"What is the greatest threat facing us now? People will say it's terrorism. But are there any terrorists in the world who can change the American way of life or our political system? No. Can they knock down a building? Yes. Can they kill somebody? Yes. But can they change us? No. Only we can change ourselves. So what is the great threat we are facing?"
Powell adds, in an interview with Walter Isaacson, that to improve its image in the world, the USA should focus on welcoming newcomers. He takes on the immigration debate that has become a hot-button issue in the presidential race:
"America could not survive without immigration," he says. "Even the undocumented immigrants are contributing to our economy. That's the country my parents came to. That's the image we have to portray to the rest of the world: kind, generous, a nation of nations, touched by every nation, and we touch every nation in return. That's what people still want to believe about us. They still want to come here. We've lost a bit of the image, but we haven't lost the reality yet. And we can fix the image by reflecting a welcoming attitude -- and by not taking counsel of our fears and scaring ourselves to death that everybody coming in is going to blow up something. It ain't the case."
As for the Iraq War, Powell -- a retired general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- tells Isaacson that as he and others in the Bush administration debated strategy in the lead-up to the war, he did not think the Pentagon and then-secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had planned for what would happen after Baghdad fell.
"That was the big mistake. Don had written a list of the worst things that could happen, but we didn't do the contingency planning on what we would do about it. So we watched those buildings get burned down, and nobody told the divisions, 'Hey, go in there and declare martial law and whack a few people and it will stop.' Then the insurgency started, and we didn't acknowledge it. They said it wasn't an insurgency. They looked up the definition. They said it was a few dead-enders! And so we didn't respond in a way that might have stopped it. And then the civil war started at the beginning of last year. I call it a civil war, but some say no, it's not a civil war, it's a war against civilians. In fact, we have total civil disorder."