Colin Powell led a storied career that took him from his Harlem childhood as the son of Jamaican immigrants to the pinnacle of the United States military and the highest levels of the federal government. His record of service was marred only by the starkly misleading and mendacious speech he gave before the United Nations that justified the impending American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Yet, Powell found redemption for that mistake when, only a couple of years later, he very forthrightly stated that he had been wrong, that he had been fed erroneous information by the CIA and the hawks in the George W. Bush administration who duped him and used his immense credibility as a cover for their cynical drive to war.

In an era when very few public figures are brave and honest enough to admit their mistakes and take responsibility for their failures, Powell was a distinguished exception. He learned from his own failures and from the failures of others. Having performed heroic service during the Vietnam War in which he saw policy disasters up close, he counseled against running off to future wars without a clear path to victory and the support of the American people when he became the first Black head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and, later, the first Black Secretary of State.

When he saw his own Republican Party veering toward right-wing craziness, he could not stay silent, first by endorsing Barack Obama over the McCain/Palin ticket, later by denouncing Donald Trump’s corrupt and dangerous regime and, finally, by leaving the GOP after the Trump-inspired attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. With the death of Colin Powell this week, the country has lost a man of decency, integrity and moral force at a time when such leaders — especially among Republicans — are in very short supply.

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