Obituary: Colin Powell thought America should tread carefully in the world

The four-star general and secretary of state died on October 18th, aged 84

10/22/2021 2:20:00 AM

Obituary: Colin Powell thought America should tread carefully in the world

The four-star general and secretary of state died on October 18th, aged 84

.Yet no one, least of all him, a New Deal kid kicking a football round the run-down streets of Hunts Point, could have guessed that his soundness would be tested at the highest levels of government, as America’s top diplomat and adviser to its presidents, and the commander and promoter of its wars. For a time, after victory in the first Gulf war in 1991, he was the most popular man in the country. In the presidential elections of both 1996 and 2000 his name was floated, though he didn’t bite. His wife Alma would not like the life, he said, and he was not that keen on it himself.

Instead his passion was the army, in which he firmly stayed until, in 1993, he was deployed to the State Department. It was his first love, from the moment when at 17 he put on the olive-green jacket, brown shirt and brass-buckle belt of the Reserve Officer Training Corps, and liked what he saw. The army gave him a place, a structure, and the same cheery confidence his brisk, fedora-wearing father had. (“Don’t take counsel of your fears” became one of his 13 rules of leadership; another, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”) In the

ROTC, his grades soared. What would he have been without it? A bus driver, probably, he thought.As a military man, eventually a four-star general and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, he was a difficult fit in politics: in the Reagan and Bush administrations a dove among the hawks, in the Clinton administration a realist among starry-eyed liberal internationalists. Sometimes he voted as a Republican, sometimes as a Democrat. He approached problems not as an academic, for he’d maintained a fine C-average all through school and college, but as an infantry officer, sent out to assess a situation first and see if it could be fixed. He was not a thinker but a practitioner, moving carefully through the elephant grass as he had on patrols in Vietnam, searching for an enemy who was usually invisible, and liable to be tripped up at any minute, as he was, by the wild pain of a poisoned

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punjistick through his foot. The military might of America had been humbled there, undermined by lies and self-deceptions and by an enemy in black pyjamas with sandals cut from old tyres, like the first dead Viet Cong fighter he had seen.His rules for going to war, which other people called the Powell Doctrine, were coloured by that experience, as well as the need for cool, cautious heads. Had everything else been tried? Was it in the national interest? Was there a clear objective, worth risking lives for? (In Vietnam, over two tours and with a row of medals for bravery, he never knew why he was there.) Did America have the resources to do the job fast and well? Had the consequences been considered? (When there was talk of surgical strikes, he headed for the bunker.) Did allies, and the American people, support it? And was there a strategy for leaving?

The first Gulf war fulfilled most of those criteria. Other episodes did not. A strike against a terrorist in Mogadishu in 1993 failed because it was done without gunships and tanks. Then came Iraq all over again. As secretary of state he argued against the invasion, but the president took the decision and, as a good soldier, he followed unblinking. He then sold the war to the world at the United Nations, relying on grainy photographs and false intelligence. It was a blot on his record and a pain that did not go away.

At least the aim in Iraq had been clear, to topple Saddam Hussein and bring democracy. But he concluded that the Iraqis had to do that second part themselves.Any surge of troops would just put a heavier lid on a pot of boiling sectarian stew. He felt the same about Afghanistan: it was good to go in with overwhelming force, but a mistake to pile in more troops later, as Barack Obama did. He was proud that America largely held the moral high ground in the world, and that he could boastfully show off its missile fields and submarines to his Russian opposite number, but it could not set everything straight. As he told Madeleine Albright once, when she screamed at him to help in Bosnia, American

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GIs were not toy soldiers to be moved around on a board.Because he was the first black chairman of the joint chiefs and the first black national security adviser, people assumed that racism was another battle he had fought. He did not see it quite that way. In the Bronx everyone was a minority, whether Pole, Jew, Greek or Jamaican like himself, dancing (badly) to calypso and dining on rice and peas. In the army, only valour and merit counted. Certainly he faced prejudice, especially on trips to army training in the segregated South, when almost all motels, bars and even restrooms were closed to him. But he took that as a challenge. (“Get mad, then get over it” was another of his 13 rules.) Since he did not define himself by colour, the point was not whether he was the first black this or that. He hoped, of course, that his ascent opened doors for others. What mattered most, though, was to be an American, a soldier and the best man at the job.

The complexity of the world he was trying to sort out often frustrated him. He found himself almost nostalgic, sometimes, for the starker simplicities of the cold war and zero-sum games of power. But if he wanted to have a cool, clear head again, he could do what he had done at Sickser’s toy store, just put things together or take them apart. As secretary of state and chairman of the

JCShis greatest fun was to haul home old Volvos, long presumed dead, and find the one part—a new distributor cap, say—that would bring them back to life. And as he did so, the perpetual optimist could not help feeling that in the broken world, too, some simple solution might put a lot of things right.

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2 ㅌ He can't avoid Iraq. however. RIP Colin. He also lied about some stuff. Like he did? This is him right? Cause I'm not sure we're talking about the same person. This guy pushed a war that killed, quite literally, hundreds of thousands of people. Really. Not making this up. You can check it for yourself.

Wise words The only reason anyone outside of Washington knows who he is is specifically because we watched him lie to the UN. Excellent takeaway. nice

How is this a real headline For all those who are new to this working from home Bitcoin trading options Here's a little tip: Get a trusted Bitcoin expert and stick to her earn_with_Jens1 Invest and play at similar times each day. Because : In times of chaos, your investment is your anchor to success How does that marry with his role in helping Bush with the invasion of Iraq?