Colin Powell, the barrier-breaking soldier, diplomat, who served Democratic, Republican, and Independent presidents in war and peace, but whose sterling reputation was marred by his false claims to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq, died Monday from COVID-19 complications. He was 84.

Powell, a Vietnam War veteran, served 35 years in the Army. He rose to the rank as a four-star general. He was the first Black chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989. He was responsible for the U.S. invasions of Panama and Kuwait, as well as the U.S. invasions of Kuwait and Iraq in 1991. He was appointed the first Black secretary to state in President George W. Bush’s Cabinet a decade later.

In February 2003, he was named secretary of state to the U.N. Security Council and presented the case for U.S. military action against Iraq in a time of international doubt. He claimed that Saddam Hussein had hidden weapons of mass destruction. He told the world that Iraq’s claim to have no such weapons was “a web of lies”.

Powell’s family announced his death via social media. They said that he was fully vaccinated against coronavirus.

The family stated that they had lost “a remarkable and loving husband and father, grandfather and great American.” Powell was admitted to Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda.

Peggy Cifrino was Powell’s long-time aide. She said that Powell had been treated for multiple myeloma over the years, which is a form of blood cancer. Social media posts by the Powell family did not mention any underlying conditions.

Multiple myeloma affects the body’s ability against infection. Studies have shown that patients with this type of cancer don’t receive as much protection from COVID-19 as people who are healthier.

President Joe Biden stated that Powell “embodied both the highest ideals of warrior and diplomat” at the White House.

Biden noted Powell’s rise to prominence from a poor New York City childhood. He said that he believed in America because he had lived it. He devoted much of his adult life to making this promise a reality for others.

Flags were lower at the White House, State Department and State Department.

Powell was the first American official after the 2001 attacks to place blame on Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaida network. In October 2001, Powell made a quick trip to Pakistan to demand that the then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf work with the United States to pursue the Afghanistan-based terrorist group. This group also had a presence within Pakistan, where bin Laden was later murdered.

Powell was George W. Bush’s initial secretary of state. He led a State Department that was skeptical of Saddam’s conviction by the intelligence and military communities that he had weapons of mass destruction or was in possession of them. In February 2003, Powell presented the administration’s argument that Saddam posed a significant regional and global threat to the U.N Security Council, despite his reservations. Bush approved the invasion the following month. Although Powell displayed a vial of what he claimed could be a biological weapon in the U.N. speech, it was considered a low point of his career. He had also removed elements from the remarks that were based on poor intelligence assessments.

Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the United States. This ended his rule as a brutal dictator. The power vacuum and lawlessness created by the invasion led to years of sectarian violence and chaos in Iraq that left many civilians dead. It also sparked an insurgency that lasted years and tilted the balance in the Middle East towards Iran, an American rival. There were never any weapons of mass destruction from Iraq.

In an interview with The Associated Press in 2012, Powell stated that the U.S. had succeeded in Iraq on balance.

He said, “I believe we had many successes.” “Iraq’s horrible dictator is gone.”

Saddam Hussein was captured in Iraq by U.S. forces in December 2003 while hiding in northern Iraq. He was later executed by the Iraqi government. The war continued. Obama pulled out U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011. However, he sent back advisers in 2014 after the Islamic State group invaded the country from Syria. They had captured large swathes of Iraqi territory.

Bush stated Monday that Powell’s death had deeply saddened him and Laura Bush, the former first lady.

Bush stated that he was “a great public servant” who was “widely respected both at home and abroad.” “But most importantly, Colin was a father and friend. Laura and I send Alma, their children, our deepest condolences.

Powell rose to national prominence during Republican presidents. He considered running for the presidency, but he eventually left the party. He supported Democrats in all four of the previous presidential elections, beginning with Obama. In recent years, he became a vocal critic of Donald Trump. He called Trump a “national disgrace” and should have been removed as president through impeachment. After the January 6th storming at the U.S. Capitol Powell stated that he no longer considers himself to be a Republican.

Powell was not born to privilege and rose through the military ranks to become the country’s chief diplomat. In his 1995 autobiography, “My American Journey,” Powell wrote that Mine is “the story of a black child of no early promise who came from a poor immigrant family and was raised in South Bronx.”

Powell was a student at City College when he discovered ROTC. He wrote that he liked the first uniform he wore.

He joined the Army in 1962 and was among more than 16,000 military advisors that President John F. Kennedy sent to South Vietnam. After a series of promotions, he was assigned as a military assistant for Secretary of Defense Caspar Wineberger, who became his official sponsor. Later, he was commander of the Army’s 5th Corps Germany and then became President Ronald Reagan’s national security advisor.

His term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs was marked by the Powell Doctrine. This doctrine stated that the United States should not commit troops to a conflict unless it has clear objectives, enough firepower, and sufficient public support.

Lloyd Austin, the Defense Secretary, was a former Army General and the first Black Pentagon Chief. He said that the news about Powell’s death had left “a gap in my heart.”

Austin stated that the world had lost one of our greatest leaders while he was on a European trip. Alma lost her husband, and her family lost a remarkable father. I also lost a dear friend and mentor. 

Condoleezza Rice was Powell’s successor as State Secretary and the first black female secretary in the department. She praised him for being a “trusted colleague” and a “true friend through very difficult times.”

Powell’s speeches at the United Nations, including his speech on Iraq, were often accompanied with fond memories of his childhood in the city. He was the son of Jamaican immigrants and worked his first job at the Pepsi Cola bottling plant, which is located across the East River from U.N headquarters.