Colin Powell, military leader and first black US secretary of state, dies of complications from Covid-19 – .

Colin Powell, military leader and first black US secretary of state, dies of complications from Covid-19 – .

Powell was a distinguished professional soldier and pioneer whose career took him from combat duty in Vietnam to becoming the first black national security adviser at the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency and the youngest and first African American president. of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George HW. Bush. His national popularity soared following the victory of the US-led coalition in the Gulf War, and for some time in the mid-1990s he was seen as a leading candidate for become the first black president of the United States. But his reputation will be forever tarnished when, as George W. Bush’s first secretary of state, he pushes misinformation before the United Nations to argue for the war in Iraq, which he later called ” stain ”on his file.

Although he never ran for the White House, when Powell was sworn in as Bush’s Secretary of State in 2001, he became the country’s highest black official to date, ranking fourth. in the presidential succession.

“I think it shows the world what is possible in this country,” Powell said of his historic appointment during his Senate confirmation hearing. “It shows the world that: Follow our pattern, and over a period of time since our inception, if you believe in the values ​​that espouse you can see things as miraculous as I do sitting in front of you to receive your approval. ”

Later in his public life, he would become disillusioned with the Republican Party’s right-wing turn and use his political capital to help elect Democrats to the White House, including Barack Obama, the first black president Powell endorsed in recent weeks. of the year 2008. campaign.

The announcement was seen as a significant boost to Obama’s candidacy due to Powell’s widespread popular appeal and his stature as one of the most prominent and successful black Americans in life. public.

Powell is survived by his wife, Alma Vivian (Johnson) Powell, whom he married in 1962, as well as three children.

Professional soldier

Colin Luther Powell was born April 5, 1937 in Harlem, New York, to Jamaican immigrants. After growing up in the South Bronx, Powell attended school at City College in New York, where he attended ROTC, leading the precision drilling team and achieving the highest rank offered by the corps, Cadet Colonel .

“I liked the structure and discipline of the military,” said Powell, according to a CNN profile in the early 2000s. “I felt somewhat distinctive wearing a uniform. I hadn’t been distinctive in much else. ”

He entered the United States Army after graduating in 1958 and then flew two missions to South Vietnam in the 1960s, where he was twice injured, most notably in a helicopter crash during from which he rescued two soldiers. He remained in the military after returning home, attended National War College, and worked his way up. He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1979, appointed Reagan’s last National Security Advisor in 1987, and was hired by Senior Bush in 1989 to lead the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Powell’s tenure in the Bush administration was marked by his involvement in some of the most notable U.S. military actions of the late 20th century, including the 1989 Panama Operation, the 1991 Gulf War, and the United States humanitarian intervention in Somalia, although he retired from Army Days before the disastrous Battle of Mogadishu.

Although Powell was initially reluctant to commit US troops when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, he became one of the administration’s most trusted spokespersons when the assault on the military Saddam Hussein has finally arrived.

“We’re going to cut it first. Then we’ll kill him, ”Powell said at a press conference at the time, referring to the Iraqi military.

After the assault, Powell became something of a national hero, enjoying a 71% favor rate in the first years after the war. His wartime efforts also earned him two major awards: a Congressional Gold Medal in March 1991 “in recognition of his exemplary performance in planning and coordinating” the US response to the invasion of Iraq, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

As the elder Bush presented the award to Powell at a ceremony at the White House in 1991, he said that “the general’s deep compassion for each of the thousands of men and women under (his) command will always remain. in the memories ”.

During Powell’s time in the military, which lasted until 1993, he also received a number of other notable awards, including the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. He received his fourth star in 1989, becoming the second African-American to achieve that rank.

In addition to military awards, Powell also received the President’s Citizens Medal, Secretary of State’s Medal for Distinguished Service and Secretary of Energy’s Medal for Distinguished Service, as well as a second Presidential Medal of Freedom. , awarded with distinction, from President Bill Clinton. .

Senior diplomat in times of turbulence

With a prominent national profile, Powell was presented as a potential presidential candidate in the 1996 election. But in a much anticipated move, he refused to participate in the race, citing a lack of “passion” for politics. electoral.

“Such a life requires a call that I don’t yet hear,” he told reporters in 1995. “And for me, to pretend otherwise wouldn’t be honest with myself, it wouldn’t be honest with me. the American people. ”

Powell was again encouraged to run in the 2000 presidential election, but rejected calls for him to present an offer. Instead, he backed George W. Bush, delivering a speech at the Republican National Convention in which he argued that the then governor of Texas “would help bridge our racial divisions.”

He was Bush’s first Cabinet selection when it was announced as the 43rd President’s appointment as Secretary of State, and with his foreign policy expertise and great popularity, he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

He shared Bush’s reluctance to project military force around the world, a view that was quickly displaced by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. As Bush’s top diplomat, he was tasked with building international support to the war on terrorism, including the war in Afghanistan. , but it was his involvement in the administration’s push for intervention in Iraq, over the concerns of many of America’s long-standing allies, that his tenure in the state would become best known.

In February 2003, Powell gave a speech to the United Nations in which he presented evidence that the US intelligence community said Iraq had misled inspectors and concealed weapons of mass destruction.

“There is no doubt,” Powell warned, “that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capacity to quickly produce more, much more. “

Inspectors, however, later found no such weapon in Iraq, and two years after Powell’s speech at the UN, a government report said the intelligence community was “entirely wrong” in his assessments of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities prior to the US invasion.

But the damage was already done – both to Iraq, with which the United States went to war just six weeks after Powell’s speech, and to the reputation of the once very popular statesman, who was reportedly informed by then-Vice President Dick Cheney prior to the UN Speech: “You get high marks in the polls; you can afford to lose a few points. ”

Powell, who left the State Department in early 2005 after tendering his resignation to Bush the previous year, later called his speech at the UN a “stain” that will remain on his record forever.

“I regret it now because the information was wrong – of course I do,” he told CNN’s Larry King in 2010. “But I will always be considered the one who argued the case before the international community. ”

“I influenced public opinion, there is no doubt,” he added, referring to the influence of his speech on public support for the invasion.

In his 2012 memoir, “It Worked For Me,” Powell again acknowledged the speech, writing that his account in the book would likely be the last he did publicly.

“I’m mostly angry with myself for not sensing the problem. My instincts failed me, ”he wrote, referring to the report he used which contained false evidence of alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. “It was by no means my first, but it was one of my biggest failures, the one with the biggest impact. ”

“The event will earn an important paragraph in my obituary,” Powell wrote.

Changing politics

After leaving the Bush administration, Powell returned to private life. He joined the famous venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins in 2005, where he worked as a strategic advisor until his death. For a while he gave speeches at “Get Motivated!” »Corporate seminars, and he is the author of the 2012 thesis.

Although the vast majority of Powell’s time as a public servant has been spent in Republican administrations, the last years of his life have seen him support Democratic presidential candidates and harshly criticize key Republican leaders.

In 2008, the longtime Republican’s coveted presidential support went to another party when he announced his support for Obama’s White House candidacy. At the time, he touted Obama’s “ability to inspire” and the “inclusive nature of his campaign,” while criticizing attacks on the Illinois senator by Republican presidential candidate John’s campaign. McCain as “inappropriate.” He was then named honorary co-chair of Obama’s inauguration and backed him again in 2012.

Powell then voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 against Donald Trump, whom he strongly condemned as “a national disgrace and an international outcast.”

In an extraordinary gesture that year, three Washington state presidential voters voted for Powell over Clinton, resulting in state fines that were later upheld by the Supreme Court.

He snubbed Trump again in 2020 during the president’s second campaign, announcing his support for Joe Biden in June of that year while denigrating Trump’s presidency.

“We have a Constitution. And we have to follow this Constitution. And the president has moved away from it, ”he told CNN, adding that he“ certainly cannot support President Trump this year in any way ”. The retired general then gave a speech in favor of Biden at the Democratic National Convention.

And after Trump instigated a deadly insurgency on the U.S. Capitol in early January 2021, Powell told CNN he no longer considered himself a Republican, with the longtime GOP big saying he was watching now. simply events unfold in a country he has long served.

“I can no longer call myself a Republican colleague. I’m not a guy for nothing right now, ”he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on“ GPS ”. “I am just a citizen who voted Republican, voted Democrat throughout my career. And right now I’m just watching my country and not worrying about parties. ”

This story has been updated with additional information.


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