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Saturday, 16 December, 2000, 17:43 GMT
Colin Powell: Bush's trump card
Colin Powell
Colin Powell was against intervention in the Gulf war
The appointment of Colin Powell as Secretary of State, with his cross-party appeal, is being seen as an important move for unity in the aftermath of the election.

He is widely seen as a man of restraint in the international field and will fit in well with President-elect George W Bush's policy of shying away from foreign interventions.

Colin Powell addressing the Republican convention
Colin Powell called on Republicans to embrace minorities
During the Gulf War, visitors to the general's office in the Pentagon could not fail to notice the quotation which was sealed into the glass covering of his desk.

It was from the ancient Athenian historian Thucydides and read: "Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most."

The Powell doctrine can be summed up as a reluctance to intervene, but using overwhelming force for quick victory once a decision is taken.

America's highest ranking

General Powell, who at 52 became the youngest, and first African American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, America's highest ranking soldier, has shown immense restraint. This applies to both his military and civilian lives.

As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Colin Powell worked alongside Dick Cheney during the Gulf war
At 63, he is a national hero whose charismatic image bridges America's racial divide.

But, even with an 81% popularity rating, he has been reluctant to state any political ambitions.

Colin Powell was born in 1937, into a family of Jamaican immigrants and was brought up in the poor South Bronx area of New York City.

Following a first taste of military life, as a cadet in his college's officer training corps, he decided to make the Army his career and was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1958.

Vietnam

In the 1960s he completed two tours of duty in Vietnam, the first as a military adviser to the South Vietnamese Army.

During his second tour, the helicopter in which he was travelling crashed and Powell was decorated for rescuing his troops from the blazing wreckage.

Powell in combat gear
Preparing for action in the Gulf
From that moment on Colin Powell enjoyed a rapid rise to the top. After alternating between military commands and staff jobs in Washington, he became senior military assistant to Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger in 1983, where he played a major role in operations such as the invasion of Grenada and the US bombing of Libya.

In 1987 President Reagan asked Powell to serve as his National Security Adviser. One of the few White House advisers to be untainted by the Arms to Iraq scandal, he was a key member of Reagan's staff during the negotiations which led to the signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union.

But Colin Powell became a world famous figure in 1990 when, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he was a major architect in the successful campaign against the Iraqi forces which had invaded Kuwait.

He summarised the plan thus: "Our strategy for going after this army is very, very, simple. First we are going to cut it off, then we are going to kill it."

Kuwait

However, behind the scenes, he was less hawkish. General Powell opposed sending US forces in to Kuwait, preferring merely to defend the Saudi oilfields.

Powell lecturing fellow black Americans
Powell challenging black Americans to fulfill their potential
Following his retirement in 1993, he published his memoirs, earning him an estimated $6.5m advance. He has dedicated himself to improving race relations.

In his frequent lectures to black children, he challenges them to fulfil their true potential.

His credibility in a Republican Party almost totally dominated by whites was crucial to the party's electoral chances, even though his liberal views on abortion (pro-choice) and positive discrimination for minorities (he is in favour) are at odds with those of the vast majority of his colleagues.

Though he has ruled himself out of running for the White House (his wife fears he would be assassinated), he has long been strongly tipped for the job of Secretary of State.

The appointment will make him the most powerful black man in American history.

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15 Dec 00 | Americas
Bush's African-American challenge
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