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General Colin Luther Powell, United States Army (Ret.) (born April 5, 1937) is a former American military leader and statesman. He became the first African-American to be confirmed as United States Secretary of State. As the 65th United States Secretary of State (2001-05) under President George W. Bush, Powell became the highest ranking African American government official in the history of the United States. Upon his appointment as Secretary of State, Powell became the highest-ranking person of African descent in the executive branch and the federal government, and prior to that, was the highest-ranking person of African descent in the military.
As a General in the United States Army, Powell also served as National Security Advisor (1987-1989) and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-1993), holding the latter position during the Gulf War. He was the first and (to date) only African American, and the only Officer produced by the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Program, to serve as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Colin Powell born in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem in 1937, and was raised in Hunts Point, South Bronx. He has always spoken warmly of his parents, Luther Theophilus Powell and Maud Ariel (née McKoy), as loving and hard-working. They had emigrated from Jamaica to the United States and worked in Manhattan's Garment District.
Powell was educated at Morris High School, a former public school in The Bronx, New York City, from which he graduated in 1954. He gained a bachelor's degree in geology from City College of New York attaining a 'C' average, according to his 2006 graduation address at Marymount University. He later obtained an MBA from The George Washington University after his second tour in Vietnam in 1971.
In 1962 C. Powell married his wife, Alma, who is now the co-chair of America's Promise. He is the father to Michael Powell, the former chair of the FCC.
While at City College Powell joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps and later described it as one of the happiest experiences of his life: finding something he loved and could do well, he had "found himself." Cadet Powell joined the Pershing Rifles, the ROTC drill team started by John Pershing. Even after Powell became a General, he still kept on his desk a pen set he had won for a drill team competition. After graduating from City College in June 1958, he was granted a commission as an Army Second Lieutenant.. 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 General. Powell obtained an MBA from George Washington University in 1971 and then served a White House fellowship under President Richard Nixon. In his autobiography My American Journey, Powell mentioned several officers he served under that inspired and mentored him.
As a Lieutenant 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 reputedly had a somewhat eccentric personality. 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.
While serving with the Third Armored Division in Germany as a Lieutenant, he met Elvis Presley, then serving in that unit. During the Vietnam War, Powell served as an advisor from 1962 to 1963. He returned to Vietnam from 1968 to 1969 where he served as the executive officer and later as the assistant chief of staff of operations for the Americal Division (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 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. On May 4, 2004, United States Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said to 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, but they are still to be deplored."
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 and Powell's rising military career was unhindered by Hudachek's evaluation report. After he left Fort Carson, Powell became senior military assistant to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, whom he assisted during the invasion of Grenada and the raid on Libya. In 1989, prior to being named Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell served as the Commander in Chief, Forces Command headquartered at Fort McPherson, Georgia.
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.
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.
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.
As Secretary of State in the Bush administration, Powell was perceived as moderate. Powell's great asset was his tremendous popularity among the American people. Over the course of his tenure he traveled less than any other U.S. Secretary of State in 30 years.
On September 11, 2001, Powell was in Lima, Peru, meeting with President Alejandro Toledo and US Ambassador to Peru John Hamilton, and attending the special session of the OAS General Assembly that subsequently adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter
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 Terrorism.
In April 2002, he visited the site of the alleged Battle of Jenin in the West Bank and later said while testifying to Congress, "I've seen no evidence that would suggest a massacre took place." At the time details of the events at Jenin were still unclear, and were initially overblown by anti-Israeli groups. Later investigations by human rights organizations and the United Nations confirmed the Israeli estimate for the number of Palestinians, including militants, dead in the fighting, placing the figure at 52.
Powell came under fire for his role in building the case for the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. In a press statement on February 24, 2001 he had said that sanctions against Iraq had prevented the development of any 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 others in the administration, who were reportedly planning an Iraq invasion even before the September 11 attacks-an insight supported by testimony by former terrorism czar Richard Clarke in front of the 9/11 Commission. The main concession Powell wanted before he would offer his full support for the Iraq War was the involvement of the international community in the invasion, as opposed to the unilateral approach some of the hawks were advocating. He was also successful in persuading 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.
Powell's chief role was to garner international support for a multi-national coalition to mount the invasion. To this end, Powell addressed a plenary session of the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003 to argue in favor of military action. Citing "numerous" anonymous Iraqi defectors, Powell asserted that "there can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more." 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 Powell's speech. State Department analysts had found dozens of factual problems in drafts of the speech. Some of the claims were taken out, but others were left in, such as claims based on the yellowcake forgery. The administration is currently under fire for having acted on faulty intelligence. Reports have indicated that Powell himself was skeptical of the evidence presented to him. Powell later recounted how Vice President Cheney had joked with him before he gave the speech, telling him, "You've got high poll ratings; you can afford to lose a few points." Larry Wilkerson later characterized Cheney's view of Powell's mission as to "go up there and sell it, and we'll have moved forward a peg or two. Fall on your damn sword and kill yourself, and I'll be happy, too."
In September 2005, Powell was asked about the speech during an interview with Barbara Walters and responded that it was a "blot" on his record. He went on to say, "It will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now."
Mr. Powell's longtime aide-de-camp Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson said that he participated in a hoax on the American people in preparing Mr. Powell's erroneous testimony before the United Nations General Assembly.
Because Powell is seen as more moderate than most figures in the administration, he has been spared many of the attacks that have been leveled at more controversial advocates of the invasion, such as Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. 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 what actions to take regarding Iran and North Korea.
After 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, acknowledging that the sources who provided much of the information in his February 2003 UN presentation were "wrong" and that it was "unlikely" that any stockpiles of WMDs would be found. Claiming 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 as Secretary of State on Monday, November 15, 2004. According to the Washington Post, he had been asked to resign by the president's chief of staff, Andrew Card. Powell announced that he would stay on until the end of Bush's first term or until his replacement's confirmation by Congress. The following day, George W. Bush nominated National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, as Powell's successor. News of Powell's leaving the Administration 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 seen new evidence suggesting that Iran was adapting missiles for a nuclear delivery system. The accusation came at the same time as the settlement of an agreement between the IAEA, the European Union and Iran.
On December 31, 2004, Powell 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.
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