Colin Powell, a four-star general and former U.S. Secretary of State died this week at the age of 84 from complications from COVID-19 and multiple myeloma. Until the election of Barack Obama in 2008, General Powell held the distinction of being the highest ranked black man to serve in the United States government.
In the days following his death, four of the five living former presidents made statements praising Powell’s legacy and calling him an American hero. Speaking more frankly, former President Donald Trump issued a statement calling Powell “RINO” (Republican in name only) and saying that Powell “made a lot of mistakes.”
I never thought I would agree with Donald Trump, but as the old saying goes, “even a broken clock is right twice a day.”
As a Muslim American, I will always appreciate General Powell’s remarks when he appeared in 2008 on “Meet the press“. While discussing the baseless claim that then-candidate Obama was Muslim, General Powell chose to break away from Republican dogma and say that there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim in America and standing up for our right to hold public office.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that General Powell loved this country very much. Of his 84 years on this planet, 53 were spent in the service of the United States, both as a soldier and as a statesman. However, with these decades of service comes a very complicated legacy, full of missteps and outright lies. The most important being the lie that Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction. A lie that ended up costing taxpayers $ 8 trillion, as well as the lives of approximately 929,000 soldiers and civilians.
They say you should never speak ill of the dead, but trying to heal the legacy of a man whose work has so drastically ruined the lives of so many is absolutely helping no one.
Too many Bush-era politicians have seen their legacies unfairly rehabilitated by the media and other political figures. This is probably due in part to the unorthodox political style of the Trump administration. The Trump-era news cycle so grilled America’s brain that it left many Americans yearning for the good ol ‘Bush-era days of bland milquetoast neoconservatism.
In defense of General Powell, I understand that the post 9/11 era has raised many complex ethical dilemmas that no sane person would ever want to face. To work at such a high level position during such a tense time in American history requires a person to make many very drastic decisions.
While it is easy to criticize these decisions from the outside, it is important to apply some historical context to them as well. As citizens, we should be able to understand why government officials made the decisions they made, while being able to criticize the results their decisions brought about. Especially when so many people here and abroad are still grappling with the ramifications of these decisions.
Twentieth century philosopher George Santayana once said, âThose who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. The effects of September 11 and the years to follow are likely to be felt around the world for the remainder of the 21st century, if not longer. Trying to paint on the legacy of people whose actions will impact future generations long after they are gone is doing everyone a huge disservice.