Remarks by the Deputy Secretary of Defense
The Honorable Gordon R. England
American Bahraini Friendship Society
6 September 2006
Good evening! Thank you to [VADM (ret)] Tom Bigley for the warm introduction and the invitation to meet with the American Bahraini Friendship Society this evening. I do thank you for the great work you are doing to bring our two nations even closer together. Thank you, too, to Dr. Nasser, Sheikh Abdulla, and the Embassy of Bahrain for graciously hosting this event. It is always good to spend time with good friends.
Now, I realize that I am the only thing standing between you and some great food and conversation – so many of you will be relieved to hear about my theory of remarks. The perfect remarks include a short but interesting introduction, a strong, memorable conclusion – with the introduction and the conclusion as close together as possible!
What I’d like to do is say a few words about the friendship and partnership between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Bahrain, and offer a few perspectives about why that relationship is so very important.
The thing that has most impressed me on my own trips to Bahrain is how much Bahrain has accomplished – in so little time.
This year marks 35 years of full independence for Bahrain. Think back for a minute to where America was, after 35 years of independence… America had just elected its fourth president. There were only 17 states in the Union. And it would take further bloodshed – in the War of 1812, and the Civil War – to unite the country.
At 35 years of independence, America had taken baby steps, America had taken baby steps – but Bahrain, at that age, has made leaps and bounds.
Bahrain’s total population falls somewhere between North and South Dakota - but Bahrain has a booming economy and a thriving young democracy. And Bahrain supports other countries in their times of need – like its generous humanitarian assistance to Lebanon this summer, and to the United States after Hurricane Katrina. And America does thank you for that.
Bahrain is fortunate to be blessed with excellent leadership – from the King, Sheikh Hamad; the Prime Minister, Sheikh Khalifa; and the Crown Prince, Amir Salman.
What they do, as good leaders, is provide an environment where everyone can excel. At the end of the day, the story of a country is the story of its people – and the story of the people of Bahrain is one of ingenuity, and drive, and determination – and leadership.
The United States has been fortunate to enjoy a long-standing shared history with Bahrain, dating back to joint efforts to make sure the people of Bahrain had quality medical care.
It’s a shared history that many of you have participated in, over time.
Now as most of you know, I served two terms as Secretary of the Navy, and I do retain a certain fondness for all things maritime. The presence set up by the US Navy in 1949, to help maintain security in the Gulf, has grown, and Bahrain now hosts NAVCENT, home to 3000 Navy personnel.
That security partnership has expanded into robust cooperation on many fronts:
· During the first Gulf War, Bahraini and American pilots flew numerous sorties together.
· In OEF, Bahrain stepped up and committed forces.
· And in OIF, Bahrain provided essential support to both naval and air forces.
· Bahrain is now officially a “major non-NATO ally”.
This Department – and this Government – remain very grateful.
Our security partnership is matched by our long-standing economic ties. The new Free Trade Agreement is the first, for the US, with an Arabian Gulf country.
It should help create and sustain jobs in both countries, and suggest new directions and opportunities to our entrepreneurs. It is a good news story for both of us, and a good example for others - for today, and for the long-term.
At the end of the day, both security and economic partnerships are based on personal relationships – from state visits to less formal opportunities to exchange ideas.
· I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Bahrain a number of times.
· When I traveled there as the Secretary of the Navy, I had the privilege of an audience with the King of Bahrain. He made a gesture that I will always remember – he wore his Navy uniform in honor of the visit. It was a deeply appreciated courtesy.
· Just a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of inviting Dr. Nasser and his daughter Leena to join me for a Washington Nationals baseball game. Let me tell you - baseball and hot dogs are a great way to further cement a friendship!
It seems to me that personal relationships are what this Friendship Society is all about – business opportunities, and scientific conferences, and cultural and educational exchanges… I can’t imagine a better way to build bridges.
The partnerships that all of us are working to strengthen are good for the US, and good for Bahrain… and good for others, too. Frankly, there is no way that any single nation, alone, can meet the security challenges of the 21st century – we’ve got to work together.
By any measure, that security landscape is complex.
· Some states continue to use aggressive language, to intervene unhelpfully in other sovereign states, and to pose a threat to regional stability.
· All of us – all freedom-loving nations – face threats from ruthless terrorists. They attempt to recruit support by reaching out with distorted ideologies and, sometimes, with practical assistance. They explicitly target civilians, and they also target the anchors of our economic prosperity – like transportation and banking systems. They are determined, literally, to destroy the very way of life for free nations.
There are no “quick fixes” for these challenges… but there is one sure, steady approach that is absolutely necessary: that approach is to expand the cause of freedom.
President George W. Bush said, “There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.” It is the force of freedom that brought down the Berlin Wall and opened the voting booths in Iraq and Afghanistan. Freedom is the most powerful tool for change in our arsenal.
Last weekend, I met with the Islamic Society of North America, at their annual conference in Chicago. I shared my view that Muslims in America are a shining example of the seamless compatibility between the peaceful religion of Islam and the basic American values of freedom, and peace, and prosperity. And I shared my view that all of us who have enjoyed the benefits of freedom and opportunity have a responsibility to reach out, to help extend the promise of freedom to those who have known far too little of it.
A couple of years ago, the Crown Prince of Bahrain made a similar point. He spoke about the need to provide people with “opportunities that can promise hope for a better life, with better jobs than their parents and better prospects for their own children.”
Once again, the world is at a critical historical juncture. The future course of history will be decided by the choices that people make – whether the terrorists’ path of violence, or the far better path of peace, development, and prosperity.
For 230 years, America has placed her future in the promise that freedom and opportunity will always succeed against tyranny and oppression. President Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
I do congratulate Bahrain, its leadership, and its people, and the American Bahraini Friendship Society, for your steadfast commitment to a more open and progressive society for all people.
Lastly, I do thank each of you here this evening for what you do every day, to preserve and extend the promise of freedom, to leave a more peaceful and prosperous world for our children and grandchildren.