Colin Powell, the first Black US secretary of state, top military officer and national security adviser, died yesterday at the age of 84 due to complications from Covid-19. He was fully vaccinated, his family said in a statement on Facebook.
Powell had multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, said a source who asked not to be named. The condition reduces the body’s ability to fight infection and puts people at higher risk for severe Covid-19.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” his family said, thanking the staff of the military hospital near Washington who treated Powell, but providing few details about his illness.
Among America’s leading military and political figures for decades, Powell served three Republican presidents in senior posts and climbed to the top of the military as it was regaining its vigour after the trauma of the war in Vietnam, where he served two tours.
He was the top US general when US-led forces drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991 and the chief US diplomat when Washington relied on erroneous intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In a brief statement, the Powell family said he had died yesterday morning from Covid-19, had been fully vaccinated against the disease, and thanked the medical staff at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center who cared for him.
The statement did not address such matters as what vaccine he received or whether he had gotten a booster shot, when he fell ill, when he may have been hospitalised and whether he had underlying health conditions that contributed to his illness.
Condolences poured in from Democrats such as US President Joe Biden as well as Powell’s fellow Republicans.
“Colin embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat,” Biden said in a statement, describing Powell as a “patriot of unmatched honor and dignity” and a man who “could drive his Corvette Stingray like nobody’s business.”
Former president George W Bush, a Republican who named Powell US secretary of state, noted that “many presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience.”
“He was such a favourite of presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom — twice,” Bush said.
Powell served as US national security adviser under president Ronald Reagan from 1987-1989. As a four-star Army general, he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H W Bush during the 1991 Gulf War in which US-led forces expelled Iraqi troops from neighbouring Kuwait.
A moderate Republican and a pragmatist, Powell later served as secretary of state under President George W Bush and publicly presented erroneous intelligence on which the United States based its March 2003 invasion of Iraq in the inaccurate believe that it had weapons of mass destruction.
He considered running for president in 1996 but his wife Alma’s worries about his safety helped him decide otherwise. In 2008, he broke with his party to endorse Democrat Barack Obama, the first Black person elected to the White House.
Illustrating his deep misgivings about the evolution of the Republican Party as it has moved to the right, Powell endorsed Democrats Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and Joe Biden last year against Donald Trump. Powell called Trump a liar who presented a danger to the United States.
Biden, who painted his 2020 presidential candidacy against Trump as a fight for the United States’ soul, thanked Powell for bucking his Republican Party to back him. “I am forever grateful for his support of my candidacy for president and for our shared battle for the soul of the nation,” Biden said.
Powell will forever be associated with his controversial presentation on February 5, 2003, to the UN Security Council, making Bush’s case that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein constituted an imminent danger to the world because of its stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. He admitted later that the presentation was rife with inaccuracies and twisted intelligence provided by others in the Bush administration and represented “a blot” that will “always be a part of my record”.
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