Jamaican immigrants said his parents taught him that there are clear distinctions between right and wrong, to believe in God, to work hard and to believe in himself. They also taught him to believe in America and the capitalist system. Through competition, people have the chance to make better lives for themselves.
The American values Powell grew up with proved their ideological strength when the Soviet [JU]Union collapsed and Communism started to die. But as a soldier, Powell had a hard time coming to terms with the end of the Cold War. The first 28 of his 35 years of military service were dedicated to containment of Communism, in Viet Nam, Korea and Germany.
Skeptical of former Soviet Communist Party leader Mikhail Gorbachev's
policies of glasnost and perestroika, Powell considered them to be tricks or traps. It wasn't until he met with Gorbachev in Moscow and the Communist reformer said that he was going to end the Cold War that Powell came to realize revolutionary change was at hand.
Acknowledging that Powell was a soldier and understanding his mode of thinking, Gorbachev said, ``I'm very, very sorry. You will have to find a new enemy.''
``I thought to myself, `I don't want to,''' Powell recalled. ``Just because he's having a bad year, I have to change?''
Powell credited containment with bringing about that change. ``We contained them on the field of battle. We beat them on the field of ideas.''
The end of Communism laid the groundwork for many other changes, such as the end of apartheid in South Africa and Nelson Mandela's ascendency to the presidency, and the peace process in the Middle East. Despite the apparent stalled talks, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yassir Arafat know they can't go back to warring in the desert, Powell said.
``Peace and reconciliation is the answer,'' he said.
``I'm a very optimistic person about the world we live in. There are still our Iraqs and our Irans and our Libyas. None of these raise to the level of the Cold War. None of these threaten our lives.''
The Cold War has been replaced by economic competition and the free flow of money and ideas. ``We're entering a world system. We can't stop it. We don't want to stop it because we are the leaders of the new system.''
For America to stay at the forefront, it has to prepare its young people, Powell said, referring to his 4-year-old grandson as ``computer literate.''
``I have four computers in my house. He comes over, says, `Hi, poppy,' and within five minutes he has every computer on and he's playing his games.''
Americans are playing games with the political system. Powell used the term ``channel surfing,'' and cited the defeat of President Bush, the election and re-election of President Clinton and the election of a Republican leadership to Congress.
Americans want leaders who address the problems citizens face in their everyday lives and allow them _ not Washington bureaucrats _ greater freedom in deciding how money is spent, Powell said. They want partisan arguments but not idealogues.
But Americans can't expect a clear vision of the future to come from an elected official, Powell stressed. ``It's going to have to come from us.''
But Powell is not the man to either devise that vision or see it carried out, ruling out running for the presidency to devote his time to public service through his private life.
``I see everything still through the eyes of a soldier,'' he said.
The Skeggs Lecture Series is named after Leonard T. Skeggs, who played a vital role in the formation of Youngstown State University. It is funded by the Skeggs Foundation and brings in outstanding speakers who are authorities in their fields.
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Updated April 21, 1998
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