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Department of Defense Award Ceremony for Former Secretary Clinton

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, The Pentagon, Thursday, February 14, 2013

Thank you very much.  What a great honor to be able to recognize this very special person.

All the leaders of the department, friends, colleagues, distinguished guests, we are truly delighted to welcome and to recognize someone who's a dear friend to me and Sylvia, someone that I've been working with and working for over the last 20 years, a strong and dedicated partner of the Department of Defense, and I believe without question one of the finest public servants of our time.

This is, as Marty raised, probably a great Valentine's Day present for all of us here at the department.  The second best Valentine's present would be to allow Sylvia and I to get the hell out of town at the end of the day.

I feel like it's "Groundhog Day" around here.

As First Lady, as United States Senator from New York, and as the 67th Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has been a stalwart advocate for the U.S. military.  And that's really why we honor her today.  She's been a champion of our servicemembers, our veterans, and she has been a forceful voice for American leadership in the world.

This morning, we're all honored to be able to honor her with the highest awards of this department, the highest awards that we can bestow. As I said, I'm extremely proud of my association with Hillary over these last two decades.  It was about 20 years ago last month when I first joined the Clinton Administration as Director of the Office of Management and Budget.  It was a different world then.  Think about the key political challenges that we had back then, health care issues, gun control issues, partisan gridlock, budget deficits.  

On second thought, the only thing that has changed is that Hillary and I are a little older, perhaps a little wiser, a little less patient, particularly with political dysfunction, a little bit less tolerant of B.S. in general, and it is probably a good thing at this point in time that we have a chance to get some damn rest.

She's made it.  And, I'm going to have as broad a smile as she does, hopefully, in a few days.

I've got my office packed up.  Sylvia is packing at home.  I'm ready to go.  It's like, "All right."

For four years that I had the honor of serving in the Clinton Administration, both as Director of OMB and as Chief of Staff, I really had the opportunity to work with her in a very close, close way, because she was interested in the issues, she was involved in the important issues, obviously, particularly health care, women's rights, children's rights, all of the issues that she really fought for and pioneered, not only during that period, but for most of her life.  And I saw firsthand her knowledge and her passion for the issues that we deal with.  The issues that we confront in this country, you can study these issues, you can read about these issues, but the only way you really deal with the problems in our society is to have a passion for the problems that people face and try to find some way to help people achieve that better life.  And that's what I saw in her, was that passion to want to do that to try to help her fellow citizens.

For all these reasons, I was truly delighted to have the opportunity when I was asked to join the Obama Administration to come back and be alongside of her again as part of his national security team.  As part of that team, I witnessed early on how hard she works, how dedicated she is, and how she truly developed one of the best diplomatic skills as a Secretary of State of anyone that I've known in that capacity.  She had the understanding to see the problems that people are facing.  She had the ability to connect with the leaders of the world, to understand their challenges, to understand the issues that they had to confront.

And it takes that.  You've got to be a human being in these jobs.  You can't be a robot.  You can't just go through the act.  You can't just read the talking points.  You've got to have a sense of what others are facing and who they are and what they're about and what worries them.

I think, having worked with President Clinton, one of the great capabilities he had was to always make other world leaders understand what is in their national interest, not what's in the United States' interests, but what's in their interest.  And Hillary had that same capability to make others understand what is in their interests, and that's what made her so effective.

In my past role as CIA Director, she was someone who understood the importance of intelligence, understood the importance of intelligence operations, understood the importance of doing everything we could do to be able to go after those who attacked our country on 9/11.

As a Senator, she saw the terror of that moment firsthand.  And she never lost sight of the fact that we had to go after those who attacked us on 9/11 and use every capability we have.  And she was always there supporting our missions and supporting our operations, and I appreciate that support, particularly during the bin Laden operation.  You know, there is a movie out on this.

And, the guy who plays me isn't quite right.

I mean, my preference probably would have been Pacino.

But, I've been asked about that movie, and the fact is, I lived through that operation. And there's no way you can take 10 years of all of the work that was done, even in the last four years or the last two years up to that operation, that I was involved with.  There's no way you can take that and put it into a two-hour movie.  The fact is that there was a tremendous amount of teamwork involved in that, both by our intelligence and our military officials, did a tremendous job working through all of those issues.

But ultimately, it came down to a tough decision that the president had to make.  And, God bless him, he made a very tough decision.  But I can tell you that Hillary Clinton, sitting in that room, sitting with the National Security Council and trying to work through all these issues, a lot of different views, a lot of different opinions, but she was always there.  And I deeply appreciated her support for that effort.

It's been even more rewarding to have become Secretary of Defense and developed a very close partnership with the State Department.  Actually, this partnership, developed with my predecessor, Bob Gates, but as someone who's been in and out of Washington for the last almost 50 years, I know from personal experience that rivalry can hurt the relationship between the Department of State and the Department of Defense.  That kind of rivalry is very bad for both departments and the country, because you really do need a strong partnership between the State Department and the Defense Department.  There's too much at stake.  You've got to work together.  You've got to put your egos aside and work together on the issues that you have to confront.  To do that is indispensable to America's national security.

Because of that, during the time that we worked together as secretaries, Hillary and I did all we could to sustain the tightest possible bonds between ourselves and our departments.  Together, we have dealt with some very tough issues.  We've dealt with a lot of the threats that confront this country across the world.  We've taken part in some very tough debates and some very tough policy discussions on the Hill, at the White House, involving Afghanistan and Syria and terrorist attacks, and even on our own defense strategy, including the whole issue of Asia Pacific rebalance.

We've also traveled to some of the same meetings with foreign counterparts, here, overseas, NATO summits, the Australia-U.S. ministerial, heads of state visits.  I don't think too many people recognize how long meetings and sleepless travel and endless conferences and tough questioning can bring two people together, because most of the time you're trying to figure out where the hell you're at.  You're walking in circles.  And you've got to look at each other and say, we now have to face up to what we have to do to try to deal with the situation that confronted us.

In all of those discussions, Hillary has always brought us back to Earth, with the right argument at the right time.  Her ability in the end to be very pragmatic about what it takes to get something done is part of her genius as a leader, the ability to cut through it, the ability to listen to all the arguments, but in the end, to cut through it and make the decision that has to be made.  She is honest.  She is forceful.  She's a persuasive voice for doing what's right for the American people.

We have fought on opposite sides of the issues.  I'd sure as hell rather have her on my side than be against me, because she is so good in making her arguments.

More often than not, she and I have stood side by side in making our recommendations when the president has faced difficult choices in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and the Middle East.  And because of her leadership, our nation's diplomats and our development experts are working toward a common mission with the men and women of the Department of Defense, and I'm confident that our successes will sustain the bonds that we have built between the Department of Defense and the State Department.

Our personnel are putting themselves at risk from Afghanistan to North Africa, from the Middle East to Asia Pacific, and making great personal sacrifices in order to prevent conflict, to advance the cause of peace and security, and to help achieve the American Dream of giving our children a better life.

That dream has been Hillary Clinton's dream.   Today, the Department of Defense recognizes her for her great work in helping all of us better defend this nation and to provide that better life.

In my time in and out of government, Hillary Clinton is one of the most informed, most passionate, and most dedicated public servants that I've had the privilege to serve alongside.  She has devoted her life to expanding opportunities for everyone, to build a better future for this country and the world, because she believes everyone deserves the chance to fulfill their dreams and their aspirations.

And in many ways, I have to tell you, it was her inspiration that encouraged me to move forward to be able to bring down the last barriers for women in the Department of Defense and to give them the ability to have a chance to engage in combat.  I thank you for that inspiration.

Seventy years ago, the only person to serve as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, George Marshall, was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.  When he accepted the award, only months after the armistice on the Korean peninsula, Marshall reflected that:  "A very strong military posture is vitally necessary today, but it is too narrow a basis on which to build a dependable and long- enduring peace."

Marshall went on to say that, "Perhaps the most important single factor will be a spiritual regeneration to develop goodwill, faith, and understanding among nations.  There must be wisdom and the will to act on that wisdom."

Today, just 70 years ago, it is now clear that we need to maintain a strong military force to deal with the unstable and unpredictable and undeniably dangerous world that we live in.  But it is equally clear that we must enhance our other key levers of power, our economic and diplomatic power, if we are to truly achieve peace in the 21st century.

Delivering on that vision will require wisdom, and it will require a will to act, qualities that Hillary Clinton exemplified throughout her career and as Secretary of State.  Her legacy is the inspiration, the wisdom, and the will to fight for the American dream, and that, very simply, is why we honor her today.

Ladies and gentlemen, Hillary Clinton.

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