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Why did Colin Powell resign as US state secretary in 2004?

Yasmine Leung October 18, 2021
Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts

Colin Powell has passed away due to covid complications and people are looking back at his career as US state secretary – so why did he resign?

RIP Colin Powell

The Powell family announced his passing in a Facebook post on his profile, listing “complications from covid” as cause of death.

Powell made history as the first black US secretary of state when he assumed the role in 2001 until 2004. Prior to Barack Obama’s election, he was the highest-ranking black government official.

People are now looking back at his career, with some wondering why he resigned from such an esteemed position.

Why did Colin Powell resign?

On 15 November 2004, Powell announced his resignation. In a letter addressed to President George W Bush, he wrote:

“Now the election is over the time has come for me to step down as secretary of state and return to private life. I therefore resign as the 65th secretary of state, effective at your pleasure.”

Powell claimed serving only one term under Bush was his initial intention but CNN reports a senior State Department official accused him of being asked to leave.

The most widely believed reason for Powell’s resignation, however, involves the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Powell was initially against President Bush’s plan to invade and overthrow Saddam Hussein, believing it was better to focus on sanctions and other measures against Iraq.

Despite Powell’s advice, Bush proceeded with the invasion and Powell agreed to support him. In February 2003, he reportedly advanced the case to the UN Security Council by presenting comprehensive assessment of Iraq’s weapons programme, claiming the nation was concealing weapons of mass destruction.

Fast forward to September 2004 and Powell had to admit before Congress his intelligence sources during the presentation were inaccurate, stating officials knew the information was false but had never told him.

It is believed this slip-up caused tension within the administration and with the public.

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President George W Bush’s tribute to Powell

The 43rd US president labelled Powell a “favourite of presidents”:

“Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Colin Powell. He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam. Many presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience. He was national security adviser under President Reagan, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under my father and President Clinton, and secretary of state during my administration.

“He was such a favourite of presidents he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom – twice. He was highly respected at home and abroad and, most important, Colin was a family man and a friend. Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man.”

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Yasmine is a third-year Anthropology and Media student at Goldsmiths University with a new obsession with League of Legends, despite being really bad. She's always on social media keeping on top of the latest news and trends and is HITC’s expert in Korean pop culture. She also loves music, TV and fashion - her favourite things to write about.