tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations Bloomberg October 23, 2021 9:30am-10:00am EDT
♪ david: did you ever think monday you would be the chairman of the joint chiefs? >> it was beyond any level of aspiration. david: people said, this man should be president of the united states. >> it never occurred to me. david: and he regrets not having run? some say it is a great job. [laughter] >> prove it. david: new national security advisor came in and he wanted you as deputy. why didn't the president call? >> hello? general powell, this is ronald reagan. [laughter] >> would you fix your tie please? david: people what it recognize
me -- would not recognize me of my tire fixed but all right. ♪ i don't consider myself a journalist. somebody else would consider myself a journalist. i began to take the life of being an interviewer even though i have a day job of running a private equity firm. how do you define leadership? what is it that makes somebody take? ♪ [chatter] we are here today at city college, the place you graduated from a number of years ago. >> thank you, david. i was accepted at nyu and the reason i went to ccnu was i could not afford the money. it was easy to get to and i had heard a lot about it. david: you grew up in the bronx?
>> i was born in harlem about one mile from here and grew up in the south bronx. david: your parents were immigrants from -- >> jamaica. david: growing up in new york did you enjoy new york as a young boy. >> it was such a diverse place that it really bonded on me that this is what the world is. most people of different bacchants, cultures, you name it. ccny had done it perfectly. i learned a little bit working for six years in the south bronx at jay sexers which sold children's furniture and toys. after i had been doing this a couple of years he came up to me and put his arm around my shoulder and said colleague,
colleague -- they get is diminutive -- i don't think you can stay in the store. this will go to my daughters and their husbands. i want you to get your education and go somewhere and do something. i had no intention of staying at the store and being somebody who just drags boxes around. it touched me so deeply i remembered for the rest of my life, and wrote about in my memoir, he thought enough of me to tell me that i should get my education and move on. that is what i did and ccny was the source of that education. david: did you ever think one day you would be the chairman of the joint chiefs of the secretary of the united states? >> no. it usually starts with, what year did you graduate west point? i did not go to west point. i could not aspire to go to west point. well, did you go to citadel or did you go to texas a&m? they would not let black guys in. it was beyond any possible level
of aspiration or expectation but it happened. why did it happen? because i got a quality public school education that i didn't know was that high quality at the time. elementary school, junior high school, high school, and then ccny let me in. it was rotc at ccny that made the difference. david: you are a geology major. did you think you were going to go into the geology world? gen powell: no, because i busted out of civil engineering. now you know. [laughter] that did not need to come up, david. thank you very much. david: in rotc you have the obligation to go into the military. he went to the south for training. gen powell: i graduated in 1958 and went to fort benning which was still in a segregated state in a segregated city, columbus, georgia. i knew well i was like anybody else. there were places i could not go, stores i could not go into, places i could not -- ordering a hamburger and i was thrown out
of joints in clubs, georgia. david: they would say, we don't serve you? gen powell: worse than that. i stopped at a little joint late one night and i know i could not go in. i went to the window and asked for a hamburger. this nice white lady from new jersey said, i can't serve you. you go around the back? i said, no thanks. i went back to base and that was in early 1964 and then the civil rights act of 1964, the accommodations act, was signed in july just before july 4. on july 5 i went back to the hamburger joint and they served me. what america discovered his segregation was not just a burden for blacks, it was a burden for whites. living in a crazy system. david: you went to vietnam and you were injured. gen powell: yeah. david: you came bac states and you went back to get to vietnam. gen powell: five years later went back and got injured again. david: when you came back your
career really took off. you became a white house fellow. gen powell: i did. i was one of 15 people who would serve one year in washington in one of the offices of the cabinet. in my case, i worked in the office of management and budget. i learned a lot about government that year. david: after your white house fellowship you did what? gen powell: i went to korea. commanded the infantry battalion. the year i consider one of the most rewarding years i have had of the army. just starting in the volunteer army and it was my opportunity not only to train these young people but to give them a ged education and english as a second language. david: you eventually went to europe. gen powell: i was in europe as a young lieutenant for two years and then i worked for captain weinberger. i was the senior military assistant and we became close. after two years it was time for me to move on.
they got me an assignment in germany. i was now a two star general. one day the chief of staff walks in and says, we have changed. sir, the family is packed. we are moving. mr. weinberger wants you to stay here another year. i said, and not take division? that's right. then he said something which is quite right, remember, you are here to serve and you serve where we need you. i can find division commanders anywhere. mr. weinberger wants you to stay longer. yes, sir. i went in that evening to see mr. weinberger, secretary weinberger, and he knew i was disappointed. he looked at me and said, you know, you are not going to get division. i know that disappoints you but next year you are going to get a corp and that is to divisions. 70,000 people in the fifth corps. alere later he let me go -- a year later he let me go and i
went to germany, guarding one of the invasion routes. david: that was a great job. gen powell: great job and lasted four months. david: there was the iran contra scandal. he wanted u.s. deputy. gen powell: frank, it cannot be that important. it is that important. see if you can risk your entire career by saying the next sentence. frank, if it is that important, why doesn't the president call me? half an hour later, hello, general powell, this is ronald reagan. yes, sir. [laughter] i really want you to come back here. he is reading the talking points frank gave him. i want you to come back here and be deputy of the national security advisor. yes, sir. i will be right there. david: you came back? gen powell: yeah. nine months later frank got assigned to become the secretary of defense. good, i can go back to the army now.
one day i was chairing the national security council meeting and suddenly the door opens and the president walks in and gets to the head of the table. frank comes around the side and while the meeting is going on frank rights something on a piece of paper and sends it down the table to me. i open the piece of paper and it says, you are now the national security advisor. no interview, no nothing. the last year and a half of my time in the white house was with president reagan. came in extremely close and strong relationship. david: when the administration ended you went back into a military position but not that long afterward president george herbert walker bush said, i need you to be chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. gen powell: i am in atlanta , georgia with a beautiful house and headquarters and the conference in baltimore with all the army senior forces, i get the call.
secretary cheney, secretary of defense, wants to see you. i said, uh oh. so i go to the pentagon and go into his office and he says, president bush wants to make you the chairman. ♪ david: when you are doing your book tour people said, this man should be president of the united states. gen powell: it never occurred to me and suddenly the book came out and it caught media attention. lots of people were coming to me saying, you need to run. david: any regrets about not having run? gen powell: no. david: why? some people say it is a great job. [laughter] gen powell: prove it. [laughter] ♪
♪ david: early in the bush administration saddam hussein invaded kuwait and was it clear to you we should go in and try to kick him out? gen powell: well, it was clear to me this is a horrible invasion and could not be allowed to stand. and the first challenge was to make sure he didn't go south into saudi arabia. general schwarzkopf was the
commander in the region and he and i were pretty close. we talked about all this. david: you invented something that became known as the pal doctrine. gen powell: not quite. it was invented by a washington post reporter who came to see me and said, i'm writing an article about the pal doctrine. what is it? [laughter] what you always say when we invaded panama. make sure you go to war after all diplomatic and political possibilities have been dealt with. and it has to be a clear political objective, not just military. the second part of the powell document is, i used overwhelming force once but what i've always said is decisive force so people don't think you have to have a gazillion people. just have what you need to have a decisive outcome. david: get the order from the president to kick saddam hussein and his troops out. gen powell: when that decision came down we could not find a
diplomatic solution i received the order and i gave the order that we were ready. david: there is a famous military maneuver rather than going directly to the enemy went around. whose brilliant idea was that? gen powell: any infantry captain could have figured this out. it did not take a general. several generals have made claims. it was the only conflict i have ever been in or read history about where i can say the president of the united states, there is no question of the outcome. the iraqis have put their line of soldiers on the border with saudi arabia and they were stuck, the could it move. then they had four divisions along the coast and they were very light. all we had to do was fix these two forces in place and go around them, the left hook. that is what we did. but to my surprise the night we launched the ground attack after the air attacks several weeks
ago, and i was expecting the marines were opposite the iraqis, they were told, and i told them, attack but don't get decisively engaged. i don't want to lose a bunch of marines. i just want you to freeze the iraqis in place. same thing on the coast. amphibious operations but you are not going ashore. freeze them because we are going to go around the mall. but the marines being marines did what they were told but some soldiers in the marines found ways to penetrate the fire barriers they put in place, the fire trenches, the barbed wire, the minefields and cut a path through the iraqi army. when that happened military doctrine says, exploit the success. we told the marines, go, and they burst through the iraqi force and were heading to kuwait city before he can get the left hook. david: ultimately the war is over. you decide to write a book about your life called "my american journey." when you are doing your book tour people said, this man
should be president of the united states. gen powell: it never occurred to me and suddenly the book came out and it caught media attention. lots of people were coming to me saying, you need to run. well, i didn't ever think of running and had no particular passion but i felt an obligation to consider the matter. so i did. i am a serviceman and try to do what i think is right. most of the republican party did not want me to run and they even put out statements saying, we don't want him in the party. david: because you are too moderate? gen powell: probably. david: any regrets about not having run? gen powell: no. david: why? some say it is a great job. [laughter] gen powell: prove it. [laughter] david: when you decided not to run other people were disappointed and you stayed in the private sector. then george w. bush is elected president. he calls you and says, i would like you to be secretary of state.
gen powell: i sensed he was the republican i would want to be. i was pleased to be able to go back in government and serve my country. david: your secretary of state and the 9/11 happens. when did you realize you would have to be involved, the government would have to be involved in military confrontation? gen powell: well, you cannot let something like that go by without doing something about it. my job was to not immediately get involved in military matters but to pull the international community together. it was a very rewarding experience. for the first time in nato's history they invoked article v which that if any member was attacked, we were all attacked. they were all on our side. david: we turned our attention to a rack and president bush decided -- iraq and we turned our attention to iraq and president bush
decided to go after saddam hussein. gen powell: i said, you become responsible for 20 million iraqis who are going to stand there looking at us. you take a great responsibility and you want to do that? we were private when we had this conversation and he said, well, what is the alternative? i said, the alternative is to have the u.n. be in the first position. they are the ones who violated the resolutions. let's have a diplomatic approach. david: president bush said, i agree going to the u.n. and convincing them. gen powell: he did. he wanted to present our case to the united nations publicly. on a thursday afternoon i was with him. he said, will you take the case next tuesday? david: you made the case saddam hussein had, or we thought he had, weapons of mass destruction. it turned out he didn't. did you think you are embarrassed by that or the u.s. was embarrassed or had we known he didn't have weapons president bush would have gone ahead anyway?
gen powell: he would not have gone ahead. i asked in that specific question when we were going through. mr. president, if saddam hussein can prove he has no weapons of mass destruction, you do not have a basis of war. are you prepared to accept that even if it means saddam hussein will stay in place? hesitantly he said yes, i will except that. that is why i went forward. i spent three days at the cia with the intelligence communities and prepared the document i would present. and every word was approved by the cia, written by the cia. we went, i gave a presentation, it seemed to go well. i was confident it went well. but within a few days or a couple of weeks it started to fall apart. yes, i was more than embarrassed, i was mortified. even though the president had used the same information, congress had used the same information, secretary rumsfeld, condoleezza rice, all of us were
using the same information but i made the biggest presentation. it also fell on me. that is show business. david: today in hindsight would you say the invasion was a mistake? gen powell: i would see the execution of the invasion was not done properly. we abandoned the army without any discussion in washington and then we abandoned something worse, the baath party, and said anyone who worked for the baath party could not work in government. those were bad strategic decisions and we did not have enough force to do what we wanted the iraq army to do in the place fell apart. right now, iraq has democracy. it is tricky but they have elections and are trying to restore order in their country. if they do all of that, i think it is bad we went about it in such a terrible way in my humble judgment.
if they come out through this difficult process as a democracy, no weapons of mass destruction, no saddam hussein, i think you have to judge this differently than how it is being judged now. ♪ david: what is it, in your view, that makes a person a great leader? gen powell: someone who understands they are leading followers. they are there to put a group of human beings into work that has value, that has a purpose, and the leader will give them the inspiration needed to achieve that purpose. the leader will make sure they have everything they need to get it done. ♪
♪ david: president bush is reelected. in the second term you retire as secretary of state and do things in the private sector. one of the things you did was set up the colin powell school at ccny. tell us about the colin powell school. gen powell: when i left the state department i came up here to see the colin powell center that have been endowed by the ruden family. i wanted to see what they are doing. the answer was, not much. it was part of a mini think tank. i said in the conference room here at ccny and about a dozen students came in and i saw incredible diversity among these
12 kids. i saw passion in their eyes. i saw them hungry for a better life. i knew most of them came from families where nobody had yet graduated from college. this was the first generation of the family. when i got back to me i said, my god, this is me. this is me 50 years ago. i got to be part of this. david: i know you are proud of the school, as he should be. when you look back on your extraordinary life in public service did your parents live to see your success? gen powell: they saw me make colonel. i am very proud of that. my father was failing, i could see that, and he died a year and a half later. my mother was there when i was promoted to general and she stood there in this line of people, very proud. she was only about this tall, 5'3" or so and there's a secretary of defense, deppe deputy secretary of defense, all these generals
watching. she was very proud. she and my wife pinned my stars on and from there on in, and almost get his expression should said everybody, my son, the general. [laughter] david: you have seen many great leaders in your career. political leaders, military leaders, so what is it, in your view, that makes someone a great leader? gen powell: a person who understands they are leading followers. a person who understands they are there to put a group of human beings into work that has value, that has a purpose, and the leader will give them the inspiration needed to achieve that purpose. and the leader will make sure they have everything they need to get it done. i have always taken on every job i have had. what am i trying to do? what is the purpose? what is the vision? why are we here? what are we doing? and get that down to the lowest person in the organization and make sure they have whatever they need whether it is diplomatic weapons or real
weapons of war. make sure that i took care of them and gave them every opportunity to be successful. that is what leadership is all about, inspiring followers. there is a story about lincoln i always appreciated. early days of the civil war he would go to the old soldiers home outside the swampy area of washington in the north of the city. there was a telegraph office there and one night a message comes in and the telegraph operator writes it down. mr. president, it is not good. he hands it to him and the message says, you know, the confederates have just raided a union outpost by fairfax station and captured 100 horses and a brigadier general. lincoln says, god, hate to lose 100 horses. the telegraph operator asks, what about the brigadier general? lincoln's reply was, i can make
a brigadier general in five minutes but it is hard to replace 100 horses. 70 gave that to me the day i made brigadier general. [laughter] it has been by my desk ever since, to this day it is there if you came to the house. it always reminded me your job is to take care of the horses. don't worry about being brigadier general. take care of the horses, the soldiers, the employees, the clerks, the students, the faculty. whatever it takes to be successful in whatever it is you're trying to achieve. ♪
david: more action than direction, from earnings, from bonds, and from chinese real estate. this is bloomberg "wall street week." i'm david westin. this week, special contributor larry summers on tapering, growth rates, as well as monetary stimulus. larry: we will have a difficult inflationary dynamic. david: former hp ceo carly fiorina on reining in tech giants. and getting supply and demand back in the line.