Posts Tagged ‘Powell Doctrine’

Colin Powell’s forgotten doctrine

February 1, 2014

General Colin Powell, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993, formulated what came to be known as the Powell Doctrine. He said the United States should not go to war unless the decision-makers could answer “yes” to the following questions:

General Colin Powell

General Colin Powell

  1. Do we have a clear and attainable objective?
  2. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
  3. Have all non-violent policy means been exhausted?
  4. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
  5. Have the consequences of our actions been fully considered?
  6. Is the action supported by the American people?
  7. Do we have broad international support?

If the Powell Doctrine had been used as a basis for decision-making, the United States would have seldom if ever gone to war in the past 20 years — which perhaps was his intention.

The objection to the Powell Doctrine was expressed by Madelaine Albright, UN ambassador and later Secretary of State during the Clinton administration. She reportedly asked Powell: What is the point of having the world’s largest military if you’re never going to use it?

If a government has the world’s largest hammer, it is hard to avoid the temptation to treat every problem like a nail.

Fighting wars just to show US can win one

January 31, 2014

When I was a schoolboy, I was taught that the United States had never lost a war.  Reasonable people can differ over the War of 1812, but the United States not only defeated, but utterly crushed, its enemies in the Mexican War, the American Civil War, the Indian wars, the Spanish-American War, World War One and World War Two [1].


The Vietnam Conflict, on the other hand, was an unambiguous defeat — the first in American history.  The Nixon-Kissinger administration was the first, but not the last, U.S. administration whose objective was not victory, but to mask defeat in the guise of an “honorable” withdrawal.  The U.S. outcome is symbolized by the fact that our heroes in that conflict were defiant prisoners of war (and they really were heroes, I don’t question that) rather than triumphant conquerors.

Subsequent U.S. administrations did not seek to avoid military interventions.  Instead, starting with the Reagan administration, they sought to overcome the “Vietnam syndrome”, which was perceived as the American public’s cowardly refusal to support open-ended wars in far off lands.

This was weakness rather than strength.  Strong nations do not need to go to war merely to project an image of strength.