Washington, DC – Foreign Policy for America is saddened by the news of the passing of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. A highly respected statesman, Secretary Powell was also a historic figure. He served as the first Black Secretary of State, and at the time of his service, the highest-ranking Black person in the history of the federal executive branch.
Secretary Powell served under President George W. Bush at a tumultuous time in American history, from 2001-2005, during the attacks of September 11th and the early days of the war on terror. He played a critical role in building the coalitions that have supported the U.S. in the Middle East to this day. A centrist voice who was more cautious than others in the administration about the invasion of Iraq, Secretary Powell was the voice of diplomacy, urging the President to take a more multilateral approach, involving the U.N. and allies.
Secretary Powell was also known for raising morale at the State Department, leading on the HIV/AIDS initiative, and calling the conflict in Darfur what it was, a genocide. He was the first Cabinet member to call any ongoing conflict a genocide, and he bravely did so during a congressional hearing.
A lifelong public servant, Powell was a combat veteran, serving in the U.S. Army for 35 years, where he deployed twice to Vietnam and eventually rose to the rank of General. In Vietnam, he received the Soldier’s Medal after he survived a helicopter crash and rescued three others by pulling them to safety. Prior to serving as Secretary of State, Secretary Powell served as President Reagan’s National Security Advisor and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George W. Bush and Clinton. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he oversaw military operations during nearly 30 crises, including the 1989 invasion of Panama, Operation Desert Storm, and the first Gulf War. He was known for favoring diplomacy during times of international crisis and recommending military intervention only as a tool of last resort.
Many members of the FP4A Board of Directors worked with Secretary Powell throughout their careers.
“Colin Powell was the embodiment of public service and professional integrity,” said Foreign Policy for America Chairman Lionel Johnson. “He was a pioneer in so many roles, and as a mentor to me and countless others committed to the mission and efficacy of U.S. diplomacy. I continue to be inspired by his example.”
“Colin Powell was an extraordinary American who never forgot that diplomacy means people and that the Foreign Service is a family,” said Ambassador Laura Kennedy, FP4A Board member and former Ambassador to Turkmenistan and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State under Secretary Powell. “When he swore me in as Ambassador to Turkmenistan in the dark days after 9/11, I will always remember his kindness to my family from whom I was to be soon separated as I headed to this ‘front line’ state.”
“I had the honor of working with Secretary Powell both while he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State,” said Ambassador Robert Gelbard, FP4A board member, former Ambassador to Indonesia and Bolivia, and former Assistant Secretary of State. “He stands out as one of America’s finest leaders and as a model of integrity.”
“I was privileged to be Secretary Powell’s White House Fellow when the U.S. government was launching the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a game-changing initiative to fight global AIDS that has saved millions of lives,” said FP4A Board member and CEO of Welcome.US Nazanin Ash. “Secretary Powell’s leadership and commitment was singular, at a time when many global leaders were reluctant to take on global AIDS and doubtful that wide-scale treatment in low-income countries was possible. Secretary Powell believed it was not only possible, but imperative. His leadership, compassion, commitment, moral compass, and relentless pursuit of what was right and good–and what the US could achieve by leading globally– had immeasurable impact on some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.”
FP4A sends our condolences and sympathies to the Powell family, and all those who had the privilege of working with him at the State Department and throughout the federal government.