A veteran of Vietnam who rose through the ranks to become the most trusted of military and security advisers to a succession of US presidents, he also made history by serving as the first African-American Secretary of State.
It was his personal misfortune that he had become America’s chief diplomat only months before the September 11 terror attacks 20 years ago. Yet, conversely, it was America’s good fortune that he was in Washington on that fateful day.
His calm authority, illustrated just last month in the BBC documentary 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room, was a reminder of the world’s debt to a soldier whose national popularity soared in the aftermath of the first Gulf War.
And while General Powell came to regret his erroneous assessment to the United Nations that Saddam Hussein’s region had weapons of mass destruction, the precursor to the ill-fated 2003 invasion of Iraq, he did, at least, have the humility to admit his error.
A trait noticeably absent in American politics in more recent times, Secretary Powell was, nevertheless, an elder statesman of the highest order who, as recently as January and the Capitol Hill insurrection, came to disown the Republican Party that he had been so proud to serve.
A man of history, he deserves to be remembered as one of American’s greatest leaders never to become president.
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