WASHINGTON-Staying out of other people’s business may have been an attractive foreign policy option before Sept. 11, especially to young people, but when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center last year they were forced to care whether they wanted to or not, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday.
“We don’t live in an island anymore,” Powell said. “(The United States) may have two oceans, but it is not disconnected from any other place in the world. And our security rests on the overall security situation in the world.”
As the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, many Americans, especially college students, lost interest in world events. Powell spoke about the apathy during an exclusive interview in his State Department office as the Bush administration was trying to draft a resolution on weapons inspectors in Iraq.
“I had seen in my first 17 years of life eight years of war,” Powell said.
Student apathy, not only about foreign affairs but also about domestic issues, has been an issue almost since 18-year-olds were granted the right to vote in 1971. A recent poll conducted by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship found that less than 21 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 24 cast ballots in the 1998 elections. Less than 50 percent voted in the 2000 presidential elections.
Though such numbers persist, Powell believes that Sept. 11 and the recent debate on a possible war with Iraq have had a profound effect.
“Along comes Sept. 11 and they realize, ‘My heavens, there is an enemy,'” he said.
Instead of focusing on one geographic area, Powell said students should keep an eye on the world as a whole.
The secretary believes that students who have any doubt about the repercussions of taking an isolationist stance should see the implications of terrorism, whether they’re in a Moscow theatre or a Bali nightclub.
“Suddenly those things are real,” he said. “It makes people say if it happens there, it can happen here.”
Though he is often seen as a moderate in the conservative Bush administration, Powell said the clash of ideas and beliefs is the path to building a consensus.
“Out of that clash of ideas and personalities and egos and people comes compromise,” he said.
Recent campus protests against a war in Iraq underscore the fear many students have that American foreign policy, and the war on terrorism in particular, are being used as little more than devices to flex the nation’s military might.
But America can’t detach itself from the world, Powell said.
“It is in our interests to help nations of the world move toward a democratic path and put in place a solid economic system, so they can be our friends and not our adversaries,” he said. “We have no designs on anyone’s people. We have no designs on anyone’s country. We don’t want to steal resources. We don’t want to occupy. People trust us to solve their problems. They all come to the U.S. to help solve their problems.”