Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS


Profiles of Yasser Arafat, Colin Powell

Aired April 13, 2002 - 11:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, with a region exploding in violence, the Palestinian leader at the center of the crisis.


YASSER ARAFAT, PRESIDENT OF PALESTINIAN NATIONAL AUTHORITY: Let us return back to the peace of the brave.


ANNOUNCER: A hero and man of peace to some.


HANAN ASHRAWI, PALESTINIAN LEGISLATOR: He moved to peacemaker because he made the historical decision.


ANNOUNCER: An enemy and man of violence to others.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: He's an arch terrorist. He's a master terrorist.


ANNOUNCER: A man of contradiction, Yasser Arafat.

Then, he's a former soldier sent to the Middle East to negotiate peace.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: The entire international community as a result of those conversations will together and stand behind this vision of two states living side-by-side.


ANNOUNCER: A kid who started on the streets of New York and ended up in Washington's inner circles.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We came from a kind of family that raised you and sort of programmed you for success.


ANNOUNCER: The story of a Vietnam veteran, Gulf War hero and now secretary of state, Colin Powell. Their stories ahead on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.


His future uncertain. His power in question. His dream of a Palestinian state in jeopardy. And still, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat remains as defiant and as resilient as ever. His story now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.


Y. ARAFAT: We are in need of agents sending international forces to stop this aggression and this escalation -- military escalation against our people.

ARIEL SHARON, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAELI: Chairman Arafat should be isolated as the head of the Palestinian Authority who's responsible for terrorist acts on one end and not taking any preventive steps on the other hand.

ZAHN: The terror and hostilities have reached new levels in a conflict that has been smoldering for decades. A wave of Palestinian suicide bombings kills dozens of Israeli civilians during the Passover holiday. The Israeli Army, under orders from Ariel Sharon, pounds Palestinian positions in the occupied territories, effectively trapping Yasser Arafat in his own compound.

A renewed cycle of violence and retribution with one man in the cross hairs.

DAVID SHIPLER, AUTHOR, "ARAB AND JEW": Arafat is now talking about being a martyr. Palestinians are much more enthusiastic about Arafat than they were. It's contributed to his popularity and it's made him more relevant than ever, ironically.

ZAHN: Yasser Arafat's life story is a reflection of the Palestinian movement. He was born in 1929, one of seven children. His birthplace, like other details of his life, is a source of some speculation. He claims to have been born in Jerusalem but his birth certificate says Cairo. His mother died when he was four and his father sent him to Jerusalem to live with his uncle for several years.

JOHN WALLACH, ARAFAT BIOGRAPHER: His childhood was painful for him. He was shunted back and forth from one relative to another. He never really had a mother and father that he knew very well. He likes to say today that that homelessness, that sense of not having a parent, not having a mother and father is parallel to the homelessness of the Palestinian people themselves. ZAHN: In 1937, Arafat rejoined his father, three sisters and three brothers in Cairo. They lived in a mixed neighborhood, Arab and Jewish.

WALLACH: He had Jewish friends. He even played basketball on a Jewish team. So this is someone who has been familiar with the struggle, the Zionist struggle for independence from his early years or at least from his teenage years and I think that that had a deep influence on him.

LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Do you think we will see Jewish children and Palestinian children playing together, growing together, being friends?

Y. ARAFAT: It my boyhood, we were doing the same.

KING: Your cousins?

Y. ARAFAT: Yes, not to forget that we never said the other Jews. We used to condemn our cousins. This is the history. Abraham is our -- is mine.

KING: You never hated the Jews?

Y. ARAFAT: Never, otherwise I will not be a real Muslim.

ZAHN: The creation of Israel in 1948 drew Arafat to the ranks of Palestinian nationalists who wanted to destroy the Jewish state. While studying engineering at Cairo University, he arranged the smuggling of weapons from Egypt into Palestine.

WALLACH: He promoted himself as the leader of the Palestinian Student Union, that he was going into the desert to seize weapons that had -- old weapons that the British left behind from the days when Egypt had won its independence.

ZAHN: When Egypt went to war with Israel in 1956, 27-year-old Yasser Arafat fought for the Egyptians. After the war, another Arab defeat, Arafat began to focus on displacing the Jewish state to secure a homeland for Palestinians. He co-founded Alpha Tau, which would later become the militant wing of the PLO and an instrument of guerrilla tactics and deadly terror.

WALLACH: Terrorist activities began against Israel in 1966 and 1967 when attacks took place in Israel itself, blowing up railroad stations and water facilities, dams.


ZAHN: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, from militant warrior to national hero.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: June 1967, a dramatic and sudden shift in the Arab-Israeli conflict and a turning point for Yasser Arafat. Israel facing attack from Arab neighbors intent on destroying the Jewish state launches a pre-emptive military strike.

In six days, Israel triples in size, having captured territory from Jordan, Syria and Egypt and raises the Star of David over each Jerusalem.

SHIPLER: Israel was the underdog before the '67 War and was celebrated triumphantly. It was seen as the David that had slain the Goliath.

WALLACH: This was such a devastating defeat for the Arabs that the Palestinians said to themselves, they're never going to be able to deliver independence for us.

ZAHN: Frustrated with the lack of strong leadership in the Arab world, the Palestinians turned to Yasser Arafat. He was elected chairman of the PLO with hopes of putting Palestine on the map and wound up on the cover of "TIME" magazine.

WALLACH: Arafat was now emerging as a figure who not only confronted Israel, but confronted established Arab regimes. This was the beginning of kind of Arafatism nuisance to the Arab leaders, which to some extent, he still is today.

ZAHN: Arafat's obsession with a Palestinian state has been on display ever since, even in the way he dresses. The traditional headdress Arafat wears, the Kuffieh, has symbolic meaning.

ASHRAWI: He always wears it to look like the map of historical Palestine. So he combines many things, a political message of culture, the message of personal matters and a sign of continuity and commitment.

The Palestinians feel the kuffieh is a sign of plight, of dignity, of national identity, of a homeland.

ZAHN: A homeland that has so far eluded them. After the Six Day War, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled the West Bank in Gaza into refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The fate of these refugees, their earning for their own state and Israel's need to guarantee the security of its own people, is at the heart of the conflict that has played out over the last 30 years, a struggle for land and peace with little common ground.

Y. ARAFAT (through translator): The establishment of a Palestinian state with holy Jerusalem as its capital is the only guarantee for security, peace and stability in the region and the world.

NETANYAHU: Arafat is out to destroy the state of Israel. So what did Arafat send out the PLO to liberate? What was the Palestine? And the answer is Israel, any part of Israel and any border. ZAHN: Under Arafat's leadership in the early '70s, the PLO and its various factions turned terrorism into a household word. One of these factions carried out a series of hijackings in Europe and the Middle East, including five in one week in September 1970, which ended with three emptied planes being blown up in the Jordanian Desert.

This was followed by other notorious terror plots -- at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, the killing of 11 Israeli athletes, gunning down passengers at the Rome and Vienna Airports and assassinating political figures. Arafat never personally claimed responsibility for these acts, but he never condemned them either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The taking of civilian lives, the hijacking of airlines, these are deemed to be terrorist attacks.

Y. ARAFAT: You are -- you are -- you are mentioning the hijacking. You are neglecting the crux of the whole issue. We are under occupation and according to the United Nations Charter and resolution and decisions, we have the right to resist against occupation by all means.

NETANYAHU: He's an arch terrorist, he's a master terrorist, he's the one who brought to the world, the -- you know, the terrorist start-up of producing airline hijackings, of taking people hostage, of kidnapping and murdering diplomats, including American diplomats in Khartoum. You name a terrorist technique; he's either thought about it or perfected it.

ZAHN: Despite the terror attacks, Arafat was invited to speak to the U.N. General Assembly in New York in 1974.

Y. ARAFAT (through translator): Today, I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.

ZAHN: Israel boycotted, but for Arafat and the PLO, the implications were clear.

NASSER AL-KIDWA, PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO U.N.: What was significant, of course, was the symbol of the world buddy, recognizing the Palestinian National Liberation Movement and its leader, thus, recognizing the legitimacy of the Palestinians' struggle.

ZAHN: Recognition by the U.N. did not change the ways of Arafat and the PLO. In 1982, the PLO now based in Lebanon launched a series of deadly attacks against Israeli forces.

Israel invaded Lebanon and troops led by then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon pushed all the way to the gates of Beirut, literally driving Arafat and the PLO out to sea.

Y. ARAFAT: I was under siege one year ago. And I am in another siege this year. What's the difference? It's a contradicting. It's a revolution.

SHARON: He came here only for one purpose and that is to destroy, to destroy and to take back his world, to destroy the terrorists' PLO Palestinian organizations.

ZAHN: Arafat was on the run again. He went to Tunis. Then several years later, as Palestinians in Israeli occupied territories staged a violent uprising, Arafat finally indicated that the PLO might be willing to compromise.

At a special assembly of the U.N. in Geneva, Arafat not only recognized Israel's right to exist, he uttered the words many had been waiting years to hear.

Y. ARAFAT: I repeat for the record that we totally and absolutely renounce all forms of terrorists.

ZAHN: With a single speech, came hope that years of fighting just might come to an end. But the time for terror was over.

ASHRAWI: He moved to peacemaker because he made the historical decision. He did that and that had to be recognized and he did change the course of history.

ZAHN: But more than 10 years later, Arafat's words are being used against him. That story when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.




ZAHN: Having owned the door to peace with his historic speech to U.N., Yasser Arafat was still a man without a homeland.

Y. ARAFAT: You know it is not an easy life to live every night in different place and two different beds.

ZAHN: He had so many enemies; he practically lived on an airplane and rarely slept in the same place.

Y. ARAFAT: In this airplane, even my colleagues don't know where we are going to.

ZAHN: But Arafat would prove himself the consummate survivor. In 1992, his plane crashed in a sand storm in the Libyan Desert and he escaped with his life. He developed a blood clot on his brain afterwards but beat that too.

Shortly after his brush with death, Arafat went public with surprising personal news. A year earlier, he had secretly married a Christian-Palestinian woman who was half his age, a woman some had mistaken for his mistress.

SUHA ARAFAT, WIFE: It was terrible for me because when I'm married to a man and the entourage would say, "It's his mistress." It's too much this political entourage of the peers, all which is gossiping all the time. ASHRAWI: I really think it's a very, very simple case of falling in love with a younger woman, who was working in his office, and they wanted to have a more permanent relationship.

ZAHN: Newly married and in declining health, Arafat seemed more reflective, more intent than ever on finding peace, according to people close to him. And in September 1993, the life-long warrior for Palestine sealed an important agreement by shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The Oslo Accords put in writing that the Jewish people were entitled to a state of their own and Arafat was vilified by many Palestinians for signing the deal.

Y. ARAFAT: Making the peace is more difficult than to make war. Any -- and so any -- any officer, any general can make a peace -- they can make war, but to make peace, it means the courageous man to implement peace.

ZAHN: Israeli hard-liners didn't like the Oslo deal either. Among other things, it allowed Arafat to move to Gaza and establish the Palestinian Authority there. Now, the Israeli's mortal enemy would be living in her midst.

MORTIMER ZUCKERMAN, CONF. OF PRESIDENTS OF MAJOR AMERICA JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS: They thought for a moment that he was going to become like Mandela in South Africa or Gandhi in India or indeed David Benduri (ph) in Israel, but was it willing to make the necessary compromises to bring about a peaceful resolution? It turned out that this was a false hope.

ZAHN: Despite anger on both sides, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts though the award itself was controversial.

NETANYAHU: Does anyone take seriously Arafat's Nobel Prize? I think it was one of the low points of the Nobel Prize.

ZAHN: By this time, the pursuit of peace and the Palestinian state was all consuming for Arafat. He and his wife, Suha, had a baby girl in July of 1995, but their family life was somewhat unusual. Suha had her own apartment upstairs where Arafat seldom ventured. He claims that he didn't have time for his own daughter because he was father to all Palestinian children.

S. ARAFAT: It's a strange relation. She sees this man 10 minutes in the morning and he goes, surrounded by bodyguards. And she sees his pictures on the TV. She sees his pictures on -- in the pipes, in the lunar pipes, in the little gardens around. I say "papa," but she does not understand what is this man.

ASHRAWI: I told him once, "Don't you miss her?" And he said, "Yes, but I can't afford to think about it." So his life has been taken up with the struggle. It doesn't mean he's not a father or he's not -- he doesn't have these human or paternal feelings, but I think reality has deprived him of the chance to express them, to exercise them and to be with his family. ZAHN: The personal and political spears so often separate converged for Arafat in September of 1995 when an Israeli right-wing extremist assassinated Prime Minister Rabin. It does a blow to the peace process and a personal blow to Arafat.

S. ARAFAT: I got this phone call and he was -- he stayed all night without saying one word. No, but it was -- it was that his partner at peace was killed.

AL-KIDWA: I remember seeing him once in his office after the assassination of him, a few days after and he was really in distress.

ZAHN: Whatever Arafat's personal distress, Rabin's killing put the peace process on life support where it remained until 1998 when the two sides held peace talks again.

At Camp David, in fall of 2000, the Israelis offered the Palestinians much of the land Israel had occupied after the 1967 Six Day War. The deal didn't include total Palestinian control of Arab East Jerusalem. Arafat rejected it.

SHIPLER: It's a Catch 22 situation for him. The more moderate he becomes with the Israelis, the less creditability he has with the Palestinians. The more militant he is, the more creditability with the Palestinians and the less consolatory the Israelis will be.

Now, how you work your way out of that, I'm not sure. Arafat doesn't seem clever enough to do it. He's a good survivor. He's not so good as a leader who can move a situation into a different era.

ZAHN: Long before the current crisis, pressures were mounting on Arafat from all sides, pressure to once and for all denounce terror and put a stop to the attacks.

Y. ARAFAT: It was the attack. Did President Bush succeed to stop the attack of bin Laden? You have the biggest power all over the world. I am doing a 100 percent of my effort, but no one all over the world can give 100 percent of that.

ZUCKERMAN: He puts a lot of tigers into a cage. He organizes these tigers in different cages and then, he says to the people who control the gates to the cages, "Why don't you open those gates?" And then he says, "Oh, my goodness, the tigers are killing people. I'm really shocked."

ZAHN: At the same time, Arafat has felt pressure from his own people, many of whom feel he has lost touch with the heart of the movement.

WALLACH: The economy of the areas has deteriorated.

ZUCKERMAN: My goodness, the tigers are killing people. I'm really shocked.

ZAHN: At the same time, Arafat has felt pressure from his own people, many of whom feel he has lost touch with the heart of the movement.

SHIPLER: The economy of the areas has deteriorated. People are really desperate. They're desperate economically. Young Palestinians call their parents the failed generation, because they failed to bring either peace or statehood, and they blame Arafat for that.

ZAHN: And yet, Arafat has shown he is nothing, if not resilient. At 72, he again finds himself on the brink with Israel.

Y. ARAFAT: It's aggression against out people.

ZAHN: At this crucial moment, he faces the same dilemma, how to pursue peace with his enemies, while appeasing his own people, a dilemma that so far he has been unable to resolve.


ANNOUNCER: Coming up next week, if the Palestinians are battling to forge a nation, he's fighting to protect one.


ARIEL SHARON, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Peace might be discussed only when there will be full cessation of terror.


ANNOUNCER: An in-depth look at Ariel Sharon and Israel's war for survival, next week on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. But just ahead, he's the man in the middle of the Mid East crisis. Colin Powell, and the search for peace, when we return.


ANNOUNCER: PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues with Paula Zahn.

ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. When President Bush decided that enough was enough in the Middle East, the man he called on to help the tensions was the very same man that a number of American Presidents have turned to in times of crisis, Colin Powell. Here's Andrea Koppel.


ANDREA KOPPEL, STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: A generation's old crisis escalating once again past the boiling point. The Palestinians and Israelis living in close quarters, still deeply separated by hostility and violence. The United States and the international community are calling for an end to the bloodshed.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Violence of whatever form, whether one would call it an act of terrorism or an act of resistance, at this point is counterproductive.

KOPPEL: Now, Secretary of State Colin Powell has been enlisted by President Bush to reestablish the broken down lines of communication. Powell has served three previous administrations, every president since Jimmy Carter, accumulating four stars and becoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the country's top military leader.

But now the career soldier is a diplomat. This is not the first time Powell's stature and experience have helped bolster the Bush Administration. As the first member of the new cabinet to be announced --

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And ask him to become the 65th Secretary of State of the United States of America.

KOPPEL: Powell gave instant credibility to the President-Elect, the candidate who lost the popular vote and who lacked experience in international affairs.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Powell is a man of independent stature. He has built a reputation based on the force of his personality. He has what the military folks call a command presence.

KOPPEL: Though the courtship between Bush and Powell was long, the honeymoon was brief.

JOHANNA McGEARY, TIME FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: For a time, Colin Powell was finding himself in the position where, in the minds of lots of other people, he wasn't the preeminent voice of American foreign policy. Diplomats abroad would listen to what Colin Powell had to say and then turn around and ask, but what does Vice President Cheney think? What does Defense Secretary Rumsfeld think? What does National Security Adviser Rice think?

KOPPEL: But in the wake of the escalating crisis in the Middle East, and the September 11th terror attacks, Powell's 35 years of military experience and crisis management are clearly in high demand. As a policy maker, Powell is seen as a steady hand, and the White House benefits when one of the most admired men in the nation uses his mythic status to reassure the public.

POWELL: Our war on terror will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated. My friends, we know it will take time. It will take effort. We will be patient. We will be persistent, and I can assure you that under President Bush's leadership we will not rest until the job has been done and civilization is safe again.

KOPPEL: Powell's journey to the corridors of power in Washington began in the tough streets of New York. He was born in 1937 and his parents soon settled in the Bronx, where they managed to keep their kids out of the trouble that tempted so many others.

POWELL: Frankly, it was a very fine upbringing that I received in the South Bronx. We had our problems of drugs and crimes and none of our parents was very, very rich. In fact, they were all quite poor. KOPPEL: His parents, immigrants from Jamaica, worked in the garment district, his mother, Maude, a seamstress; his father, Luther, a shipping clerk foreman. They had come to New York with a dream, determined their children would have a bright future.

MARILYN BERNS, SISTER: We came from a kind of family that raised you and sort of programmed you for success. You know, the expectations were there that you would go forth and achieve.

KOPPEL: Colin and his sister Marilyn were taught that education was the key to success, but all the way through high school, young Colin was hardly passionate about school.

BERNS: Oh, well I think everybody knows that, you know, his studies were pretty average when he was in school.

KOPPEL: But the melting pot of 1940s New York educated him in other ways.

POWELL: And I learned a great deal about myself on the streets of New York. I grew up with people, went to school with people of all different ethnic origins and backgrounds and religions.

GENE NORMAN, CHILDHOOD FRIEND: The totality of a neighborhood that lets you see the world through many different eyes.

TORRY GRANT, CHILDHOOD FRIEND: He prides himself on his ability to speak Yiddish.

NORMAN: Well, I don't believe a word of that.

GRANT: Well, he says it but we all picked up a little Yiddish. We all picked up a little German, Spanish, Italian.

JOSEPH PERSICO, BIOGRAPHER: Colin Powell had very little sense of being a member of an oppressed minority when he was growing up because, as he put it, he lived among Italians, Jews, Poles, Puerto Ricans. Everybody was a member of a minority.

KOPPEL: Although racism was a fact of life in the '40s and '50s, his parents refused to let their children think of themselves as second-class citizens.

POWELL: My parents kept telling, and the adults in my life kept telling me, don't worry about that. Don't care what people say about you or how they point to you and think you're different. You're not different.

KOPPEL: His parents expected him to go to college and so he did to CCNY, the City College of New York.

POWELL: They let me in with my bad grades and I stayed there for four and a half years, it was a four-year course, with bad grades.

KOPPEL: But despite the bad grades, he found his calling. When the story of Colin Powell continues, the sorry student discovers a reason to stay in school.

POWELL: And now I'm the favorite son, the most famous person who ever graduated CCNY, and they give me all kinds of honors, and I smile because they were sure anxious to see me go 35 years ago.




KOPPEL: After squeaking through high school, the kid from the South Bronx took his "C" average to CCNY, City College of New York. Clearly academics did not excite him, but something else did.

POWELL: I found something that I liked at CCNY. It was ROTC. I liked the discipline and structure of the military. I felt somewhat distinctive wearing a uniform. I hadn't been distinctive in much else.

GRANT: He used to love hiking up and down the block practicing his marching, calling cadence out to himself. He really enjoyed it. So it was without question that Colin was going to be a career man.

KOPPEL: Powell's military career began in 1958, when he received his Bachelor's Degree in Geology and a commission in the United States Army. Colin was now Second Lieutenant Powell.

BERNS: My mother thought, oh this is nice, when he graduated. He'll go in the army for a few years and he'll come out and get a job.

KOPPEL: Little did she know, her son was in it for the long haul.

POWELL: The army was the way out for me, the way out of the city. It was an opportunity when there weren't many other opportunities for young Blacks, even young Blacks who had completed college.

KOPPEL: But when Powell reported for training at Fort Benning, Georgia, he ran into an unexpected roadblock, segregation.

PERSICO: Now, the way Colin Powell handled something like this, yes he's exasperated. He's enraged. But he's not going to let it destroy him. As he put it to me best of all, I was not going to let other people's opinions of me become my opinion of myself.

KOPPEL: The young man who had been programmed for success since early childhood, would not be discouraged.

PERSICO: He told me once how one of his officers, early in his career, had said Lieutenant Powell, you're the best Black lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Powell was not satisfied with that. He didn't want to see this artificial color barrier. He said, "I was determined to become the best lieutenant in the U.S. Army." KOPPEL: In 1962, the 25-year-old was shipped to Vietnam. Initially excited to serve in combat, he soon became frustrated that decision makers in Washington had not clearly defined the mission and had no plan for getting out.

POWELL: I came away from that experience with a belief that if we're going to send young men and women into harm's way, we should make sure they have a clear purpose that they are fighting for. They understand that purpose. The American people understand it and the American people are supporting them in what they do.

KOPPEL: The United States Powell returned to was very different from the one he had left. Anti-war protests, the civil rights movement, violence was everywhere. The only calm in the storm was on the home front. The newly promoted Captain Powell had married Alma Vivian Johnson in 1963. Over the years, Alma would hold down the fort during her husband's many absences, making sure the growing Powell clan had everything they needed.

PERSICO: Alma Powell accepted that this was the life this man loved and that he had a great deal to give to it, and she accepted her sometimes very difficult role as a mother on her own and also an army wife who was expected to be charming, tactful, and entertaining. She carried out that role rather beautifully for 35 years, and I think part of his rise is due to the fact that he had a suitable wife.

KOPPEL: With his family in good hands, Colin Powell concentrated on his career. The next big push came in 1972, when Powell's commanding officers ordered him to apply for the White House Fellows Program.

POWELL: The beautiful part about the army is that they were always, they were always giving me something that was beyond me. They were always testing me and by being pushed, I grew fast.

KOPPEL: Out of 1,500 applicants, he was accepted, and once again rose to the challenge.

FRANK CARUCCI, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If you gave him a project, it got done. It got done effectively. It was easy to spot him as a rising talent at that time.

KOPPEL: Then another golden opportunity. Powell was named military assistant to the Secretary of Defense, and was exposed to decision making at the highest levels.

POWELL: At some point in my career, I realized I was doing well enough to become a general.

KOPPEL: So Colin Powell left Washington for an assignment at Fort Carson, Colorado, one that would put him within reach of that once unthinkable goal, but the newly minted general would not stay away from the capitol for long.

CARUCCI: He didn't want to come back, but we had Ronald Reagan call him and he agreed to come back. KOPPEL: It was an offer he couldn't refuse, Deputy National Security Adviser. He was later promoted to National Security Adviser, a first for an African-American. When George Bush became President, he kept Powell close by, naming him to the highest military rank in the country, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Powell exploded onto the scene in August 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Powell was initially reluctant to commit U.S. troops, but eventually he became one of the administrations most trusted spokesmen, when the assault on Saddam Hussein's army finally came.

POWELL: Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we're going to cut it off and then we're going to kill it.

KOPPEL: When the war was over, Powell had become a national hero. Powell's term extended into the Clinton Administration where he again argued against military action this time in Bosnia. Even though ethnic cleansing reached gruesome proportions, the mission did not fit the parameters of the Powell Doctrine.

POWELL: I have been characterized as the reluctant warrior. Guilty. But I follow in a long tradition of American generals who have always been reluctant warriors.

KOPPEL: In 1993, Powell retired to write his memoirs with a reported $6 million advance. Published in late '95, the promotional tour was mobbed.

POWELL: I'll take a question.

SAM DONALDSON, CORRESPONDENT: General, is this really the start of a book tour, or the start of a presidential campaign?

POWELL: Today is the beginning of a book tour, Mr. Donaldson, and...

DONALDSON: And tomorrow?

POWELL: And tomorrow, we'll continue to promote the book but at the same time, we'll be traveling around the country meeting many Americans and answering any questions they may wish to put to me.

KOPPEL: With both Democrats and Republicans courting him, Colin Powell weighed his options, next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The latest CNN poll has you right now ahead of both President Clinton and Senator Dole. How does that make you feel?

POWELL: Well, I'm not worrying about the polls or paying attention to polls right now.

KOPPEL: With a runaway best seller, and sky-high ratings in the polls, Colin Powell in late 1995 was at a crossroads.

POWELL: The question I faced was, should I enter politics and seek the Presidency of the United States.

KOPPEL: But it was no secret that Alma Powell, his staunchest supporter for 33 years, did not want him to run. After months of public speculation and weeks of private anguish, he concluded he lacked the passion to run a successful Presidential campaign.

POWELL: The passion and commitment that, despite my every effort, I do not yet have for political life.

KOPPEL: But he now clearly committed to a party, the Republicans.

POWELL: I'm very impressed by what the Republican Party is trying to do right now, trying to put the nation on a better fiscal balance, trying to bring government under control and make government smaller, trying to put more money back into the pocket of individual taxpayers.

KOPPEL: But at the 1996 Republican Convention, Powell sounded like a Democrat. Keep abortion rights, end racial discrimination, and reform welfare for everyone.

POWELL: We have to make sure that reduced government spending doesn't single out the poor and the middle-class. Corporate welfare, welfare for the wealthy must be first in line for elimination.

KOPPEL: After the Republicans lost, Powell established America's Promise, and became its fund-raiser in chief, recruiting corporations and volunteers to help children from poor backgrounds like his own.

But his retreat from politics was only temporary. At the 2000 Republican Convention, staged to showcase the party's new inclusive image, Powell once again blasted the conservatives on affirmative action.

POWELL: Some in our party miss no opportunity to roundly and loudly condemn affirmative action that helped a few thousand Black kids get an education, but you hardly hear a whimper when it's affirmative action for lobbyists who load our federal tax code with preferences for special interest. It doesn't work.

KOPPEL: Despite his differences with the party's right wing, Powell's credibility with the public made him a natural choice for the new Bush Administration. The State Department staff literally cheered when Powell took command. Expectations were high. But his temperate approach frequently clashed with other members of the President's national security team. BIDEN: In this administration, the overwhelming part of the foreign policy establishment is very hard right, movement right conservatives.

KOPPEL: Powell advocated caution and coalitions. The prevailing view in the administration was that the victor in the Cold War could impose its will unilaterally. When President Bush said he wanted U.S. troops out of the NATO peacekeeping force in the Balkans, Powell argued for supporting NATO. On negotiations with North Korea to stop developing long-range missiles, Powell said he would pick up where the Clinton administration left off. The White House said no, at least not right away.

POWELL: Because I have pitted others in saying, I got a little too far forward on my skates.

KOPPEL: And on the international treaty to stop global warning, the White House pulled the plug on U.S. support, without consulting Powell.

BIDEN: There seems to be a real distrust among movement conservatives, the right wing of the Republican Party in control of this administration, real distrust for Powell.

KOPPEL: But his supporters said Powell fights the battles he considers most important, and Powell has ultimately turned many of the policy decisions his way.

RICHARD ARMITAGE, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: It seems to me you ought to view Secretary Powell, not as a 100-yard sprinter, but as a marathoner.

KOPPEL: What may be the toughest race of his career began September 11th. The United States was in a new kind of war, attacked by an enemy that, for the price of a few plane tickets, had acquired guided missiles.

POWELL: It may well be that the diplomatic efforts, political efforts, legal, financial, other efforts, may be just as effective against that kind of an enemy as would military force.

KOPPEL: Now with violence flaring in the Middle East, the retired general who was sometimes dubbed a reluctant warrior, is looking for alternatives to military force to deal with the problems in the region.

McGEARY: One of the things that people have always felt about Colin Powell is that he is a man of such great promise that what you want to see is that that promise is used to do great things, and if he has ever had a chance to show that to us, he has a chance to show it to us now.


ZAHN: For the very latest on the crisis in the Middle East, stay with CNN. I'm Paul Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us. Also, I hope you'll join us for "AMERICAN MORNING," weekday mornings from 7:00 to 10:00. Until then, see you next time on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.




Back to the top