Former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell delivered a keynote address at salesforce.com’s Dreamforce conference this morning. He was part Bill Cosby or Jay Leno, joking about his retirement as the most senior diplomat of the free world, missing his well appointed 757, taking the Washington D.C. shuttle and having to go through security and humorous encounters with various heads of state.
He told of how President Ronald Reagan sent him on a mission to talk with Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev. He said that the Russian head of state wasn’t in a good mood and took it out on him, and he started to get annoyed. “A suspicious look came across my face that said I don’t care what you say, you are still a commie,” Powell said. “Gorbachev stopped, looked up and his face softened. He smiled and leaned forward. ‘General, General, General, I am sorry, sorry. You will have to find a new enemy.” Powell jokingly responded that he didn’t want to find a new enemy—and give up all his troops, funding of $300 billion a year, and a battle he had trained fight to for 30 years. In the next two years, the walls came tumbling down.
With the Cold War cast aside, the spectre of war in Europe is nonexistent for the first time in 200 years, Powell said. In the case of Russia, Powell said he wasn’t sure where President Vladimir Putin is taking his country. He quoted President George Bush saying, “When I looked in [Putin’s] eyes, I saw his soul.” Powell then quipped, “I look in his eyes and see the KGB.” (The actual Bush quote is: "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul.")
Based on this performance, Powell could host his own talk show or star in a sitcom if wanted to change careers, but in the last part of his speech he got down to business.
The battlefield he knew during his long military career is turning into a world of playing fields, Powell said. He listed the playing fields in the flattened world as economics, energy, the environment and education. Political democracies are not meaningful unless they generate economic benefits, Powell said, and without conserving energy and the environment future generations will suffer.
He outlined the hotspots in the world, starting with Afganistan, which he said would more likely be destroyed from the drug trade than from the Taliban threat. The Iraqi people want peace and stability, but the sect on sect violence threatens that goal. Powell said that the campaign that followed the first phase of the war wasn't successful due to a lack of enough troops to stamp out the insurgency. Now it's up to the Iraqi government, army and police to deal with the problem. “We can’t walk away, but we have to find a solution that puts it in the hands of the Iraqis to solve,” Powell said.
Powell lamented the lack of a resolution to the Palestinian conflict. “My one wish is to see a Palestinian state living in peace side by side with the state of Israel,” Powell said. He stated that the greatest weapon in the war against terrorism is the open nature of our society. Bringing more foreign students to U.S. schools, for example, is a way for people to get to know the country and appreciate what it is all about. “We are suffering from negative attitudes around the world, but there is still a reservoir of good support around the U.S.,” Powell said. “People are looking to find a better life….we must continue to welcome people who come here seeking a new life.”