Former Secretaries of State Madeline Albright and Colin Powell criticized President Donald Trump's handling of US relations with Russia in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN, with Albright slamming what she called Trump's "kinship" with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Powell calling for the US to "speak firmly with respect to Russian actions."
When asked on "Fareed Zakaria GPS" about whether she had ever seen another president say things that contradict his administration's policy towards another country the way Trump has done with regard to Russia, Albright said she had not.
"And the decision-making process simply does not work," Albright said. "The President goes and does his own thing, then somebody says, 'He meant to say' ..."
"I do think that he does see some kind of kinship with Putin, and the Russians are trying very hard to undermine our democracy and to separate us from our allies," Albright added. "And I think in many ways Trump is almost a gift to Putin in terms of trying to explain why should we deal with those Europeans or why should we have anything to do with NATO."
"And I just visualize -- and I bet you do, Colin -- kind of, can you imagine going back to your office and thinking, 'Oh my,' you know, 'How did that happen? Why is he saying this? This doesn't make any sense,'" she said.
Albright, who served under President Bill Clinton, contrasted US and allied cooperation on sanctions against Russia with Trump's statements about Putin and Russia.
Trump has garnered widespread criticism for his statements on Russia, including at his summit with Putin over the summer, in which he declined during a news conference to endorse the US government's assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Trump walked back his remarks a few days later amid the backlash, saying he had misspoken and had faith in his intelligence agencies' assessment.
In the interview that aired Sunday, Powell, who served in the George W. Bush administration, said the US needed to "speak firmly" to Russia, but he also cautioned that Putin had restored pride to Russia after its loss of the Cold War.
"And we should take that into account," Powell said. "We should also, I think, not try to make him an enemy. But the Pentagon is busy thinking about that and thinking about China as an enemy."
"We're thinking too much about adversarial relations as opposed to diplomatic relations ..." Powell continued, adding that he'd seen the positive results of a focus on improving diplomatic relations. "When you reach out to somebody, let them know what you have to have and let them know what you think they're doing wrong -- now let's talk about it, see if we can solve problems."
Powell added, "Let's find ways to talk and engage, recognizing that not everybody is like the United States."
The two also criticized Trump's attacks on US institutions, with Albright drawing parallels with dictatorships.
"There [are] a lot of ... steps that don't seem big at the time," Albright said. "But if you put them all together, they are moving more and more into a direction where there is no respect for institutions, where we call the press the enemy of the people, where the President thinks he's above the law and where we are not engaged enough in political activity in terms of people really getting in there and doing something."
Powell also lamented Trump's retreat, rhetorical or otherwise, from agreements and alliances that have served as a bulwark against anti-democratic forces and the increasing divisiveness of the US political atmosphere.
"The President goes to Europe to a NATO meeting, but he starts out by insulting some of the other participants, our allies," Powell said. "And so, America has to take a hard look at itself, and especially the Congress. Take a hard look at yourself, and see what we are doing to try to keep these forces in check and put America back in the middle of all this as opposed to being sort of a reluctant player and trying to pull out of agreements rather than helping to make new agreements."
He added, "I hope the President can come to the realization that he should really stop insulting people. ... I don't think that's what should be coming out of a president of the United States."
"My favorite three words in our Constitution is the first three words -- "We the People," Powell said. "But recently it's become "Me the President," as opposed to "We the People." And you see things that should not be happening."