Colin Luther Powell (pron.: //; born April 5, 1937) is an American statesman and a retired four-star general in the United States Army. He was the 65th United States Secretary of State, serving under U.S. President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005, the first African American to serve in that position. During his military career, Powell also served as National Security Advisor (1987–1989), as Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command (1989) and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989–1993), holding the latter position during the Persian Gulf War. He was the first, and so far the only, African American to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and was the first of two consecutive African American office-holders to hold the key Administration position of U.S. Secretary of State.
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 //, Powell has pronounced his name // 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 was a professional soldier for 35 years, holding a variety of command and staff positions and rising to the rank of General.
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.” According to Powell:
“It was only once I was in college, about six months into college when I found something that I liked, and that was ROTC, Reserve Officer Training Corps in the military. And I not only liked it, but I was pretty good at it. That’s what you really have to look for in life, something that you like, and something that you think you’re pretty good at. And if you can put those two things together, then you’re on the right track, and just drive on.”
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. After attending basic training at Fort Benning, Powell was assigned to the 48th Infantry, in West Germany, as a platoon leader.
In his autobiography, Powell said he is haunted by the nightmare of the Vietnam War and felt that the leadership was very ineffective.
Captain Powell served a tour in Vietnam as a South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) advisor from 1962 to 1963. While on patrol in a Viet Cong-held area, he was wounded by stepping on a punji stake. The large infection made it difficult for him to walk, and caused his foot to swell for a short time, shortening his first tour.
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. During the second tour in Vietnam he was decorated for bravery after he survived a helicopter crash, single-handedly rescuing three others, including division commander Major General Charles Martin Gettys, from the burning wreckage. 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
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.[clarification needed] 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 Mullenin 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 Afghanistanfollowing 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.”
Views on the Iraq War
While Powell was wary of a military solution, he supported the decision to invade Iraq after the Bush administration concluded that diplomatic efforts had failed. After his departure from the State Department, Powell repeatedly emphasized his continued support for American involvement in the Iraq War.
At the 2007 Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, Powell revealed that he had spent two and a half hours explaining to President Bush “the consequences of going into an Arab country and becoming the occupiers.” During this discussion, he insisted that the U.S. appeal to the United Nations first, but if diplomacy failed, he would support the invasion: “I also had to say to him that you are the President, you will have to make the ultimate judgment, and if the judgment is this isn’t working and we don’t think it is going to solve the problem, then if military action is undertaken I’m with you, I support you.”
In a 2008 interview on CNN, Powell reiterated his support for the 2003 decision to invade Iraq in the context of his endorsement of Barack Obama, stating: “My role has been very, very straightforward. I wanted to avoid a war. The president [Bush] agreed with me. We tried to do that. We couldn’t get it through the U.N. and when the president made the decision, I supported that decision. And I’ve never blinked from that. I’ve never said I didn’t support a decision to go to war.”
Powell’s position on the Iraq War troop surge of 2007 has been less clear. In December 2006, he expressed skepticism that the strategy would work and whether the U.S. military had enough troops to carry it out successfully. He stated: “I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purposes of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work.” Following his endorsement of Barack Obama in October 2008, however, Powell praised General David Petraeus and U.S. troops, as well as the Iraqi government, concluding that “it’s starting to turn around.” By mid-2009, he had concluded a surge of U.S. forces in Iraq should have come sooner, perhaps in late 2003. Throughout this period, Powell consistently argued that Iraqi political progress was essential, not just military force.
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. He later stated, “Over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party has become narrower and narrower […] I look at these kind of approaches to the campaign, and they trouble me.” Powell concluded his Sunday morning talk show comments, “It isn’t easy for me to disappoint Sen. McCain in the way that I have this morning, and I regret that […] I think we need a transformational figure. I think we need a president who is a generational change and that’s why I’m supporting Barack Obama, not out of any lack of respect or admiration for Sen. John McCain.” Later in a December 12, 2008, CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria, Powell reiterated his belief that during the last few months of the campaign, Palin pushed the Republican party further to the right and had a polarizing impact on it.
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.”
On October 25, 2012, 12 days before the presidential election, he gave his endorsement to President Obama for re-election during a broadcast of CBS This Morning. He cited success and forward progress in foreign and domestic policy arenas under the Obama Administration, and made the following statement:
“I voted for him in 2008 and I plan to stick with him in 2012 and I’ll be voting for he (sic) and for Vice President Joe Biden next month.”
As additional reason for his endorsement, Powell cited the changing positions and perceived lack of thoughtfulness of Mitt Romney on foreign affairs, and a concern for the validity of Romney’s economic plans.
In an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos during ABC’s coverage of President Obama’s second inauguration, Powell criticized members of the Republican Party who “…demonize the president”. He called on GOP leaders to publicly denounce such talk.
Views on LGBT issues
In late May 2012 he expressed support for the legalization of same-sex marriage. He had earlier supported the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
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., but they are still to be deplored.”