He has been at the heart of the decision-making process that led up to the current military conflict with Iraq. On Tuesday night, Powell sat down with 48 Hour's Lesley Stahl for an exclusive one-on-one interview.
Stahl: The secretary of defense said that there are intelligence reports that the chain of command in Iraq has been told to use chemical weapons against our soldiers, once the battle in Baghdad starts.
Powell: We have listened to such reports. And we make sure that we have in our contingency planning how to handle such attacks. Our troops went into this battle knowing that they might be exposed to chemical weapons, and God forbid, biological weapons.
Stahl: But these reports are not so specific. They're pretty vague. Or they don't even exist.
Powell: I mean, they're reports. People say that such instructions have been given.
It's a war. There is a living, breathing enemy out there out there, who is doing everything it can to keep us from knowing what his instructions are. We are quite good at intelligence, but not perfect.
Stahl: The Powell doctrine in military terms is that you throw a massive force, if you're going to go to war, make it huge. There are now criticisms we're beginning to hear that this force isn't massive enough…
Powell: It's nonsense. It's the usual chatter; I mean we have commentators everywhere. Every general who ever worked for me now is on some network on a daily basis, and frankly, battles come and wars come and they have ups and downs, they have a rhythm to it.
And the plan that Gen. Franks and his commanders have put the together is a decisive force that will get the job done. So don't let one day's ups and downs suggest that the battle is not going well.
The United States Armed Forces, with our coalition partner, the British presently, the Australians, have gone 300 miles deep into Iraq in a period of five days. That is a heck of an achievement.
Stahl: Yeah, but the rear is exposed.
Powell: It's not. Exposed to what? Exposed to …
Stahl: Exposed to Fedayeen, exposed …
Powell: So, we'll get them in due course. They are not exposed to a massive Iraqi Army that is operating in a coordinated way that could assault our flanks and stop our assault.
Stahl: Are you saying you're not worried or concerned about guerilla warfare?
Powell: Of course we are. And we're trained to handle this. But this chatter for the last 24 hours that everything is coming apart because on Sunday we took a few casualties - the casualties for this operation have been low. You don't want to slow your advance to go into a particular city and spend all your time rooting out people that you will get in due course. They're not threatening the advance.
Stahl: But you can't get your supplies. Well, you can't get the humanitarian …
Powell: Who says? Who says?
Stahl: You can't get the humanitarian aid in …
Powell: Only because the minefields haven't been cleared at the port of Bukasa. But our troops are being supplied, and water is slowly being restored to places like Basra. It's up to 40 percent of the water capacity now. And that was a question of fixing the pumping stations in Basra.
And as soon as the mines have been cleared, the ships are waiting to deliver the humanitarian supplies to Umm Qasr. And the situation will change rapidly.