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Interview on Black Entertainment Television's Youth Town Hall

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
February 20, 2003

Secretary Powell joined Washington, DC-area high school students for a town hall meeting hosted by Black Entertainment Television ,BET, MR. BRADLEY: Good evening, and welcome to a BET News Special, BET OpenMic: Secretary Colin Powell Speaks to our Youth. I'm Ed Bradley. We've seen Secretary Powell address the United Nations, we've seen him command America's troops in Desert Storm, but tonight, here in BET's Washington Studio, Secretary Powell faces a different job: an open discussion with an audience of high school students. No subject is off limits.

Joining me for the next hour to gather questions from our audience are Free, the co-host of BET's music video show 106 & Park; Monique Conrad, the Congressional Correspondent for BET Nightly News; and gathering questions from BET.com is Nick Cannon, star of Nickelodeon's The Nick Cannon Show and the movie Drumline.

Now let's welcome Secretary of State Colin Powell.


SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you. Thank you very much.

MR. BRADLEY: Mr. Secretary, let's get right to the first question. The young lady here in the second row had a question for you.

QUESTION: Hello, Secretary Powell. My name is Alexandra Kennedy (ph) from St. John's College High School. My question is: Are we invading Iraq for possession of their oil?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, not at all. We hope not to have to invade Iraq. President Bush and the international coalition has been doing everything possible to avoid a conflict with Iraq. The issue simply is getting Iraq to disarm, to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction. And the United Nations Security Council, through a resolution, a resolution called Number 1441, demanded that Iraq come into compliance with its international obligations and get rid of these weapons.

But it also said that if Iraq did not do this, and did not cooperate with the monitors that were sent in to help them get rid of these weapons, the inspectors, then the possibility of force had to be considered, and in the absence of compliance on the part of Iraq, then force would be used to disarm Iraq.

If it comes to that, and we hope it does not, President Bush hopes it does not, but if it does come to conflict, it would be a conflict that we would try to conduct as quickly as possible. We would not destroy Iraq. We would try to remove this regime, preserve the institutions of Iraq, give their people a better life using their oil wealth, not for weapons of mass destruction, not to threaten their neighbors, but to build a better society for the people of Iraq. The oil would belong to the people of Iraq. The United States would not take it. It belongs to them, and under international law, as well as because of who we are, we would protect that oil and use it to benefit the people of Iraq.

And as quickly as possible, we would try to turn Iraq back over to a responsible form of government led by the Iraqis themselves, not by United States military officers. Initially, we would have to restore order, and then quickly, as fast as we could, transition to civilian authority and to civilian authority, of course, in the hands of Iraqi leaders, a responsible government living in peace with its neighbors.

And the United States and the international coalition will be there to bring in humanitarian assistance to help them rebuild whatever needed to be rebuilt after all these years of devastation, frankly because of Saddam Hussein, and restore order to that part of the world.

MR. BRADLEY: Mr. Secretary, just as a follow-up before we go to Free, if Saddam is no longer in power, how long would you envisage the United States and its allies remaining in Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: It is hard to tell, Ed. There would have to be some transition period where initially we restored stability, made sure that the country wasn't breaking up into parts, and that the people were being taken care of, and then rapidly move to civilian authority in charge, perhaps an international civilian presence, and then rapidly bring up elements in Iraq -- the Iraqis themselves -- to take back over control of their country.

I can't predict to you now how long it would take, but it is not going to be a matter of weeks or months. It would probably be a fairly extended period of transition from a military operation to the Iraqi people themselves creating their own new government, a responsible government, living in peace with its neighbors. And I just can't tell at this point how long that might to take. But it would take some time and we have to be prepared to invest the time and the energy to make sure it is done correctly.

I might also just add as a final statement that the United States has a pretty good history, a pretty good record of this kind of action after a conflict. I mean, you look at World War II and what we did afterwards in Japan and Germany and Italy. If you look just in the last 12 years, we went into Kuwait to rescue a nation. We didn't keep that nation, we gave Kuwait back to its legitimate rulers. We did the same thing with respect to Kosovo. We helped a Muslim population. And in Afghanistan, not too long ago after 9/11, we removed the Taliban, put the terrorists on the run, the al-Qaida, and put in place an Afghan government.

It is not America's role in the world to tell other people how to live their lives, or to take control of their country or their country's assets, but to restore stability and peace, and hopefully make sure it is a better place than when we went in. And our history and our record is pretty good.

MR. BRADLEY: Free, your questioner?

FREE: Actually, I do. We have a young lady from Silver Spring in Maryland. What's your name and what's your question for Secretary Powell?

QUESTION: Lydia. Secretary Colin Powell, how does the United States defend its position to go to war with Iraq based on failure to comply with UN resolutions while Israel has been receiving U.S. military and economic aid and has failed to comply with more than 30 UN resolutions?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are very deeply engaged in the Middle East peace process. My Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs is in London right now, working with United Nations representatives, European Union representatives and Russian representatives, to put together finally a roadmap of how to move forward and bring peace to the Middle East.

We want to see violence ended, we want to see terrorism ended, we want to see responsible leadership emerge on the Palestinian side of the equation. And at the same time, we want to see Israel help create conditions of stability in the region and create conditions so that a Palestinian state can be created.

President Bush is the first president to go to the United Nations and say he wants to see a state called Palestine living side by side in peace with Israel, two states that have to share this land. But we have got to end the violence, we need reform within the Palestinian community. We also know that Israel has to do something about its settlement policy.

So it's not as if we are ignoring these resolutions and the obligations of the parties. It's just that not every one of these situations lend themselves to the kind of potential conflict of the kind we are seeing possibly in Iraq. But hopefully, even with respect to Iraq, we hope it will be possible in the next several weeks to find a peaceful solution and not take it to war.

War is a last resort. War is a last option. All of us in this administration and all of our partners in the international community would rather see a peaceful resolution. But peaceful resolution means you have to achieve your objectives peacefully, and the objective won't be achieved unless Saddam Hussein gets rid of biological weapons, chemical weapons, his plans for nuclear weapons, the missiles to deliver them. He is the one who is at fault. He is the one who is responsible for this crisis, and not the United Nations and not the United States.

MR. BRADLEY: Monique Conrad, you have a questioner back there?

MS. CONRAD: We have a question from Arlington, Virginia. Dorothea is a junior at Wakefield High School. What's your question for Secretary Powell?

QUESTION: Secretary Powell, you and Norman Schwarzkopf were colleagues and also friends in the first Gulf War. Have you talked to him about the current situation with the war on Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, I was on a television show with Norm about a week or so ago, and we stay in close touch. We are very good friends and old, you know, fellow soldiers and went through quite an experience together during the Gulf war.

Norm feels the same way I do, that one should always see force as a last resort, but sometimes you are required to use that last resort. He understands the situation we are in, he understands the threat that we are facing from these kinds of weapons, and I believe I can say that Norm is supportive of our efforts to try to find a peaceful solution. But in the absence of a peaceful solution, I think he is supportive of whatever might lay ahead with respect to armed conflict.

MR. BRADLEY: Nick Cannon, you have a question from the Internet?

MR. CANNON: Yes, sir. Secretary Powell, first question from BET.com comes from Adonis in Henderson, North Carolina. His question is: What will happen if it turns out Saddam Hussein and Iraq do not have weapons of mass destruction? Will President Bush continue with his war plans against Iraq or focus all his attention back on Afghanistan and finding Usama bin Laden?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have not taken our attention away from Afghanistan. We are still looking for al-Qaida elements. We are still looking for Usama bin Laden, assuming that he is even alive. We don't know whether he is or he is not.

When the UN passed Resolution 1441 in early November, it was with the understanding that all the members of the Security Council voting that day believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. That was the basis for the resolution. And the reason we all believe that was we have our own intelligence services, all those nations; but moreover, for a period of 10 years, 11 years, he had denied having these weapons even though we were able to find them and get evidence, and then he would acknowledge he had them. And then he created conditions in 1998 where the inspectors had to leave before they finished their work and they left some very specific questions behind when they were forced out. What happened to the anthrax that we know you had? What happened to the botulinum toxin? What happened to the mustard gas? What happened to the missiles?

So it wasn't a question of the international community believing he did not have weapons of mass destruction. It's what happened to them. Where are they now? And that's what he has not accounted for and that is what is of concern to the community.

So the presumption is and the solemn assumption is that he does have weapons of mass destruction and the evidence supports that. And if we go in, you can be sure that our priority effort will be to go throughout the country, locate these weapons, materials, facilities, documents, and pull them all up so that the region and the world doesn't have to worry about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq any longer.

MR. BRADLEY: Mr. Secretary, if there is war against Iraq, if Saddam Hussein is removed from power, how are we safer in this country against the threat of terrorism from al-Qaida, Hezbollah, or other terrorist organizations?

SECRETARY POWELL: There are terrorist organizations that would strike America and other nations if given the chance. What we accomplish with the removal of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq is that these kinds of weapons would not be available to fall into the hands of terrorists or to be given to terrorists. And so I would rather be chasing an Usama bin Laden who does not have potential access to chemical or biological weapons than an Usama bin Laden that has them. We want to get him one way or the other, but I think it's in the interest of the world and our own safety and the safety of the people in the region for this source of weapons of mass destruction to be no longer there for any terrorist organization that might come along.

And we know that over the years, Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, has been a sponsor of terrorist activity, to include a terrorist attack against former President Bush back in the past decade. And so we know that they support terrorist organizations, have conducted terrorist acts in the past, and we don't want them to create linkages and, through those linkages, provide weapons of mass destruction training, material, expertise to other terrorist organizations.

MR. BRADLEY: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. We'll be back in a moment with Secretary Powell and more of your questions on the impending war with Iraq.


(Commercial break.)

MR. BRADLEY: Welcome back to BET OpenMic. Secretary of State Colin Powell is here to answer questions from our audience and from the Internet, our audience here in the studio, students from the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. Let me go back here to get our next question. It is a follow-up from this young man. Your name and your question.

QUESTION: My name is James Dubek (ph). My question is that undoubtedly the United States considers itself the moral superior in this Iraq confrontation. My question is, despite past events such as in 1973 when the United States staged a coup in Chile on September 11, despite the wishes of the Chilean populace against the coup, and in support -- and the populace in support of the democratically elected President Salvador Allende, the CIA, regardless, supported the coup of Augusto Pinochet and that resulted in mass deaths.

And my question is: Why does the United States now consider itself the moral superior enough to have nuclear weapons while Iraq -- while demanding that Iraq disarm, yet we still maintain our weapons?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's not a matter of us believing that we are morally superior. It is a matter of us recognizing a danger to the region and to the world. I wish nuclear weapons didn't exist. They do exist. The United States were the ones, we were the ones who invented them in the first place and we used them to end World War II. And other nations have acquired those weapons over the years, but for the most part, the major nations of the world who have nuclear weapons have arrangements with each other and they are under control and nobody is worried about that kind of a nuclear conflagration any longer.

But with Iraq, we have a regime that has attacked its neighbors, that has used gas against its neighbors, that has used chemical weapons, gas, against its own population, and has demonstrated an intent for years to use these weapons for not peaceful purposes and not to protect itself, but to be aggressive against other nations. And it is for that reason that the international community, not just the United States, but the United Nations, passed 16 resolutions, now with 1441 a 17th resolution, saying this is unacceptable.

So it is the will of the international community that Iraq disarm, and not just the moral superior position, as you describe it, of the United States. We have no desire to impose upon the Iraqi people a leadership that is to our choosing, but to give them an opportunity to choose their own leadership.

With respect to your earlier comment about Chile in the 1970s and what happened with Mr. Allende, it is not a part of American history that we're proud of. We now have a more accountable way of handling such matters and we have worked with Chile to help it put in place a responsible democracy.

One of the proudest moments of my life was going to Chile in the late '80s and speaking to all of the military officers in the Chilean armed forces, all the senior officers, and talking to them about democracy and elected representative government and how generals such as them and me -- I was a general at the time -- are accountable to civilian authority so that incidents of that kind or situations of that kind no longer arose.

MR. BRADLEY: Free, your questioner.

FREE: Thanks, Mr. Bradley. I have Eunice from the DC area, who is in the 12th grade. What's your name and what's your question?

QUESTION: Yes, Secretary Powell, if we go to war with Iraq, once the smoke clears, what is the U.S. prepared to do to rebuild the country and the lives of those affected by the war?

SECRETARY POWELL: We would be leading an international coalition that has already begun stockpiling humanitarian supplies, food. We are already working with the United Nations, the European Union and other international organizations on any reconstruction that might be required.

We would not expect this conflict to result in a great deal of destruction of the infrastructure. In fact, many parts of Iraq right now are deprived because of the leadership that Saddam Hussein has provided for the last several decades. And so we have told all of our partners in the international coalition that if conflict comes, if it can't be avoided, we're not just going in for the conflict, but we will go in to lead an international coalition that will leave Iraq in a better place than it is now.

Iraq will also have an advantage that countries like Afghanistan did not have, in that Iraq has roughly $20 billion worth of oil revenue available to it -- money that will now be used to build the country, to help people, to educate children, to put in place health care systems, and not be used for weapons of mass destruction to threaten neighbors.

MR. BRADLEY: Monique.

MS. CONRAD: We have a question from David. He is a senior and he lives in Bethesda, Maryland. David, what's your question for the Secretary?

QUESTION: I was wondering in terms of, if we did go to war, what are the projected casualties.

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know, and nobody really can say. War is a terrible thing. People lose their lives in war. I have been in war. I have fought in war. I have lost friends in war. I have been responsible for managing and conducting wars. And it is something to be avoided because loss of life is involved.

But one cannot say right now what loss of life might take place in a future conflict. That's why we're trying to avoid it.

You can be sure, though, and I can assure you, that the United States Armed Forces, when it goes to war, it is always with an effort, a maximum effort, to minimize any unnecessary deaths and to only do what is necessary to accomplish the mission, and not to destroy for the sake of destruction or kill for the sake of killing. It is to be minimized and avoided, get the job done, minimize casualties.

MR. BRADLEY: And is this war more difficult, as you see it, than the Persian Gulf war was?

SECRETARY POWELL: In some ways it will be. The Persian Gulf war was a war to Iraq -- eject -- excuse me, eject the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. And it was done very efficiently and effectively, and when it was done, we stopped the war.

Many have criticized us and criticized me, personally, for having stopped the war when we did because we accomplished the mission and we didn't want to cause any more loss of life. We were criticized for that. And it was not our mission then to go Baghdad, it was to kick the army out of Kuwait. We did that.

This is a different war. It is a much deeper war. It goes much further, a longer distance through more populated areas, so it is a more complex operation but the same principles will apply: minimize loss of life and do everything to protect the civilian population as you are conducting the campaign.

MR. BRADLEY: Nick, a question from the Internet.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Secretary Powell, we have a question from Shanise Woods (ph), who is 14 years old from Maryland, and Shanise asks: Is the President scared or worried that Iraq may get help from another country to fight in the war?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, certainly if it came to a conflict, we would prefer that Iraq not receive help from any other country and I don't think it will get much help from any other country because the countries in the region recognize the danger that Iraq poses to the region and, frankly, most nations that unified in the Security Council want Iraq to disarm. They wanted Iraq to do it peacefully. If it comes to conflict, they would want that conflict to be over quickly and, of course, people would prefer to avoid the conflict. But I don't suspect Iraq will be getting much help from elsewhere.

MR. BRADLEY: Mr. Secretary, if Iraq allows unimpeded conversations with scientists today, if they destroy their rockets, if they allow unfettered reconnaissance flights over Iraq, does that put off the war?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. We need more than that. We need not just more inspectors or not just more process improvement. What we need is a definitive action on the part of Iraq that says, "We understand the problem we've got. We want to get rid of these weapons of mass destruction. So here is what we did with the anthrax. Here is what happened to the botulinum toxin. Here are the missiles that we have. You don't have to come search for them. You don't have to look for them. We will provide all of our scientists and engineers who had anything to do with these programs for you to interview anywhere you want without any minders listening in or without taping their remarks."

If Iraq were to show that level of compliance and cooperation, then we could deal with this matter. But it is not enough just to say, "Send more inspectors in," or, "Give the inspectors more time." It is not a resolution that was talking about inspections. It was a resolution that was talking about compliance on the part of Iraq.

If Iraq really wanted to get out of the box on this one, they would be cooperating in every way possible. We wouldn't need more inspectors. The number of inspectors there could do the job. The problem is, so far, they have not demonstrated that spirit of cooperation, that commitment to comply with the will of the international community. That is what is causing the crisis.

MR. BRADLEY: We'll be back with more questions on other tough issues in a moment when BET OpenMic with Secretary Colin Powell continues.


(Commercial Break.)

MR. BRADLEY: We are back with Secretary Colin Powell, taking questions from our audience of Washington-area students here in the BET Studio. This young man has a question, I think, about your future.

QUESTION: Yes. My name is Melvin Williams. And because we're all approaching the age of 18, are there any intentions of the draft being reinstated if this becomes a long and drawn out war?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. I don't see any prospect of the draft being reinstated. The nation is blessed to have so many wonderful young volunteers, men and women who are willing to serve their nation in uniform. And you see them on television, you see pictures of them in the newspapers and they're just a great group. And there are more than enough of them to meet our needs.

The draft was excellent when we had it. Many young men and women came in during those days, fought for their country. Many of them died for their country. But in the early '70s, the nation made a decision to go to an all voluntary force. I was a professional lieutenant colonel at the time, didn't think it was the right answer. It turned out to be the right answer. And we have a terrific volunteer force now, and I think it's more than adequate for our personnel needs.

MR. BRADLEY: Free, you have a question in the back?

FREE: Thank you, sir. We have Phillip, who's a 16-year old with a follow-up to the draft question.

QUESTION: Yes. I'm thinking about going to the Marines. Why should I join now seeing that we're going to war?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, you know, if you're thinking about going in the Marines, you want to be with the best. The Army is the best. The Navy is the best. The Marine Corps is the best. The Air Force is the best. Any one of them will give you a great opportunity to serve your nation and also learn about yourself.

What you have to understand if you join the armed forces, it is not just for an education, it is not just to, you know, perhaps get away from home and get some money for a scholarship; you have to be prepared to fight for your country. That is what military service is all about. Let there be no mistake about what military forces are all about. It is to fight for the country and perhaps put your life in harm's way because of your willingness to serve your nation. And so don't enter the military if you don't ever want to have to serve your nation in combat.

MR. BRADLEY: Monique.

MS. CONRAD: Okay. We have a question from Ali. Ali, what's your question for the Secretary?

QUESTION: Hi. I'm a senior at (inaudible) High School and I want to know how you feel that this war in Iraq is going to affect Muslim and Arab Americans in the United States.

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't think it's -- it should be seen as a war against Muslims or an attack against Muslims in any way. Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. He has

used those weapons of mass destruction against Muslim populations in the region and other populations of the region, against his own populations. And we believe we have a responsibility to lead, if necessary, an international coalition to get rid of these weapons.

It is unfortunate that sometime terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida, people like Usama bin Laden, cloak their activities in religious terms, but I don't think it's a correct characterization. Terrorists are terrorists whether they are one particular religious faith or another.

The United States is an open, outreaching country that welcomes all people to these shores. We are a nation of immigrants. We are touched by every country and we touch every country. And I can leave this studio right now and within ten minutes I can be in a synagogue, a temple, a church of any one of many, you know, dozens of denominations. I can be in all sorts of places. I can be in a mosque.

And we are all living peacefully in the United States, so it shows we are a diverse nation that respects all religions and cultures. And our campaign against terrorism and what we might have to do in Iraq is not directed against Muslims, and I hope American Muslims understand this.

MR. BRADLEY: Let me take a question from this young lady, here. Your name and your question.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Salma Iversvee (ph) and I go to Atholton High School in Columbia, Maryland. My question is, I admire you starting and founding America's Promise on the Alliance for Youth. Underneath your mission statement it says to start and foster a healthy atmosphere and future for children.

Under Resolution 661 that the Security Council put out, I believe that the sanctions have lasted in Iraq for 12 years now due to the U.K. and the U.S. involvement in the Security Council. What are your opinions on the sanctions, and if you know the children are not getting a healthy future, my brothers and sisters in Iraq, they are not getting a healthy start, how could you relate and put that in a mission statement? How could you implement that in Iraq, or what do you feel about the sanctions to end them?

SECRETARY POWELL: The sanctions were put in place as a way to compel Saddam Hussein to come into compliance with its obligations under UN resolutions. The first two years of this administration, I spent a great deal of time fixing the sanctions regime so that we would no longer be holding up any humanitarian aid, any food, anything that would benefit children. We put in place smart sanctions which makes it much easier for Iraq to use its money in the Oil-for-Food-Program to buy the things that the people of Iraq need.

It is Saddam Hussein who is not using that money correctly. He uses the money for his elite in Baghdad and he does not use the money to help the Shias in the South. And the Kurds in the North have figured out their own way to obtain the funds they need to have a better life than if they were solely under Saddam Hussein's thumb. So the deprivation that the Iraqi people have been suffering over these past years has really been the fault of Saddam Hussein and his misuse of the money that's available to him.

He has available to him every year through the Oil-for-Food-Program something like $18 billion, which is just about as much as he had before the Gulf war. But he is not using that money in a proper way to benefit all of the people in Iraq. And that is another reason I believe that we need to be prepared to take action to get rid of these weapons of mass destruction, put in place a responsible government afterward that will take care of the people of Iraq.

MR. BRADLEY: Free, you have a question?

FREE: Yeah, do you have a question on education? What's your name and where are you from? Your question?

QUESTION: Good evening, Secretary Powell. My name is Otis Lear (ph) from Washington, DC. Recently in the news, the University of Michigan, as well as other universities, have been under scrutiny by the Federal Government dealing with their admissions policy. As a minority, and as you've been a minority as well, how do you feel about the policies dealing with minorities in higher education?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I have always been a supporter of affirmative action. It benefited me and I think there is still a need for affirmative action in America to redress some of the historic problems that we have brought into the present.

And in the case of the University of Michigan, it has a policy of admissions in order to make sure that it has a diverse population of students both in its undergraduate school and its law school. That particular policy has come under court challenge, and it is not a simple matter. It is now before the Supreme Court. If it was a simple matter, it wouldn't be before the Supreme Court.

As you know, the administration, President Bush, has taken a position that he believes this particular case is unconstitutional and he has instructed the Justice Department to act on that judgment.

I have always felt that the Michigan case was an acceptable form of affirmative action. And so there were strong views on both sides of this. The President and I have discussed it at length and now we will let the Supreme Court make a judgment.

The President and I both feel strongly that everything should be done, and I think all of my colleagues in the administration and all sensible Americans believe that everything should be done to make sure that our universities are diverse, that we do everything we can to make sure that all youngsters throughout America get a quality education.

There is a burden also then, of course, on the youngsters of America to prepare yourselves for however, you know, however you get into college, whether it is with some affirmative action program or because of, you know, your own ability or because you came in under some other kind of program, the challenge right now is for all young people to prepare yourselves for that higher education opportunity, however it comes to you.

And that, ultimately, will solve this problem. And we have got to do a better job of making sure that our elementary schools, our secondary schools, our high schools are equipping youngsters for the challenges of college and the challenge of the 21st century world.

We all hope for the day when programs like this won't be necessary, but in my experience, in my lifetime in this country, we have not yet progressed to that point. So I still think there is value in programs such as this, but they have to be measured against some basis of fairness and constitutionality. And the Michigan case is now before the Supreme Court for them to make a judgment as to whether it is consistent or not consistent with constitutional standards.

MR. BRADLEY: Mr. Secretary, thank you. We're going to take a break and we'll be right back.


(Commercial Break.)

MR. BRADLEY: Secretary of State Colin Powell is here at BET's Washington Studio taking questions from the Internet via BET.com and from our studio audience of high school juniors and seniors. Let's go to our next question on national issues. Monique?

MS. CONRAD: This is Kevin. He is a senior at the School Without Walls right here in Washington, DC, and he has another question about affirmative action.

QUESTION: Yes, I know recently you came out against President Bush saying that you are in support of affirmative action. And I wanted to know -- let you know about the march that's taking place on April 1 in support of affirmative action, because now our school systems are at a point where there is more segregation than there was during the 1960s around the time period of the first civil rights movement.

And I wanted to know that since you support affirmative action and you support the younger generations, what are you doing to support affirmative action and push forward the movement that is taking place?

SECRETARY POWELL: The President supports diversity. He supports quality education for everyone. I worked with President Bush when he was Governor of Texas and I was the Chairman of America's Promise to see what we could do to expand the reach of Boys' and Girls' Clubs and similar organizations. And in Texas, he put in place -- he signed into law a law passed by the legislature which would give a certain percentage of all graduating high school seniors an opportunity to go to college in the Texas university systems, University of Texas system, and that was his way to compensate for the loss of affirmative action with what he calls affirmative access.

The problem you are talking about with respect to our schools becoming increasingly segregated, and it is true -- here in Washington, DC, Detroit, New York, a number of other cities -- it isn't really an affirmative action issue as much as it is an issue about locations of neighborhoods, economic opportunities within those neighborhoods, housing patterns, and a lot of other complex issues that cause those schools to be segregated.

The problem is that if those segregated schools really don't provide a quality education that our young people need, then they are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting into higher education, and that's why I think affirmative action still has a role to play.

MR. BRADLEY: Mr. Secretary, a young man here in the front. You had a question on --

QUESTION: Secretary Powell, my name is Carl Mosely (ph). I go to Gonzaga College High School. We're talking about affirmative action and segregation, which I think is part of the long-lasting legacy of slavery. I was wondering what you planned to do to quiet the loud call of many African Americans crying for reparations.

SECRETARY POWELL: I haven't thought the issue all the way through. And I think, however, that when you call for reparations it would be very difficult to convince the American people and the Congress that this is a proper answer for today's situation. How would you determine who is entitled to reparations? And I think it could be a divisive issue which does not necessarily move the struggle forward, move the movement forward.

Rather than worry about reparations, it seems to me that what we ought to be investing in are better education systems, better training systems for youngsters to get the education and the jobs they need. I am a great believer in economic empowerment and economic opportunity as a way to get young people from all races and backgrounds and origins into the economic system of America, and I don't think reparations is necessarily the way to go. But I'm not saying -- I haven't thought it all the way through -- but my initial reaction is I think it would be more divisive than helpful in moving us forward.

MR. BRADLEY: Free, you have a question.

FREE: We have a question from Ashley, who goes to National Cathedral High School. And the question is?

QUESTION: Hi, I was wondering what you do when you disagree with President Bush. Do you guys argue? What happens there?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. (Laughter.) We discuss things. He and I are very close. We have a very open relationship. As I said to you earlier, to some of you earlier, I just left the Oval Office to come here, and we were together for about an hour this evening and I am with him a great deal in the course of a day or a week.

And when we disagree about something, he hears my disagreement. He argues back with me. We have a good debate. And we come to a conclusion and he makes a decision. He is the President of the United States and my job is to serve him. He is the one who was elected by the American people. But he is very open to argument, he is very open to other ideas, and that is what makes it an exciting job for me and an exciting administration in which to work.

A lot of strong people in our administration, in the national security part and in the domestic part, and we have strong views about things and we present those strong views. And President Bush has never said to me, "I don't want to hear your strong view." He wants to hear it. He likes to see the clash of ideas, different people championing different ideas. And then he is very, very good about harvesting those ideas, making a decision, and then we all march out on the decision that he has made.

MR. BRADLEY: Mr. Secretary, we have a question from the Internet. Nick.

MR. CANNON: Yes, Secretary Powell, I believe we have a follow-up question to the last question. It comes from Joelle (ph) in Buffalo, New York. She says, "Would you stand up for what you believe is right even if it goes against what the President's wishes are?"

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. But, at the same time, I work for the President and he is the President of the United States, Commander-in-Chief, elected as such by the American people. And so my job is to serve him and to help him execute his policies and his decisions. But there is no question, and he knows, that on something that I feel strongly about, he will listen to my point of view and will take it into consideration as he makes his decision.

MR. BRADLEY: We'll round out our hour of Q&A with Secretary Powell in just a moment.


MR. BRADLEY: Welcome back. We have time for just a few more questions for the Secretary before we wrap up. Let's go to Free.

FREE: What's your name and where are you from?

QUESTION: I'm Sarah. I'm from Chevy Chase, Maryland. I have two questions: first, what's it like to be an African American on a Republican administration; and second, are you ever thinking of running for president?

SECRETARY POWELL: On the first question, I am one of a number of African Americans at a senior level within the administration. Dr. Condoleezza Rice is the National Security Advisor, and Secretary Rod Paige at the Department of Education. We have other minorities in the administration as well -- Mel Martinez at Housing and Urban Development -- and so I think it's a pretty diverse administration and I don't feel the least bit lonely.

But I know I am black and an African American, but I don't approach the job in that way. I always say to people that I am the American Secretary of State who is black, and I'm very proud to be black and I am very proud to have come up through this wonderful American system of ours. But I am not the black Secretary of State. There is not a white Secretary of State somewhere hiding, waiting to pop out. (Laughter.)

I am the Secretary of State who is proud to be black and proud to be in a Republican administration. I am a Republican and I am pleased to be given the opportunity to serve my nation once again after 35 years in the Army, to now serve as Secretary of State.

And no, I don't have any political ambitions. I have spent most of my adult life as a soldier serving the nation and never had a passion for politics, even though I gave it some consideration back in 1995, but realized that for me and my family, other forms of service were appropriate, went into working with young people, and now, Secretary of State.

MR. BRADLEY: Mr. Secretary, a brief answer to a short question.

QUESTION: Hi, I'm Eddie Gallagher (ph) from DC. Secretary of State, I have a question. When in your adult life did you decide to excel in the military and did you ever think you would amount to the level of success that you are now?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. It was about your age, when I was about 17 years old. I was in college, not really happy, didn't know what I was doing, found ROTC, went into ROTC, found something I loved. When I got out of college, I became a second lieutenant and never left because I found something that I loved doing and I did it well. And because of this wonderful system we have, I went from a black kid in the South Bronx section of New York to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the number one military person in the Armed Forces of the United States, and Secretary of State.

There is no other country on the face of the earth where you can do something like that -- as long as you are willing to work for it, have the ambition for it, you've got the dream for it, you believe in yourself and you believe in this country.

MR. BRADLEY: Mr. Secretary, we thank you very much. We have heard tonight questions on global issues. We have heard some questions on problems here at home. And perhaps we have learned a bit more about Secretary Colin Powell. We want to thank you for joining us.

We also want to give a big thanks to Free. (Applause.) And a thank you to Monique. (Applause.) And a thank you to Nick. (Applause.) And, of course, a very big thank you to our studio audience. (Applause.)

Once again, Secretary Powell, we thank you for taking time to spend this evening with us on BET OpenMic. I'm Ed Bradley from the BET Washington Studios. Good night.


Released on February 20, 2003

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