Colin Powell says the U.S. took too long to strengthen its forces in Iraq after Baghdad fell early in the war.
Powell, the nation’s top military officer under President George H.W. Bush and secretary of state for President George W. Bush, said the decision to use a lighter force to defeat the Iraqi army was correct. But he said in a television interview broadcast Sunday that the younger Bush’s administration should have realized the initial success in 2003 was only the start of a longer fight.
"Unfortunately, the war wasn’t over" after Baghdad fell and Saddam Hussein was ousted, Powell said. "The war was just beginning. And then it took us, in my judgment, too long to recognize that we needed to put more force in.
"I think we would have been in a much different place if we had surged in the fall of 2003, rather than many years later," he said on "State of the Union," on CNN.
In January, 2007, President George W. Bush announced he was sending 21,500 Army and Marine reinforcements as part of a revamped military strategy to counter sectarian violence in Iraq.
Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman during the Gulf War in 1991, also said the term "Powell Doctrine" — often referred to as use of overwhelming military force — was "an invention of a reporter."
"But it essentially says have a clear political goal and then apply decisive force, is the term I prefer rather than overwhelming, because it doesn’t always have to be huge," Powell said.
Iraqi forces assumed formal control of Baghdad and other cities just on June 30 after American troops handed over security in urban areas. About 130,000 American troops remain in Iraq, with U.S. forces to be withdrawn by Dec. 31, 2011.
Asked whether the war was worth a $700 billion cost and more than 4,300 American lives, Powell responded, "Well, that’s a judgment history will have to make. You never know what these costs will be."
But Powell listed favorable results that would go into such an assessment. "A dictator is gone. A despicable regime is gone. And the Iraqi people have been given a chance to have a representative form of government, living in peace with its neighbors."
Discussing the war in Afghanistan, Powell said he agrees with President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, James Jones, that military force alone won’t bring victory. "All the troops in the world are not going to make this better," Powell said, unless the Afghan people see economic development and a responsible government that is not corrupt.
Powell, a former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" law governing gays in the military should be reviewed. But he declined to make any recommendation.
He said the law, prohibiting gays from serving openly, was correct when it began in 1993 but that 16 years have passed and "I think a lot has changed with respect to attitudes within our country."
Powell suggested that military commanders and the defense secretary should make recommendations to the president and Congress should hold hearings before any changes are made.
Obama has criticized the law, saying it "doesn’t contribute to our national security."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he wants to make the law "more humane" until Congress eventually repeals it. He said he has lawyers studying ways the law might be selectively enforced.