Why is he known for the US's biggest intelligence failure
If you are a Pakistani who is 19 years old or younger, you were not around when 9/11 happened. But you would have lived through all the terrible bloodshed that followed and your perception of the West and Islam would have most likely been deeply affected by the events that unfolded after that fateful day.
One person whose name you may have heard linked to many of the decisions that took place after 9/11 is that of Colin Powell. He was in the news this week because he died of Covid. It is worth knowing how Colin Powell contributed to history. His name is associated with war in ways that few in the region and beyond will forget. Here are some key facts about the role he played:
Gen. Colin L. Powell was a former US Secretary of State. A secretary of state’s job is to carry out the President’s “foreign policies through the State Department, which includes the Foreign Service, Civil Service, and U.S. Agency for International Development” or USAID. (The USAID has spent millions of dollars in Pakistan).
Powell also served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This person is America’s “highest-ranking military officer and the principal military advisor to the president, the secretary of defense and the National Security Council.”
Powell had military credentials to have risen through the ranks to attain such a height. He started by fighting in the Vietnam War and became the first Black national security adviser in the late 1980s. He then became the first Black, and the youngest, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush in 1989. Powell was a key figure in Washington after the first Gulf War in 1990.
The Economist called him “the most prominent American soldier of his generation”.
When 9/11 took place, the US president was George W Bush. Colin Powell was part of his administration. Bush declared the “war on terror” and Powell supported him.
Powell argued that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” and it was his speech at the UN Security Council in 2003 that persuaded many members that Iraq should be invaded.
It was his speech to the UNSC in 2003 that changed the course of history.
Much to the surprise and shock of the world, especially the Muslim world, Powell later said that his information on Iraq had not been correct and there was no weapons of mass destruction.
News of his death elicited strong reaction in Iraq, which has paid the price of what they call “never-ending wars”. Many of them wish he had been tried of war crimes.
Iraq’s slow descent into chaos then led to sectarian strife and the rise of ISIS or Daesh. “In one section of the speech, Powell referred to a Jordanian-born jihadist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, 21 times, in an effort to prove a link between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein,” states The Guardian. “According to an investigation by the PBS programme Frontline, it helped raise Zarqawi’s profile and helped give this previously obscure militant a mass following, paving the way for the organization that would become Isis.”
Academics have argued that American’s supported the Bush administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003 because they saw it as “an extension of the war on terror” after the September 11, 2001, attacks in which thousands of Americans were killed. President Bush gave speeches that kept connecting 9/11 to Iraq.
The Bush administration convinced the American public that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. “Framing the war on Iraq in this way connected it intimately with 9/11, leading to levels of support for this war that stretched nearly as high as the levels of support for the war in Afghanistan,” write Amy Gershkoff and Shana Kushner in the journal Perspectives on Politics.
The American soldiers ended up fighting in Iraq from 2003 to 2011, and nearly 4,500 of them were killed and 32,000 were wounded. On the other hand, the numbers of Iraqis who have died is estimated at over 300,000 but the real number is not known.