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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Obama Lost Focus On Jobs" Colin Powell Speaks

Powell: Obama Failed To Focus On What's "Most Important"

While saying he talks regularly with President Obama and his administration's officials, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday that the nation's 44th president has overreached and lost focus in his first term -- and lost votes because of it.

Powell, a self-described moderate Republican who served as a top military, national security and diplomatic official under presidents ranging from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, said he did not regret backing the then-Illinois senator over Republican Sen. John McCain during the 2008 election campaign.

But he said that Democrats suffered "a real body blow" in the recent midterm elections -- when the party lost seats in the Senate and control of the House -- in large part because Obama didn't prioritize or communicate effectively enough.

"He should have focused on the economy ... to the exclusion of most everything else domestically," Powell told CNN's Larry King. "When you're starting out as a president, you have to figure out (what) is most important."

Powell said he has been "in regular touch with authorities within the administration and the president," including talking "all the time" about its approach to Afghanistan. He credited Obama for stabilizing the economic system, and "doing a good job in ... a number of directions with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan."

He also offered mixed reviews of former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, calling her a "fascinating individual, ... a political celebrity (and) a political force." Powell said that her positions were "very populist, but they are not very specific as to what she would cut and what she would eliminate."

He challenged Palin and Tea Party-backed politicians to offer precise ideas of what programs to eliminate from the federal government in order to simultaneously lower the federal deficit, freeze spending and cut taxes.

"How do we solve that equation, governor?" said Powell.

Still, for all his political opinions, the retired Army general insisted he had "no interest" in government service -- whether it would be as secretary of defense or, as recently suggested by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, as Obama's White House chief of staff.

"I haven't been asked, and I don't expect to be asked," said Powell, jocularly suggesting that Rendell himself would make "a terrific chief of staff." "I have no interest in government service."

The former Joint Chiefs of Staff chair said he's talked recently with Pakistani Gen. Ashfaq Kayani about the situation in his southwest Asian nation, including the hunt for al Qaeda and fight against pro-Taliban forces. Powell said he thinks Obama's administration understands the importance of supporting Pakistan but that efforts so far have been "inadequate."

As to Pakistan's neighbor, Afghanistan, Powell stressed that it is important to realize that the ultimate goal -- for Afghans as well as Americans -- is to create conditions so that political, military and law enforcement authorities there could take over and U.S. forces can get out.

Powell also said that previous decisions -- including U.S. and allied forces' military approach to Afghanistan in the years right after September 11 -- should be looked back at critically.

"Maybe we should have considered some years ago that the light footprint we had in the early years (to 2003) was not adequate," said Powell, who was secretary of state during that time. "I think we might have been better served by a larger footprint earlier."

Afghanistan was one of many topics Powell touched on from his tenure, between 2001 and 2005, in the State Department under Bush.

In his memoir and again Sunday night on CNN, Bush said he stands by his decision to support the use of waterboarding -- a form of simulated drowning -- as an interrogation technique against terror suspects. When its use came up after 9/11, Powell said "all of us felt that waterboarding was, if not over the line, that at least very close to the line."

He said that he understood why Bush authorized waterboarding, but said he himself wouldn't support something he said "could be called now torture."

The then-secretary of state stood by his presentation to the United Nations -- information he insisted that was vetted and approved by the U.S. intelligence community -- in early 2003 suggesting weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq. But he did have disappointment about the talk, which was critical in swaying public opinion in support for the war, in retrospect.

"I regret it now, because the information was wrong," he said.

For all his comments on the past, the 73-year-old former general and statesman said he was optimistic about the future.

"American people still believe in this country," said Powell. "What they're waiting for is for the political leaders in Washington to get on with the solution to problems and not continue to argue with each other. The next year is going to be important."

Colin Powell Critical Of President Obama

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president in 2008 despite serving three Republican presidents, said Sunday that Obama needs to change his approach in the White House because voters are feeling overwhelmed by sweeping new laws that expand the scope of government.

“The president also has to ... shift the way in which he has been doing things,” Powell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The American people feel that too many programs have come down. There are so many rocks in our knapsack now that we’re having trouble carrying it.”

Powell, a retired Army general, who was national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush and who ran the State Department for President George W. Bush, said Obama must focus “like a razor blade” on employment, giving the same level of attention to creating jobs — and bringing down the 9.6 percent unemployment rate — as he did to passing bills overhauling health care and reforming education.

“I understand the importance of all of that,” Powell said, referring to Obama’s signature legislative accomplishments. “But as far as the American people are concerned, the main attack is employment.”

Powell’s critique is noteworthy, given his decision in the 2008 election to spurn Republican John McCain — a fellow Vietnam veteran and personal friend — to back Obama, whom he described as offering “generational change.” The president has continued to consult with Powell in the White House.

“He has lost some of the ability to connect that he had during the campaign,” Powell said. “And it is not just me picking on the president. It’s reflected in the polling. Some of the anxiety and anger that you see out there, I think, comes from a belief on the part of the American people — whether it’s correct or incorrect, and the White House would say it’s incorrect — that ... his singular focus should be on employment.”

Powell declined to say whether he would endorse Obama and the Democratic ticket in 2012, adding that he will evaluate him and a Republican candidate as Election Day nears.

But Powell did praise the president, saying he still considers Obama a “transformational figure.”

“Some people don’t like what he has done in transformation,” Powell said. “And it’s caused him some difficulty. But the fact of the matter is, he did put together a health care reform. It’s not perfect. And I think it’ll have to be fixed over time. And a lot of people are not happy with that health care reform. But he did it.”

Nevertheless, Powell said, he still considers himself a Republican.

“Yes, why shouldn’t I?” Powell said Sunday, adding that he hasn’t thought about leaving the party.

“I still think that there is a need for a two-party system,” Powell said. “And that the Republican Party still has strength in it. It has strength with respect to its feelings about foreign policy and defense policy and our place in the world. And I’m not happy with the rightward switch, [the] shift that the party has taken. And I’ve said this on many occasions.

“And so, I’m not about to give up,” he said.

Powell also leveled some criticism at the GOP for embracing positions that are hostile to immigrants.

“They’ve got to take a hard look at some of the positions they’ve been taking,” Powell said. “We can’t be anti-immigration, for example. Because immigrants are fueling this country. Without immigrants [the U.S.] would be like Europe or Japan, with an aging population and no young people coming in to take care of it. We have to educate our immigrants.”

Powell, the son of immigrants who rose through the ranks of the Army, said that Congress should approve the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who attend college for two years or join the military.

“America is going to be a minority nation in one more generation,” Powell said. “Our minorities are not getting educated well enough now. Fifty percent of our minority kids are not finishing high school. We’ve got to invest in education. We should use the DREAM Act as one way to do it. Whether it should be part of the defense bill or not is something the Congress will decide.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will offer the DREAM Act this week as an amendment to the defense authorization bill. The chances of passage are uncertain, as Republicans who have supported the initiative in the past say it should not be tacked onto a spending bill.

Sources: CNN, Meet The Press, MSNBC, Politico, Youtube

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