George W Bush and Joe Biden lead Colin Powell tributes after ex-secretary of state dies

Republican honours ‘friend’ and globally respected former White House official after passing

Andrew Feinberg
Monday 18 October 2021 18:33 EDT

Colin Powell, former US secretary of state, dies of COVID-19 complications

President Joe Biden on Monday paid tribute to General Colin Powell, the first Black man to hold the posts of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state, calling him a “dear friend and a patriot of unmatched honor and dignity”.

Mr Biden, who as a senator presided over General Powell’s confirmation hearing when he was nominated to be secretary of state, said in a statement that he and the first lady, Jill Biden, were “deeply saddened” by the news of his death from Covid-19 complications early Monday.

“Colin embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat. 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,” Mr Biden said.

“From his front-seat view of history, advising presidents and shaping our nation’s policies, Colin led with his personal commitment to the democratic values that make our country strong. Time and again, he put country before self, before party, before all else – in uniform and out – and it earned him the universal respect of the American people”.

He added that Mr Powell was “easy to share a laugh with” and “a trusted confidant in good and hard times”, who “could drive his Corvette Stingray like nobody’s business”.

“I am forever grateful for his support of my candidacy for president and for our shared battle for the soul of the nation. I will miss being able to call on his wisdom in the future,” Mr Biden said.

The president also issued a proclamation ordering flags in the US lowered to half-staff in Mr Powell’s memory until 22 October.

As news of Mr Powell’s death broke early Monday morning, tributes to his memory flowed in from across the world, with leaders in the US from both parties – as well as those from abroad – remembering him as a pioneering soldier and statesman who gave decades of service to his country as an army officer and an adviser to multiple presidents.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who like Mr Powell is also a child of a Jamaican immigrant, called the former secretary of state “an independent thinker and a barrier breaker who inspired leaders in our military and throughout our nation”.

Ms Harris, who said she last saw Mr Powell at a July dinner in honour of outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the former four-star general “served our nation with courage, unwavering in his belief in its principles and its promise”.

“The legacy that he leaves behind – on America’s national security and on the leaders he mentored – can be seen every day across our nation and the world,” she added.

Former President George W Bush, who selected Mr Powell to be his secretary of state after winning the 2000 presidential election, said in a statement that he and former first lady Laura Bush were both “deeply saddened” by his passing and called him “a great public servant”.

“Many presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and expertise … he was such a favourite of presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom twice,” Mr Bush observed.

“He was highly respected at home and abroad, and – most important – Colin was a family man and a friend.”

Dick Cheney, Mr Bush’s vice president – who also served as Mr Bush’s father George HW Bush’s Defence Secretary during the first Iraq war but famously clashed with General Powell during the push for Congress to authorise the second – said in a statement that he “was a trailblazer and role model” to many Americans.

“Working with him during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm I saw firsthand General Powell’s dedication to the United States and his commitment to the brave and selfless men and women who serve our country in uniform,” he said.

Members of Congress and other political figures from both sides of the aisle also weighed in to praise the trailblazing soldier and diplomat who had once been thought of as a potential GOP presidential candidate.

Representative Vern Buchanan, Republican of Florida, wrote on Twitter that Gen Powell “an incredible statesman and American hero” who “shaped US foreign policy for the last three decades”.

House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik said she was “saddened” to hear of Gen Powell’s passing. “America has lost a true leader and American patriot, but we will always remember his service to the United States of America!” she wrote.

Representative Carlos Giminez, another Republican, called him “a patriot and a trailblazer” and “a giant in American foreign policy as the world navigated through the fall of the Soviet Union and the wave of global terrorism”.

“He served his country with incredible honour and distinction,” he added.

Top Democrats in the House of Representatives also weighed in with statements lamenting Mr Powell’s passing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote that America “has lost an historic leader who dedicated his life to defending our nation and our families”.

“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. His leadership strengthened America and his life embodied the American Dream,” she said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also noted his passing in a statement, writing: “America has lost a leader the likes of which our country needs”.

The Maryland Democrat described himself as “devastated” to hear the news.

“Few have been able to bridge our divides in recent decades to become nearly universally admired. Secretary Powell was the rare exception, earning accolades for his steady leadership of our military, his calm and reassuring demeanor as a diplomat, and his strong moral convictions in every pursuit,” Mr Hoyer wrote, adding that the former secretary of Sstate “will long be remembered as a great American who dedicated his life in service to his nation”.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Jamie Harrison also took to Twitter to praise Gen Powell, who he described as “a statesman who put his country [and] family above all else”.

“As a young Black man, he inspired me [and] showed that there are no limits to what we can be or achieve,” Mr Harrison said.

And from abroad, German foreign minister, Heiko Maas expressed bis own condolences in a tweet: “The United States is losing a straightforward foreign policy maker – and we Europeans are losing a transatlantic bridge-builder. As a general at the time of reunification, he was very attached to our country. We mourn with his family and friends.”

Though General Powell ended his military career as one of the most widely admired men in America and continued to hold the public’s acclaim for years after – a 2002 Gallup poll showed him to be the most popular political figure in America – his reputation took a hit after he delivered a 2003 speech to the United Nations laying out the Bush administration’s case for the invasion of Iraq.

The soldier-turned-diplomat argued at the time that Iraq’s weapons program necessitated an invasion, but after the evidence supporting the decision to invade turned out to have been manipulated, he called the revelations “deeply troubling” and called it “a great intelligence failure on our part”.

But members of President Biden’s cabinet who spoke out about Mr Powell on Monday had nothing but praise for the former top diplomat.

The current secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said the occasion of General Powell’s death “is a sad day for us here at State, especially for all those who worked for and with Secretary Powell, and will never forget the experience”.

“He gave the State Department the very best of his leadership, his experience, his patriotism. He gave us his decency, and the State Department, loved him for it,” Mr Blinken said.

“Secretary Powell was simply and completely a leader, and he knew how to build a strong and united team, he treated people the way he expected them to treat each other. And he made sure that they knew he would always have their back. The result was that his people would walk through walls for him”.

And Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin – himself a former four-star general and the first Black man to hold the nation’s top civilian defence post – told reporters traveling with him in the Republic of Georgia that General Powell had been a “tremendous personal friend and mentor” to him, one who “always had great counsel” who always made time for him and could be counted on for advice on “tough issues”.

Mr Austin said the world had “lost one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed”.

“We will certainly miss him. I feel as if I have a hole in my heart, just learning of this recently,” he said. “He was the first African-American chairman of the Joint Chiefs, first African-American Secretary of State and a man who was respected around the globe. Quite frankly, it is not possible to replace a Colin Powell. We will miss him”.

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