He's the secretary of state, the United States' top diplomat and President Bush's point person overseeing all U.S. relations abroad.
In that role, Colin Powell is frequently on the road nudging, cajoling and negotiating with foreign leaders. During the second week of the allied attacks on Afghanistan, he flew to Pakistan and India to meet with both countries' leaders to discuss U.S.-led attacks and those two nations' own longstanding differences (see "What's Going On In Kashmir?"). And he has returned there since to further discuss these issues.
Powell is an avowed multilateralist, meaning that he strongly believes in building international support for major U.S. actions abroad, including the recently concluded conflict in Afghanistan. That stance has at times put him at odds with others in the Bush administration who are more often willing to have the United States go it alone.
Examples of unilateralist policies the administration has pursued include its refusal to commit to the Kyoto Accords, the worldwide environmental pact designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. If Powell opposed the move, he never stated so publicly.
After September 11, Powell walked a tightrope as he carefully coordinated international support for the U.S.-led retaliation against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Through various statements, Osama bin Laden attempted to portray the conflict as a Muslim vs. Christian, East vs. West war. One of Powell's primary goals was to convince citizens and governments of non-radical Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Egypt and Indonesia that the U.S. sought vengeance against al Qaeda and the Taliban specifically, not the Islamic world in its entirety. With anti-U.S. sentiment running high even in countries where the U.S. has traditionally had strong relations, such as Saudi Arabia, it proved to be a challenging and not entirely successful task.
Powell rose to national prominence during the 1991 Gulf War in his role as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making him the military's top uniformed commander. His calm, reassuring nature during press briefings made him a personality Americans came to respect and trust.
Out of his days at the Pentagon, Powell developed a comprehensive set of objectives for using military force overseas, which is now commonly referred to as "The Powell Doctrine." The primary points of the doctrine:
- Define your objective
- Use overwhelming force
- Fight wars you can win
- Secure public support
- Have a plan for getting out
Powell's critics hold him partly responsible for Saddam Hussein's continued presence in Iraq. They say he convinced the first President Bush to halt the Gulf War prematurely, passing on a unique chance to remove Hussein from power permanently.
The son of Jamaican immigrants, Powell has broken color barriers throughout his career. He was the first African-American to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he is the first African-American to be secretary of state.
Thanks to his successes at the Pentagon, Powell's name was frequently mentioned as a potential candidate for president and vice president in 1996 and 2000. But after retiring from the military in 1993, he instead published his memoirs and founded America's Promise, a national nonprofit organization designed to encourage youth public service through its partnerships with corporations. He returned to government in January 2001 after being tapped by George W. Bush for the top State Department job.
Tune into "Be Heard: An MTV Global Discussion With Colin Powell," premiering February 14 at 8 p.m. ET. Colin Powell answers your questions about world events during the show. Check the Weekly Schedule for encore air times.
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