Louisa and I went to hear Colin Powell speak tonight, and we were pretty impressed. He was witty, articulate, and down to earth. Clearly he hasn’t been a career politician – he doesn’t pull his punches enough.
Going in, we were a little surprised that there were some protesters carrying signs, chanting, and even one with a megaphone. We didn’t realize that his speaking would be controversial, especially since he’s no longer in the administration. Probably 20-40 people carried signs like “2000 Americans dead – for what?”
We had forgotten our tickets, but Louisa sweet-talked our way in based on our season ticket membership. Since we had swapped nights, we didn’t know what seats we were supposed to have, but we got hold of our babysitter, and she eventually found them in the stack of papers that used to be our desk, so we even got the reserved seats near the front.
Colin started out with some very funny stories, and had us laughing early. He talked about his early career, and many of the political figures he worked with. We enjoyed the stories, but wondered when he would get around to the meat of his talk.
About a half hour in, a couple folks stood up in the back, wearing sheets covered with red writing or faux blood, and paper masks, and started chanting “Powell lied, Iraqis died”. Folks tried to ignore them, but they were pretty insistent. Powell handled them well, acknowledging their message, and asking them to respect the fact that he would talk about Iraq later in his talk. They kept chanting, and one yelled “Why did you lie?” at him. He replied directly: “I did not lie. You have no idea what we went through at the State Department during that time.” He then mentioned that he had answered their question, and would they please sit back down. Eventually they made their way to the aisle, still chanting, and were escorted out of the building. Powell asked, “Anybody else?” to get a laugh, then continued. He handled it very well.
Finally he talked about the challenges and opportunities he sees. He thinks Europe and what used to be the Soviet bloc are on the right track to good relations and trade. He thinks China is a great trading partner, and is making rapid strides in all areas. He thinks we are falling down in Africa, not giving enough aid, and failing to address the HIV/AIDS problem.
He finally talked about Iraq. He acknowledged that they were wrong in their assessment of WMD, but insisted that they acted on the information they had. He also thinks we should have finished the job right away, maintaining tight security and putting in place the new government before the insurgents had a chance to take hold. He does not support pulling out, as chaos would reign, and all our effort would be for nothing.
If he had one wish, though, he would wish for an independent Palestinian state living in peace with Israel. He thinks there is an opportunity now, with Arafat gone, and Sharon moving in the right direction.
He concluded his remarks with some comments about America. He thinks we as a people naturally help others, and welcome others into our country, and that we need to keep that up. He thinks our position of power obligates us to help other countries through tough times. And he implored us to teach our children the respect, humility, and “sense of shame” they need to succeed in the world.
I was surprised by his candor – for example, he mentioned that Bush 43 (“W”) could take a strong position and stick with it long after another person might revisit in light of new information. I was delighted by his humor, and his stories were great. We gave him a well-deserved standing ovation. The world needs more people like him – I don’t always agree with him, but I trust him.