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Remarks at the Alaska Salute to the Armed Forces
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , Anchorage, Alaska , Friday, February 19, 1999

Thank you, [Senator] Ted [Stevens]. I had the privilege of working with Senator Stevens for 18 of his 30 years in the Senate. And I can tell you there is no Senator who holds greater esteem and greater respect than Ted Stevens. Because of his service during World War II, where he received two Distinguished Flying Crosses for his heroism during the war, he carries that brand of patriotism into each and every day that he serves in the United States Senate on the Appropriations Committee. He's also been a great mentor to me, even a better friend. And he's right, when he disagrees with me, he lets me know it. [Laughter] So I was delighted to come up here tonight at your invitation.

Governor [Tony] Knowles, I haven't seen you in a long time. You look great. [Laughter] It is a pleasure to meet you and your son this evening. General [Tom] Case [Commander of Alaskan Command], thank you for your hospitality all during the course of the day. Members of the Armed Services, ladies and gentlemen.

I looked at my watch as I come up to the podium and thought that this really is a violation of the Constitution, which prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. [Laughter.] I'm going to try to be as brief as possible. I asked Ted what I might say this evening. He said, "Oh, just give them 10 or 15 minutes of something light and not too intellectual. [Laughter.] Don't worry. I know you can do it." [Laughter]

I love to tell the story about Henry Ford, who after having made all of his millions in this country, decided he wanted to go back to his fatherland in County Cork, Ireland. And his reputation for wealth had long proceeded his arrival. When he finally stepped off the plane, there was a group of local town officials who were waiting to seek a contribution from Mr. Ford for the construction of a local hospital. And Ford was quite accustomed to being touched in that fashion. He pulled out his checkbook and he made a check out for $5,000.

The next day in bold print in the local paper, it said, "Ford contributes $50,000 for the construction of a local hospital." The town officials came rushing to him the next morning and said, "Mr. Ford, we're terribly sorry. This was not our fault. It must have been a typographical error and we'll be happy to see to it that a retraction is printed tomorrow." [Laughter] Ford said, "Wait a minute, I've got a better idea." Maybe that’s where that phrase came from. He said, "If you give me one wish, I'll give you the balance of $45,000." Well, that was an offer they really couldn't refuse. And he said, "I want, when that hospital is finally completed, to have a plaque over the entranceway with a quote taken from the source of my choice." The officials said, "It's done."

So he made a check up for $45,000 and he contributed to the hospital. It was built. It is there today. It has a plaque over the entranceway with a quote taken from the Book of Matthew. It says, "I came unto you as a stranger and you took me in." [Laughter and applause]

I come to you as a stranger this evening. I hope you'll take me in, but not in quite that fashion. And I will try to be relatively brief. As a Senator I gave a speech one time, one of my more lengthy speeches, and a woman came up to me after the speech and said, "Oh, Senator Cohen, that was perhaps the finest speech that I ever heard." As she was saying it, I was pumping myself up with a narcissistic pride, preening. She said, "As a matter of fact, it was just superfluous." [Laughter] And I couldn't tell whether that was just a slip of the tongue and said, "Thank you, ma'am. As a matter of fact, I was thinking of having it published posthumously." And she said, "Oh, wonderful, son. The sooner the better." [Laughter]

Let me begin by saying I owe a great deal to President Clinton for having asked me to take this job. I was in the process of leaving the Senate after eighteen years in the Senate and six in the House. I wanted to start a different career when I received a call from President Clinton who asked me to become his Secretary of Defense. And he did so for the sole purpose of trying to build a bipartisan consensus in the Congress and the country for a strong national defense. I think it took a lot of courage on his part to ask a Republican to serve in a Democratic administration. I believe that it may be the first time that it's ever happened where one president has picked an elected official from a different party to serve in his Cabinet.

I must say that he asked me to build that consensus. And with the help of Ted [Stevens] and many others on the Hill, we're doing that. So I'm grateful to him for having given me the opportunity to serve in this capacity. I can tell you without any derogation of my prior experience as a member of the House and Senate that there is no more challenging job in my lifetime. And I'd like to say at the same time, no more rewarding job in my lifetime. It's the most demanding, the most exhilarating and the most gratifying position in the world.

And I must tell you, it is great for me to be in a position to help represent the tremendous men and women who serve us in uniform all across this globe. I am with them on a daily basis. I must tell you I go to work enthusiastically. I come home even more enthusiastic because of the pride and professionalism and patriotism that they demonstrate day in and day out, every minute of the day. So I am pleased to be here and I look forward to serving the rest of this term. And then perhaps in private life I can come up to Alaska and I can spend a little bit of time actually visiting with you rather than simply speaking to you.

I thought I might begin this evening by asking a couple of questions Admiral Stockdale asked when he was asked to serve as Ross Perot's vice [presidential candidate]. It was a very memorable experience when he stepped up to the stage and asked two questions, two very existential questions. "Who am I? And why am I here?" And it produced something of amusement and laughter in some circles. But it was important for Admiral Stockdale to try to really identify who he was. Few people knew about his background as a prisoner of war. Few people knew about his heroism. But he was now stepping up to the political stage, asking two very important questions.

I think these two questions also have to be asked of us as a nation. Who are we? Why are we here? Why are we deployed anywhere in a new world? And the answer to that, of course, is that we are a superpower. And our constituents in this country are citizens that ask, "What does that mean? What does it mean to be a superpower? What are the burdens of being a superpower? What are the benefits of being a superpower? Are we prepared to pay for this and to what end?" These are the kinds of questions that we constantly must ask ourselves as we continue to pay for and fund the best military in the world. As you all know, it's easy in a democratic society whenever you have a budget crunch, the first place you look to take money is the Defense Department. And we have become smaller in our overall end strength, we’ve cut down about forty percent from the height of the Cold War, and we have cut our procurement by seventy percent. We have to ask these questions of where do we want to be and why.

I like to think that our policy, our strategy which I talked about earlier today of being engaged in the world, merits some very brief comments. We have to be engaged in the world if we're going to try to shape events in ways that are advantageous to us. There are some voices in our society, either on the extreme left or the extreme right, who say it's time for America to come home. You heard that expression back in 19672. At that time, it was coming from the left. But there are some in our society, conservatives who say, "Isn't it time for the Asians to take care of Asia or the Europeans to take care of Europe? Why can't we simply return to good old continental United States and watch events unfold here and protect our shores and our national integrity from threats outside of the United States."

Well, you all know that can't be done. Technology has miniaturized the globe. Those vast oceans that we used to look to in the Pacific and the Atlantic have been reduced to mere ponds. And today, I like to think of the world as not being much bigger than a small ball spinning on the finger of science.

I had occasion yesterday to visit the Microsoft campus and I talked with Chairman Bill Gates. I got to see all of those brilliant young people he has on his campus, simply looking into their computer screens, trying to come up with new and breathtaking ways to reduce our world even smaller and smaller, while things are becoming faster and faster in a Tofflerian age in which future shock is speeded up by events. And so, we have no choice. We have to be engaged in world affairs. There's no choice about that. We have to be forward deployed throughout the Asian-Pacific region.

Ted Stevens is fond of telling me that we're a Pacific power. Indeed, we are. That holds great potential and promise for the future. Even though some of the nations that were once seen as very large, powerful tigers have been reduced somewhat in recent months and years, you can expect they're going to come roaring back. And as they come roaring back, our future is tied to theirs by way of generating prosperity. And so, you have to think of the Asia-Pacific region when you talk about having 100,000 troops forward deployed, what would the world look like if we weren't forward deployed? What would happen in the Pacific region if we were suddenly to say, "You know, it's probably time for us to cut back on our force structure. Probably time for us to come home, probably time to let the Asian community take care of Asia itself." What would happen to the vacuum that would be created by created by the removal of our presence?

Nature abhors a vacuum. So do individual nations. And you could be sure that some countries would seek to fill that vacuum. It might be China. It might be Japan. It could be India or even Pakistan. But some country or combination of countries would rush to fill the gap. I think that would not be advantageous to us. I think that would be, in fact, very dangerous in terms of the lack of stability we provide right now being replaced by a regional arms race. So we can't retreat from the Asian-Pacific region. We have to be out there shaping and also we have to be out there responding to potential threats, something I talked about this morning.

The three elements of our policy are: shape, respond, prepare. To the extent that we are forward deployed, all of the countries of the region take our measure. They look at these young men and women who are serving us. They look how strong they are, how proud they are, how patriotic they are, how good they are. And they say, "This is a country whose side we want to be on." And our potential adversaries also take a look at us and they say, "This is a country we don't really want to engage in an adversarial way." And so we are shaping events in ways that are advantageous and favorable to the United States by deploying our best and brightest and showing them how good we are.

And as we shape, we also have to be able to respond around the world. We have to have the kind of flexibility that allows us to basically participate in a decathlon. We have to be strong enough to be able to throw a discus or a weight. We have to be lean and mean enough to conduct humanitarian operations, rescue missions, humanitarian peacekeeping operations, major regional conflicts such as we saw in Operation Desert Fox against someone who flaunts international norms in Iraq. We carried out that mission with absolute precision, professionalism and confidence. And I think it demonstrates to the world once again that we have not only the best technology in the world, we have the best people in the world.

So we are very, very proud of the men and women who are serving us, very proud of the way in which we can carry out an operation in which we have some 600 sorties carried out through a four-day period without a single loss, without any casualties, without any malfunction. All of those aircraft taking off from various bases and our ships, carrying out those attack missions, which has done far more damage than anyone has really realized. So we can take great pride that we have the ability to fill the entire spectrum of capabilities from rescue missions on the humanitarian side to peacekeeping operations, right up to taking on Saddam Hussein.

So, we shape and respond, but the most important part of our need for the future is preparing. And this is where we've been deficient. This is where leaders like Ted Stevens and others have called to us to focus on the future, saying we have to start making the kind of investment in new technologies of the future. And we haven't been doing that. Because we've been living under these fixed funding caps, we been handling existing challenges and have not been able to prepare for the future. As a result of Ted's leadership, we now have a proposal to increase our budget significantly. We have a proposal to increase our budget by $112 billion over the next six years. We are requesting $60 million by next year, so we are now preparing and investing in the future. [Applause]

We're investing in our people because that really is the most important thing that we have. We can talk about the new F-22, the Joint Strike Fighter, the Comanche and Crusader and all of the high tech equipment that we're developing. We are going to continue to have the best equipped military in the world. But if we don't have the best people, if we don't have the best talent in the world serving us, all that equipment will be for nothing.

So how do we face up to this challenge of how to compete? How do we compete against the Microsoft's and the other companies who are paying very high dollars to get the best and brightest? We can never fully match what the private sector pays. We can’t pay enough to our men and women, but we can pay more.

The result is a bill that is now pending before the Congress in which we're asking for at least a 4.4% increase in pay next year. We're going to reform the way in which we target pay raises to individuals, the ones who really are performing. And then we're going to have a change in our retirement plan as well. We must make these changes in order to tell the people who are serving us that you mean something to us. [Applause] That we will take care of you. So I'm going to be working with Senator Stevens and his counterpart in the House to really rebuild that structure for our people.

So we look to the future, the challenges. Ted listed them, and I won't take the time to go through each and every one. We have a world that perhaps is not as dangerous as it once was during the confrontation of the so-called Cold War existed between us and the former Soviet Union. But we have a number of other types of challenges that are equally dangerous to our security.

One happens to be the proliferation of missile technology. We've seen what the North Koreans have done, most recently being able to fire off a three-stage rocket reaching well into the Pacific over Japan. We have seen the Iranians test; they shot off three. They will be shooting four, five and six in the coming years, and we will see other countries that have acquired technology putting us at risk.

So again, working with Congress we have put funding in to develop a national missile defense system. Roughly by June of next year, President Clinton is going to make a decision as to whether the technology has matured enough to make a deployment decision. And I can tell you we will spend the balance of this year talking about it with the Russians, see if we can't amend the ABM Treaty to make sure that we provide the type of protection that we need to provide the American people. And Ted, once again, has been a leader in demanding that we focus on this emerging threat. And I want to thank you publicly again here for giving your support to this particular project. [Applause]

There are other types of threats: chemical weapons, biological weapons. I won't ruin your evening by giving you any examples of what this can mean to us, but you saw a sample of that when sarin gas was released in a Tokyo subway. You saw another example of it when you had the bombings in one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. A chemical agent was also planned; an unsuccessful chemical agent, thank goodness. But this is a threat that is coming to us.

We also face cyber-terrorism, namely, cyber attacks against our critical infrastructure. When you think about all of the technology that we celebrate today, you must also understand that we have become increasingly vulnerable. The very sword of technology can also cut off the hand that is holding it if we don't take care to protect our critical infrastructure. Again, there's not enough time in the evening to discuss all of this, but cyber-terrorism is something that presents as great a threat as we’ve ever had. And we are working on the millennium problem, the Y2K bug, which raises the question of how do we protect the information that we have.

With respect to terrorists, this is going to be the biggest challenge facing us in the future as a democratic society. What are we going to do when terrorists come to the United States? I started writing about this many years ago when I was working on a novel. I tried to describe what would happen if terrorism started to come to the United States. I had just come from a conference on terrorism in Germany back in 1979.

At that time, a German banker had been assassinated in his Mercedes. And I went to a conference in which Helmut Schmidt, Chancellor of Germany was speaking. Henry Kissinger spoke, and I was there as well. When we came out of the hotel it was surrounded by APCs – armored personnel carriers. And I looked around and I wondered if the American people would ever allow a conference to take place with small tanks ringing the building to protect the VIPs that were speaking there. My initial reaction was that the American people would never tolerate this. The more I thought about it, well, what happens? What happens if terrorism started to come to the United States and bombs start going off here? People by the hundreds and thousands started to be slaughtered? What would the American people say or do or demand of our government?

And it's something we haven't faced up to just yet, the tension that exists between our demand for liberty and the government's obligations to protect us and defend us. The first time one of these major casualties takes place, you will ask the question, "Where was the government and why didn't we know?" And the only way you can really protect yourself against terrorism is to have more information. We want to know what people are doing. We want to be able to track certain individuals. We need to collect as much intelligence as we can. The more intelligence we collect, the more intrusive it will be in your life.

The question is what are the trade-offs? What are we willing to accept as freedom loving people, who treasure our liberty above all else? When the time comes to protect our families, what will we demand from the government? So that's an issue that we have to start focusing upon if we're going to have our attention focused on because the terrorists are alive and flourishing. We must prepare to interdict terrorist acts before they ever occur.

Let me conclude here. Ted gave me a series of cards today. People were sending up questions on the cards during my speech at lunch. And one question was, "What question would you like to answer? Please answer that question." [Laughter] I don't really have any one question to answer. What I'd like to do is simply conclude and I would like to leave on a good note this evening. I would like to close by thanking all of the men and women who are here tonight in the military for what you do. I think my job, in addition to everything else I do, is trying to reconnect our country to the military. Because as we’ve gotten smaller and more concentrated, and because the public does not see what you do each day, day in and day out, they tend to lose focus and perhaps even support for us.

We have a growing gap between what some writers have described as this group of elite members of our society in the military and the rest of society. We can't afford to have that take place. We must continue to remind our citizens of exactly the role you are fulfilling, the missions you're carrying out and how you're doing this with great excellence and commitment. And remind them every single day of how proud they should be of each and every one of you. And I want to say how proud I am of all of the community leaders who are here. Because it's your support for the military means a great deal to them, as much as their support to you. And so, I wanted to come here tonight to say thank you to all of them for what you do and who you are.

I recall the expression from Lord Bancroft who said that a speech is like a love affair. "Any damn fool can start it, but it takes considerable expertise to end it." [Laughter] I would like to end with a quote from Steven Ambrose, who wrote a very popular book called Citizen Soldier. It occupies more and more shelves today. Ambrose, at the very end of his book, asks how it was possible to take this collection of individuals in World War II, American troops who were quickly trained, not fully trained. They had very little time to get prepared to go up against a military machine in Germany and Japan, and how were they able to prevail?

He said, "At the core, the American citizen soldier knew the difference between right and wrong. He was unwilling to live in a world in which wrong triumphed. So he fought and he won. And we and all of the succeeding generations must be eternally grateful." I say this to Ted and to his colleagues, Bob Dole and others that we have paid tribute to in the Senate. I say that we are the beneficiaries of the sacrifice the people like Ted Stevens and others made over the years. And we are carrying on that tradition of the citizen soldier. I want to make sure that every American citizen understands that in making this sacrifice, those of you in our military are serving and we are the beneficiaries, enjoying the freedom, the liberty and the ideals that we cherish.

Thank you very much. [Applause.]