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Colin Powell

Secretary of State Colin Powell
Rank: 65th
Term of Office: January 20, 2001 - present
Predecessor: Madeleine Albright
Date of Birth: April 5, 1937
Place of Birth: New York City, New York
Spouse: Alma Vivian Johnson Powell[?]
Profession: Soldier
Political Party: Republican

General Colin L. Powell (born April 5, 1937) is the 65th United States Secretary of State, sworn in on January 20, 2001. He was nominated by President George W. Bush on December 16, 2000 and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate. Powell is married to the former Alma Vivian Johnson of Birmingham, Alabama. The Powell family includes son Michael (now chairman of the Federal Communications Commission); daughters Linda and Anne; daughter-in-law Jane; and grandsons Jeffrey and Bryan.

Powell was born in New York City and was raised in the South Bronx. His parents, Luther and Maud Powell, immigrated to the United States from Jamaica. Powell was educated in the New York City public schools, graduating from the City College of New York (CCNY), where he earned a bachelor's degree in geology. He also participated in ROTC at CCNY and received a commission as an Army second lieutenant upon graduation in June 1958. His further academic achievements include a Master of Business Administration degree from George Washington University[?].

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Military career

Powell was a professional soldier for 35 years, during which time he held a myriad of command and staff positions and rose to the rank of 4-star General. His last assignment, from October 1, 1989 to September 30, 1993, was as the 12th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military position in the Department of Defense. During this time, he oversaw 28 crises, including Operation Desert Storm in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He also formulated the Powell Doctrine.

Powell's succesful career within the military has not been entirely free of controversy, however. During the Vietnam War, Powell, as deputy assistant chief of staff at the Americal (the 23rd Infantry Division) with the rank of Major, was charged with investigating a detailed letter by Tom Glen (a soldier from the 11th Light Infantry Brigade), which backed up rumored allegations of the My Lai massacre. Powell's response was largely seen as a cover-up; he wrote: "In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent."

Civilian career

Following his retirement from the armed services, Powell wrote a memoir, My American Journey, that became a best-seller. In addition, he pursued a career as a public speaker, addressing audiences across the country and abroad. He was urged to run for president as a Republican Party candidate in 1996, but he declined.

Colin Powell was serving on the board of America Online when it announced its intention to merge with Time Warner in January, 2000. Powell's son, Michael, was a member of the Federal Communications Commission at the time, and he was the only commissioner who advocated letting the AOL-Time Warner deal go through without scrutiny. The value of Powell's stock in the company reportedly increased in value by US$4 million. The affair called into question the Powells' impartiality in the matter.

As Secretary of State in the Bush administration, Powell is perceived as moderate, his pragmatism serving as a balance to more idealogy-driven hawks, such as the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld and his colleagues Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. Powell's great asset has been his tremendous popularity among the American people.

Powell however continues to be dogged by controversy. In April, 2002, he visited the site of the Jenin Massacre[?], in the occupied West Bank and later testified to Congress: "I've seen no evidence of mass graves... no evidence that would suggest a massacre took place... Clearly people died in Jenin -- people who were terrorists died in Jenin -- and in the prosecution of that battle innocent lives may well have been lost." Recalling the My Lai episode, critics condemned Powell as a company man who is never willing to confront uncomfortable realities or rock the boat.

More recently, Powell has come under fire for his role in building the case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In the preceding months, Powell's chief role had been garnering international support for the coalition to mount the invasion. As part of this, Powell addressed a plenary session of the United Nations on February 5 to argue in favor of the action. While his oratorical skills and personal conviction were acknowledged, there was nearly universal rejection of the evidence Powell offered that the regime of Saddam Hussein possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), as pointedly alleged by President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, two of the most ferverent proponents of war. The episode weakened Powell's stature, as is the entire affair now gravely undermining the positions of Bush and Blair.

(Some original source material from Department of State website.)

Related Information

The character General Casey, played by Paul Winfield in the 1996 film Mars Attacks is widely regarded to have been based on Colin Powell.

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