Powell’s official portrait as secretary of state unveiled

December 8, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled the official portrait of former Secretary of State Colin Powell on Monday, noting there were few Americans as admired and celebrated.

“There’s an elementary school named after him in Virginia, there’s a couple more named after him in Texas,” Clinton told a crowd in the State Department’s Benjamin Franklin Room.

“A middle school in Illinois. A street in Gelnhausen, Germany, where Second Lieutenant Colin Powell reported for duty 50 years ago,” she said.

Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Gulf War, said the large oil painting done for the State Department was not the first portrait of him to adorn a government building.

“I have an official portrait at the Pentagon in the Hall of Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” he said, noting it was done during the Clinton administration when Vice President Al Gore was doing a reinventing government program.

“And so it is an 8-by-10 glossy that has been blown up,” he said to laughter. “So help me, it’s an 8-by-10 glossy that I do like, and it was blown up to full size, put in a frame, and hung on a wall.”

“Well, that’s how we balanced the budget,” ClintonUSA/POWELL responded.

Several Republican leaders and some of Powell’s former foreign counterparts attended the ceremony, including former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay and former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Powell said he and Fischer first crossed paths 25 years ago when he was a corps commander guarding the Fulda Gap near Frankfurt and Fischer was the head of the Greens Party in the state.

Powell said one day his commanders came in a said, “The Greens have just gone onto our tank-driving range and they have planted trees all over the place so we can’t drive our tanks anymore.”

“I said, ‘What are you going to do?’”

“‘We’re going to run over the trees.’”

“‘No, no, no, you’re not,’” Powell said he responded. “‘You do not run over the trees in Germany. This is not a time for overwhelming force. This is a time for smart power, decisive power.’USA/POWELL

“So we dug up all the trees, brought them to our housing area, replanted them and then invited the Greens to come to our ceremony of dedication,” he said.

Powell said he and the other foreign ministers sometimes had “severe disagreements,” especially over the 2003 Iraq war.

“But Joschka and I and our fellow diplomats on both sides were never estranged from each other, because we understood that even among allies, disagreements arise. And what’s important is to come back together, the ties that bind us together,” he said.

“And what I remember most vividly from those trying days is that Joschka would say to me, “Colin, we have to keep working together,” Powell said. “We in Germany will never forget what the United States has done for us over these years, and so we have to make sure that these ties are never broken.”

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Photo credit: Reuters/Hyungwon Kang (Powell, Clinton share a light moment; the unveiling of Powell’s portrait)

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