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Colin Powell

A patriot haunted by Iraq

Colin Powell with his wife, Alma, in 2010. Linda Davidson/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Colin Powell, who died of Covid this week at 84, was a “great American”, says Paula Dobriansky in The Wall Street Journal. This “soldier, statesman and patriot” rose from Jamaican immigrant’s son in the Bronx to the highest levels of government – a “true American dream”. His military career spanned the age of US global dominance, from postwar Germany (he met Elvis twice) and Vietnam (he fell into a booby trap lined with sharpened punji sticks) up to the invasion of Iraq after 9/11.

Powell’s speech at the UN trying to drum up support for the Iraq War became his greatest regret – he later admitted it would forever be a “blot” on his record. But those who remember him as “the man who could have stopped the invasion of Iraq” get him all wrong, says Bret Stephens in The New York Times. The idea that Saddam posed a “unique threat to global security” was widely shared – including by Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. Off the battlefield, Powell was married for 59 years and loved cars: in 2016 he and Biden drag-raced their Corvette Stingrays on the TV show Jay Leno’s Garage.

All these hagiographies are ridiculous, says Belen Fernandez in Al Jazeera. Powell oversaw the “indiscriminate bombing of civilians” in the first Gulf war and presided over “all manner of bomb-based devastation” in Panama. He might not have made it to the White House, but he did a “swell job” of rallying bipartisan support for imperial killing “and putting as polite a face on it as possible”.

As death approached, Powell was still in “fighting form”, says Bob Woodward in The Washington Post. “I’ve got multiple myeloma cancer and I’ve got Parkinson’s disease, but otherwise I’m fine,” he said. Before he died, Woodward asked him: “Who was the greatest man, woman or person you have ever known?” “It’s Alma Powell,” he said immediately. “She was with me the whole time… and she put up with a lot. She took care of the kids when I was, you know, running around. And she was always there for me and she’d tell me, ‘That’s not a good idea.’ She was usually right.”