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Do we want leadership lessons from Powell?


Colin Powell, the retired U.S. general who served under both Bush presidencies, is back in the spotlight this week, promoting his new book, “It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership.”

In the media blitz, Powell has appeared on NPR, Today, in Time, and written for Newsweek, and this morning he joined Morning Joe.  Powell is considered a good “get” among media, and they worked their best to stir up news from him, including the fact that he’s not sure he’s going to vote for President Obama in November.

It’s his book that Powell wants to talk about, though. The book is a series of leadership lessons, including maintaining confidence and optimism, dealing with failure, controlling anger, and negotiation skills with adversaries, among others. You can read an excerpt on the Morning Joe blog here.

But those who marched against the Iraq War, who dared to pen Op-Eds questioning the now discredited U.S. intelligence, and the entire countries (France, Germany) who opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Gen. Powell represents something very different – someone you might not want to take leadership lessons from just yet.


He was the adult, the non-cowboy of the George W. Bush administration – or so we thought. People trusted him. So when he presented his case for a U.S. invasion of Iraq on Feb. 5, 2003, at the UN as the secretary of state, many listened. He had satellite photos, audiotapes, and a vial of anthrax for dramatic effect. He warned that the Iraqis were hiding chemical and biological weapons, as well as working toward a nuclear bomb. (Video of his testimony after the jump.)

The UN chief Kofi Annan called the Iraq war “illegal.”

Since he left the Bush administration, Powell has shared new details about his time by former President George W. Bush’s side, and reflected on the reasons for the invasion. He tells us, for example, the speech was “one of my most momentous failures.”  He suggests one important lesson is to “always try to get over failure quickly. Learn from it.” I wonder how some Iraq veterans would feel about that lesson?

He also writes in his book: “Before we invaded Iraq, we should have listened to more people with ground experience in the region - these people were out there – and fewer idea-heavy, big egos in Washington.”

Powell has said he worried about the “unpredictable consequences of war,” and there are those on both sides of the aisle who credit him with tamping down some of the stronger war fever coming from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that we entered two wars during the first term of George W. Bush’s presidency under which Powell played a significant role.

Powell was praised for his courage when he broke with his party to endorse candidate Barack Obama for president four years ago. Unfortunately, many of us would have liked to see that leadership on display in 2003 before 162,000 were killed over the course of the 8-year U.S. war in Iraq prior to President Obama pulling us out last year.