WASHINGTON – Using the war in Libya and the conflict in Syria as examples, former Secretary of State Colin Powell cautioned against U.S.-backed regime changes.
Touching upon the debate surrounding U.S. immigration from the Middle East, Powell said Muslims should not be “singled out” as threats.
“You better be careful because – and I have considerable experience with this – just taking out the regime doesn’t necessarily fix the problem. And especially in the post-Cold War world I saw this over and over where you had a pressure cooker that you have kept the pressure inside for the last 60 years, because of the Cold War strategy and because we knew there was a Soviet Union we had to deal with and there was a NATO and there was an Atlantic alliance,” he said at the International Bar Association conference last week.
Powell said the U.S. military intervention in support of the Libyans’ Arab Spring revolution, supported by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of State, led to the death of Moammar Gadhafi but resulted in chaos.
“Now we have chaos because there was no plan to do anything for the Libyans or with Libya,” he said.
“As I have said to my old bosses, President Bush and others, be careful what you do. Remember if you take out a regime you become the new regime until you can figure out a way to pass it on to the people who live there,” he added.
Powell also pointed to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak was ousted as president but the Muslim Brotherhood won the subsequent election and “now we have another general in charge” in Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
He called ISIS a dangerous movement that cannot be stopped solely by bombs.
“We can’t just fight it by dropping bombs on it or retaking ground. As we have seen in recent months, ISIS is not just fighting us in Iraq and Syria, it is now surfacing in Europe, it is now surfacing in other parts of the country in the form of terrorism,” he said.
Powell predicted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would not be removed from power anytime soon and suggested a ceasefire.
“With the support of the Russians and others, he has remained in power and I see no process, no possibility in the near future that will remove him from power. And so we better find a way to see if we can bring this horrible war to some kind of stalemate or ceasefire or something,” he said.
“So it seems to me without worrying about Assad or any of the other little pieces of this, we ought to do everything we can to get a ceasefire in place because hundreds of thousands of people are suffering and every morning when I turn on the television and see the cities being destroyed – those are people’s homes, people’s factories, people’s offices, schools, hospitals – and I would be trying to see if we can get all parties to simply stop the fighting right now while we figure out politically what to do, but it won’t work if we simply say Assad must go,” he added.
Powell did not address the recent leaking of his private emails, which referred to Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.
Without mentioning Trump specifically, Powell shared his opinion of the GOP presidential candidate’s plan to not admit more Syrian refugees and limit the amount of immigration from the Middle East due to national security concerns. He also linked the debate surrounding immigration from the Middle East to Americans who have questioned President Obama’s birthplace.
“We should not isolate and single out just Muslims as being bad. We do have terrorists that come from the Muslim community but we also have some that are homegrown, nutty terrorists that do terrible things. But it would not be our way of doing things if we were to condemn an entire people merely because of their religious belief, and I’ve spoken out on this repeatedly,” Powell said.
“Most recently on the birther issue where some of the people pushing to see the president’s birth certificate also wanted to see if he was a Muslim – does it say so on the birth certificate, and my response has been, so what? You know, we get Muslims born in this country all day long and we want them as long as they are good citizens, and they are good citizens,” he added.
The moderator replied, “I’m actually sorry you are not running for president.”
Powell responded, “I’m 10 years older than Donald Trump and 12 years older than Hillary. I’ve hit my sell-by date. I don’t have to worry about this.”