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Powell: Support for Obama doesn't mean Iraq war wrong

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  • Colin Powell tells reporters Barack Obama has "calm" approach that's needed
  • Former secretary of state says he's still a Republican despite endorsing Obama
  • Powell says his support of Obama is not a repudiation of his own role in Iraq war
  • Former general says he was "troubled" by negativity of John McCain campaign
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama Sunday during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks to reporters Sunday after appearing on "Meet the Press."

"I think he is a transformational figure, he is a new generation coming onto the world stage, onto the American stage, and for that reason I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama," Powell said.

Powell spoke to reporters afterward outside NBC.

The following is a transcript of that conversation.

Reporter: Do you think that Sen. Obama will be a better transitional president than potentially Sen. McCain?

Colin Powell: I think that Sen. Obama brings a fresh set of of eyes, a fresh set of ideas to the table. I think that Sen. McCain, as gifted as he is, is essentially going to execute the Republican agenda, the orthodoxy of the Republican agenda with a new face and with a maverick approach to it. And he'd be quite good at it. But I think we need more than that. I think we need a generational change. And I think Sen. Obama has captured the feelings of the young people of America and is reaching out in a more diverse, inclusive way across our society. Video Watch Powell tell why he supports Obama »

Reporter: Could you talk to us about when your decision was made final? When did you finally set your heart on Sen. Obama?

Powell: I have been watching, as I said [on "Meet the Press"], for a long time, and then, within the past couple of months, I really said, you know, you just can't keep watching. You've got to kind of settle down.

And frankly, it was in the period leading up to the conventions, and then the decisions that came out of the conventions, and then just sort of watching the responses of the two individuals on the economic crisis. It gave me an opportunity to evaluate their judgment, to evaluate their way of approaching a problem, to evaluate the steadiness of their actions. And it was at that point that I realized that, to my mind, anyway, that Sen. Obama has demonstrated the kind of calm, patient, intellectual, steady approach to problem-solving that I think we need in this country.

Reporter: Mr. Secretary, there were a number of chinks in your own armor, actually, because of the lead-up to the Iraq war and the events. How much did that play into your decision about this? And will it be taken perhaps by some, because of your previous high-profile position, won't it be taken by some as a repudiation of the Iraq war?

Powell: I don't know why. The Iraq war is the Iraq war. We now see that things are a lot better in Iraq. Maybe if we had put a surge in at the beginning, it would have been a lot better years ago, but it's a lot better now, and we can see ahead to where U.S. forces will start to come out. And so, my concern was not my past or what happened in Iraq, but where we're going in the future. My sole concern was where are we going after January 20 of 2009, not what happened in 2003.

I'm well aware of the role I played. My role has been very, very straightforward. I wanted to avoid a war. The president agreed with me. We tried to do that. We couldn't get it through the U.N. and when the president made the decision, I supported that decision. And I've never blinked from that. I've never said I didn't support a decision to go to war.

And the war looked great until the 9th of April, when the statue fell, everybody thought it was terrific. And it was terrific. The troops had done a great job. But then we failed to understand that the war really was not over, that a new phase of the war was beginning. And we weren't ready for it and we didn't respond to it well enough, and things went very, very -- very, very south, very bad.

And now it's starting to turn around through the work of Gen. Petraeus and the troops, through the work of the Iraqi government, through our diplomatic efforts, and I hope now that this war will be brought to an end, at least as far as American involvement is concerned, and the Iraqis are going to have to be responsible for their own security and for their own political future. ...

Reporter: Sir, what part did McCain's negativity play in your decision, the negative tone of the campaign?

Powell: It troubled me. We have two wars. We have economic problems. We have health problems. We have education problems. We have infrastructure problems. We have problems around the world with our allies. So those are the problems the American people wanted to hear about, not about Mr. Ayers, not about who's a Muslim or who's not a Muslim. Those kinds of images going out on Al-Jazeera are killing us around the world.

And we have got to say to the world, it doesn't make any difference who you are or what you are, if you're an American, you're an American. And this business, for example, of the congressman from Minnesota who's going around saying, "Let's examine all congressmen to see who is pro-America or not pro-America" -- we have got to stop this kind of nonsense, pull ourselves together and remember that our great strength is in our unity and in our diversity. And so, that really was driving me.

And to focus on people like Mr. Ayers and these trivial issues, for the purpose of suggesting that somehow Mr. Obama would have some kind of terrorist inclinations, I thought that was over the top. It was beyond just good political fighting back and forth. I think it went beyond. And to sort of throw in this little Muslim connection, you know, "He's a Muslim and, my goodness, he's a terrorist" -- it was taking root. And we can't judge our people and we can't hold our elections on that kind of basis.

So, yes, that kind of negativity troubled me, And the constant shifting of the argument. I was troubled a couple of weeks ago when in the middle of the crisis, the [McCain] campaign said, "We're going to go negative," and they announced it, "We're going to go negative and attack [Obama's] character through Bill Ayers." Now I guess the message this week is, "We're going to call him a socialist, Mr. Obama is now a socialist, because he dares to suggest that maybe we ought to look at the tax structure that we have."

Taxes are always a redistribution of money. Most of the taxes that are redistributed go back to those who paid them, in roads and airports and hospitals and schools. And taxes are necessary for the common good. And there is nothing wrong with examining what our tax structure is or who should be paying more, who should be paying less. And for us to say that that makes you a socialist, I think is an unfortunate characterization that isn't accurate.

I don't want my taxes raised. I don't want anybody else's taxes raised. But I also want to see our infrastructure fixed. I don't want to have a $12 trillion national debt, and I don't want to see an annual deficit that's over $500 billion heading toward a trillion. So, how do we deal with all of this?

Reporter: Are you still a Republican?

Powell: Yes.

Reporter: Have you conveyed your decision to Sen. Obama?

Powell: Calls are being made. Thank you.

All About Colin PowellBarack ObamaJohn McCainIraq War

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