Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Web Property of the U.S. Department of State


Object Details

Steven Polson (American, b. 1962)
United States
North American
oil on canvas
Overall: 59 5/8 in x 45 5/8 in; 151.4475 cm x 115.8875 cm
Credit Line
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number


Colin Luther Powell (1937–) was born in New York City, the son of Jamaican immigrants. He attended City College of New York, and through the Reserve Officer Training Corps was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. During his 35 years in the army, he served two tours in Vietnam and was stationed in West Germany and South Korea. He was President Ronald Reagan’s deputy national security adviser and then, promoted to the rank of general, was appointed by President George H. W. Bush as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In this position he oversaw multiple crises, including Operation Desert Storm in 1991, which pushed Iraq under Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. After his retirement in 1993, he founded America’s Promise, an organization that helps at-risk children. President George W. Bush called Powell back into service as secretary of state, and he was the first African American to serve in this position.

Powell began his term by reaffirming diplomatic alliances throughout the world. He reinvigorated U.S. diplomacy through reforms in the Department of State’s organizational culture and an infusion of resources for personnel, information technology, security, and facilities. But after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he supported taking swift military action against al-Qaeda, the organization harbored by Afghanistan that was responsible for the attacks. When it became suspected that Saddam Hussein in Iraq was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, Powell pressed to have UN inspectors investigate but advised against President Bush’s preemptive military action. Even as these new wars in Afghanistan and Iraq demanded his attention, Powell also worked to improve relations with Russia and China, advocated for an international initiative against AIDS, and sought to halt the nuclear weapons programs of North Korea and Iran. He continued to believe that Middle East stability required a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by means of an independent Palestinian state.

Following his resignation, Powell returned to the private sector and continued his work with America’s Promise.