Colin Powell, the first black person to serve as US Secretary of State, died of complications of Covid-19 on Monday. A four-star general, he helped shape foreign relations in several Republican administrations.
His family posted a message on Facebook on Monday morning stating “General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, passed away this morning due to complications from Covid 19.”
He was 84 years of age.
The son of Jamaican immigrants Luther and Maud Powell, the eventual four-star general was raised in the South Bronx. The Powell family stated “We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” they said, adding that he had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Colin Powell widely admired before Iraq invasion tarnished image
In a statement, former President George W. Bush said “Many Presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience. He was such a favorite of Presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom — twice.
“He was highly respected at home and abroad. And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a laudatory statement that Powell’s life was nothing less than a personification of the American Dream. “It is hard to imagine a more quintessentially American story: A son of Jamaican immigrants who learned Yiddish from his boyhood neighbors in the Bronx becomes a four-star general in the United States Army and serves four presidential administrations, including as National Security Advisor, the youngest-ever Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the first Black Secretary of State,” he said.
Current American Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in a press conference that Powell was always ready to help those under him, having total regard for everyone at the State Department regardless of rank. When he “hopped on to the elevator he pulled others on with him. He wan’t overly concerned with hierarchy; he wanted to hear from everyone.
“He walked around the building, dropping into offices unannounced, asking people what they needed, making sure they knew he was counting on them. Secretary of State Powell was, simply and completely, a leader.”
Serving as the first African-American Secretary of State, Powell was a well-regarded figure who appealed to both sides of the aisle — until he backed the invasion of Iraq under the administration of George W. Bush.
From Vietnam tours to Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff
After serving in Vietnam, Powell served as a national security adviser to Ronald Reagan. He also became the first African-American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.
He helped negotiate arms treaties and begin a groundbreaking new era of cooperation with the Soviet president at the time, Mikhail Gorbachev, whose policy of “glasnost,” or openness, enabled the creation of a new mindset between the superpowers.
Powell also served as the 12th chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, which is the highest-ranking military appointment in the US’ Defense Department.
He worked with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney in creating what became known as “The Powell Doctrine” — to use decisive, overwhelming military force after having established clear political objectives and garnering the support of the public.
Powell stated to the press before the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when US forces faced the army of Saddam Hussein was as follows: “Our strategy in going after this army is very simple. First, we’re going to cut it off, and then we’re going to kill it.”
His calm demeanor and diplomatic skills helped the country get through the difficult days after the Sep. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Becoming an almost-universally-admired figure after the US-led victory during the Gulf War, he was for years considered a leading candidate for the Presidency. However, all that changed when, as George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, he passed along inaccurate intelligence regarding the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, stating that the US had no alternative but to go to war with Saddam Hussein.
When he spoke to the United Nations just prior to the US invasion of the country, there was no applause after his remarks — just a deafening silence. This misstep was to mark the later years of the retired four-star general’s life. He later admitted that the decision to go forward with the invasion was a “blot” on his record.