Terrorists Win if America Changes Its Ways, Powell Warns
In a speech with as many amusing anecdotes as heartfelt stories, the former Secretary of State also gave all Americans and attendees at Donnelley Group's Information Privacy Forum some sound after last week's terrorist attacks in London.
"We once again saw that there are terrorists out there. Every civilized country is at risk, and every country must do what is necessary to protect themselves," Powell said. "As we go through another round of protecting ourselves, we have to make absolutely sure that we don't shut ourselves down, that we continue to encourage people to come here."
Because if that happens, he said, then the terrorists have won -- "and we cannot let that happen. We must remain an open, welcome society. I'm confident we can do that."
Powell also discussed his time as secretary, including how he introduced Google and up-to-date technology to a behind-the-times State Department.
"When I walked into the department, I found Wang computers in the State Department in 2001 ... Wang computers," he said. "Sothe next thing I did was lay down, put a wet rag over my face and take a nap."
Four hundred million dollars and 44,251 computers later, all of the embassies and state offices had Internet-capable computers. The next challenge was getting his staff members to think on a 21st-century timetable when he found out that the State Department's Web site was being updated every three months.
"I said, 'I didn't buy you all this stuff so you could update on some lunar cycle,'" he said. "We've moved from a lunar world to a transactional world. Wal-Mart does not update every three months. Wal-Mart, Target, the best of the best update with every transaction, every key punch."
Not surprisingly, it didn't take long for the State Department staff to change its ways.
"I also found out that my calling or e-mailing my staff on their Blackberry at night or on the weekends became one of the greatest chick magnets in Washington," he joked.
On the serious side to his speech, Powell encouraged people to be as good as they can be.
"Make sure you as the leader are giving selfless service for those following you," he said. "Selfless service means sacrificing yourself for the mission. Selfless service means making sure that you're taking care of the people who have been entrusted to your care. They are the ones who get the work done. It isn't a plan. It isn't a bunch of butcher paper charts that you did at the conference last weekend. What gets the job done is people. People who have wants, needs, aspirations. And your job as a leader is to make sure that you have dealt with their wants, needs, aspirations and desires."
For 50 years, the United States worried about a cold war that might turn hot. That concern is gone, but new concerns have replaced it.
"We are still the nation people look to for admiration and security," Powell said. "It's a treasured position. It brings us respect, but it also brings resentment."