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
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. 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).

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.


Personal background

Powell was born in New York City and was raised in the South Bronx. His parents, Luther Theophilus and Maud Ariel Powell, emigrated to the United States from Jamaica. Powell was educated in the New York City public schools, graduating from the City College of New York (CCNY), where he earned a bachelor's degree in geology. He participated in ROTC and Pershing Rifles at CCNY and received a commission as a United States Army second lieutenant upon graduation in June 1958. He also earned a Master of Business Administration degree from George Washington University. It is the subject matter of speculation that General Colin Powell's great-great-great-grandmother was an illegitimate child of Sir Eyre Coote the Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica and a black slave. This would mean that he is descended from King Edward I of England, and is thus distantly related to the family of George Bush.

Powell is married to Alma Vivian Johnson Powell of Birmingham, Alabama. The Powell family includes son Michael (former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission); daughters Linda and Anne; daughter-in-law Jane; and grandsons Jeffrey and Bryan.

President George W. Bush's nickname for Powell is Balloonfoot.

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.

His last 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 and was badly injured when he stepped on a bamboo "punji stick". The massive infection nearly killed him and it shortened his tour. It was also during his Vietnam service that Powell was decorated for bravery. He single-handedly rescued several men from a burning helicopter.

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

Missing image
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, he traveled less than any U.S. secretary of state in 30 years, which may have contributed to falling U.S. image abroad during his tenure.

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 terror. However, some of the subsequent events related to the war on terror have since made Powell quite a bit more controversial than many would have probably anticipated.

In April 2002, he visited the site of the alleged Jenin Massacre, in the occupied West Bank and later testified to Congress saying "I've seen no evidence that would suggest a massacre took place." Recalling the My Lai episode, critics condemned Powell as a company man who is never willing to confront uncomfortable realities or rock the boat. The critical comments came at a time when details of the events at Jenin were still unclear. Later investigations by human rights organisations and the United Nations confirmed the overall Israeli estimate for the number of Palestinians dead in the fighting, placing the figure at 52, including militants.

Missing image
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 said that sanctions against Iraq had prevented the development of any significant capability with respect to 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 11 September 2001 terrorist 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 offering his full support of the Iraq War was the involvement of the international community in the invasion, as opposed to a unilateral approach, as some hawks were advocating. He was also successful in persuading Mr. 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.

Missing image
Computer-generated image of an alleged mobile production facility for chemical 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 likelihood of such mobile facilities, which are extremely dangerous and difficult to manage.

Powell's chief role was to garner international support for a multi-national coalition to mount the invasion. As part of this, Powell addressed a plenary session of the United Nations on February 5, 2003 to argue in favor of the action. Citing "numerous" anonymous Iraqi defectors, Powell asserted that "[t]here 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 the speech. State Department analysts had found dozens of factual problems in drafts of the speech. Some of the claims were taken out, but still others were left in, for example claims based on the Yellowcake Forgery. [2] ( Currently, the administration is under fire for having acted on faulty intelligence. Reports have indicated that Powell himself was skeptical of the evidence presented to him. Because Powell is seen as more moderate than much of the administration, he has been spared many of the attacks that have been leveled at more controversial figures such as Donald Rumsfeld or Paul Wolfowitz by administration opponents. 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 Iran and North Korea.

Since 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 [3] (, acknowledging that the sources who provided much of the information in Powell's February 2003 UN presentation were "wrong" and that it was "unlikely" that any stockpiles of WMDs would be found. Citing 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 15th, 2004. He announced that he would stay on until his replacement is confirmed by Congress. The following day, President George W. Bush nominated current 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 an agreement was settled between the IAEA, the European Union, and Iran.

On December 31, 2004, he 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, [4] ( 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 (,12271,1468438,00.html) 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." [5] (,3604,1471879,00.html)

Civilian awards

Missing image
Personal 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. 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.

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 in the military and played a crucial role in derailing President Clinton's 1993 plans on that matter. He has said that homosexuals, unlike African-Americans, have no claim to civil rights.

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 a black slave. This would mean that he is descended from King Edward I of England.

See also

Further reading

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

External links


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:
John Shalikashvili
Preceded by:
Madeleine Albright
United States Secretary of State
January 20, 2001January 26, 2005
Succeeded by:
Condoleezza Rice

Template:End boxda:Colin Powell de:Colin Powell es:Colin Powell eo:Colin POWELL fr:Colin Powell id:Colin Powell nl:Colin Powell ja:コリン・パウエル no:Colin Powell pl:Colin Powell ru:Пауэлл, Колин Лютер sv:Colin Powell zh:克林·鲍威尔


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