Colin Luther Powell ( born April 5, sildenafil 1937) is an American of Jamaican parentage, statesman and a retired four-star general in the United States Army. He was the 65th United States Secretary of State, serving under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. He was the first African American to serve in that position. During his military career, Powell also served as National Security Advisor (19871989), as Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command (1989) and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (19891993), holding the latter position during the Gulf War. He was the first, and so far the only, Jamaican American to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Colin Luther Powell was born on April 5, 1937 in Harlem, a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan, to Jamaican immigrant parents Maud Arial (née McKoy) and Luther Theophilus Powell. He also has Scottish ancestry. Powell was raised in the South Bronx and attended Morris High School, a former public school in the Bronx, from which he graduated in 1954. While at school, he worked at a local baby furniture store where he picked up Yiddish from the shopkeepers and some of the customers. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in geology from the City College of New York in 1958 and was a self-admitted C average student. He was later able to earn a Master of Business Administration degree from the George Washington University in 1971, after his second tour in Vietnam.
Despite his parents’ pronunciation of his name as /?k?l?n/, Powell has pronounced his name /?ko?l?n/ since childhood, after the heroic World War II flyer Colin P. Kelly Jr. Public officials and radio and television reporters have used Powell’s preferred pronunciation.
Powell described joining the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) during college as one of the happiest experiences of his life; discovering something he loved and could do well, he felt he had “found himself.”
Cadet Powell joined the Pershing Rifles, the ROTC fraternal organization and drill team begun by General John Pershing. Even after he had become a general, Powell kept on his desk a pen set he had won for a drill team competition.
Upon graduation, he received a commission as an Army second lieutenant. He was a professional soldier for 35 years, holding a variety of command and staff positions and rising to the rank of General. Powell was a captain during the Vietnam War, serving as a South Vietnamese Army adviser from 1962 to 1963. While on patrol in a Viet Cong-held area, he was wounded by stepping on a punji stake. He returned to Vietnam as a major in 1968, serving in the Americal Division (23rd Infantry Division), then as assistant chief of staff of operations for the Americal Division. He 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 wrote: “In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.” Later, Powell’s assessment would be described as whitewashing the news of the massacre, and questions would continue to remain undisclosed to the public. In May 2004 Powell said to television and radio host Larry King, “I mean, I was in a unit that was responsible for My Lai. I got there after My Lai happened. So, in war, these sorts of horrible things happen every now and again, but they are still to be deplored.”
Powell served a White House fellowship, a highly selective and prestigious position, under President Richard Nixon from 1972 to 1973.
In 1986, he took over the command of V Corps in Frankfurt, Germany, from Robert Lewis “Sam” Wetzel. Following the Iran Contra scandal, Powell became Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor, serving from 1987 to 1989. In April 1989, Powell was promoted to General and briefly served as the Commander in Chief, Forces Command, headquartered at Fort McPherson, Georgia. Later that year, President George H.W. Bush selected him as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
National Security Advisor
At the age of 49, Powell became Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor, serving from 1987 to 1989 while retaining his Army commission as a lieutenant general. After his tenure with the National Security Council, Powell was promoted to a full general under President George H.W. Bush and briefly served as Commander-in-Chief (CINC) of Forces Command (FORSCOM), overseeing all Army, Army Reserve, and National Guard units in the Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.
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. At age 52, he became the youngest officer, and first Jamaican American, to serve in this position. In 1989, he joined Dwight D. Eisenhower and Alexander Haig as the third general since World War II to reach four-star rank without ever being a divisional commander.
During his chairmanship of the JCS, there was discussion of awarding Powell a fifth star, granting him the rank of General of the Army. But even in the wake of public and Congressional pressure to do so, Clinton-Gore presidential transition team staffers decided against it.
During this time, he oversaw 28 crises, including the invasion of Panama in 1989 to remove General Manuel Noriega from power and Operation Desert Storm in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. During these events, Powell earned his nickname, “the reluctant warrior.” He rarely advocated military intervention as the first solution to an international crisis, and instead usually prescribed diplomacy and containment.
Powell has been critical of other instances of U.S. foreign policy in the past, such as its support for the 1973 Chilean coup d’état. From two separate interviews in 2003, Powell stated in one about the 1973 event “I can’t justify or explain the actions and decisions that were made at that time. It was a different time. There was a great deal of concern about communism in this part of the world. Communism was a threat to the democracies in this part of the world. It was a threat to the United States.” In another interview, however, he also simply stated “With respect to your earlier comment about Chile in the 1970s and what happened with Mr. Allende, it is not a part of American history that we’re proud of.”
As a military strategist, Powell has advocated an approach to military conflicts that maximizes the potential for success and minimizes casualties. A component of this approach is the use of overwhelming force, which he applied to Operation Desert Storm in 1991. His approach has been dubbed the “Powell Doctrine”. Powell continued as chairman of the JCS into the Clinton presidency but as a dedicated “realist” he considered himself a bad fit for an administration largely made up of liberal internationalists. He clashed with then-US ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright over the Bosnian crisis, as he opposed any military interventions that didn’t involve US interests.
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. Put forth as a potential Democratic Vice Presidential nominee in the 1992 U.S. Presidential Election or even potentially replacing Vice President Dan Quayle as the Republican Vice Presidential nominee, Powell eventually declared himself a Republican and began to campaign for Republican candidates in 1995. He was touted as a possible opponent of Bill Clinton in the 1996 U.S. Presidential Election, possibly capitalizing on a split conservative vote in Iowa and even leading New Hampshire polls for the GOP nomination, but Powell declined, citing a lack of passion for politics.
In the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election Powell campaigned for Senator John McCain and later Texas Governor George W. Bush after the latter secured the Republican nomination. Bush eventually won, and Powell was appointed Secretary of State.
During the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election, Powell endorsed Barack Obama for President.
Secretary of State
As Secretary of State in the Bush administration, Powell was perceived as moderate. Powell was unanimously voted in by the United States Senate. Over the course of his tenure he traveled less than any other U.S. Secretary of State in 30 years.
After the September 11 attacks, 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.
Powell came 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 Saddam, preferring to continue a policy of containment. However, Powell eventually agreed to go along with the Bush administration’s determination to remove Saddam. He had often clashed with others in the administration, who were reportedly planning an Iraq invasion even before the September 11 attacks, an insight supported by testimony by former terrorism 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 a unilateral approach. 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.
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 Security Council 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.” Powell also stated that there was “no doubt in my mind” that Saddam was working to obtain key components to produce nuclear weapons.
Most observers praised Powell’s oratorical skills. However, Britain’s Channel 4 News reported soon afterwards that a UK intelligence dossier that Powell had referred to as a “fine paper” during his presentation had been based on old material and plagiarized an essay by American graduate student Ibrahim al-Marashi. A 2004 report by the Iraq Survey Group concluded that the evidence that Powell offered to support the allegation that the Iraqi government possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was inaccurate.
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. The administration came under fire for having acted on faulty intelligence, particularly what was single-sourced to the informant known as Curveball. Powell later recounted how Vice President Dick Cheney had joked with him before he gave the speech, telling him, “You’ve got high poll ratings; you can afford to lose a few points.” Powell’s longtime aide-de-camp and Chief of Staff from 19892003, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, later characterized Cheney’s view of Powell’s mission as to “go up there and sell it, and we’ll have moved forward a peg or two. Fall on your damn sword and kill yourself, and I’ll be happy, too.”
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.” Wilkerson said that he inadvertently participated in a hoax on the American people in preparing Powell’s erroneous testimony before the United Nations Security Council.
Because Powell was seen as more moderate than most figures in the administration, he was 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 among the Powell-led State Department, the Rumsfeld-led Defense Department, and Cheney’s office had the effect of polarizing the administration on crucial issues, such as what actions to take regarding Iran and North Korea.
Powell announced his resignation as Secretary of State on November 15, 2004. According to The Washington Post, he had been asked to resign by the president’s chief of staff, Andrew Card. Powell announced that he would stay on until the end of Bush’s first term or until his replacement’s confirmation by Congress. The following day, Bush nominated National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice as Powell’s successor. News of Powell’s leaving the Administration 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.
A moderate Republican, Powell is well known for his willingness to support liberal or centrist causes. He is pro-choice regarding abortion, and in favor of “reasonable” gun control. He stated in his autobiography that he supports affirmative action that levels the playing field, without giving a leg up to undeserving persons because of racial issues. Powell was also instrumental in the 1993 implementation of the military’s don’t ask, don’t tell policy, though he later supported its repeal as proposed by Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen in January 2010, saying “circumstances had changed”.
The Vietnam War had a profound effect on Powell’s views of the proper use of military force. These views are described in detail in the autobiography My American Journey. The Powell Doctrine, as the views became known, was a central component of US policy in the Gulf War (the first U.S. war in Iraq) and U.S. invasion of Afghanistan (the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks). The hallmark of both operations was strong international cooperation, and the use of overwhelming military force.
Powell was the subject of controversy in 2004 when, in a conversation with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, he reportedly referred to neoconservatives within the Bush administration as “fucking crazies.” In addition to being reported in the press (though generally, the expletive was censored in the U.S. press), the quote was used by James Naughtie in his book, The Accidental American: Tony Blair and the Presidency, and by Chris Patten in his book, Cousins and Strangers: America, Britain, and Europe in a New Century.
In a September 2006 letter to Sen. John McCain, General Powell expressed opposition to President Bush’s push for military tribunals of those formerly and currently classified as enemy combatants. Specifically, he objected to the effort in Congress to “redefine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.” He also asserted: “The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.”
Role in presidential election of 2008
Powell donated the maximum allowable amount to John McCain’s campaign in the summer of 2007 and in early 2008, his name was listed as a possible running mate for Republican nominee McCain’s bid during the 2008 U.S. presidential election. However, on October 19, 2008, Powell announced his endorsement of Barack Obama during a Meet the Press interview, citing “his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities,” in addition to his “style and substance.” He additionally referred to Obama as a “transformational figure”. Powell further questioned McCain’s judgment in appointing Sarah Palin as the vice presidential candidate, stating that despite the fact that she is admired, “now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don’t believe she’s ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president.” He said that Obama’s choice for vice-president, Joe Biden, was ready to be president. He also added that he was “troubled” by the “false intimations that Obama was Muslim.” Powell stated that “[Obama] is a Christian he’s always been a Christian… But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.” Powell then referenced Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a Muslim American soldier in the U.S. Army who served and died in the Iraq War.
Views on the Obama administration
In a July 2009 CNN interview with John King, Powell expressed concern over President Obama growing the size of the federal government and the size of the federal budget deficit. In September 2010, he criticized the Obama administration for not focusing “like a razor blade” on the economy and job creation. Powell reiterated that Obama was a “transformational figure.” In a video that aired on CNN.com in November 2011, Colin Powell said in reference to Barack Obama, ” . . . many of his decisions have been quite sound. The financial system was put back on a stable basis.”
Powell married Alma Johnson on August 25, 1962. Their son, Michael Powell, was the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from 2001 to 2005. His daughters are Linda Powell, an actress and Annemarie Powell. As a hobby, Powell restores old Volvo and Saab cars.