A fitting honor for an American hero

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General Colin Powell was a soldier, a statesman, a pioneer, a bridge builder.

He was also one of the few Americans of this era of political polarization who enjoyed something approaching universal admiration.

Putting his name on an Army base, especially one that now bears the name of a Confederate general, would be a fitting memorial for a man who has shown leadership and humility.

Powell, who died Monday at the age of 84, has had a quintessential American success story. The son of immigrants, he grew up in the South Bronx and was in his own right an indifferent student. Enrollment in the ROTC at the university launched a career that led Powell to the highest echelons of the military and government.

He became the first black man to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, national security adviser to the president, and secretary of state. Powell was also the first person appointed to these three prestigious positions.

Along the way, Powell won the trust of his subordinates, leaders of both sides and the American public.

He will be remembered for the “Powell Doctrine”: ensuring that there are clear and achievable goals, public and international support, and an exit strategy before using military force. Powell’s “Pottery Barn Rule” is a warning to political leaders who disregard his eponymous doctrine: “You break it, you own it.

Powell will also be remembered for a huge and very public mistake. While he was Secretary of State in the administration of George W. Bush, he presented the United Nations with very imperfect information to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“There is no question that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the ability to quickly produce more, much more,” Powell said in nationally televised remarks.

His credibility helps persuade many skeptical Americans to support the invasion. But there were no weapons of mass destruction, and the war in Iraq became the kind of quagmire he had strived to avoid since his experience as a junior officer in Vietnam.

To his credit, Powell did not shirk responsibility or apologize. He called the UN speech a “stain” that “will always be part of my file.” Powell’s frankness was refreshing. His remorse showed character and reflected a state of mind – the country before the party – worthy of bipartisan admiration.

In the 1990s, Powell was courted by members of both major parties to run for president. He opposes it but declares himself a republican. He broke ranks with the GOP in 2008, backing Barack Obama for president and denouncing Donald Trump’s false claims that Obama was not born in the United States. Powell quit the Republican Party after the Jan.6 uprising on Capitol Hill, but retained the respect of many GOP leaders.

Ari Fleisher, who was George W. Bush’s press secretary, told the Washington Post: “Ultimately our polarization is going to be pierced by someone who runs in the middle and unites people. Someone like Powell might be the one to do it. Maybe yes.

Powell’s example could help unity in another way as well. Congress created a commission to recommend new names for Fort Bragg, Fort Benning and eight other military bases named for Confederate generals – traitors who fought against the United States and for the defense of slavery during the Civil War .

These facilities should be named after the men and women who represent the best traditions of the US military: loyalty, patriotism, dedication to duty. We can’t think of anyone whose life exemplifies these traits better than General Colin Powell.

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