I watched part of CNN’s “The Next President: A World of Challenges” forum on Sunday, but I missed this bit that reveals Colin Powell not only saying that Georgia started it, but it also appears that he backs away a bit from McCain’s response to the crisis.

As I’ve said before, Colin Powell’s endorsement could be one of the most important to swing voters this season, so how he views each candidates’ approach to this situation could actually be very important.

Complete transcript after the jump…

AMANPOUR: Except for, General Powell, it basically hopes that Russia is not going to be the aggressor. And if Russia is and you have to, you know, keep your NATO allies’ security, aren’t you then committed?

POWELL: Under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which is the NATO Treaty, when one member of the alliance is attacked from abroad — meaning outside the NATO geographic limits — then all members of NATO treat that as an attack.

AMANPOUR: And yet…

POWELL: Article 5 has only been invoked once in the history of the alliance, and that was on the 12th of September, 2001, when it was invoked in our favor, when the whole NATO alliance said we were attacked, the alliance was attacked on 9/11.

Now, in the current situation, the Russians acted brutally. I think they acted foolishly. But it was also absolutely predictable what the Russians would do. You could see them stacking up their troops.

And I think it was foolhardy on the part of President Saakashvili and the Georgian government to kick over this can, to light a match in a roomful of gas fumes.

SESNO: So you’re saying the Georgians provoked this?

POWELL: They did. I mean, there was a lot of reasons to have provocations in the area, but the match that started the conflagration was from the Georgian side.

AMANPOUR: And yet…

POWELL: And that’s a given.

AMANPOUR: And some debate in the presidential elections has basically been, “We are all Georgians now.” What does that mean? It’s the same as was said after 9/11.

POWELL: One candidate said that, and I’ll let the candidate explain it for himself.


SESNO: You can help a little, if you’d like.

POWELL: No, the fact of the matter is that you — you have to be very careful in a situation like this not just to leap to one side or the other until you’ve taken a good analysis of the whole situation.

This was something that might have been avoided if people had looked at the Russian troops that were stacked up, if people had realized that the Russians were serious about South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and if perhaps more guidance and suggestions had been given to President Saakashvili beyond those that he received, it might have been avoided.

But it wasn’t. It’s over. The Russians are the offenders right now. And we have to see that.

We cannot say to the Russians, “We are not going to allow the Georgians or Ukrainians or anyone else to start down the path toward NATO membership.” It’s not for the Russians to decide that.

But I think it is wise for us to look at the whole strategic situation and all of our equities before deciding how fast that should happen and whether it’s the time to do it right now.

The Russian Federation is not going to become the Soviet Union again. That movie failed at the box office. But they do have interests. And we have to think carefully about their interests.

So you have to treat Russia as a proud country that lost a lot of its pride some 15, 16 years ago, and it’s restored with a political leadership that is enormously popular in the country and with a level of wealth they’ve never had before, and with concerns about their near abroad, and treat them in a straightforward, business-like, objective way and not emotionally.

Home Politics Colin Powell On Russia/Georgia Conflict: Georgia Started It