Trailblazing US politician Colin Powell has died of complications from Covid-19 at the age of 84, his family have said.
Powell became a highly decorated military official, rising to the rank of general, and served as national security adviser to president Ronald Reagan, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff for president George HW Bush and as secretary of state for George W Bush. He was the first black person to hold all three titles.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” his family said in a statement. And president Joe Biden said Powell “embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat”.
Powell, who had also been suffering from Parkinson’s disease, had contracted Covid-19 despite being vaccinated, his family said. CNBC reported that Powell also had multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. In the immediate aftermath of his death, Fox News anchors John Roberts and Will Cain attempted to link Mr Powell’s vaccination to his death before Dr Marty Makary, a Johns Hopkins University surgeon and Fox contributor, said he was in “an immunocompromised state” and that Covid-19 vaccines are not meant to be 100 percent effective.
A veteran of the Vietnam War, Powell spent 35 years in the army and rose to the rank of four-star general. He later became commander of the army’s 5th Corps in Germany before becoming a security official in Washington.
“Over our many years working together – even in disagreement – Colin was always someone who gave you his best and treated you with respect,” Mr Biden said.
He gained prominence during his tenure as chair of the joint chiefs of staff during the first Persian Gulf War. For much of the 1990s and 2000s, he was one of the most prominent black members of the Republican Party but ultimately passed on running for president despite calls to do so.
After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Powell was the first American official to publicly lay the blame on Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.
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 possessed or was developing weapons of mass destruction.
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 February 2003. The following month, Bush gave the go-ahead for the invasion.
The speech, replete with Powell’s display of a vial of what he said could have been a biological weapon, was seen as a low point in his career, although he had removed some elements from the remarks that he deemed to have been based on poor intelligence assessments.
The US overthrow of Saddam ended the rule of a brutal dictator. But the power vacuum and lawlessness that followed the invasion unleashed years of deadly sectarian fighting and chaos that killed countless Iraqi civilians. No Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were ever found.
Powell would later express regret and call it a “blot” on his record, according to The New York Times.
“I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world,” he told ABC News’s Barbara Walters in 2005. “It was painful. It’s painful now.”
Mr Bush commemorated Powell in a statement Monday morning: “He was a great public servant starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam,” Mr Bush said. “He was highly respected at home and abroad. And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend.”
Mr Powell frequently clashed with then-Vice President Dick Cheney during the Iraq War, with whom he befriended when Mr Cheney was Defense Secretary during the first Gulf War. But Mr Cheney paid tribute to Mr Powell upon his death in a statement released by Mr Cheney’s daughter, Rep Liz Cheney.
“Working with him during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, I saw firsthand General Powell’s dedication to the United States and his commitment to the brave and selfless men and women who serve our country in uniform,” Mr Cheney said.
Condoleezza Rice, Powell’s successor and the department’s first black female secretary, praised him as “a trusted colleague and a dear friend through some very challenging times”.
Despite being a Republican, in 2008 and 2012, Mr Powell would cross party lines to endorse Barack Obama and defended him against allegations that Mr Obama was a Muslim.
“But the really right answer is, ‘What if he is?’ Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country,” Mr Powell said in 2008. “The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?”
Mr Obama paid tribute to that moment in his commemoration of Mr Powell.
“That’s who Colin Powell was,” Mr Obama said in a statement. “He understood what was best in this country and tried to bring his own life, career and public statements in line with that ideal.”
Mr Powell later voted for fellow former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2016 against Donald Trump. Last year, Powell spoke at the Democratic National Convention to endorse Joe Biden for president.
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 6 January storming of the US Capitol, Powell said he no longer considered himself a Republican.
Additional reporting by AP
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies