Once retired, Mr. Powell, a lifelong independent while in uniform, was courted as a presidential contender by both Republicans and Democrats, and became America’s most political general since Dwight D. Eisenhower. He wrote a best-selling memoir, “My American Journey,” and flirted with a run for the presidency before deciding in 1995 that campaigning for office wasn’t for him.
He returned to public service in 2001 as secretary of state to President George W. Bush, whose father Mr. Powell had served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs a decade earlier. In taking the job, Mr. Powell followed the footsteps of one of his heroes, Gen. George Marshall, who served as secretary of state to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
But in the Bush administration, Mr. Powell was the odd man out, fighting internally with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for the ear of President Bush and for foreign policy dominance.
He left at the end of Mr. Bush’s first term under the cloud of an ever-worsening war in Iraq, and growing questions about whether he could have and should have done more to object to it.
He kept a low profile for the next few years, but with just over two weeks left in the 2008 presidential campaign, Mr. Powell, by now a declared Republican, gave a forceful endorsement to Senator Barack Obama, calling him a “transformational figure.” Mr. Powell’s backing was criticized by conservative Republicans. But it eased the doubts among some independents, moderates and even some moderates in his own party, and largely neutralized concerns about Mr. Obama’s lack of experience to be commander in chief.
A Son of Immigrants
Colin Luther Powell was born on April 5, 1937, in Harlem and reared in the ethnically mixed Hunts Point section of the South Bronx. His parents, Luther Powell, a shipping-room foreman in Manhattan’s garment district, and Maud Ariel McKoy, a seamstress, were immigrants from Jamaica.
The young Mr. Powell graduated from Morris High School in the Bronx. By his own account, he was a mediocre student, carrying a C average at City College of New York, majoring in geology.
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