WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Colin Powell, who served Democratic and Republican presidents in war and peace but whose sterling reputation suffered when he went before the U.N. and made faulty claims to justify the U.S. war in Iraq, has died of COVID-19 complications. He was 84.
In an announcement on social media, the family said Powell had been fully vaccinated.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father and grandfather and a great American,” the family said.
Peggy Cifrino, Powell’s longtime aide, said he had been treated over the past few years for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. The Powell family’s social media post did not address whether Powell had any underlying illnesses.
Multiple myeloma impairs the body’s ability to fight infection, and studies have shown that those cancer patients don’t get as much protection from the COVID-19 vaccines as healthier people.
Powell was the first African American to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state.
Powell was one of America’s foremost Black figures for decades. He was named to senior posts by three Republican presidents and reached the top of the U.S. military as it was regaining its vigor after the trauma of the Vietnam War.
Powell, who was wounded in Vietnam, served as U.S. national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan from 1987 to 1989. As a four-star Army general, he was chairman of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush during the 1991 Gulf War in which U.S.-led forces expelled Iraqi troops from neighboring Kuwait.
In 1989, Powell became the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In that role, he oversaw the U.S. invasion of Panama and later the U.S. invasion of Kuwait to oust the Iraqi army in 1991.
Powell, a moderate Republican and a pragmatist, considered a bid to become the first Black president in 1996, but his wife Alma’s worries about his safety helped him decide otherwise.
Powell rose to national prominence under Republican presidents but ultimately moved away from the party. He endorsed Democrats in the last four presidential elections, starting with former President Barack Obama. He emerged as a vocal Donald Trump critic in recent years, describing Trump as “a national disgrace” who should have been removed from office through impeachment. Following the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, Powell said he no longer considers himself a Republican.
Powell was the first American official to publicly lay the blame for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network and made a lightning trip to Pakistan in October 2001 to demand that then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf cooperate with the United States in going after the Afghanistan-based group, which also had a presence in Pakistan, where bin Laden was later killed.
But his reputation also suffered a painful setback when, in 2003, Powell went before the U.N. Security Council and made the case for U.S. war against Iraq. He cited faulty information claiming Saddam Hussein had secretly stashed away weapons of mass destruction. Iraq’s claims that it had not represented “a web of lies,” he told the world body.
Powell admitted later that the presentation was rife with inaccuracies and twisted intelligence provided by others in the Bush administration and represented “a blot” that will “always be a part of my record”.
Powell maintained, in a 2012 interview with The Associated Press, that on balance, U.S. succeeded in Iraq.
“I think we had a lot of successes,” Powell said. “Iraq’s terrible dictator is gone.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with the press shortly after the announcement, saying, “The world lost one of the greatest leaders we have ever witnessed.”
“I feel as if I have a hole in my heart,” Austin said Monday morning of his longtime mentor.
President Joe Biden issued a statement saying, “time and again, he put country before self, before party, before all else.”
“Colin embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat,” Biden said in part. “He was committed to our nation’s strength and security above all. Having fought in wars, he understood better than anyone that military might alone was not enough to maintain our peace and prosperity.”
Former President George W. Bush said he and former first lady Laura Bush were “deeply saddened” by Powell’s death.
“He was a great public servant” and “widely respected at home and abroad,” Bush said. “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.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called Powell a “historic leader.”
“General Colin Powell was a patriot: serving our country in uniform, leading at the highest levels of American government and blazing a trail for generations to come,” Pelosi said in a statement. “His leadership strengthened America and his life embodied the American Dream.”
“He lived the promise of America, and spent a lifetime working to help our country, especially our young people, live up to its own ideals and noblest aspirations at home and around the world,” Bill and Hillary Clinton said in a joint statement.