Thursday, October 15, 2009

Colin Powell on the "Terror-Industrial Complex"

On tonight's MSNBC Countdown, Keith Olbermann highlights a two-year-old interview by Will Prescott, a college newspaper reporter, with former Secretary of State General Colin Powell, following up on Powell's comments about the "Terror-Industrial Complex" in an interview with Walter Isaacson in the September 2007 issue of GQ magazine. I had to hunt around to find the video — several sources had broken links — and I didn't find the text of the full interview. The complete transcript follows below the fold, with verified links to the original video of the interview, the articles from The Oklahoma Daily before and after the interview, and the GQ interview. Incidentally, Keith Olbermann credits Terry Gilliam, the one American-born member of the Monty Python crew, with bringing this interview back to his attention.

Colin Powell "terrorist-industrial complex" video on OU's website (interview by Will Prescott, The Oklahoma Daily and Nick Tankersley, The Hub)
The Oklahoma Daily/Hub article before the interview [2007-09-11]
The Oklahoma Daily/Hub article after the interview [2007-09-12]
GQ interview by Walter Isaacson of Colin Powell, Sept. 2007
The specific part of the Isaacson interview about the Terror-Industrial Complex [near the bottom of the page]

Will Prescott: Good morning - good afternoon, Sir. Again, in a [September 2007] GQ interview with Walter Isaacson, you said we need to be beware of creating a "Terror-Industrial Complex." What would a Terror-Industrial Complex look like, and are we headed in that direction?

Powell: Well, I think we have to beware of it. We're spending an enormous amount of money on homeland security — and I think we should spend whatever it takes — but I think we have to be careful that we don't get so caught up in trying to throw money at the terrorist and counterterrorist problem that we're essentially creating an industry that will only exist as long as you keep the terrorist threat pumped up. And so that would be the context of that comment, and I feel strongly about it — just as, many years ago, [U.S. President] General [Dwight] Eisenhower warned [PDF] about a Military-Industrial Complex. I just wanted to make a point: defend ourselves, screen ourselves, do everything we can to go after terrorists and defeat terrorism, because it is a threat, it is an enemy — but let's keep it in perspective. Let's keep it in context, because the United States has many needs. We have needs to deal with the poverty of some of our people, education, the environment. There are lots of things America needs to do, and we have to make sure we only spend that which is absolutely essential on our military, on our police forces, and on our [anti-]terrorist activities.

Prescott: And then the second part of that was, again, do you see warning signs that we're headed in that direction? Or is this just a general warning?

Powell: No, I think we've spent a lot of money, and you've noticed in press releases recently, in some commentary recently, we spent a lot of money to put a lot of equipment out there, counter-terrorism equipment, but now we need more money to keep that equipment going. Well, let's make sure that what we send out there is absolutely essential. And let's be cautious in our appropriations and in spending money. I don't think we're out of control; I think we had to respond in an aggressive way, but it's now [2007-09-11] been six years. Let's make sure that we are spending money on the right things, and not spending money just to spend money.

Prescott: Okay, last question: As a former soldier and general yourself, how do you feel about the outsourcing of security and combat positions to private contractors like Blackwater [now "Xe"] in Iraq.

Powell: We have always used our contractors and our civilian enterprises to support our military forces overseas. I think, however, that there is a danger that if you put so much reliance on contractors, you might run into an emergency somewhere, some time, a place even more dangerous than Iraq, where you will not be able to count on those contractors — because they are civilians — and so I think you have to find the right balance between what troops we have in the active force, what troops we have in the reserve force, what kind of civilian workforce the Department of Defense has, and then how you back all that up with contractor support. Make sure there's a right balance. I don't know what that right balance is, and I am out of the Army all these many, many years, I'll leave that up to the generals and the civilians who are in charge now.

Prescott: Is it fair to pay these contractors more than what soldiers make when they incur comparable risk?

Powell: You pay what is necessary to get somebody to do the — to do the job as a civilian. And so they are not expected to be front-line soldiers going into battle, and they are there in order to perform a service but also to get a good salary for it. So, it's not a matter of fairness; if you need these people, you have to pay them a wage that will get them there. You're competing in an open labor market.

Prescott: Why can't we use, say the Army [or the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group], to protect people like [L. Paul ("Jerry")] Bremer and the ambassadors, instead of Blackwater?

Powell: Yeah, uh, because the Army is limited in size: it's only about 500,000 troops plus a couple hundred thousand reservists, and they can only go so far, and you have an army to take the battle to the enemy, and not just to be bodyguards. And if you can get qualified contractors — many of whom are ex-[military-]service, ex-Secret Service, and have those skills — then, why not do that? Okay.

Prescott: Thank you, sir.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Greetings from Our Nation's Capital

I haven't been writing in the blog much this year — I've been busy with other projects, and, quite honestly, I kind of lost steam after Barack Obama's inauguration instantaneously solved all the world's problems: Mission Accomplished! However, there's just something about the autumn that rekindles the political spirit. Maybe it's the approaching High Holy Day, the day after the first Monday of November, although the biggest issue I'll be voting on next month is whether to add city-owned billboards to a two-block stretch of downtown San Francisco. In any case, I find myself in Our Nation's Suburb due East of the Capital. I'm in the 'burbs 'cause it's way cheaper, but I'm in metro Washington to attend tomorrow's National Equality March for LGBT rights.

A number of my friends decided not to attend the March this year, in part from concern that the focus may be overly centered on the issues of marriage equality and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." They point out — quite rightly — that universal health care is an issue with far greater direct impact on the substantial majority of LGBT people than marriage and DADT combined. However, the March tomorrow is not just about marriage and military service. It also includes health care (and specifically the fact that it remains illegal for men who have sex with men to donate blood), employment discrimination, housing discrimination, hate crimes, and more generally the relegation of LGBT people to second-class citizenship. We are created equal, and endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, but the political establishment, and especially the Republican Party of the last three decades, have been loath to acknowledge that equality and those rights. For the first time in half a generation, the Democratic Party controls the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. Sure, there are other important issues in our country, but our President has shown the ability to multitask — I'd be willing to bet that he could even walk and chew gum at the same time, if he put his mind to it — and also there are strong tie-ins of specific LGBT issues with broader national issues. For example, facing two wars and the unending threat of further terrorist attacks, can we really afford to toss out qualified military personnel (including, for example, Arabic translators), just because they stand up and say, "I'm gay"? In an economic crisis worse than any in two generations, employment security is a key issue that every American can relate to.

I'll post more about the March, and maybe some photos, in the next few days. Until then, I'll see you on the National Mall.

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