Colin Powell, 1937-2021

The trailblazing soldier-statesman has died at 84.

The trailblazing soldier-statesman has died at 83.

NYT (“Colin Powell, Who Shaped U.S. National Security, Dies at 84“):

Colin L. Powell, who in four decades of public life served as the nation’s top soldier, diplomat and national security adviser, and whose speech at the United Nations in 2003 helped pave the way for the United States to go to war in Iraq, died on Monday. He was 84.

The cause was complications of Covid-19, his family said in a statement, adding that he had been vaccinated and was being treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., when he died there.

A spokeswoman said his immune system had been compromised by multiple myeloma, for which he had been undergoing treatment. He had been due to receive a booster shot for his vaccine last week, she said, but had to postpone it when he fell ill. He had also been treated for early stages of Parkinson’s disease, she said.

Mr. Powell was a pathbreaker, serving as the country’s first Black national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state. Beginning with his 35 years in the Army, Mr. Powell was emblematic of the ability of minorities to use the military as a ladder of opportunity.

His was a classic American success story. Born in Harlem of Jamaican parents, he grew up in the South Bronx and graduated from City College of New York, joining the Army through the R.O.T.C. Starting as a young second lieutenant commissioned in the dawn of a newly desegregated Army, Mr. Powell served two decorated combat tours in Vietnam. He was later national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan at the end of the Cold War, helping to negotiate arms treaties and an era of cooperation with the Soviet president, Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

As chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mr. Powell was the architect of the invasion of Panama in 1989 and of the Persian Gulf war in 1991, which ousted Saddam Hussein from Kuwait but left him in power in Iraq. Along with Dick Cheney, the defense secretary at the time, Mr. Powell reshaped the American Cold War military that had stood ready at the Iron Curtain for half a century. In doing so he stamped the Powell Doctrine on military operations: Identify clear political objectives, gain public support and use decisive and overwhelming force to defeat enemy forces.

When briefing reporters at the Pentagon at the beginning of the gulf war, Mr. Powell summed up the military’s approach: “Our strategy in going after this army is very simple,” he said. “First, we’re going to cut it off, and then we’re going to kill it.”

It was a concept that seemed less well-suited to the messy conflicts in the Balkans that came later in the 1990s and in combating terrorism in a world transformed after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

WaPo (“Colin L. Powell, former secretary of state and military leader, dies at 84“):

Colin L. Powell, who helped guide the U.S. military to victory in the 1991 Persian Gulf War as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then struggled a decade later over the U.S. invasion of Iraq as a beleaguered secretary of state under President George W. Bush, died Oct. 18 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He was 84.

The cause was complications from covid-19, said his assistant, Peggy Cifrino. She said Gen. Powell, who was fully vaccinated, had Parkinson’s disease and multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer that impairs the body’s ability to fight infection.

Born in New York to Jamaican immigrants, Gen. Powell rose rapidly through the Army to become the youngest and first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs. His climb was helped by a string of jobs as military assistant to high-level government officials and a stint as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan. Charming, eloquent and skilled at managing, he had a knack for exuding authority while also putting others at ease.

As the Pentagon’s top officer, he played a prominent role in restoring a sense of pride to the nation’s post-Vietnam military and began the reshaping of American forces after the end of the Cold War. His famous prescription for the use of force, dubbed by journalists the Powell Doctrine, called for applying military might only with overwhelming and decisive troop strength, a clear objective, and popular support.

His selection by Bush in late 2000 to be secretary of state transformed Gen. Powell from soldier to statesman and made him the first Black person to lead the State Department. But his four years as secretary proved his most difficult assignment.

A pragmatist and a strong believer in international alliances, Gen. Powell often found himself the odd man out in an administration dominated by neoconservative ideologues who were dubious about the usefulness of the United Nations and NATO and all too ready to employ U.S. military power.

Other than his well-known reservations about military intervention, Gen. Powell, as he often acknowledged, was not given to grand principles. He saw himself primarily as a problem-solver and expert manager.

AP (“Colin Powell dies, trailblazing general stained by Iraq“):

Colin Powell, the trailblazing soldier and diplomat whose sterling reputation of service to Republican and Democratic presidents was stained by his faulty claims to justify the 2003 U.S. war in Iraq, died Monday of COVID-19 complications. He was 84.

A veteran of the Vietnam War, Powell spent 35 years in the Army and rose to the rank of four-star general before becoming the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His oversight of the U.S. invasion of Kuwait to oust the Iraqi army in 1991 made him a household name, prompting speculation for nearly a decade that he might run for president, a course he ultimately decided against.

He instead joined President George W. Bush’s administration in 2001 as secretary of state, the first Black person to represent the U.S. government on the world stage. Powell’s tenure, however, was marred by his 2003 address to the United Nations Security Council in which he cited faulty information to claim that Saddam Hussein had secretly stashed weapons of mass destruction. Such weapons never materialized, and though the Iraqi leader was removed, the war devolved into years of military and humanitarian losses.

Powell was fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, his family said. But he faced several ailments, telling Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward over the summer that he had Parkinson’s disease. Powell’s longtime aide, Peggy Cifrino, said Monday that he was also treated over the past few years for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that impairs the body’s ability to fight infection. Studies have shown that those cancer patients don’t get as much protection from the COVID-19 vaccines as healthier people.

In a Washington where partisan divisions run deep, Democrats and Republicans recalled Powell fondly. Flags were ordered lowered at government buildings, including the White House, Pentagon and State Department.

Powell became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs on 1 October 1989, when I was a young second lieutenant just reporting to Germany after finishing schooling at Fort Sill and Fort Benning. He was only 52, easily the youngest man to hold that post to this day and, indeed, younger than I am now. I’ll always remember him as “General Powell” but, obviously, his legacy will always be tainted by his selling of the Iraq nuclear program as a pretext to get UN Security Council authorization for the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Still, he’s certainly much more than that speech and he’s genuinely esteemed on both sides of the aisle, a rarity in modern politics.

WaPo Editorial Board (“The enduring impact of Colin Powell“):

To survey the triumphs and disappointments of post-World War II American history is to marvel at their entwinement with the biography of Colin Luther Powell, who died Monday at 84. The career of this remarkable soldier-statesman, the first Black person to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, national security adviser and secretary of state, and the only person — period — to have served as all three, would have been unimaginable but for the greatest triumph of his era, the civil rights revolution. Yet Mr. Powell began his rise in a nearly all-White Army officer corps by serving in the disaster known as the Vietnam War.

His personal and professional outlook shaped in that crucible, Mr. Powell, as an increasingly influential adviser to Republican Cabinet officers and presidents, went on to help shape history himself: the United States’ triumph over the Soviet Union in the Cold War; the American victory in the 1991 Gulf War; the U.S. response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, including the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

This necessarily partial list barely does justice to Mr. Powell’s full impact on the country, which reached a kind of peak with the Powell-for-president boom in the mid-1990s. He demurred, but not before the phenomenon inspired many Americans, of all races, to take more seriously the possibility that Americans would elect a president of color. When that did happen in 2008, Mr. Powell played a part — breaking Republican ranks to endorse Democrat Barack Obama.

Mr. Powell left his imprint on popular culture with his “Pottery Barn rule,” first used in a 2002 meeting with then-President George W. Bush (and later leaked), regarding the risks Mr. Bush assumed by invading Iraq: “You break it, you own it.” The phrase, with its dovish implications, reflected Mr. Powell’s instincts. Having emerged from Vietnam and decided to remain in the Army — while many other young officers left — Mr. Powell devoted himself to rebuilding and restoring what had become, by the late 1970s, a deeply troubled institution. He vowed that he and fellow Army officers would prevent another Vietnam by “not quietly acquiesc[ing] in halfhearted warfare for half-baked reasons that the American people could not understand,” as he put it. He helped the Pentagon not only restore training and discipline but also develop demanding criteria for the use of force: clear, attainable objectives; public and international support; a plausible exit strategy.

The “Powell Doctrine” pressured civilian policymakers to think long and hard before putting troops in harm’s way. Critics saw it as an elaborate rationalization for inaction. At times during Mr. Powell’s chairmanship of the joint chiefs between 1989 and 1993, it was, as when the United States hesitated to stop “ethnic cleansing” of Bosnia’s Muslims. Yet successful military operations in the same period — the Gulf War, the 1989 invasion of Panama — benefited from Mr. Powell’s insistence that their costs and benefits be thoroughly weighed and that, when used, force should be deployed swiftly and overwhelmingly.

Mr. Powell lost internal George W. Bush administration arguments over whether to invade Iraq. Then — ever the team player — he agreed to lend his credibility to claims that war was necessary because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He laid out the intelligence to the U.N. Security Council, but it was faulty; no chemical or biological weapons were found. Mr. Powell was left to absorb blame for a war that eventually went sour — as he had privately warned. This bitter experience left what he later called a “blot” on his record, which, with characteristic understatement, he described as “painful.”

The Economist (“Colin Powell was the most prominent American soldier of his generation“):

COLIN POWELL was driving to his army base in Fort Benning, Georgia, in the early 1960s when he decided to stop at a drive-in restaurant. He had returned from Vietnam in 1963 with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. The puzzled waitress asked whether he was a Puerto Rican or, perhaps, an African student. “No,” he replied. “I’m a Negro. I’m an American. And I’m an Army officer.” The waitress suggested he wait around the back where he might be passed a burger from the back window.

Mr Powell, who had suffered from blood cancer and Parkinson’s disease, died from covid-related complications at the age of 84 on October 18th. He would recall that moment in a memoir, decades later. “My eye was on an Army career for myself and a good life for my family,” he wrote. Within three decades he would become not only the most senior black military officer in American history, but also the most prominent American soldier, of any race, of the late 20th century.

Mr Powell was born in the Harlem district of New York in 1937, growing up in a working-class Jamaican family in the south Bronx. At the City College of New York, he joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1958. That was less than a decade after the army had been desegregated by President Harry Truman. After serving as a platoon leader in West Germany, he chose to stay in the army. “I did not know anything but soldiering,” he wrote later. “And for a black, no other avenue in American society offered so much opportunity.”

There followed two gruelling tours of Vietnam, one from 1962 to 1963 and then, in the unit responsible for the notorious My Lai massacre, in 1968. By then, Mr Powell’s star was rising and he was sent to a fellowship in the Nixon White House in 1972. The job was a “defining experience”, he would tell an interviewer, teaching him that politics was “greased by compromise and consensus”. The role gave him proximity to power and put him on the path to becoming a senior adviser to Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of defence, and then, in 1988, Mr Reagan’s national security adviser, at a time when the office had been roiled by the Iran-Contra scandal.

In 1989, having become one of the youngest four-star generals in American history during peacetime, at the age of 52, Mr Powell beat off competition from more than 30 others to become the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff—the principal military adviser to the president, and a position whose importance and authority had been bolstered by far-reaching military reforms earlier in the decade.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, General Powell was discomfited by President George H.W. Bush’s commitment to responding with force. At his desk in the Pentagon, he is said to have displayed an epigram from Thucydides, the Greek historian: “Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most.” But his approach to waging the war which ensued—with overwhelming force—became the basis of what would become known as the Powell doctrine, the notion that America should go to war only when, among other conditions, vital national security interests were at stake, the objectives clear and attainable, all other options exhausted and an exit strategy in place.

“Powell has become a folk hero,” wrote the Los Angeles Times in April 1991, “a living, breathing recruiting poster with a beer-barrel chest, a blacksmith’s arms and the bearing of a centurion.” Some in Congress even spoke of granting him a fifth star, an honour last granted to Omar Bradley in 1950. As he approached retirement two years later, victorious in war—though sullied by a fiasco in Somalia—and at the helm of America’s armed forces during what, in hindsight, would turn out to be a relatively brief spell of uncontested military supremacy, there were rumblings that he would stand against Bill Clinton for the presidency in 1996.

He ruled that out in 1995, admitting that he lacked the “fire in the belly”. But he went on to endorse George W. Bush in 2000, and was rewarded by being made secretary of state, in charge of American diplomacy. It was, it turned out, a poisoned chalice. Mr Powell became the public face of the Bush administration’s dubious case for war against Iraq in 2003. A speech at the UN in February 2003, in which he declared, wrongly, that “there can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons”, was a “blot” on his record, he admitted after his retirement in 2005.

In one sense, Mr Powell’s career reflected the arc of American military history. He cut his teeth in a force that endured stinging defeat in Vietnam, oversaw its revival in the deserts of Kuwait and, from the cabinet, saw its renewed humiliation in Iraq. In politics, too, the trajectory was one of disillusionment. “I believe I can help the party of Lincoln move once again close to the spirit of Lincoln,” he declared in 1995, when announcing that he had joined the Republican Party. But after the invasion of the Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump on January 6th, Mr Powell conceded defeat. “I can no longer call myself a Republican,” he acknowledged.

Condoleeza Rice (“Colin Powell’s greatest legacy is in the people he inspired“):

Tributes to Colin will rightly cite his impact as a statesman and a soldier. They will note that he changed how we think about the use of military force. The Powell Doctrine holds that if you use military force, use it overwhelmingly to get the job done.

Some will cite his role in controversial decisions concerning the Balkans or, most certainly, Iraq. No one spends so many decades in public life — confronted with difficult and consequential choices — without criticism.

But tributes must acknowledge his tireless work as the country’s chief diplomat: strengthening relations with allies at difficult times; ending the civil war in Sudan; and leaving the State Department stronger and more efficient than when he arrived.

And it should be beyond question that Colin was a man of integrity. He was deeply principled, shaped by bedrock beliefs that guided him throughout his life.

Colin was, first and foremost, a military man who believed in the institution and its place in democracy. At a 1990 conference for military officers from all over Europe, I saw his passion on display.

When it came time for Colin to speak, he put aside his prepared remarks and talked about what it meant to be a military officer in a democracy. It was a magnificent moment — and the right message for young Eastern European officers who were about to experience democratic change.

Colin loved soldiers and always held them to the highest standards. Yet he also took time to understand their struggles — personal and professional — and to comfort them when they suffered. The U.S. military was his second family, and he cherished the opportunities that it had given him and many others.

Still, Colin was not blind to America’s many challenges. He saw those flaws firsthand. Colin’s wife, the former Alma Johnson, was the daughter of R.C. Johnson, the principal of the largest Black high school in Birmingham, Ala. Her uncle was principal of the second largest, Ullman High School, where my father was the guidance counselor. Alma and I were children of the segregated South. Colin was shocked at encountering Jim Crow Alabama when he visited Alma. But he knew that racism stained American life well beyond the South.

In 2003, sitting in Buckingham Palace during President George W. Bush’s state visit to Britain, Alma, Colin and I drank a toast to our ancestors. “They would never have believed it,” I said. “No, but they are smiling now,” he said.

Eugene Robinson (“How Colin Powell shouldered the special pride and burden of many Black ‘firsts’“):

There is a special pride, but also a special burden, in being “the first Black [fill in the blank].” Colin L. Powell shouldered that responsibility while giving the impression that the weight was as light as a feather.

Powell, who died Monday from complications of covid-19, long knew how his obituaries would someday describe him: “the first African American secretary of state” and “the first African American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff” and the “first African American national security adviser to the president.”

In his 1995 memoir, “My American Journey,” Powell wrote: “My career should serve as a model to fellow blacks, in or out of the military, in demonstrating the possibilities of American life. Equally important, I hoped then and now that my rise might cause prejudiced whites to question their prejudices, and help purge the poison of racism from their systems, so that the next qualified African-American who came along would be judged by merit alone.”

That was the easy part. Powell went on: “I am also aware that, over the years, my career may have given some bigots a safe black to hide behind. ‘What, me prejudiced? I served with/over/under Colin Powell!'”

Indeed, Powell’s rise to the apex of American power has been cited by many politicians over the years as a sign of the nation’s supposed colorblindness — as alleged proof that we have managed to leave racism behind. But Powell was acutely race-conscious, aware that he was always being scrutinized and judged in ways that a White man would not have to endure.


Thinking of his role in the civil rights struggle, Powell identified less with activists who marched in the streets than with those who played more of an inside game — less with a firebrand organization like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee than with the smooth, polished, boardroom-friendly National Urban League.

“I have swallowed hard under racial provocations, determined to succeed by surpassing,” Powell wrote in “My American Journey.” “Had I been more militant, would I have been branded a troublemaker rather than a promotable black? One can never be sure. But I agree with Whitney Young,” he wrote, referring to the longtime leader of the National Urban League.

Powell’s public persona was not so much as someone who had defeated racism as transcended it. He was named to his groundbreaking “first” posts by Republican presidents, and in 1995 proclaimed himself a Republican — breaking with the overwhelming majority of Black Americans, who were and are Democrats. His presence allowed the GOP to portray itself as diverse and welcoming. But he was comfortable with the party’s views — back when it was the party of George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Richard B. Cheney and John McCain.

That political choice reflected Powell’s firm belief in old-school integration as the only way forward for African Americans. He said often that the nation was better, and African Americans would make more progress, when both the Democratic and Republican parties were strong. “The black agenda has been given over to the Congressional Black Caucus,” he wrote disapprovingly in his memoir. “The concerns of African-Americans stand in danger again of riding in the back of the bus.”

To me, this philosophy has long been better in theory than in practice — given that so many GOP policies, such as voter suppression, are overtly hostile to the interests of people of color. But to his credit, Powell knew his priorities: He supported Barack Obama over McCain in 2008, seeing the historic opportunity to elect our first Black president. And he was appalled and repulsed by the rise of Donald Trump, finally announcing after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol that he no longer considered himself a Republican.

The true test of any “first Black” achiever is how he or she handles making a consequential error. Powell’s was his United Nations speech in 2003 that gave gravitas and credibility to the false notion that Saddam Hussein had an active program to produce weapons of mass destruction. That set the stage for the disastrous war in Iraq.

Powell regretted that speech but refused to let it define him. He moved on. The first rule of being the “first Black” anything: Look to the future, not the past.

Rest in peace, General.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Military Affairs, National Security, Obituaries, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. charon says:

    Still, he’s certainly much more than that speech and he’s genuinely esteemed on both sides of the aisle, a rarity in modern politics.

    Not everyone agrees with that assessment, there is a very long extensive taken of him at LGM.

    Here is the first paragraph to give you the flavor:

    Colin Powell has died of COVID-19. One of the most unjustly lauded individuals in early twenty-first century America, an honest portrayal of Powell’s legacy turns out starkly negative. From his significant role in the cover up of the My Lai Massacre to his lies about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, Powell holds a great deal of responsibility for many of America’s worst crimes in the last 60 years.

  2. Kathy says:


    They don’t like him much in Iraq for some reason.

  3. Sleeping Dog says:


    I guess if you’re not perfect in the writer’s measurement, you’re evil.

    RIP Colin Powell, a human being.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    We were asked to write a quickie kid’s biography of Colin Powell and General Benjamin Davis Jr. This was all pre-internet, so it was, shall we say, thinly sourced. But it was hard in a way we had not expected: Powell was a competent staff officer, while Ben Davis Jr. was the guy who fought to let Blacks fly in WW2 and flew 60 combat missions himself. While the military was still segregated, while Davis was attacked and threatened from within his own organization, at a time when he would have to step into the gutter if a white man was on the sidewalk, that man got Black pilots into P 51s. The two men were just not at a comparable level. Powell was a smooth operator, Davis was fuck you I’m killing some damn Nazis.

  5. CSK says:

    In his official statement on Powell’s death, Trump called Powell a RINO and lamented the fact that his demise occasioned so much “wonderful” press coverage. Seething with jealousy, as always.

    Trump expressed the hope that the press will say nice things about him when he finally shuffles off this mortal coil.

    Dream on.

  6. charon says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    I guess if you’re not perfect in the writer’s measurement, you’re evil.

    RIP Colin Powell, a human being.

    Not a very admirable one IMO. Consider:

    His superiors task him with covering up My Lai, which, as a careerist, he does – thus “making his bones,” establishing himself as a “made man.” With that history, he can clearly be replied on to tell the Iraq WMD story his bosses want told without any interest in checking the story for accuracy or even truth.

    Now, he claims to regret what amounted to “just following orders.” That is good enough for you, for me not so much.

    He was a pretty lackadaisical ineffective SoS too, guy is totally overrated.

  7. Kathy says:


    The media should show some compassion and publish their obituaries of tiny while he’s still alive.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    I see TFG has released a statement on Powell:

    Wonderful to see Colin Powell, who made big mistakes on Iraq and famously, so-called weapons of mass destruction, be treated in death so beautifully by the Fake News Media. Hope that happens to me someday. He was a classic RINO, if even that, always being the first to attack other Republicans. He made plenty of mistakes, but anyway, may he rest in peace!

    And there’s a donate button underneath.

    Good to know there are some things in life you can depend on: death, taxes, and an utter lack of class from Trump.

  9. Andy says:


    I regularly read LGM. The regulars (Loomis and Campos) are very rarely graceful or kind to anyone who they disagree with or who did (or didn’t) do something they didn’t like. Just as one example I remember right now, here’s Loomis after RBG died:

    “Ginsburg’s entire legacy is voided by her refusing to retire the last time Democrats held the Senate.”

    A lack of charity and mean spiritedness is part of their shtick.

  10. Gustopher says:

    He regretted the UN speech and said so mere months after it happened. He was right to regret it, and I can think of several hundred thousand Iraqis who would agree with his assessment.

    The fact that he was able to rehabilitate his reputation speaks highly of his political skills. Perhaps he really was a good man led astray, but I’m not sure it matters.

    It seems harsh to judge someone by their worst mistake, but when their worst mistake has a death toll in the six figures, I think the harshness is justified.

  11. Kathy says:


    The taboo on not speaking ill of the dead is stronger when a competent person of real and multiple accomplishments dies. Obituaries of such people tend to become hagiography, rather than an impartial summing up of the more salient aspects of their lives. Negatives are often minimized or whitewashed with latter, usually related, actions, like regret at the UN speech.

    Curiously, that latter didn’t amount to much. It didn’t sway the security council, nor added more allies in the ill-conceived invasion of Iraq. it might have done something to public opinion, however.

  12. CSK says:

    Well, of course there’s a donate button under Trump’s utterly churlish statement. When is there not?

  13. Scott says:

    @CSK: @gVOR08:

    As I have been saying for years: Trump is a classless pig. Always has been, always will be.

  14. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy: I think the most notable example today–the elephant in the room when it comes to this discussion–is the resuscitation of Dubya himself. Powell was always consistently given favorable coverage throughout his entire career. Even when the lies of the Bush Admin were exposed, Powell was never among the main people who took the brunt of the criticism. But Dubya’s faults were pretty much laid bare by the end of his presidency. Yet it’s like there’s a statute of limitations or something. The mainstream media has conspired to wipe the slate clean whenever doing stories on him today, and in the Trump era have cast him as representing a sort of new Old Guard for the party.

  15. Raoul says:

    His quick and strong reversal on the UN Iraqi speech tells me that he knew the whole thing was a farce (as anybody would know in listening to the “evidence”). In fact, beforehand, he was discarding stuff he could not read because it was so ridiculous. Why he kept the stuff he did which was no better than what discarded tells you all you need to know about the man. And like Loomis pointed out, on Vietnam, there were many honorable soldiers who wanted to bring to light the massacre of My Lai. Powell was not one of them, so he had a pattern, self-promotion over truth. He was who he was, and he should not be idolized. RIP.

  16. Jon says:

    If memory serves he also threatened to resign if Bill Clinton lifted the ban on homosexuals serving in the military, but apparently resigning did not occur to him over the Iraq lies. That and helping to whitewash My Lai; doesn’t seem like much of a profile in courage.

  17. Raoul says:

    @Andy: RGB legacy is poor, in fact, she may have done more to negate equal rights than anyone else, by not retiring despite being an octogenarian with one of the deadliest forms of cancer. Moreover her criticism of Roe does not bode well and neither her believing that the kneeling football players were being un-American ( I believe the opposite, protesting while you have the most to lose is the highest calling of being American). She may have been a great litigator but her opinions are weak tea, see her dissent in Gore v. Bush where Scalia persuade her to water down her opinion. Give me Sotomayor any day of the week.

  18. Barry says:

    @Sleeping Dog: “I guess if you’re not perfect in the writer’s measurement, you’re evil.

    RIP Colin Powell, a human being.”

    This statement applies in no way, shape or form to the original article.

  19. Barry says:

    @Gustopher: “The fact that he was able to rehabilitate his reputation speaks highly of his skills. Perhaps he really was a good man led astray, but I’m not sure it matters.”

    Not really, IMHO. Nixon was well on his way to ‘statesman’ status; Kissinger was every media editor’s beloved Dr. Strangelove.

  20. Barry says:

    @Jon: In addition there’s tape of him criticizing his commander-in-chief’s official policy, while in uniform. That’s a legal no-no.

  21. Kathy says:


    Bush the younger is the last surviving former Republican president. That commands something.

    Seriously, I keep falling back on Saint-Just’s observation that “no one can reign innocently.” He didn’t mean rule or govern (he was a legislator, after all), but the principle still applies. Saint-Just himself later became known as the pubic face of the French Terror, and that says a lot.

    So, do we have to accept some amount of abuse of power, official crimes, and even atrocities, since someone must govern, and not having a government would lead to worse outcomes?

    Bush was never close to equal to the challenge of the post-9/11 world. The only reason he faced little opposition at first, was that no one else had any clear notion as to what to do or how to proceed.

    And yet, it’s hard to hate the man, as he displayed no overt malice or contempt, unlike tiny trump does in every sentence he utters. The comparison works for Bush the younger.

  22. JohnSF says:

    OTOH, he didn’t actually kill them.
    Nor did the US occupation forces pronounce some sort of Imperial Decree commanding Iraqis to commence slaughtering each other, which Iraqis hastened to obey out of fear of… slaughter?

    The blame for the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis rests primarily upon those Iraqis who actually killed their fellow countrymen on an industrial scale.
    And secondarily upon those who enthusiastically assisted such atrocities, particularly, though not exclusively, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

    I have met quite a few Kurds who are continue to believe that the deposition of Saddam and his partisans was a good thing.

    Mind, it was a mistake to use weapons of mass destruction as a rationale.
    Should have cited breach of truce terms and left it at that.

    (NB: none of this means that the invasion was strategically wise from the US point of view, still less that it was planned or executed effectively)

  23. KM says:

    I am not a fan of not speaking ill of the dead. The sins should *not* die with the man but rather be considered as part of who they were, just as it would have been if they were alive. I do not like people suddenly get mealy-mouthed upon learning of a death when they were freely talking shit about them the day before. A terrible monster has not changed now that they no longer use oxygen and it’s abusive to make people pretend death changes the facts of their lives or their own memories. Honestly, it’s a form of social gas lightning we need to get over. Be kind to those who’ve lost a loved one but don’t lie to them or act like the asshole family member wasn’t an asshole. If you don’t want people talking nasty about you after you die, then do something while you’re alive to make it positive then, hmmm?

    Powell was a fallible human, yes. He did good and he did bad. Later in his life, he regretted the bad he did but did little to fix the great harm caused. Where does that leave him in the books? He did much but could have done more. He helped cover up and create wars but then distanced himself from the tragedy he helped write. He lead us to victories and to defeats. One great sin can wash away a lifetime of little good deeds and he realized it too late. However, if we are to applaud his integrity as central to his being then we must also honor it by being honest about his failings as well as his successes.

  24. Gustopher says:

    @JohnSF: That sounds a lot like “well, we didn’t sentence him to five to ten years of forced sodomy, so we bear no responsibility for what happened to him in the prison we created.”

  25. JohnSF says:

    Or perhaps it sounds a bit like
    “arresting the Mafia boss led to a gang war in which lots of innocent bystanders were killed or injured; therefore the police should never interfere with the Mob.”

    In the scenario of the prison, the alternative to not jailing or not having prisons might be to ensure that the prison was ruled by the governor and guards.
    Hence my point that it did not mean the invasion and occupation was planned or executed effectively.
    Or was necessarily a good idea.

    OTOH the Kurds I mentioned were rather of the view that at least they weren’t being sodomised, for a change.
    Selfish of them, perhaps, but the rest of the population of Iraq, and in particular the dispossesd Sunni minority, was under no obligation to compulsively bugger everything and everyone in reach in response.

    It is arguable that the US didn’t create the prison, but rather the Iraqi’s, and particularly the Sunni, constructed it of their own accord. With Iran and the Saudis both happily retailing bricks and mortar.

    The resistance of a formerly dominant minority to their removal from dominance is not necessarily a reason for not removing them.

  26. gVOR08 says:

    @Andy: Loomis and Campos can be harsh. Campos has a piece today on a “squishy antivaxxer” woman, I’d have to say more non than anti, and I felt he was unnecessarily hard on her. But he didn’t say anything that was untrue. And what they said about Powell and Ginsburg was also true. There are so few people who tell the truth I’m disinclined to quibble about the style of those who do.

  27. Jon says:
  28. Scott O says:

    @gVOR08: I’m pretty sure that if 10 years ago I told someone that a former president would make such a statement about a recently deceased Secretary of State 4Star General people would have thought I was crazy. This is our new normal.

  29. Barry says:

    @JohnSF: “Nor did the US occupation forces pronounce some sort of Imperial Decree commanding Iraqis to commence slaughtering each other, which Iraqis hastened to obey out of fear of… slaughter?”

    The US destroyed the government, and deliberately prevented the Iraqi people from forming one (except in Kurdistan). When 130K former Iraqi soldiers signed up for the new Iraqi Army, they were sent home. That’s not the act of trying to rebuild Iraq.

  30. JohnSF says:

    As I said, the occupation was not necessarily well planned or executed.

    However, the lack of an immediate elected, or otherwise formed, Iraqi government did not compel the Iraqis to slaughter each other with abandon.
    Those who slaughtered did so in pursuit of their own aims, which they were willing to wade through seas of the blood of fellow Iraqis to attain. They had free agency in the matter.

    An elected government was achieved within three years.
    That is reasonable by the standards of most occupations.
    The question prior to that was determining who should form the government.
    And after that, an army.
    To form an army on the basis of accepting all comers who volunteered would have been unprecedented, and IMO rather stupid.

    Again, the appointment of Allawi et al as interim rulers may have been a mistake.
    But it is not easy to see who could have been appointed, elected or nominated by any other means short of divine visitation that would not have been resisted by various sorts of Sunni hardliner; and some Shia, for that matter.

    Kurdistan was different, because there already was an effectively functioning Kurdish provisional government.

  31. Barry says:

    @JohnSF: “As I said, the occupation was not necessarily well planned or executed.”

    That means so much more when you are the object, rather than the subject.

  32. JohnSF says:

    It does.
    It also does not necessarily mean it can be considered unacceptable due the civilian casualties inflicted upon Iraqis by other Iraqis.

    It would not even have necessarily been rendered unjustifiable had the casualties been entirely inflicted by the US/Coalition.

    Think of a war or invasion you consider justified.
    What quantity of civilian (or military, for that matter) casualties or post-war internecine slaughter would have then rendered that war unjustifiable?

    Was such a conflict only justified because the casualties were below a certain threshold?

    If so, how could the protagonists have been justified in launching the conflict, seeing that they could not absolutely know in advance that the casualty level would remain below such a justified/unjustified threshold?