Former Secretary of State Colin Powell praised President Obama’s efforts in the Middle East but said the president has lost focus, during a recent interview with CNN’s Larry King.

“He should have focused on the economy and doing something about unemployment to the exclusion of most everything else domestically,” he said in the Nov. 16 interview. Powell went on that health care, energy and education policy are important but “when you’re starting out as a president, you have to figure out (what) is most important.”

In the interview, Powell, 73, noted that he is “in regular touch with authorities within the administration and the president,” especially when it relates to the administration’s approach to Afghanistan.

He credited Obama for stabilizing the U.S. economic system, and “doing a good job in … a number of directions with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“I think the president has done a good job (with the) economic system,” he said. “I mean, Wall Street was collapsing, the whole economic structure of the country was falling apart, and that’s been stabilized.”

Although a self-proclaimed moderate Republican, Powell endorsed Obama during his 2008 presidential bid, a decision Powell said he does not regret.

During the hour-long conversation, he also discussed his reaction to the Republican takeover of the House, his views on 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, and the country’s future.

The mid-term elections were a “real body blow” to the president and the Democratic Party, he said. He called Palin a “fascinating… political celebrity (and) a political force” but he challenged Palin and Tea Party-backed incumbents to specify what programs they would eliminate to reduce the nation’s deficit and lower taxes. He also said he was optimistic about the country’s future.

“American people still believe in this country,” said Powell. “What they’re waiting for is for the political leaders in Washington to get on with the solution to problems and not continue to argue with each other. The next year is going to be important.”

Powell became the nation’s first African-American Secretary of State under former President George W. Bush.