Colin Powell Discusses America’s Diplomatic Role


This video is the first of a four-part interview we conducted with former Secretary of State Colin Powell regarding America’s role in a highly connected and rapidly changing global society.


As oil markets continue to weigh the impact of lifted sanctions on Iran and Washington debates the recent agreement, it’s easy to lose sight of two other important factors that were embedded in negotiations: political capital and economic risk.  We talked to Colin Powell before the Iran deal was reached, but did have the chance to ask him about his philosophy for how and when the U.S. should get involved in global diplomatic and military affairs.

The past three decades have seen an overwhelming level of U.S. involvement in foreign crises, and Powell played a key role in much of it as a military leader and America’s top diplomat. He discussed with us how the U.S. should approach international engagement today.

Powell defines engagement as distributing money, sending troops, extending political capital, and taking on economic risk. In considering today’s international political landscape, Powell offers two critical pieces of advice.


We must address domestic political problems first, emphasizing the need to fix our polarized system and revert back to the intentions of compromise and cooperation established by our founding fathers.

– While we can’t ignore the world’s problems, we must recognize limitations in our capacities and choose carefully where and when we participate. He advises special caution towards instances that exist as part of broader historical movements. These include the continued ISIL presence in the Middle East.

“We have to be very careful about getting into areas where we’re fighting not a discrete enemy, but a whole movement. When you take on a movement, you better understand that that movement tends not to go away easily,” says Powell, who points to the 13-year fight against the Taliban as one such example.

Watch Powell’s full response in the above video.

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