Colin Powell: ‘Beware of Dictators That Speak Very Good English’

Maxim also applies to Javad Zarif of Iran, critics say

Colin Powell
Colin Powell / AP

Gen. Colin Powell, former secretary of state for President George W. Bush, always urged caution when dealing with foreign leaders who speak perfect English, according to Dana Perino’s new book.

Perino, a former press secretary for Bush, relates meeting Hamid Karzai, then-president of Afghanistan, in her book And the Good News Is… Her face had just been bruised—inadvertently—by a steel mic stand during the commotion that followed the infamous shoe-throwing incident with Bush in Iraq. She later joined Bush in Afghanistan on the 2008 trip:

President Bush asked me to walk with him to greet President Karzai. I’d met Karzai before at the White House, and while I knew to be wary of him and of the accusations of corruption, he was quite charming in person. I remembered something General Colin Powell had told me once when we were watching an event at the White House. "Beware of dictators that speak very good English." That was good advice I never forgot.

Karzai had seen the news about the President’s trip to Iraq and the shoe throwing, but he hadn’t heard that I’d been hurt. When he saw my face, he gasped and grabbed my hands and asked if they could get me anything.

"Don’t worry, Mr. President—you should see the other guy," I said.

Karzai threw back his head and laughed, and President Bush rolled his eyes and patted me on the shoulder.

Several journalists and commentators have remarked that Javad Zarif, foreign minister of Iran, also speaks perfect English. Critics say he has used his putative charm to help sell the United States on a nuclear deal with Iran that would still largely keep the country’s nuclear infrastructure intact, as well as permit the enrichment of uranium, the key ingredient for atomic bombs.