US needs to be more clever in Middle East, says Colin Powell

The United States needs to play a “much more clever role” in responding to the turmoil in Egypt and Syria and cannot expect to dictate the outcomes of those conflicts, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Sunday.

“We shouldn’t go around thinking that we can really make things happen,” Powell said on CBS’s "Face the Nation." “We can influence things, and we can be ready to help people when problems have been resolved or one side has prevailed over the other.

“These are internal struggles,” he added, “and parties insides those countries will have to sort it out amongst themselves.”

Powell served as secretary of State under President George W. Bush (R) and previously as national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He described the conflict in Syria as “just about now a civil war.” He sharply criticized Syrian President Bashar Assad, but he also raised questions about the resistance to his rule and whether it has come under the influence of al Qaeda.

“I have no affection for Mr. Assad,” Powell said. “I dealt with him. I know him, and he is a pathological liar with respect to my interactions with him. But at the same time, I am less sure about the resistance and what they represent.”

In Egypt, Powell said the general in charge of the military-led interim government, Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, had gone “all in” in trying to put down demonstrations and restore order, and that there was little the U.S. could do in the short term to influence him. He dismissed calls for the U.S. to cut off economic or military aid to Egypt as “trivial.”

“This is all sort of trivial,” Powell said. “He can do without it, and if we don’t give it to him, it won’t affect his actions right now. And if we give it to him, it probably won’t affect his behavior.”

“This is a side issue whether we provide aid or not aid,” he added.

Powell said that like others, he deplored the violence that has resulted in hundreds of fatalities in Egypt.

“It is not a good situation,” he said. “Hopefully this will quiet down in the near future so we can get back to a sensible path to a democratic Egypt.”