September 16th, 2008
03:18 PM ET
14 years ago

Asked about McCain's Georgia position, Powell urges caution

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Five former Secretaries of State weighed in Monday."](CNN) - Five former Secretaries of State from both parties told CNN Monday the Bush administration’s hard-line approach on Iran needs to be abandoned by the next president – with one GOP foreign policy heavyweight calling the current White House position “ridiculous.”

"I would advise the president to fully engage with Syria," former George H.W. Bush Secretary of State James Baker said at a George Washington University forum co-sponsored by CNN. “I think it's ridiculous for us to say we're not going to talk to Syria, and yet the Israelis have been negotiating peace with them for the last six or eight months.”

Watch Colin Powell on the presidential race

(Powell's full comments will air on “The Next President: A World of Challenges” this Saturday night at 9pm ET and again Sunday at 2pm ET.)

Baker, who has endorsed John McCain’s presidential bid, appeared with former Clinton Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher, Henry Kissinger, who served under Nixon and Ford, and former Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell. Albright has been an active supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

As the former diplomats urged a cautious approach in the conflict between Russia and Georgia, Powell seemed to take a swipe at John McCain’s tough criticism of Moscow.

“Some debate in the presidential elections has basically been, ‘We are all Georgians now,’” said CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour. “What does that mean? It's the same as was said after 9/11.”

Responded Powell, “One candidate said that, and I'll let the candidate explain it for himself.” Pressed to explain his response, the retired general said the crisis called for caution.

“The fact of the matter is that you have to be very careful in a situation like this not just to leap to one side or the other until you take a good analysis of the whole situation….

“The Russian Federation is not going to become the Soviet Union again. That movie failed at the box office. But they do have interests. And we have to think carefully about their interests.”

Powell, who has not yet decided which candidate to back in this year’s presidential race, said Monday the election of an African-American president “would be electrifying,” Powell told a George Washington University audience, “but at the same time [I have to] make a judgment here on which would be best for America.

“I have been watching both individuals, I know them both extremely well, and I have not decided who I am going to vote for. And I'm interested to see what the debates are going to be like because we have to get off of this ‘lipstick on a pig’ stuff and get into issues,” he said

soundoff (250 Responses)
  1. jerry

    It's been made painfully apparent that McC and Palin are woefully incompetent to run the country. What's even more concerning to me is that half of America is ignorant and stubborn, and too blind to see what even sensible Republicans can. War with Russia- hey, why not? We can do anything- we're Americans!

    September 16, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  2. Bruce

    Once again the "experts" say that Obama's policy is correct and the way to go...the sabre rattling approach that has been in place for the last 8 years and 4 more if mcCam get elected is not going to work.

    September 16, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    Michael September 16th, 2008 4:12 pm ET

    Colin Powell, when has he ever done anything except advise caution. A school crossing guard can do that.

    Odd criticism aimed at a former four-star general from some guy on a blog.

    Support the troops!

    September 16, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  4. EC

    Michael – Colin Powell, As Secretary of State did not just give advise. My how ignorant you sound.

    September 16, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  5. Ellen White

    How Can the Republicans imagine they deserve to run the country again when they have taken down the country the way they have. The people that are pushing for the Republicans are the same people responsible for our present situation: Foreclosures, lost jobs, unemployment 6% plus, and the FINANCIAL circumstances. NO…..NO………. NO REPUBLICANS

    September 16, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  6. Cream Rises To The Top

    America ....

    Vote for the Smart Guy ....

    Funny how I dont' need to say anymore than that and everyone knows who I mean.

    September 16, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  7. John

    ANYONE with half a brain would urge caution about the Georgia-Russia situation. Many Osettians are ethnic- Russian enclaves within the ethnic-Georgians, and under other circumstances the USA would be beating drums for them as oppressed minorities. Almost any group there could have provoked this crisis and war, thinking to gain advantage. Russia even accuses the USA of provoking it, which I could almost believe except that not even George Bush could possibly by so stupid in this chess game as to extend a valuable piece into the enemy's front yard when his other pieces are all too busy elsewhere to protect the incursion. (Converesely, Russia almost certainly would provoke, for the same reasons. I smell motive, means and opportunity coming out of Moscow.)

    But McCain proudly proclaims us all Georgians, accomplishing nothing and fooling no-one. And Palin says, when told that Georgia's NATO membership could lead to war betwen the USA and Russia, "I suppose so."

    I suppose so? Sorry but 'supposing' is not allowed. Decisions like war with adversaries like Russia must absolutely start with solid analysis and understanding that is obviously beyond either of these people.

    Speaking of, after 5 + years of war in the neighborhood, how come McCain talked of a Iraq-Packistan border? That thin line on a map is 700 + miles wide and it's called Iran. And without Joe Lieberman to straighten him out on who are the good guys and the bad guys, who's he gonna have whispering in his ear? Ms. Palin? Ha!

    September 16, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  8. Sweetie

    McCain is not BUSH!

    McCain knows what is happening on the World stage!

    Obama is clueless and taking 6 days to make a decision when innocent lives are being lost is NOT EXCEPTABLE!

    Obama can not lead on the World Stage!

    McCain/Palin-08-In a Landslide Victory for all!

    September 16, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  9. Chris, NC

    eeek! James Baker needs to be careful...anyone publicly disagreeing with the neo-con strategy of "preemptive aggression" seems to quietly (and quickly) disappear from the forefront of the foreign policy debate. However, it's good to see Colin Powell back in the debate...he's an honorable man who served his country well, both militarily and diplomatically...and still managed to get screwed .

    September 16, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  10. leon levin

    The thought of SP becoming the President of this country, makes me so ill, it keeps me up at night.

    Please people, don't let this happen to the country I served in Korea. I was not a POW, but served in the ice and cold. We must not elect JMcSame to be our next President for the good of all of us.

    LL of Md.

    September 16, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  11. Anonymous

    Michael September 16th, 2008 4:12 pm ET

    The State Department is the source of every single instance of hesitation and timidity in American foreign policy. People like Baker should be shunned.

    How long did you serve in the military, and what were your accomplishments?

    September 16, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  12. seth, minnesota

    Powell, you know that Obama is by far the best choice. But could you please take a stand and do some good. Maybe finally do some penance for your role in the Iraq war? Why do you let the republicans use you? You owe them nothing.

    Obama is the one with the judgment, the diplomacy, the thoughtfulness, and wisdom to handle something like the Georgia conflict. McCain says "we're all georgians" and Palin says Georgia should be a member of NATO and we need to sanction Russia, as if they want to get in a war with Russia!! The arrogance and carelessness with American lives is shocking!

    Please support the candidate that has the wisdom and judgement to lead our country to prosperity and not disaster!

    September 16, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  13. James M.

    It is interesting to me that as Obama has been criticized for being a Foreign Policy, he seems to be right about many of the most recent foreign initiatives. If you take for instance, Pakistan, Bush seems to be doing exactly what Obama suggested perhaps a year ago. A year ago, Obama was criticized for it. Iraq, Bush is planning a removal of troops which Obama said he would do. However, Obama is saying a calculated withdrawal...Bush is yet to come up with that. And now, with many of our past Secs of State saying we should negotiate with countries like Syria instead of ignore them, I am still wondering why is it Obama is not given more credit for his pragmatic insights. Even if he is not always right, Obama has fresh new ideas that make a lot of sense. Sooner or later people will listen to him.

    September 16, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  14. Jennifer

    Interesting he supports Obama's policy of negotiation but endorses McCain who has no diplomatic tact whatsoever.

    September 16, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  15. pam Eugene OR

    DUH...that is what Obama has been saying all along.
    These Republicans scare me to death.

    September 16, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  16. Lesley

    Obama needs to begin speaking about foreign policy now and not just the economy. Since the majority of people still feel McCain would be better in a crisis, Obama should be touting his good judgment and using statements like these to back it up. He has to turn that tide around as well.

    September 16, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  17. Bill Charlotte,NC

    Caution? Just remember: "BOMB... BOMB...BOMB IRAN."

    September 16, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  18. Vernon

    Here is a good word to describe Obama

    and the defintion of weak.

    not strong; liable to yield, break, or collapse under pressure or strain; fragile; frail: a weak fortress; a weak spot in armor.
    2. lacking in bodily strength or healthy vigor, as from age or sickness; feeble; infirm: a weak old man; weak eyes.
    3. not having much political strength, governing power, or authority: a weak nation; a weak ruler.
    4. lacking in force, potency, or efficacy; impotent, ineffectual, or inadequate: weak sunlight; a weak wind.
    5. lacking in rhetorical or creative force or effectiveness: a weak reply to the charges; one of the author's weakest novels.
    6. lacking in logical or legal force or soundness: a weak argument.
    7. deficient in mental power, intelligence, or judgment: a weak mind.
    8. not having much moral strength or firmness, resolution, or force of character: to prove weak under temptation; weak compliance.

    Obama keeps harping about change. But never says what or how he will change it. Is this supposed to be top secret.

    September 16, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  19. Bulldog

    Now the Republican Sarah lovers are going to attach Colin Powell, an even greater hero and American than John McCain.

    September 16, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  20. keith

    google channon christian and christopher newsom and emily haddock and brandy duvall and tiffany long

    September 16, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  21. No McCain!

    Ok, people love to throw that experience thing at Obama yet everything that he has been saying for the past 2 years regarding foreign policy, economy, wall street, etc. has come to be true! When will being able to make a sound EDUCATED decision count!

    September 16, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  22. James

    To Micheal

    "Colin Powell, when has he done anything except advise caution. A school crossing guard can do that" WHAT??? He ran the GULF WAR successfully for Bush 1..

    Are you on this planet? or just out of touch with reality?

    September 16, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  23. Ron

    presenting your views, without demonstrating your power, is just idle conversation when dealing with the middle east or Russia. they are masters at stalling and misleading while they do exactly what they please. sen. obama is ready made for them they will simply feed his ego while they set us up

    September 16, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  24. Bill Lenberger

    Wake up America before we do the same thing we did 4 years ago. We do not need more bush!

    September 16, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  25. America think for you

    Think twice Palin want to attack Russia and Pakistan and give Georgia UN memberships. That was third world war just start by the republicans.
    I am a Democrat and I am voting for McCain. Oh no! Why are you betraying Barack? You know why! Because John McCain had invented the Black Barry. I love my blackberry. McCain know Washington for 30 years, Barack is new to Washington. McCain is smart and does not understand the economy and I am thrill to vote for McCain. McCain is rich and Barack is not. McCain has many houses and Barack does not. If I Americans get evicted from their homes they can get a room each from McCain. McCain is the real deal that will shake up Washington and himself because he is an insider. Sarah Palin is a foreign policy expert because she can see Russia from Alaska Joe Biden cannot see Russia from Delaware. This is why I am not voting for McCain.

    September 16, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
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