Remember When – Colin Powell at the UN, Now with a New Book on Leadership

The 65th Secretary of State has a new book.  The book, “It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership,” released today is reportedly a series of leadership parables from Secretary Powell, who now spends a lot of time lecturing and giving paid speeches.

Not too long ago, we admired Secretary Powell; we were even  fond of him, if you can call it that.  He was an inspiring leader who regularly swore in not only ambassadors but also the new classes of Foreign Service Officers.  He was known for holding morning meetings with undersecretaries and assistant secretaries but also for chatting with secretaries and maintenance workers. He was successful in gaining substantial increase in the State Department’s funding from Congress. He boosted new embassy constructions and upgraded building security. He ditched the Wang and made  Internet accessibility across the department a reality; making State, according to this, “a fully wired bureaucracy for the first time in its history.” Two other notable changes during his tenure was the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) launched in 2001 which ramped up staffing levels under a three-year plan and his institution of mandatory leadership and management training within the organization.  So yes, folks at State and those in the foreign affairs community have exceptionally good reasons to be fond of him.  That said, we cannot ignore the large role he played in getting us into Iraq.

Here he is in February 5, 2003 at the United Nations Security Council.

If your memory is foggy, the text of his speech is here.

We have not seen the book; we’ll read it when our local library get its copy.  We have a standing policy in our house not to spend money on any book written by anyone who helped took us to war in Iraq, and that includes, retired four-star general, and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Bloomberg writes that Colin Powell Says Iraq ‘Blot’ Teaches Need for Skepticism:

“Yes, a blot, a failure will always be attached to me and my UN presentation,” the former U.S. secretary of state writes in a new book of leadership parables that draws frequently on his Iraq war experience. “I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me.”

In the lead up to the book’s publication, Dan Froomkin also writes, Colin Powell’s New Book: War With Iraq Never Debated:

All in all, Powell acknowledges that the speech was “one of my most momentous failures, the one with the widest-ranging impact.” But he also concludes that “every senior U.S. official would have made the exact same case,”

He adds: “I get mad when bloggers accuse me of lying — of knowing the information was false. I didn’t.”

The lesson of all this, Powell writes, is to follow these guidelines: “Always try to get over failure quickly. Learn from it. Study how you contributed to it. If you are responsible for it, own up to it.”

Secretary Powell’s former chief of staff, Col. Larry Wilkerson was interviewed by HuffPost about these rules.  And he said, quote: “Powell’s rules are for everyone else.”

Somehow, we don’t think that blurb will make it to the book’s jacket.

The “blot” on Secretary Powell’s record led to a $3 trillion war,  and killed more than 100,000 Iraqis. It is estimated that four to five million or about 15% of the Iraqi population was displaced during the war years.  Some 2 million Iraqis emigrated primarily to Syria and Jordan; some went to Egypt, Lebanon, the Arab countries and Europe. The Middle East Institute says that “the United States has taken in fewer than 10,000 under a strict visa policy that has come under increasing criticism.”

The Iraq War left 4,487 U.S. service members dead and officially, 32,226 U.S. service members wounded. The US Government has yet to calculate the physiological damage the Iraq war has brought to our young men and women in the armed services and the cost of hundreds of civilians and private contractors killed, maimed and broken in Iraq.

We will eventually read the book and see how much of the Iraq War he owns up to in this new book, Frankly, we’ve gotten tired of hearing that mistakes were made but never learned who were responsible for such mistakes.  Or if this is, as these books tend to be — one more history bending, finger-pointing exercise that’ll break our hearts.

Domani Spero