OPINION: Gen. Colin Powell’s many achievements outweigh any particular ‘mere’ in his long career | News

If you were born after e.g. 1995 and is not particularly keen on 20th century American history, Gen. Colin Powell can be something of a hovering question mark for you – a name that dominated headlines at the beginning of your week, but which seems a bit unfamiliar. You know you’ve heard the name before, but you’m not sure where and in what context.

But if you have any reverence for the story that Barack Obama wrote as our first black president, you would be completely forgiving not to at least appreciate Powell, who died early Monday morning of complications from COVID-19 as 84- year old. Born in New York City in 1937 and raised in the Bronx as a first-generation Jamaican-American, Powell’s story is a case study in the determination of immigrants who come to America and revel in the dream within its borders.

Powells curriculum is a smorgasbord of historic firsts: He was the first black U.S. Secretary of State, a position he held from 2001 to 2005. He was the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under presidents Bill Clinton and George HW Bush. He was the country’s first black national security adviser under the president Ronald Reagan, in which he was instrumental in bringing an end to the Cold War with Russia. He was the only other black person to serve as a four-star general in the U.S. Army. He was one of only two to receive the President’s Medal of Freedom twice.
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He achieved all this in a historically conservative (read: racist) American army. Powell was first introduced in 1958 – just a decade after the president Harry Truman desegregated the army – and spent decades advancing in the literal ranks; it would take 41 years into his career (which included two tours of the Vietnam War) before he would become general. Powell was involved in almost every American military conflict in the latter half of the 20th century and actually served as the architect for several, including the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s and the US invasion of Panama in 1989.

Unfortunately, Powell’s career was tarnished until his death, the speech he gave to the UN in February 2003, in which he justified the need to put down the Iraqi despot. Saddam Hussein with the now infamous claim of “weapons of mass destruction”. We now know that none of them were to be found in Iraq, but that it led to a protracted, insulted war that officially ended in 2011, but whose cascade effect has resulted in unrest in the region, which lasts to that day. Today.
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Powell even called the defense of the war and the ensuing speech a “blob” on his record. He should not be completely exempted for that reason, but many conveniently forget that there were many chefs in the kitchen with the Iraq war, including the president George W. BushVice President Dick Cheney and Minister of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (a trio many would consider the true “axis of evil”). There are also members of Congress – many of whom are still comfortable in their concerts collecting checks – and yes, even the press.

But Powell was the face – the black face – that many use as a photo in the center of the Iraq war’s dartboard to this day. Take a look for yourself … there are as many headlines about Powell and the Iraq war as there are about his actual death.

Since Powell was a colored military man, anyone with a steak of American imperialism, wars of any particular descent, or blood from young soldiers and innocent civilians on our hands could choose a worse target than him. But to be a leader in the US government is to have blood on your hands. Full stop. Obama included.

If that’s the metric you want to measure Powell with, I would not argue. However, I choose to remember him as an exceptional leader who was the first to achieve a great many things that were thought unthinkable for a black man when he achieved them.

Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroit living in Chicago. He loves his own mother a little more than he loves music and only trains every day so that his intake of french fries does not overtake him. Find him at wafflecolored.com.

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