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Colin Powell

Secretary of State Colin Powell
Rank: 65th
Term of Office: January 20, 2001 - present
Predecessor: Madeleine Albright
Date of Birth: April 5, 1937
Place of Birth: New York City, New York
Spouse: Alma Vivian Johnson Powell
Profession: Soldier
Political Party: Republican

Ret. General Colin Luther Powell (born April 5, 1937) is the 65th United States Secretary of State, sworn in on January 20, 2001. He was nominated by President George W. Bush on December 16, 2000 and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate. Powell also served as National Security Advisor in 1987-89.

Table of contents
1 Personal background
2 Military career
3 Civilian career
4 Related Information
5 Further reading
6 External link

Personal background

Powell was born in New York City and was raised in the South Bronx. His parents, Luther and Maud Powell, immigrated 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 also participated in ROTC at CCNY and received a commission as an United States Army second lieutenant upon graduation in June 1958. His further academic achievements include a Master of Business Administration degree from George Washington University.

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

Military career

Powell was a professional soldier for 35 years, during which time he held a myriad of command and staff positions and rose to the rank of 4-star General. 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 perscribed diplomacy and containment.

He was opposed to the majority of 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. This course of action was not ultimately followed however, and troops were deployed.

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 initally opposing the plan that would become Operation Desert Storm, Powell neverthless 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."

Civilian career

Following his retirement from the armed services, Powell wrote a memoir, My American Journey, that became a best-seller. In addition, he pursued a career as a public speaker, addressing audiences across the country and abroad. He was urged to run for president as a Republican Party candidate in 1996, but he declined.

In 1997 Powell founded America's Promise with the objective of helping children from all socioeconomic sectors.

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. The value of Powell's stock in the company reportedly increased in value by US$4 million. The affair called into question the Powells' impartiality in the matter.

He also formulated the Powell Doctrine.

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 of many Republican administrations. Powell eventually came out as 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, rumored to be on the advice of his wife.

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 however, 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.

As Secretary of State in the Bush administration, Powell is perceived as moderate, his pragmatism serving as a balance to more ideology-driven hawks, such as the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld and his colleagues Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. Powell's great asset has been his tremendous popularity among the American people.

Powell however continues to be dogged by controversy. In April, 2002, he visited the site of the Jenin Massacre, in the occupied West Bank and later testified to Congress: "I've seen no evidence of mass graves... no evidence that would suggest a massacre took place... Clearly people died in Jenin -- people who were terrorists died in Jenin -- and in the prosecution of that battle innocent lives may well have been lost." Recalling the My Lai episode, critics condemned Powell as a company man who is never willing to confront uncomfortable realities or rock the boat.

More recently, Powell has come under fire for his role in building the case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In a press statement of 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 case in the days leading up to the Persian Gulf War, Powell was initally opposed to a forcible overthrow of Hussein, prefering to continue a policy of containment. However, the Bush administration was adamant about Hussein's removal, so Powell eventually agreed to go along with the plan- but only after Bush agreed to some concessions. The main concession Powell wanted was the involvement of the international community in the invasion, as opposed to a unilaterial approach, as some hawks were advocating. 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. As part of this, Powell addressed a plenary session of the United Nations on February 5 to argue in favor of the action. While his 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), despite earlier resolutions passed by the council declaring the very same thing.

Since Saddam Hussein has been deposed, Powell's new role is to once again establish a working international coalition, this time to assist in the rebuilding of post-war Iraq.


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.

(Some original source material from Department of State website.)

Related Information

The character General Casey, played by Paul Winfield in the 1996 film Mars Attacks is widely regarded to have been based on Colin Powell.

Further reading

External link