Between speaking about the war in Iraq and nuclear weapons, retired Gen. Colin Powell sparked laughter and emphasized optimism in his audience.
Powell, a former U.S. secretary of state and chairman of the
joint chiefs of staff, spoke about leadership and foreign policy to a full house Tuesday at Northrop Auditorium.
Powell delivered his lecture, “Leadership: Taking Charge,” casually, but touched on serious issues facing the United States and the world.
Powell, invited to speak by the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, warmed the stage with an opening joke.
A new stage of life
“At this stage of life and career it’s great to be anywhere,” he said, pointing out that at one time he was wanted all over the world and by every media organization.
“The next day you ain’t,” he said.
Powell said he’s had to make adjustments, including spending time with his wife. He said that as he nears 70, he is trying to occupy his time and “feel young again.”
As Powell spoke about his new Corvette, he said, “There is no point in going through life looking through the rearview mirror.”
Powell said he looks forward to working on projects such as Minneapolis’ Urban Ventures Colin Powell Youth Leadership Center. He added, however, that he misses his airplane.
“They took my plane away and gave it to Condi,” he said.
Sue Stirling, an academic adviser in the University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Program, said it seemed as if Powell was still being a politician and glossed over foreign policy issues.
“I didn’t really feel like he stuck to the whole leadership topic. I mean funny, entertaining – I just don’t think I got anything new out of it,” she said.
Global studies senior Haley Wotzka said she was surprised by Powell’s tone.
“He was much more charismatic than I thought he would be,” she said. “I really liked what he had to say about not looking back Ö that you don’t necessarily confine leadership to having a group of people following in your footsteps.”
Leadership and policy
Powell said true leaders set vision and purpose by not only motivating people, but inspiring them.
“You’ll know you’re a good leader when people will follow you out of curiosity,” he said.
Powell said the nation is facing challenging times but he “hopes the American people speak clearly to their political leaders.”
“We live in challenging times now, but young people live in a time of great opportunity,” he said.
Powell recalled more trying times faced by this nation, including communism, fascism and Nazism.
Powell said democracy is a triumphant system and he wants “people to see opportunities as well as the problems.”
American soldiers can’t stay there forever, he said, but “I don’t know how long.”
If he had one wish it would be that “the Palestinian state live side-by-side in peace with Israel,” he said.
He also took questions from Humphrey Institute students. Touching upon U.S. actions and foreign policies, including the Geneva Conventions, Guantanamo Bay and nuclear arsenals, Powell said the United States needs to “be patient and keep the pressure on.”
“We are a nation of law,” he said. “The nation needs to resolve Guantanamo and keep talking about the goodness that exists in America despite public perceptions,” Powell said.
Powell said North Korea clearly has the ability to produce nuclear weapons, but joked that America’s scorecard has more tally marks when it comes to nuclear power.
It is worrisome that Iran is looking into nuclear technology, he said, adding that Iran feels there should be a Muslim nuclear power and that the United States is working on a diplomatic solution.
Education and human development student Ryan Marty said the student questions were tough questions for Powell to deal with on a “real liberal campus.”
“But I thought he handled it well,” he said.
Powell touched upon foreign policy success including: the expansion of NATO, the agreement between the north and south of Sudan, helping to expand the European Union, increasing aid around the world and in Africa, helping to solve unrest in Haiti, remaining as a peacekeeping force in Bosnia and creating free trade agreements.
Powell accepted the Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series plaque before exiting the stage. The series has brought internationally-known speakers, including Bill Clinton and the 14th Dalai Lama, to the University to lecture and discuss public issues.