Colin Powell 1937-2021

Soldier. Diplomat. Politician. America’s First African American Secretary of State. America’s First African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Colin Powell spent a lifetime setting “firsts.”

President Biden ordered flags flown at half-staff until October 22 in remembrance of Powell, calling him “a patriot of unmatched honor and dignity.”

“Colin embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat. He was committed to our nation’s strength and security above all,” Mr. Biden added. “Time and again, he put country before self, before party, before all else — in uniform and out — and it earned him the universal respect of the American people.”

Born April 5, 1937, in Harlem, New York, to Jamaican immigrants, Powell was a ground-breaking figure in Washington and garnered respect from both sides of our political divide. He joined the Army after graduating from college in 1958. He served two tours in Vietnam and was stationed in West Germany and South Korea. He would later serve in top roles under four presidents, national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton, and secretary of state under President George W. Bush.

Powell led the State Department during the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and favored taking military action against al Qaeda. He also supported the invasion of Iraq and appeared before the United Nations to present evidence that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

It was later determined that this chief reason for the war in Iraq was based on bad intelligence. Powell would go on to call his 2003 speech before the United Nations describing the weapons program in Iraq a “blot” on his record.

Powell served primarily Republican presidents and was floated as a possible candidate himself, but he broke with the GOP in later years. The retired four-star general endorsed former President Barack Obama in 2008 over Republican nominee Senator John McCain, and again in 2012. He supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Mr. Biden over former President Donald Trump in 2020. Powell said Mr. Trump “lies all the time” and was not an “effective president.”

In a statement Monday, Mr. Bush praised Powell as a “great public servant” whose counsel and experience was relied upon by presidents of both parties, and said he and former first lady Laura Bush are “deeply saddened” by his death. “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,” Mr. Bush said. “Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man.”

In a statement of his own, Mr. Obama recalled Powell’s endorsement of his candidacy in 2008, noting that he “took the opportunity to get to the heart of the matter in a way only he could.” Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” just weeks before the 2008 election, Powell addressed conspiracy theories about Mr. Obama’s faith head on.

“It is permitted to be said such things as, ‘Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.’ Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian,” Powell said. “But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is no, that’s not America.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was secretary of defense in 1991 when he and Powell oversaw the expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait during the first Gulf War, said he was “deeply saddened to learn that America has lost a leader and statesman.” “Working with him during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, I saw first-hand General Powell’s dedication to the United States and his commitment to the brave and selfless men and women who serve our country in uniform,” Cheney said in a statement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken paid tribute to Powell, praising him for not only a “legendary” military career, but for being an “exceptional diplomat.” Blinken said he spent several hours with Powell on July 4, during which his “depth of knowledge about world events” and love for the State Department were clear. “Colin Powell dedicated his extraordinary life to public service because he never stopped believing in America,” he said. “And we believe in America in no small part because it helped produce someone like Colin Powell.”

In France, diplomats mourned the passing of Powell, despite the differences that the U.S. and France had when the Iraq invasion took place. Secretary General of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs François Delattre told CBS News that Powell was admired in France.  “We think of him as a respected military leader and a statesman,” Delattre said.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters he lost a “tremendous personal friend and mentor,” and said it’s “not possible to replace a Colin Powell.” “The world lost one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed,” Austin said, adding Powell always provided counsel to him on difficult issues. “I feel as though I have a hole in my heart.”

As do we all.

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