It may be hard to remember now, but there was a time when Colin Powell’s name was regularly bandied about as a potential presidential candidate — and possibly the first black president. He had already tallied a serious of Washington firsts — he was the first African-American National Security Advisor under Ronald Reagan and the first African-American chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under George H.W. Bush.

Powell, who turns 75 today, was even the frontrunner in an early poll as a challenger to Bill Clinton in 1996, even though he had not declared that he was running. But the Harlem native said he held little interest in electoral politics.

But his career may be defined by his 2003 speech to the United Nations that made the case for war against Iraq. Behind the scenes, Powell had been pushing the Bush Administration to bring other countries into the fold before invading Iraq, and privately expressed doubts. His reputation as a voice of reason and his foreign policy bona fides were a major reason the White House tapped him to make the argument. Powell argued before the U.N. that Iraq was making weapons of mass destruction.

” Indeed, the facts and Iraq’s behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction.”

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