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Former US Secretary of State, suffering from COVID and multiple myeloma, dies at 84

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Colin Powell, the former US Secretary of State, died as a result of coronavirus complications, according to his family.

According to a statement released by his family on his Facebook page, the 84-year-old “passed away this morning due to complications from COVID-19”.

“He was fully vaccinated,” they said.

“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American.”

According to NBC News, his spokesperson Peggy Cifrino and a family member said he died at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Maryland, where he was suffering from multiple myeloma.

Mr Powell was the first African American secretary of state and the first black chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

At the time he held the secretary of state role, from 2001-2005, it was the highest any African American had been in the federal executive branch of the US government, until Barack Obama became president.

Secretary of State is fourth after the president in the line of succession, and only Condoleeza Rice held the same role in the year’s before Mr Obama’s election.

Before becoming the US’s chief diplomat, he was best known for his role in front of the camera during the Gulf War, where as the highest-ranking and most senior military officer in the United States Armed Forces he would brief the media about the liberation of Kuwait and then the push on into Iraq, in what has been described as the first 24-hour televised war.

That 1991 war, in which then General Powell served under George H W Bush, was generally judged a success as it expelled the forces of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait with limited loss of American lives and before that, in 1989, also as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he had overseen the US invasion of Panama.

But Mr Powell was then appointed secretary of state under Mr Bush’s son, George W Bush, who embarked on the Iraq War in 2003.

Mr Powell’s reputation suffered a painful setback when he went before the UN Security Council to make the case for invading Iraq, claiming it was necessary because Saddam Hussein had failed to adhere to UN resolutions.

In that session, he claimed that the “facts and Iraq’s behaviour show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction”.

But it was a claim that turned out not to be true and he later admitted the speech was a “blot” on his record.

Mr Bush paid tribute to Mr Powell, saying: “Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Colin Powell. He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam. Many Presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience.

“He was national security adviser under President Reagan, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under my father and President Clinton, and secretary of state during my administration.

“He was such a favourite of presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom – twice. He was highly respected at home and abroad. And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend. Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man.”

Tony Blair, who was prime minister during the Iraq War, said: “Colin was a towering figure in American military and political leadership over many years, someone of immense capability and integrity, a hugely likeable and warm personality and a great companion, with a lovely and self-deprecating sense of humour.

“He was wonderful to work with, he inspired loyalty and respect and was one of those leaders who always treated those under them with kindness and concern.

“His life stands as a testament not only to dedicated public service but also a strong belief in willingness to work across partisan division in the interests of his country. I am so sorry to hear the news of his death.”

The invasion of Iraq, which the speech aimed to justify, remains highly controversial, with many citing the deadly unintended consequences that occurred in the wake of the conflict.

Others in the African American community paid tribute to him.

US secretary of defence Lloyd Austin, who only became the first African American defence secretary under President Joe Biden, said: “The world lost one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed.

“Alma lost a great husband, and the family lost a tremendous father and I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor. He has been my mentor for a number of years. He always made time for me and I could always go to him with tough issues. He always had great counsel…

“First African American chairman of the joint chiefs, first African American secretary of state – a man who was respected around the globe… quite frankly, it is not possible to replace a Colin Powell. We will miss him.”

Rev Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist, said on Twitter: “My condolences to the family of Colin Powell. Though we disagreed on many issues, I always respected him and was proud of his achievements. When he and I ran into each other and conversed, I always left feeling he was a sincere and committed man to what he believed in. RIP”

Before he was appointed as secretary of state and after retiring from the military in 1993, Mr Powell joined the Republican Party and worked for a national non-profit organisation that worked to mobilise Americans to build the character and abilities of young people.

It was during this time that he took part in civic life and attended the 1995 dinner at which Princess Diana won the Humanitarian of the Year award in New York.

He had been born in the New York district of Harlem and grew up in the South Bronx. He got a BSc at college, where he had been a reservist, and went on to receive his commission in the US army.

He served in Germany, Vietnam twice and South Korea before he rose up the ranks to the level of senior military assistant to defence secretary Caspar Weinberger, during the 1983 invasion of Grenada and the 1986 airstrike on Libya.

It provided the foundation for his later political roles that began with his work as national security adviser to Ronald Reagan in 1987, after his predecessor Frank Carlucci was promoted in the midst of the Iran-Contra Affair.

As well as his wife Alma, he is survived by three children Michael, Linda and Annemarie.

Analysis by Mark Stone, US Correspondent

Internationally, it is a speech in the UN chamber on 5th February 2003 for which Colin Powell will be remembered.

It was a passionate case for the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein. But it was a case that history would judge to be flawed.

The irony is that he was the measured member of administration which was determined to remove Saddam Hussein.

Colin Powell was the moderate in an administration of hawks led by George W Bush. He had pushed President Bush to take any case against Saddam to the UN and yet he ended up being the fall guy for intelligence which proved to be faulty.

He would later describe his insistence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction as ‘a blot’ on his career.

But beyond that difficult moment, Colin Powell is being remembered as a man of integrity, principle and service. He had the ear of four US presidents – Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton and George W Bush.

After 35 years in the US Army where he rose to the top job with a pivotal and lauded role in the 1991 Gulf War, he switched to politics as the first black Secretary of State. He was touted as a potential presidential candidate a number of times, something he rejected because of what he claimed was ‘a lack of passion for politics’.

Self-deprecating and modest in character, he became an elder statesman of American politics. The fondness with which he is being remembered on both the left and right leaning US cable networks hints at his broad appeal and popularity. He had a willingness to work across partisan divides to bring people together.

Over the past few months he has voiced concerns over the polarisation of American politics. Just before last year’s presidential election, he announced he would not vote for Donald Trump. “I certainly cannot, in any way, support President Trump… he lies,” he said.

Image Credit: Getty

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