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. DJ Los Angeles

    So if Israel is in direct negotiations with Syria...why does Sen. McWarmonger think we shouldn't have direct talks with nations that are not in good diplomatic standing?

    Palin openly advocates war with Russia "if" Georgia is admitted to NATO.

    That just shows how little foreign policy credibility and diplomatic skill the McCain camp has.

    Obama/Biden 2008

    September 16, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  2. inga

    HUGE RED FLAG! If almost all of our country's top political and economic advisors are warning America that we cannot continue the same path George Bush has been on, We need to change!

    September 16, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  3. Dave

    This session was not about Powell's comments alone it was a group opinning on a suject vtial to American National security a group experts of differnt poltical party perspectives that reached the same painful yet rational conclusion: TALK TO IRAN NOW!

    This is the considered opinon of Sen. Obama and Biden and NOT that of the Sen.Mc.Cain nor the Rupugnut Gov. Palin's ticket. This is not about Powell's viewpoing as a BLACK American….but a sober judgement –well thoughtout of senoir advisers ; several loyal American leaders who have the nations best interets FIRST and foremost in mine.

    Whoe do we trust most in such matters ????????????????

    Your article misses that point.

    September 16, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  4. White Mother for Obama!!

    McCain/Palin with their hard core against Russia on the Georgian conflict is going to cause another war we dont need. Russia is not a Country we need a war with!!

    I totally agree with Powell that you have to really look at both sides. In some ways I dont thing the Georgians are completely innocent, and I dont agree totally with the extent of what Russia did. But we do have to be careful not to start throwing out stuff... like Palin said we will sanction Russia. She even hinted there could be a war, if Russia didnt back off and they were protected. She is already causing rifs and she isnt in office yet!! McCain and his comments siding with Georgians.

    Powell is Military, he knows what he is talking about.... McCain is lost in his mind!!

    September 16, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  5. Obama Campaign

    Memorandum To All Registered Obama Supporters
    Re: Inclusion of Palin into McBush/McSame Smear
    Target Audience: Anyone Foolish Enough To Believe It


    September 16, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  6. Matt in Florida

    How could Baker both ridicule Bush for not wanting to engage Syria and also endorse McCain, who has ridiculed Obama for wanting to reverse Bush's non-engagement policy? McCain is promising to continue the "Bush Doctrine" and is chomping at the bit to send missiles into Iran and Russia. This guy would start WWIII if given the chance. He absolutely must NOT be given that chance. The stakes are too high.


    September 16, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  7. Republi-CON

    Sensible people are stepping into this debate.. Republicans don't welcome smart opinions. Obama has been saying this for ages and he was ridiculed as a new comer with no knowledge on Foreign policy...
    I guess the position of these Experienced individuals disproves the earlier conclusion on Mr Obama.

    September 16, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  8. Jonathan of Virginia

    Powell never truly was a conservative but masqueraded as one to advance his military career. Hence, its no surprise he would side with liberals now that his military career is over and his political prospects greatly diminished. His race also predisposes him to support obama. Fortunately most blacks live in the south where there vote will be neutralized by the republican base. Go McCain-Palin!

    September 16, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  9. Diing

    Obama’s superior judgment, intelligence, and leadership are vindicated by the statesmen of our great nation. It is amazing and sickening some Americans are supporting McCain

    September 16, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  10. Phil in KC

    I wonder if that group could reach a consensus on what needs to be done going forward? If so, that should serve as a road map for the next president. Or, at the very least, a very strong suggestion.

    September 16, 2008 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  11. Roderick

    James Baker should be congratulated for speaking up and saying we should be talkinmg to Syria. He must really wonder if he did the right thing by going to Florida and fighting for G. Bush and the presidency.

    Bush has refused to follow the advice of Baker and other Secretaries of State. If Bush had only sought his father's advice he would have a very high rating as opposed to what he has now.

    James Baker is a a giant in the land of diplomacy.

    September 16, 2008 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  12. Reagan

    Obama was caught in June 08 trying to convince the Iraqi leaders to stall the withdrawl of men and women troops until he is elected (if)..How DARE he hold off soldiers that are tired and have served from fighting in this war from coming home so HE can look like some kind of saint.

    Seriously, what side is this guy on? Are we about to elect a communist socialist as the head of the USA?

    Obama wanted to send Jets into Pakistan...So starting a war with Pakistan (our ally) is ok but not Iraq?

    Obama like his Reverand hate America!

    September 16, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  13. Brad

    Looks like Obama was right on the money again.

    September 16, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  14. Enough!!!!!

    If people could get past his race, they could actually hear the sound reasoning of Senator Obama. This is a doggone shame that it takes this much effort to convey a simple message. Utter foolishness.

    September 16, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  15. mama4obama

    There is no question that Obama has had sound judgement and will continue to calmly attack the issues facing the American people.

    Its unreal that McCain/Palin are even a thought.

    September 16, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  16. tigerakabj

    Ok so Obama was and is right about foreign policy. All of these heavyweights are in favor of what Obama has been talking about for, I don't know, 6 YEARS! Even Bush now is raiding in the mountains of Pakistan just like Obama called for.

    I truly think that the Obama administration has unofficially already begun. We just need to make it official on Nov. 4

    Obama/Biden 2008/2012.

    September 16, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  17. Regan Democrat

    I tend to support McCain, because he will be the President not Palin and alot of the decision process is based upon sound advisers and policy is or should be based upon interests of the United States and not a voting block.......

    2012 she'll be back 😉

    September 16, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  18. Rose

    You don't have to be a former Secretary of State to see Obama's reasoning is sound and his judgement even better. A vote for McCain is a vote for world war.


    September 16, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  19. mitchell

    everybody wants to be obama.
    he gets my vote.

    September 16, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  20. The Weatherman

    Baker said negotiate with Iran through Syria. Obama said negotiate directly with Iran.

    Baker's way does not allow Iran to use negotiations for political gain with Iranians. Obama let's Iran have the whole house just like a left-wing democrat. I don't recall Clinton making the same mistake.

    Why are Obama supporters sounding more and more like pouting children without more than junior high school command of the English language? God help us if they inherit the earth.

    September 16, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  21. Sarah Bell

    Blah blah blah, who cares? All I care about is that John McCain was a POW and Sarah Palin is a Hockey mom just like me. So what if no one ever takes women seriously after this election? We're getting what we want right now. Sorry daughters, for trivializing the feminist movement.

    September 16, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  22. Dodie

    Remember that prior to Palin choice, John McCain really wanted to pick Lieberman for his running mate....

    Folks, McCain did not pick Palin..............Karl Rove picked Palin for McCain ticket as VP candidate. McCain had only met her briefly months ago. Karl Rove's signature strategies are all over McCain's campaign.

    There is a different level of hell just for Karl Rove. I hope America can
    see thru the lies and deception...Karl Rove ran the whitehouse thru Bush.

    Repub./christian... voting Democrat

    September 16, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  23. Get Real

    Thank You Mr. Baker, we as a nation must realize that we have got to find common ground and make efforts to talk to others. If we follow Bush/Cheney and then McCain/Palin....then we are destined for more wars and death.

    To Quote JFK:
    If by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without RIGID REACTIONS, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — SOMEONE WHO BELIEVES WE CAN BREAK THROUGH THE STALEMATE AND SUSPICIONS THAT GRIP US IN OUR POLICIES ABROAD, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."

    September 16, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  24. ted

    What is the difference between President Bush and Sarah Palin?


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

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

    September 16, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
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