Divisive partisanship in Washington is perhaps the worst it has been in four decades, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Fareed Zakaria on Global Public Square on Sunday.
“We expect people to come and argue and fight and have different beliefs. That’s what the system is all about. We expect the party out of power to oppose the party in power. That's part of our system,” Powell said. “But at the same time, you have to do it on the basis of comity.”
“And you have to do it on the basis of mutual respect. I may disagree with you, but I’m not out to destroy you. We’ve got to find a way. And yes, I think what I’m seeing now in the last few years is perhaps the worst I've seen in the 40 years I've been hanging around Washington.”
Powell’s comments came in a wide ranging interview taped recently in London and broadcast this weekend. Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also discussed Mitt Romney’s recent trip to Europe, Iran’s nuclear program and the continuing violence in Syria.
“I think there’s a civil war that’s taking place, and I think anybody who thought that President Assad would simply say, ‘oh, gee, I'm going to stand down,’ I don't think had a good understanding of what Syria was like or what the Alawite clan is like,” he told Zakaria.
Asked whether the U.S. should get more deeply involved in Syria, Powell argued that it’s important first to define exactly what “getting involved” actually means, including over the question of no-fly zones.
“A no-fly zone means you have to have constant caps over the area to make sure nobody’s flying. You need radar to detect them,” he said. “It’s something that’s doable, but it’s not a simple matter.”
“But if it doesn’t work, then what do you do? Do you take it up to the next level? Well, let’s put a few forward air controllers on the ground. And so my only suggestion is if you are thinking of military – use of military forces to help get rid of al-Assad – think it through carefully, and don’t just grab slogans and run with it.”
Powell wouldn’t be drawn on whether he would repeat his 2008 endorsement of Barack Obama, saying only that he wanted to see the “whole picture” before reaching a decision. But he did weigh in with his take on Obama’s foreign policy performance so far.
“I think he’s done rather well, in fact. I mean, we are out of Iraq, which is a timetable that President Bush had established, and I think we are slowly turning over in Afghanistan in a sensible way,” Powell said. “Sooner or later, the two countries, the two peoples – the Afghanistan population and the Iraqi population – have to take responsibility for their own destiny and their own future. So I think he's handled that well. He hasn’t gotten us in any new conflicts.”
“I think he has been vicious on terrorists with drone attacks, getting rid of Bin Laden, and things like that. I think he’s protected the country rather well,” Powell added.