Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell — a man whose influence in Washington and the US military helped shape decades of American foreign policy — has passed away of complications from the Covid-19 virus.
He was 84 years old.
News of Powell’s passing was revealed moments ago in a statement from his famlily that first appeared on Facebook:
“General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, passed away this morning due to complications from Covid 19,” the family wrote.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American.”
The first Black national security adviser during the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency and the youngest and first African American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush, Powell was a trailblazing figure whose lifetime of service made him an inspiration to millions.
In the months after the US victory in the Gulf War, Powell was the most admired political figure in the country.
There was a time in the mid-nineties when members of both parties looked forward to a future in which Powell would be elected the first Black President of the United States.
But while Powell never threw his hat in the ring for the highest office in the land, he became one of the country’s most influential figures during a time of historic crisis.
In 2001, Powell was confirmed as Secretary of State under President George W. Bush.
“I think it shows to the world what is possible in this country,” Powell said during his Senate confirmation hearing.
“It shows to the world that: Follow our model, and over a period of time from our beginning, if you believe in the values that espouse, you can see things as miraculous as me sitting before you to receive your approval.”
His leadership was soon put to the test when 9/11 demanded swift and decisive action from a man who had never before faltered in the face of adversity.
Powell presented evidence before Congress that led to US war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, a move that he would later describe as the greatest misstep of his illustrious career.
“There can be no doubt,” Powell famously testified, “that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.”
No such weapons were ever found, and it was later revealed that both Powell and the intelligence community had been working with unreliable information.
But as America became more divided than ever in the years following the attacks on the World Trade Center, Powell proved that he remained committed to serving the best interests of this country, regardless of the popularity of his actions in the short-term.
A living emodiment of the “country over party” ethosm Powell broke from the GOP to endorse Barack Obama for the presidency in 2008.
The endorsment was a watershed moment in Obama’s campaign as Powell exercised his influence within the Black community and offered himself as a living testament to the future president’s ability to reach across party lines.
In 2016, Powell endorsed Hillary Clinton for the White House, condemning Donald Trump “national disgrace and an international pariah” at a time when few Republicans were willing to speak out against the future president.
He spoke out against Trump a second time in 2020, revealing that he would be voting for Joe Biden in the election.
Following the failed insurrection at the White House on January 6 of this year, Powell told CNN that he no longer considered himself a Republican, emphasizing once again that his loyalty is to the country he serves, not a political party.
Powell is survived by his wife of 60 years, Alma Vivian (Johnson) Powell, as well as the couple’s three children.
Our thoughts go out to his loved ones during this enormously difficult time.