Marvin Kalb: The Powell Doctrine

Recorded on Oct 22, 2013

Author and veteran reporter Marvin Kalb describes the Powell Doctrine—the philosophy that informed George H. W. Bush's decision to hit Iraq hard and get out rather than aim for regime change.

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The George H. W. Bush philosophy was born of something called the Powell Doctrine. Powell was the chief of the Joint Chiefs and was a national security advisor and a very bright general. Powell believed, based on the Vietnam experience, that if the United States goes to war, it has to have a clear military objective: Down the road, that's what I want to accomplish. I want to put the number of troops in that can take care of that problem, I want to have popular support, and I want to have an exit strategy. I want to go in, I want to accomplish it, and I want to get out.

That is what he said is the military's role. It's not there to build schools. It's a very important point.

George H. W. bought into that completely. That was, in a sense, the beauty of the Kuwait operation. We went in with vastly more troops than we needed, because Powell wanted to overwhelm the enemy. And he did. It was a 100-hour war. George H. W. then had before him the option of going up to Baghdad and taking care of the bad guy. People like Scowcroft said to him, "Mr. President, if you go up there, I can tell you right now, from the military point of view, we can do that. That's not hard. But once we get there, what do we do? Do we become the government? Who are the good guys we deal with? We couldn't tell you." And Bush wisely said, "We're not going."

Right now that Powell Doctrine, which you were alluding to, is something that exists in the far-out corners of the Washington strategic mind.

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