Gulf War shock-and-awe general Powell dies

Top News | 19 Oct 2021

Colin Powell, who was born in Harlem to Jamaican immigrants and rose to become the first African-American to be US secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has died. He was 84.

Powell died yesterday due to complications from Covid-19, his family said. Powell was fully vaccinated.

A decorated soldier who started as a second lieutenant, a rank earned as a Reserve Officer Training Corps student at City College of New York, Powell served in Vietnam, West Germany and South Korea before being put in charge of the 1990 Gulf War as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

In the allied effort to help Saudi Arabia and Kuwait defend against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, he developed the so-called Powell Doctrine.

It called for using overwhelming force, such as "shock-and-awe" battle tactics, to assure victory and minimize casualties once diplomatic solutions prove unworkable. He styled himself the "reluctant warrior."

Admired for his mix of military discipline and sunny optimism, Powell was often urged to run for president.

Tall, solidly-built, with salt-and-pepper hair and an easy smile, he represented to many an American ideal of hard work and equal opportunity. The author of four books about himself, he argued that he was part of a new generation of accountable leaders.

"Many of my generation, the career captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels seasoned in [Vietnam], vowed that when our turn came to call the shots, we would not quietly acquiesce in halfhearted warfare for half-baked reasons that the American people could not understand," he wrote in 1995's My American Journey.

Such idealism proved elusive, however, in the 2003 Iraq War to oust Hussein. As secretary of state, Powell was given the task of justifying an allied invasion. In a speech to the United Nations that included pictures he said were of mobile arms laboratories, he asserted there was "no doubt" that Hussein had hidden chemical and biological weapons.

But the following year, Powell told Congress that the evidence he had been given was "wrong," and the speech "a blot" on his record.

"It was painful," he told interviewer Barbara Walters in 2006. "It is painful now."

After serving as the top US official in the Gulf War, he was considered as a Republican vice presidential candidate in the 1992 campaign and was urged to run against then-president Bill Clinton in 1996. He declined but actually won the GOP New Hampshire primary based on write-in votes.

In 2000, he declined to run again. The winner, George W Bush, appointed him secretary of state, a post from which he resigned in 2004 when the evidence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was shown to be false.

His resignation prompted some to lament the loss of a moderating voice within the administration and others to urge his successor to play a bigger role in policy decisions.

Bush, in a statement, called Powell "a great public servant." Bush added: "He was such a favorite of presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom - twice."

After his retirement, Powell leaned more liberal. In 2008 and 2012, he endorsed Barack Obama for president. In 2016, he supported Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.


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