Colin Powell On Foreign Policy

James Joyner links to a great piece by Colin Powell in Foreign Affairs stating his support for the Administration’s foreign policy which is surprising given all of the chatter about his dissatisfaction. He may just be doing the job of a good soldier and supporting the boss. He might also mean it.

He mentions the National Security Strategy released in 2002 ( summary here, full report here) approvingly — he helped write it — and he defends the Administration vigorously.

I’m glad to see it. I’m not a big fan of Powell’s internationalism but I admire Colin Powell — he has an exemplary record as a soldier and I doubt his integrity would allow him to brazenly lie for the Administration. He might parse words but no words are parsed in this article. It’s a strong statement of support for the Administration’s foreign policy.

Powell has been a voice of caution in the Administration. He served as a soldier and has always been reluctant to see soldiers die. He will explore every alternative before that becomes necessary. People of his disposition are needed to act as a check on our more hawkish instincts — to make sure they are well-considered when they are acted on.

It is somewhat odd, therefore, to discover that our foreign policy strategy is so often misunderstood by both domestic and foreign observers. U.S. strategy is widely accused of being unilateralist by design. It isn’t. It is often accused of being imbalanced in favor of military methods. It isn’t. It is frequently described as being obsessed with terrorism and hence biased toward preemptive war on a global scale. It most certainly is not.

These distortions are partly explained by context. The NSS made the concept of preemption explicit in the heady aftermath of September 11, and it did so for obvious reasons. One reason was to reassure the American people that the government possessed common sense. As President Bush has said — and as any sensible person understands — if you recognize a clear and present threat that is undeterrable by the means you have at hand, then you must deal with it. You do not wait for it to strike; you do not allow future attacks to happen before you take action.


Because this is so, the United States’ reputation for honesty and compassion will endure. Today, U.S. motives are impugned in some lands. But as we preserve, defend, and expand the peace that free peoples won in the twentieth century, we will see the United States vindicated in the eyes of the world in the twenty-first.

It would be churlish to claim that the Bush administration’s foreign policy has been error-free from the start. We are human beings; we all make mistakes. But we have always pursued the enlightened self-interest of the American people, and in our purposes and our principles there are no mistakes.

Our enlightened self-interest puts us at odds with terrorists, tyrants, and others who wish us ill. From them we seek no advice or comity, and to them we will give no quarter. But our enlightened self-interest makes us partners with all those who cherish freedom, human dignity, and peace. We know the side on which the human spirit truly abides, and we take encouragement from this as our strategy unfolds. In the end, it is the only encouragement we really need.

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