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In the post-Cold War era, Colin Powell became the most ‘popular and influential’ US military leader, biographer says
In the post-Cold War era, Colin Powell became the most 'popular and influential' US military leader, biographer says
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Former Secretary of State Colin Powell gestures during a lecture about business management and leadership in Madrid, Spain, May 24, 2006.
Daniel Ochoa de Olza/AP/File photo
Political and military leaders from around the world are paying tribute on Monday to Colin Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and secretary of state, who has died at the age of 84.
Powell had been battling multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that made him more susceptible to complications from COVID-19.
Powell served both Democratic and Republican presidents and became one of the most popular public figures in the US. Powell’s biggest failure, by his own admission, was the faulty claims he made before the UN to justify the 2003 Iraq War.
“I turned the dial, is no question about it, and that’s what the president wanted me to do and what I was supposed to do. I regret it now because the information was wrong, of course, I do. But I will always be seen as the one who made the case before the international community,” Powell said in a 2010 CNN interview, talking about the role President George W. Bush asked him to play before the invasion of Iraq.
During his speech at the UN Security Council ahead of the US-led invasion of Iraq, he said: “The gravity of this moment is matched by the gravity of the threat that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction pose to the world,” a claim that turned out to be untrue.
Jeffrey Matthews has looked carefully at Powell’s role on the world stage. He’s the author of “Colin Powell: Imperfect Patriot.” He joined The World’s host Marco Werman to discuss Powell’s life and military and career.
Marco Werman: We obviously want to get to that moment at the UN, but let’s start with the very beginnings of Colin Powell’s military career. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam in his 20s and early 30s. How did that help shape his worldview?Well, certainly I think it hardened his commitment to the country and to the Army, in particular. And over time, as was common for people who stayed in the military after Vietnam, it was this idea that would eventually evolve into what was known as the Powell Doctrine. And so, there’s a direct line between his Vietnam experience and this idea that if the country is going to go to war, that it must have a clear vision, that it must have the support of the American people, and that we must use decisive, or what’s often said, overwhelming force, and there must be a plan to exit the war. And so, I think, even though he was relatively young at the time, there is that direct connection from when he becomes a four-star general and can really implement that vision.So, let’s talk about the My Lai massacre. That was in 1968 — the mass murder of unarmed South Vietnamese civilians. Colin Powell was not in Vietnam at the time of that massacre, but he did investigate early reports of it. Those came back to haunt him. Can you explain what happened?Yes. So, this comes during Powell’s second tour of Vietnam. The first time he went, he was one of President John F. Kennedy’s early advisers, but about 90 days after the My Lai massacre had happened, Powell was coincidentally assigned to that very unit as a staff officer. And in that position, there were reports going around that a massacre had happened, and he was one of the officers in this Americal Division, as it was known, asked to investigate. And there really was not much of an investigation. And Powell essentially mimicked some senior officers and their reporting in saying that there was no evidence of one and that, in fact, relations between the US forces and South Vietnamese civilians was actually an excellent one. And so, I think it was dealt with pretty quickly. And in hindsight, we can see that Powell, even as a junior officer, he was part of, indirectly, the army’s cover-up of the My Lai massacre, which of course doesn’t get exposed until several years later.So, let’s focus now on Powell’s years as secretary of state that began in 2001. In the weeks after 9/11, many in President George W. Bush’s White House were pushing for a rapid bombing campaign in Iraq. Powell did not join them. Why not?In the week after 9/11, it was Powell who was kind of the bulwark against a rush to war against Iraq. Immediately after 9/11, people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz were advising the president to launch an attack against Iraq. And Powell, from the very beginning, was insisting that this made no sense because there was no evidence that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. President Bush accepted Powell’s advice, and, I think, Powell deserves a lot of credit for the influence that he had in those first days.In February of 2003, Powell appeared before the UN advocating for war in Iraq. During this presentation, Secretary Powell is holding a vial, a test tube with material that represents what a sample of anthrax might look like. It wasn’t anthrax. It was really dramatic, though. He went on to say this about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction: “This is evidence, not conjecture. This is true. This is all well-documented.” Well, as we know, it was not well-documented. Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction. And Colin Powell called this moment the biggest blot on his record. Did Secretary Powell, in fact, know there were no weapons of mass destruction? What do the documents tell us?Indeed, it was a huge mistake he made, but I really think what it’s an example of what psychologists call confirmation bias. Powell believed 100% that there were weapons of mass destruction. And so, when he went to the CIA with his staff for 3 1/2 days to, essentially, rewrite a speech from scratch, they relied on the national intelligence estimate from the CIA, not a political document, and what they chose to do, essentially, was emphasize any piece of evidence that they thought confirmed weapons of mass destruction, and they dismissed or ignored a lot of evidence or questions that suggested, “Well, we really don’t know what they have.” And so, I think when Powell went to give that speech, one of the reasons he was so convincing is because, for the most part, he believed it himself.
So, Powell’s own people at the State Department’s intelligence bureau had called many of the claims about weapons of mass destruction weak, not credible, highly questionable. Was Powell cherry-picking intelligence to fit his own bias, or was he so deep in that narrative that he didn’t think twice?When his State Department analysts came out and saw a draft of the report, I think they identified something like 32 things they disagreed with, and Powell, in the end, changed about 28 of those. And one of the big issues was these, kind of, aluminum tubes where the State Department said they were used for conventional weapons, not nuclear weapons, and Powell overrode the department. And he really shouldn’t have because if you read the intelligence itself, and you can read this online now, you can see clearly there were doubts, including from the Department of Energy, that this had anything to do with a nuclear program. And so, I think Powell, in the end, you know, he told me in my interview with him that he was afraid that his obituary would lead with the speech. As a matter of fact, he tried to talk me out of leading my book with the story of the speech, but it was emblematic in many ways of Powell’s career, because a big theme of Powell’s life is intense loyalty, and the UN speech, like so many other big decisions, good and bad that he made, he made out of intense loyalty to his superiors.And here we are talking about that speech today. I mean, is that how Colin Powell will be remembered?It certainly shouldn’t be. I mean, in the post-Cold War era, I don’t think there’s a single military person who became as popular and influential as Powell did. And we have to take both his military career and his civilian career and assess them independently and emphasize both the good and the bad.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell dies at 84
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is seen at the State Department in Washington, Jan. 19, 2011.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/File photo
Top of The World — our morning news roundup written by editors at The World. Subscribe here.
Former US Secretary of State and top military commander Colin Powell, who served Democratic and Republican presidents, has died at the age of 84 from COVID-19 complications, his family announced. Powell — who, during his four decades of public service rose to become the first African American national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state, serving under President George W. Bush — had his reputation stained after making faulty claims before the UN Security Council to justify the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. In a speech, he cited false information claiming that then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had secretly stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. At the end of the Cold War, as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, Powell helped negotiate arms treaties and cooperation agreements with Soviet then-President Mikhail Gorbachev. Powell was born in Harlem to Jamaican parents and grew up in the South Bronx in New York City.
Nicolas Maduro’s government has said that it is halting ongoing negotiations with the Venezuelan opposition in Mexico City after businessman Alex Saab, a close ally of Maduro, was extradited to the United States. Saab, who could be a significant witness in corruption cases in Venezuela, according to US prosecutors, was flown to the US from the African island nation of Cape Verde on Friday and is expected to appear in a Miami court on Monday. In 2019, Saab was indicted on money-laundering charges linked to an alleged bribery scheme that embezzled over $350 million from a low-income housing project for the Venezuelan government. Saab has also been subject to sanctions by the Trump administration for allegedly using shell companies around the world to hide huge profits from food contracts obtained through bribes and kickbacks.
Haitian authorities are working with US officials to secure the release of 17 people from the Ohio-based missionary group Christian Aid Ministries. Twelve adults and five children were kidnapped by the notorious 400 Mawozo gang east of the capital Port-au-Prince over the weekend. Haiti is struggling with a precarious security situation and gang-related abductions are on the rise. The Caribbean nation has one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world, with 600 such crimes reported so far in 2021.
A training session via France’s Office of Immigration and Integration.
Rebecca Rosman/The World
New residents in France must take mandatory classes to learn how to integrate into French society. But immigration and integration are hot-button issues in upcoming elections, and not everyone agrees on what it means to be French.
A lab assistant looks at an assay plate to prepare sequencing at the Wellcome Sanger Institute that is operated by Genome Research in Cambridge, March 4, 2021. Cambridge University microbiologist Sharon Peacock understood that genomic sequencing would be crucial in tracking the coronavirus, controlling outbreaks and developing vaccines, so she began working with colleagues around the country to put together a plan when there were just 84 confirmed cases in the country.
Scientists are tracking the evolution and spread of SARS-CoV-2 and developing critical responses to it. Efforts have ramped up a lot this year — thanks to a growing global network.
The Nebra Sky Disc is set to go on display at the British Museum. It was unearthed in Germany in 1999, and is believed to be 3,600 years old — dating back to the Bronze Age. The disc is about 12 inches with a blue-green patina and gold symbols representing the sun, moon, stars, solstices and other cosmic phenomena. 💫 But some scholars have also disputed its authenticity.
The Nebra Sky Disc, pictured here, dates back almost 4,000 years and is the world’s oldest representation of a specific astronomical phenomenon. #TBT https://t.co/Ajkv5XomOT pic.twitter.com/sEL4wYWBpK
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An image of murdered British Conservative lawmaker David Amess is displayed near the altar in St. Peters Catholic Church before a vigil in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England, Oct. 15, 2021.
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Colin Powell, exemplary general stained by Iraq claims, dies
Secretary of State Colin Powell looks on as President Bush addresses State Department employees at the State Department in Washington, Feb. 15, 2001.
Kenneth Lambert/AP/File photo
Colin Powell, who served Democratic and Republican presidents in war and peace, but whose sterling reputation was forever stained when he went before the UN and made faulty claims to justify the US war in Iraq, has died of COVID-19 complications. He was 84.
A veteran of the Vietnam War, Powell rose to the rank of four-star general and in 1989 became the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In that role he oversaw the US invasion of Panama and later the US invasion of Kuwait to oust the Iraqi army in 1991.
But his legacy was marred when, in 2003, he went before the UN Security Council as secretary of state and made the case for US war against Iraq at a moment of great international skepticism. He cited faulty information claiming Saddam Hussein had secretly stashed away weapons of mass destruction. Iraq’s claims that it had no such weapons represented “a web of lies,” he told the world body.
In announcing his death on social media, Powell’s family said he had been fully vaccinated.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father and grandfather and a great American,” the family said. Powell had been treated at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Powell was the first American official to publicly lay the blame for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network and made a lightning trip to Pakistan in October, 2001 to demand that then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf cooperate with the United States in going after the Afghanistan-based group, which also had a presence in Pakistan, where bin Laden was later killed.
As President George W. Bush’s first secretary of state, Powell led a State Department that was dubious of the military and intelligence communities’ conviction that Saddam Hussein possessed or was developing weapons of mass destruction. And yet, despite his reservations, he presented the administration’s case that Saddam indeed posed a major regional and global threat in a speech to the UN Security Council in the run-up to the war.
That speech, replete with his display of a vial of what he said could have been a biological weapon, was later derided as a low-point in Powell’s career, although he had removed some elements that he deemed to have been based on poor intelligence assessments.
Bush said Monday that he and former first lady Laura Bush were “deeply saddened” by Powell’s death.
“He was a great public servant” and “widely respected at home and abroad,” Bush said. “And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend. Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man.”
Powell rose to national prominence under Republican presidents and considered a presidential bid of his own, but ultimately moved away from the party. He endorsed Democrats in the last four presidential elections, starting with former President Barack Obama. He emerged as a vocal Donald Trump critic in recent years, describing Trump as “a national disgrace” who should have been removed from office through impeachment. Following the Jan. 6 storming of the US Capitol, Powell said he no longer considers himself a Republican.
Powell rose from a childhood in a fraying New York neighborhood to become the nation’s chief diplomat. “Mine is the story of a black kid of no early promise from an immigrant family of limited means who was raised in the South Bronx,” he wrote in his 1995 autobiography “My American Journey.”
At City College, Powell discovered the ROTC. When he put on his first uniform, “I liked what I saw,” he wrote.
He joined the army and in 1962 he was one of more than 16,000 military advisers sent to South Vietnam by President John F. Kennedy. A series of promotions led to the Pentagon and assignment as a military assistant to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who became his unofficial sponsor. He later became commander of the Army’s 5h Corps in Germany and later was national security assistant to President Ronald Reagan.
During his term as Joint Chiefs chairman, his approach to war became known as the Powell Doctrine, which held that the United States should only commit forces in a conflict if it has clear and achievable objectives with public support, sufficient firepower and a strategy for ending the war.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a retired Army general, said the news of Powell’s death left “a hole in my heart.”
“The world lost one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed,” Austin said while traveling in Europe. “Alma lost a great husband and the family lost a tremendous father and I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor. He has been my mentor for a number of years. He always made time for me and I can always go to him with tough issues, he always had great counsel.”
Powell’s appearances at the United Nations as secretary of state, including his Iraq speech, were often accompanied by fond reminiscing of his childhood in the city, where he grew up the child of Jamaican immigrants who got one of his first jobs at the Pepsi-Cola bottling plant directly across the East River from the UN headquarters.
A fan of calypso music, Powell was the subject of criticism from, among others, singing legend Harry Belafonte, who likened Powell to a “house slave” for going along with the decision to invade Iraq. Powell declined to get into a public spat with Belafonte, but made it known that he was not a fan and much preferred the Trinidadian calypso star the “Mighty Sparrow.”
Powell maintained, in a 2012 interview, that on balance, the US succeeded in Iraq.
“I think we had a lot of successes,” Powell said. “Iraq’s terrible dictator is gone.” Saddam was captured by US forces while hiding out in northern Iraq in December 2003 and later executed by the Iraqi government. But the insurgency grew, and the war dragged on far longer than had been foreseen. Obama pulled US troops out of Iraq in 2011, but he sent advisers back in 2014 after the Islamic State group swept into the country from Syria and captured large swaths of Iraqi territory.
By Robert Burns, Associated Press. AP writer Steve Peoples contributed to this report.
Wintertime all the time ooh, look at the way that I move
Disrespectful and I’m rude, I had cocaine in the school
Winter one hell of a kid, smokin’ gas, juggin’ mids
What you doin’ I done did, slick talkin’ since a jit
I know that this what they want
Run up some money I’m gone
I’m the truth like Ron, sippin’ lean the same one
I taught myself to finesse, I taught myself how to jugg
Bein’ broke was no fun, scope 12 and I run
Diamonds on me like minerals
Keep when I open for it’s wintercoat
Wintertime I keep shit original, you niggas look and sound identical
I don’t wanna do no interviews, I just wanna run up decimals
I been sayin’ what I was finna do, I’m Buzz Lightyears ahead of you
Now I gotta shine on ’em, winter bitch it ain’t no autumn
I got yoga fire, no Dhalsim
Brucey told me get ’em so I got ’em
I ain’t slippin’, I ain’t fallin’
I’m the champ Seth Rollins, D Russel how I’m ballin’
The NBA keep callin’
Stay ten toes down, you wouldn’t last in my shoes though
I’m a dog, no Cujo, your girl call me Papi Chulo
I don’t even like to rap, almost went back to the trap
My brother told me not to risk it, I thought about it and I listened
Started singin’ for the bitches ’cause I don’t fuck with none of these niggas
I don’t really make no friendships, stay to myself and I kick shit
Word around town Wintertime the new Bobby Brown
And I’m pullin’ up from way downtown, think I’m Like Mike Lil’ Bow Wow
And you never catch me divin’ in the crowd
Fuck rollin’ loud, I was rollin’ loud
Wintertime the general, no Colin Powell
And for all the real ones I’ma hold it down
Posted up smokin’ up the pound, them hoes hated now they on me now
Run a bag like I’m Ronnie Brown
Wintertime the GOAT boy wipe me down, ya dig
Wintertime all the time ooh, yeah
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Wintertime all the time ooh, I am