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AARP The Magazine Exclusive: Colin Powell--What's Next?

The Former Secretary of State Speaks Frankly About Iraq, His Future, and Holding Fast to His Ideals

"We’re far better at defending ourselves... and we’ve gone after [terrorists]... It’s not easy to put one of these [bombs] together when you’re being chased and watched... But say there is something going on and they hit us again, and they knock down another building, and they kill people. Unfortunate, troubling, we mourn those who are lost, but we rebuild things and we go on with life. And it won’t be as serious as the 9,000 people who died of AIDS today or the 22,000 who were infected. So we can’t let terrorism take the place of the Soviet Union as the threat that keeps us all afraid. We can’t change our way of life or the openness of our society or the value system that we rest on, or else we’re doing their work for them."

On his optimism for the future:

"I still am [optimistic]. My grandchildren aren’t going to see a world war. My grandchildren aren’t going to be threatened by the prospect of thermonuclear exchange the way I was, and the way I used to duck under my little school desk. My grandchildren aren’t going to see anything like that. There’s an Iran and an Iraq and a North Korea, but that isn’t going to rise to the level of the Soviet threat or the Chinese threat."

On his lack of ambition:

"I have never gone through life driven with an ambition or a vision that there was something I must accomplish on some grand scale. I came into public life and into adulthood as a serviceman, as a soldier... But I have never felt unfulfilled if I didn’t have some great thing out there waiting for me. I’ve kind of let things come to me. I did not lobby to become secretary of state. The President wanted me to do it, and I was honored to do it."

On why none of his current activities are related to the military or foreign policy:

"One thing you might have noticed is that almost none of what I’m doing now has anything to do with the military or the State Department or diplomacy or foreign policy. It’s kind of deliberate. I don’t like to go back to what I used to do. I’m not a revolving-door kind of person. I want to go work on something new. Always focus on the front windshield and not the rearview mirror."

On accepting a future cabinet position:

"I will not answer that question... Of course [I wouldn’t rule it out]. Does that answer your question? But I am 70, and I’m not looking for a full-time job. I’ve done full-time jobs most of my adult life. And I kinda like dabbling. And I do a lot of dabbling."

On growing up without goals:

"Most kids are [directionless], unless they’re these little overachieving advanced-placement types, or were driven so hard and so early by their parents that they know by 14 that they want to be brain surgeons. Nobody I grew up with was like that. All we wanted to do was get old enough to drink a beer and then get drafted."

On his family life:

"I was blessed with a family that kept me in play. They wouldn’t let me fall by the wayside even though I would have done it in a heartbeat if I did not have them."

On feeling guilty about not giving his children enough of his time:

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