BANGOR, Maine — F. William Smullen III, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, spoke at the Bangor Foreign Policy Forum Wednesday morning and recounted the crises faced by the United States over the last decade.
Later in the day he gave his presentation, titled, “A Decade of Crisis and Correction,” again at the D.P. Corbett Business Building at the University of Maine for the School of Policy and International Affairs.
“Let the last 10 years serve as a map of what happened and as a compass for what is ahead,” he said to the 35 or so attendees at the morning presentation, held at the Bangor Public Library.
Smullen, who has been director of national security studies at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University since 2003, is a 1962 UMaine graduate who became the chief of staff to Powell in January 2001.
He started his presentation with a look at Y2K and took the group through the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, SARS and H1N1, global warming, weather catastrophes, increasing oil prices and several other historic events before turning his attention to economics, the national debt, stimulus funds and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Smullen, a 30-year U.S. Army veteran, discussed the economic and military role the U.S. plays in the world, adding that “the rules of the game, in my view, will change,” with the U.S. facing increased competition from other countries.
“We must look beyond the horizon,” Smullen said.
President Barack Obama needs to create a concrete strategic plan for the country that takes into consideration the globe’s other 191 countries, he said. To do that, he added, the president must define the nation’s interests, assess resources and establish objectives.
“The United States cannot fight every battle or solve every problem,” Smullen said. “The United States can and should lead by example.”
To define the nation’s interests correctly, “there needs to be a serious and vigorous national debate” about U.S. commitments, such as fighting domestic poverty and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said.
After his Bangor talk, Smullen took questions from the audience on the war in Iraq, the status of the U.S. military and other issues.
“We never should have invaded Iraq,” he told the audience.
Smullen said that when Powell made his February 2003 speech to the United Nations, saying there was evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and urging a global response, he was misled.
“Quite frankly he was given some bad information from the CIA,” Smullen said. “Most of it was coming from a single source. Most of it was coming from an Iraqi that wanted attention and wanted money.”
Smullen said if he were making decisions, “what I would do is get the heck out of those two areas” — a reference to Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said “America’s military power has no peer, parallel or precedent. It’s the best we’ve ever had, but there are many alarming trends.”
One of those is the stress endured by soldiers, many of whom have been deployed several times during the last nine years.
“Last week at Fort Hood [Texas] there were four suicides,” he said. “Three were officers and two had young children. That is becoming a huge problem.”
Post-traumatic stress disorder, divorce and depression among soldiers are issues that need to be addressed, and they need to be addressed now, Smullen said.
“We need to take better care of our people,” he said, urging the Bangor audience to go out and create a support group for returning veterans, their families and their children.
“Reach out. Open your arms and your doors,” he said.
He ended his presentation by telling audience members to be vocal and to make sure their voices are heard by voting.