Colin Powell

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Secretary of State Colin Powell
Order 65th Secretary of State
Term of Office January 20, 2001 -
January 26, 2005
Predecessor Madeleine Albright
Successor Condoleezza Rice
Date of Birth April 5, 1937
Place of Birth New York, New York
Spouse Alma Vivian Johnson Powell
Profession Soldier, Statesman
Political Party Republican

Colin Luther Powell, (pronounced koh-lihn, born April 5, 1937) was the 65th United States Secretary of State, serving from January 20, 2001 to January 26, 2005 under President George W. Bush. Nominated by Bush on December 16, 2000 and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate, Powell became the highest ranking African American government official in the history of the United States (now having been tied by his successor, Condoleezza Rice). As a general in the United States Army, Powell also served as National Security Advisor (198789) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (198993). He is a moderate Republican.

Powell's resignation was accepted by Bush on November 12, 2004 (before the beginning of Bush's second term), but Powell remained until his replacement, Condoleezza Rice, was confirmed by an 85-13 vote in the Senate.


Early military career

Colin Powell as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Colin Powell as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Powell was a professional soldier for 35 years, during which time he held a variety of command and staff positions and rose to the rank of 4-star General. In his autobiography My American Journey, Powell mentioned several officers he served under that inspired and mentored him.

As a young Colonel serving in South Korea, for example, Powell was very close to General Henry "Gunfighter" Emerson. Powell said he regarded this man as one of the most caring officers he ever served under. Emerson was somewhat eccentric personally. For example, he insisted his troops train only at night and made them repeatedly watch the television film Brian's Song to promote racial harmony. Powell always professed, however, that what set Emerson apart was his great love of his soldiers and concern for their welfare.

In the early 1980s, Powell served at Fort Carson, Colorado. It was there that he had a major clash with General John Hudachek his commander. Hudachek said in an efficiency evaluation that Powell was a poor leader who should not be promoted. Many of Powell's supporters have said this was pettiness and spite on Hudachek's part.

National Security Advisor

At the age of 39, Powell left the army to become Ronald Reagan's last National Security Advisor, from 1987 to 1989.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

His last military assignment, from October 1, 1989 to September 30, 1993, was as the 12th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military position in the Department of Defense. During this time, he oversaw 28 crises, including Operation Desert Storm in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. During these events, Powell earned a reputation as being a very dovish military leader. He rarely advocated military intervention as the first solution to an international dispute, and instead usually prescribed diplomacy and containment.

Powell mentioned in his autobiography that he is haunted by the nightmare of the Vietnam War. He felt the leadership was very ineffective. Powell served a tour in Vietnam as a military advisor, and was badly injured when he stepped on a bamboo "punji stick". The massive infection nearly killed him and it shortened his first tour. It was also during his Vietnam service, his second tour, that Powell was decorated for bravery. He single-handedly rescued several men from a burning helicopter, one of them being Maj. Gen. Charles Gettys, the commander of the Americal Division.

He was opposed to the majority of George H.W. Bush Administration officials who advocated the deployment of troops to the Middle East to force Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to withdraw his armies from neighbouring Kuwait, believing the dictator could instead be contained through sanctions and a buildup of forces around Kuwait, a plan soon dubbed Powell doctrine.

As an officer, Powell also values loyalty very highly, and as a result, does not usually undermine policies he disagrees with after they are implemented. Thus, while initially opposing the plan that would become Operation Desert Storm, Powell nevertheless supported it once it became official policy, and gave it his full dedication.

Powell's successful career within the military has not been entirely free of controversy, however. During the Vietnam War, Powell, as deputy assistant chief of staff at the Americal (the 23rd Infantry Division) with the rank of Major, was charged with investigating a detailed letter by Tom Glen (a soldier from the 11th Light Infantry Brigade), which backed up rumored allegations of the My Lai massacre. Powell's response was largely seen as a cover-up; he wrote: "In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent."

Another controversial part of his career is that Powell also had an operational role in the illegal Iran-Contra affair, acting as the initial coordinator for selling missiles to Iran in exchange for American hostages.

Dates of rank

Awards and decorations

Civilian career

Following his retirement from the armed services, Powell wrote a best-selling memoir, My American Journey. In addition, he pursued a career as a public speaker, addressing audiences across the country and abroad.

Colin Powell's experience in military matters made him a very popular figure with both American political parties. Many Democrats admired his moderate stance on military matters, while many Republicans saw him as a great asset associated with the successes of past Republican administrations. Powell eventually declared himself a Republican, and began to campaign for Republican candidates. He was touted as a possible opponent of Bill Clinton in the 1996 U.S. Presidential Election, but Powell declined, it is rumored, at the advice of his wife.

In 1997 Powell founded America's Promise with the objective of helping children from all socioeconomic sectors. Powell often wears the logo of the organization in the form of a red wagon pin on his lapel.

Colin Powell was serving on the board of America Online when it announced its intention to merge with Time Warner in January, 2000. Powell's son, Michael, was a member of the Federal Communications Commission at the time, and he was the only commissioner who advocated letting the AOL-Time Warner deal go through without scrutiny. Powell's stock in the company reportedly increased in value by US$4 million. The affair caused some controversy as it called into question the Powells' impartiality in the matter.

In the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election Powell campaigned for Texas Governor George W. Bush, serving as a key foreign policy advisor to the campaign. At the same time, it was often hinted that Powell might be appointed to a position within a Democratic administration, should Al Gore win. Bush eventually won, and Colin Powell was appointed as the first African American Secretary of State.

Secretary of State

Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld listen to President George W. Bush speak.
Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld listen to President George W. Bush speak.

As Secretary of State in the Bush administration, Powell was perceived as moderate, his pragmatism serving as a balance to more ideology-driven hawks, such as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his colleagues Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. Powell's great asset was his tremendous popularity among the American people. However, over the course of his tenure he traveled less than any other U.S. Secretary of State in 30 years, which may have contributed to the declining image of the United States abroad.

After September 11, Powell's job became of critical importance in managing America's relationships with foreign countries in order to secure a stable coalition in the War on Terrorism. However, some of his actions during the War on Terrorism have been controversial, prompting heavy criticism from some parties.

In April 2002, he visited the site of the alleged Jenin Massacre in the occupied West Bank and later said while testifying to Congress, "I've seen no evidence that would suggest a massacre took place." Recalling the My Lai episode, critics condemned Powell as a "company man" unwilling to confront uncomfortable realities or rock the boat. These critical comments came at a time when details of the events at Jenin were still unclear. Later investigations by human rights organizations and the United Nations confirmed the Israeli estimate for the number of Palestinians, including militants, dead in the fighting, placing the figure at 52.

Colin Powell with Silvan Shalom.
Colin Powell with Silvan Shalom.

More recently, Powell has come under fire for his role in building the case for the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. In a press statement on February 24, 2001 he had said that sanctions against Iraq had prevented the development of any weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein. As was the case in the days leading up to the Persian Gulf War, Powell was initially opposed to a forcible overthrow of Hussein, preferring to continue a policy of containment. However, Powell eventually agreed to go along with the Bush administration's determination to remove Hussein. He had often clashed with the hawks in the administration, who were reportedly planning an Iraq invasion even before the September 11 attacks—an insight supported by testimony by former terorrism czar Richard Clarke in front of the 9/11 Commission. The main concession Powell wanted before he would offer his full support for the Iraq War was the involvement of the international community in the invasion, as opposed to the unilateral approach some of the hawks were advocating. He was also successful in persuading Bush to take the case of Iraq to the United Nations, and in moderating other initiatives. Powell was placed at the forefront of this diplomatic campaign.

Computer-generated image of an alleged mobile production facility for biological weapons, presented by Colin Powell at the UN Security Council. Absence of more substantial proofs undermined the credibility of the speech on the international scene. Russian experts have always questioned the existence of such mobile facilities, which would be extremely dangerous and difficult to manage.
Computer-generated image of an alleged mobile production facility for biological weapons, presented by Colin Powell at the UN Security Council. Absence of more substantial proofs undermined the credibility of the speech on the international scene. Russian experts have always questioned the existence of such mobile facilities, which would be extremely dangerous and difficult to manage.

Powell's chief role was to garner international support for a multi-national coalition to mount the invasion. To this end, Powell addressed a plenary session of the United Nations on February 5, 2003 to argue in favor of military action. Citing "numerous" anonymous Iraqi defectors, Powell asserted that "there can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more." [1] Powell also stated that there was "no doubt in my mind" that Saddam was working to obtain key components to produce nuclear weapons.

While Powell's oratorical skills and personal conviction were acknowledged, there was an overall rejection of the evidence Powell offered that the regime of Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). A Senate report on intelligence failures would later detail the intense debate that went on behind the scenes on what to include in Powell's speech. State Department analysts had found dozens of factual problems in drafts of the speech. Some of the claims were taken out, but others were left in, such as claims based on the yellowcake forgery. [2] The administration is currently under fire for having acted on faulty intelligence. Reports have indicated that Powell himself was skeptical of the evidence presented to him. In September 2005, Powell was asked about the speech during an interview with Barbara Walters and responded that it was a "blot" on his record. He went on to say, "it will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now." [3][4]

Because Powell is seen as more moderate than most figures in the administration, he has been spared many of the attacks that have been leveled at more controversial advocates of the invasion, such as Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. At times, infighting between the Powell-led State Department, the Rumsfeld-led Defense Department, and Vice President Dick Cheney's office had the effect of paralyzing the administration on crucial issues, such as what actions to take regarding Iran and North Korea.

Secretary Powell with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
Secretary Powell with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

After Saddam Hussein had been deposed, Powell's new role was to once again establish a working international coalition, this time to assist in the rebuilding of post-war Iraq. On September 13, 2004, Powell testified before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, [5] acknowledging that the sources who provided much of the information in his February 2003 UN presentation were "wrong" and that it was "unlikely" that any stockpiles of WMDs would be found. Claiming that he was unaware that some intelligence officials questioned the information prior to his presentation, Powell pushed for reform in the intelligence community, including the creation of a national intelligence director who would assure that "what one person knew, everyone else knew".

Colin Powell announced his resignation on Monday, November 15, 2004. He announced that he would stay on until his replacement's confirmation by Congress. The following day, George W. Bush nominated National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, as Powell's successor. News of his resignation spurred mixed reactions from politicians around the world—some upset at the loss of a statesman seen as a moderating factor within the Bush administration, but others hoping for Powell's successor to wield more influence within the cabinet, and thus be a more credible negotiator.

In mid-November, Colin Powell stated that he had information indicating that Iran was adapting missiles for a nuclear delivery system. The New York Times indicated that the accusation was founded on a single, unreliable source. The accusation came at the same time as the settlement of an agreement between the IAEA, the European Union and Iran.

On December 31, 2004, Powell rang in the New Year by throwing the ball in Times Square with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, ushering in the year 2005. He appeared on the networks that were broadcasting New Year's Eve specials and talked about this honor, as well as being a native of New York City, ABC, CNN, [6] and Fox News Channel.

Life after politics

After retiring from the role of Secretary of State, Powell returned to private life, but in April 2005 he telephoned Republican senators Lincoln Chafee and Chuck Hagel to express his opposition to the nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations (Powell had clashed with him during Bush's first term). The decision was viewed as potentially dealing significant damage to Bolton's chances of confirmation.

On 28 April The Guardian reported that Powell was in fact "conducting a campaign" against Bolton because of the acrimonious battles they had had whilst working together, which among other things had resulted in Powell cutting Bolton out of talks with Iran and Libya after complaints about Bolton's involvement from the British. It added that "The foreign relations committee has discovered that Bolton made a highly unusual request and gained access to 10 intercepts by the National Security Agency... Staff members on the committee believe that Bolton was probably spying on Powell, his senior advisers and other officials reporting to him on diplomatic initiatives that Bolton opposed." [7]

In July 2005, Powell joined Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, a well-known Silicon Valley venture capital firm, as a "strategic limited partner."

In September 2005, Powell slammed the US response to Hurricane Katrina.[8]

He is reportedly being considered to become the twelfth president of Cornell University, one of the Ivy League institutions, or a member of the Harvard Corporation after Conrad Harper.

Civilian awards

Personal Coat of Arms of Colin Powell
Personal Coat of Arms of Colin Powell

Powell's civilian awards include two Presidential Medals of Freedom, the President's Citizens Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal, the Secretary of State Distinguished Service Medal, and the Secretary of Energy Distinguished Service Medal. Several schools and other institutions have been named in his honor and he holds honorary degrees from universities and colleges across the country.

On December 15, 1993, Colin Powell was made an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

The Coat of Arms of Colin Powell was granted by the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh on February 4, 2004. Technically the grant was to Powell's father (a British subject) to be passed on by descent. Scotland's King of Arms was asked to make the grant as the family of Colin Powell's mother is from Aberdeenshire. Blazoned as:

Azure, two swords in saltire points downwards between four mullets Argent, on a chief of the Second a lion passant Gules. On a wreath of the Liveries is set for Crest the head of an American bald-headed eagle erased Proper. And in an escrol over the same this motto, "DEVOTED TO PUBLIC SERVICE."

The swords and stars refer to the former general's career, as does the crest, which is the badge of the 101st Airborne (which he served as a brigade commander in the mid-1970's). The lion may be an allusion to Scotland. The shield can be shown surrounded by the insignia of an honorary Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (KCB), an award the General received after the first Gulf War.

In 2005 Powell received the Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award for his contributions to Africa.

Political views

A moderate Republican, Powell is well known for his willingness to support liberal or centrist causes. He is pro-choice regarding abortion, in support of affirmative action, and in favor of "reasonable" gun control. However, Powell is opposed to allowing gays to serve openly in the military and played a crucial role in derailing President Clinton's 1993 plans on that matter.

Related information

The character of General Casey, played by Paul Winfield, in the 1996 film Mars Attacks! is widely regarded to have been based on Colin Powell.

Burke's Peerage speculated that General Colin Powell's great-great-great-grandmother was an illegitimate child of Sir Eyre Coote — the Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica — and an African slave. This would mean that he is descended from King Edward I of England, and thus is a distant relative of George W. Bush.

See also

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Further reading

  • Powell, Colin A. and Joseph Persico, My American Journey, ISBN 0345407288/

External links

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Preceded by:
Frank Carlucci
National Security Advisor
Succeeded by:
Brent Scowcroft
Preceded by:
William J. Crowe
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Succeeded by:
David E. Jeremiah (acting Chairman)
Preceded by:
Madeleine Albright
United States Secretary of State
January 20, 2001January 26, 2005
Succeeded by:
Condoleezza Rice
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