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American Turkish Council
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Grand Hyatt Hotel, Washington, DC, Friday, March 31, 2000

Thank you very much. Nancy [Kassebaum Baker; American Turkish Council Chairman of the Board], thank you for your gracious and generous introduction. I told you it was unnecessary, but then again, I stepped aside as you exerted your authority. [Laughter.]

This is something of an intimidating experience as I look out at the many people who are here waiting to delve into the main course. [Laughter.] You must now wait until I complete my remarks. Somerset Maugham once had some advice for dinner speakers. He said, "At dinner one should eat wisely and not too well. And then, following dinner, one should speak well but not too wisely." [Laughter.] He had no advice for luncheon speakers, or pre-luncheon speakers, such as myself today. But I will try, at least, to speak as well and wisely as I can, and also as briefly.

I say this with some hesitation, because as I approached the podium, I pulled out a speech that I showed to Howard Baker, and it's 23 pages long. And he winced. And my experience with having served with Howard in the Senate, is that when Howard winces, I listen. [Laughter.] I will be as brief as I can in talking to you this afternoon.

First, I can never pass up an opportunity to tell my favorite story about Henry Ford. Henry Ford, after making all of his millions in this country, wanted to go back to his fatherland in County Cork, Ireland. And his reputation for wealth had long preceded his arrival. When he finally got off the plane, he was hit up by a group of local town officials and they were seeking a contribution from him for the construction of a local hospital.

And Ford was very accustomed to being touched in that fashion, and so he pulled out a checkbook. He made a check out for $5,000. The next day, in bold print, kind of World-War-III-headline size, it said, "Ford contributes $50,000 for the construction of a local hospital."

The town officials came rushing back to him. They were terribly apologetic. They said, "Mr. Ford, this was not our fault. We are terribly sorry. It must have been a typographical error. We will be happy to see to it that a retraction is printed in tomorrow's paper." [Laughter.]

And Ford said, "Wait a minute. I've got a better idea." That's where that phrase really came from. "I've got a better idea. If you give me one wish, I'll give you the balance of $45,000." They said, "It's done, whatever you want." So he made a check out for $45,000, and he said, "When that hospital is complete, I want a plaque over the entrance-way with a quote taken from a source of my choice." And they said, "It's done."

So he gave them the check, the hospital was built, and it is there today. It has a plaque over the entrance-way with a quote taken from the book of Matthew. And it says, "I came unto you as a stranger, and you took me in." [Laughter, applause.] And I come unto you a little bit as a stranger. I hope you'll take me in today, but not quite in that fashion, especially when I finish. [Laughter.]

Now, with respect to Nancy Kassebaum Baker, it's been said that service is the rent we pay for our room on Earth. If that is the case, then I would like to say that Nancy is entitled to a mansion worthy of an emir, a sultan, or perhaps a Bill Gates. [Laughter.] During the course of her career she has made enormous contributions to our country's security and to our welfare. [Applause.] I can't tell you how proud I am to be here today with her, to respond to her invitation, much as I did three years ago when I had a chance to address Kansas State University at the annual Landon Lecture. It was something. It was much superior to my experience at Ohio State a few years ago when I was explaining why we were about to go to war over in the Middle East. Anyway, let me again thank you, Nancy, for inviting me. And let me try to be as brief as I can to all of you who are here today.

This is an exciting time to not only be alive, but to be in positions of public service. We have entered, with the turn of the century, a brave new world. It's brave in the sense that there is so much opportunity out there. There's so much creative opportunity out there that all of us can take advantage of.

I look out and see our servicemen and women, and I also see the business community. And we all recognize the old expression that business follows the flag; that wherever there is stability, then the chances are that the business community is prepared to make investments. And when you make investments, you anticipate there will be some profits, and you will generate prosperity. And prosperity, in turn, will reinforce the stability. It's what I call a virtuous circle. And that's something that we are dedicated to -- we in the Department of Defense, this administration -- working with the private sector to try to create stability wherever we can, be it over in the Asia Pacific region, be it in the Middle East, or wherever.

There's also the grave new world, and that's where we can look to see old and indeed even new emerging types of threats, from ethnic hatreds, religious intolerance, ideological conflict, all coalescing in perhaps what Robert Kaplan in his new book, entitled "The Coming Anarchy." We have computer terrorism. We have chemical and biological weapons that can be used as terrorist devices. If you may recall, one of my crowning moments on television was to hold up a five-pound bag of sugar, and say, "Imagine that this is filled not with Domino's sugar but with Anthrax, and properly released, it could in fact destroy a city the size of Washington, D.C., and eliminate about 80 percent of its population, with a small five-pound bag." And there are tons of this available in many parts of the world.

So we have a brave new world and we have a grave new world, and what we need to do is to build and strengthen the partnerships with those countries, like Turkey, who are regionally strategic to the security of that entire Middle East area. You're fond of hearing real estate brokers talk about the three most important things in real estate: location, location, location.

Turkey is located at a crossroads, an important one that's on the front line of history. And you only have to go there, whether you go to Ankara, [or Incirlik Air Force Base] where we can see some of our troops performing Operation Northern Watch. Go over to Istanbul, and as I was saying at the table before, once you go to Istanbul, your chances of going back to Ankara are diminished. [Laughter.] What a beautiful, beautiful city.

Turkey is that vital link in terms of blending Russia and Central Asia and the Caucasus and bridging the gap between the Western world and the Islamic world. No other country sits in this position to be able to achieve that great result.

Think about Tbilisi [Georgia]. I was there not too long ago, last year, when I was visiting President Shevardnadze, and saw the kind of challenges that he and his country face, and how much he is dependent upon Turkey exercising a security role and a security relationship. Again, it brings to mind the important role that Turkey will continue to play in the future.

Shortly, I'll be leaving to go off to a 12-day, 10-country tour over in the Middle East. And there, again, we see perhaps the classic example of both the promise and the peril that we all face. There is so much promise in the dynamism that's coming back to the Middle East countries, and yet they live in a neighborhood in which the terror is equally tangible and palpable.

This brings me, of course, to talk about Iran and Iraq. Much of the future security of that region will depend upon what kind of actions they undertake. With respect to Iraq, once again, let me thank Turkey for the important role that it plays in helping us to contain Saddam Hussein through Operation Northern Watch. We have to look at Saddam Hussein as continuing to be a threat to the neighborhood and also an oppressor to his people, and that will remain as long as he is in power.

We hope that we can see a change in that status. We would like to see it sooner rather than later, but the fact is that he continues to oppress his people. He continues to deny them the opportunity to enjoy the prosperity that much of the rest of the world enjoys. He continues to deprive them of necessities and, notwithstanding the fact that we have an oil-for-food program in which the United States has been the leader in trying to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people, he continues to build palaces while they continue to go without those vital necessities.

So until he is removed from power, we are unlikely to see a change in the status of that country. But we are hopeful because we want to see an Iraq that is whole and undivided, that is able to join the international community as a peaceful country, and that's something that we are committed to.

The same with respect to Iran. There have been some positive developments lately in Iran, and we want to be supportive of that. You heard Secretary [of State Madeleine] Albright announce that we were going to ease some of the trade restrictions on some of the goods that can come into the United States. We are going to examine ways perhaps we can unfreeze some frozen assets. We look forward to trying to build a better relationship with Iran.

But we also have seen very little change in the so-called external policy of supporting terrorism, the policy of trying to undermine the Middle East peace process, the policy of trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. All three of those remain unabated. And so until such time as we see a change in the foreign policy of Iran, there can be no change in America's policy toward that country. But we are encouraged by the signs that we see, the movement on the part of the young people in Iran and we are hopeful that over a period of time, there can be these external changes, as well.

I also want to commend Turkey for its courage in reaching out to Israel, a country that lives in a very dangerous neighborhood and which depends upon support from a variety of sources. But certainly Turkey is courageous in extending its hand diplomatically, economically and also from a military point of view. That relationship, that burgeoning relationship, I believe, also can lead to the stability that is going to be so important in the coming years for the Middle East.

On the Aegean, let me just say, in the rubble and the ruin of those earthquakes that we all bore witness to last year, there was the flower that sprung up, of hope. When you saw those acts of humanitarian grace, they helped to eclipse so many years of hostility, the hostility of generations.

I am encouraged, I am encouraged by what is taking place between Greece and Turkey today and the fact that they are engaged more and more in bilateral discussions and by the fact that we, hopefully, can play a constructive role in the resolution of the situation in Cyprus. It is important to the security of the region. And I want to again commend Turkey and also commend those Greek leaders who are willing to put aside those old animosities and try to find ways in which we can build a peace for the future.

Let me just go around the world very quickly in terms of where Turkey is playing a critical role. Kosovo. That air campaign was the most successful air campaign in the history of the world. If you think about it, we had some 38,000 sorties that were flown and losing only two aircraft and no pilots. That's a record that has never been achieved before and will unlikely be equaled.

We have representatives of our Air Force here today, and let me say what a great credit it is to the American Air Force and to our NATO allies, [in terms of] the kind of mission that was carried out, under extraordinary circumstances, with so little loss of innocence life. We are always sorry and regret that any lives are lost, and we took extraordinary pains to minimize the loss of innocent life, and we did so under conditions that I think few people are fully aware of. So my hat's off to our armed forces who were so instrumental in achieving a victory in Kosovo, with the aid and assistance of Turkey and our other allies.

Think about the contribution of Turkey: the F-16s, the flights from Turkey’s air bases, the refugees that they were so willing to take to ease the burden of all of the surrounding countries. Turkey again was in the forefront of trying to build a bridge of peace to the future.

Bosnia. You hear a lot of people complain about Bosnia, but there is a success story. If you look back four or five years ago to see the situation in Bosnia and you go there today, you will say that we have made remarkable progress. Where the United States once had 20,000 troops [in Bosnia], we now have roughly 4,300. Hopefully, as the situation continues to improve, we'll see a reduction in the future as well, as far as the size of the force.

But let me come back to Kosovo for just a moment, because I think people tend to look at the headlines of the day and then try to make judgments about what our policy should be. There's always danger in that. If you look back to a year ago in Kosovo, we were engaged in an air campaign where we had nearly a million people who were expelled from that country [in a form of] "ethnic cleansing" we thought we'd never see again during the 20th Century.

A year later, we have some 800,000 refugees who have been returned to Kosovo, we have some 550,000 internally displaced people back in Kosovo, we have 50,000 school children going to school, we have a crime rate that has been cut down dramatically, we have elections that will be coming up in the fall and all of that within a year's time.

And if you think about the intensity of the antagonists, the hatreds, the conflict, the killing, the murders, the assassinations, and you think about what we've been able to achieve in one year's time, I think you would agree that while Mitrovica still is troublesome and there may be other hot spots, that overall, our policy of reversing what Milosevic was up to has been successful.

One other thing I want to talk about is our cooperation on the Joint Strike Fighter. It will be announced by [United States] Ambassador [to Turkey, Mark] Parris later today that Turkey has [been invited] to participate in the development of the Joint Strike Fighter. This is going to be one of the most superior aircraft that we've ever built. I want to say that once again. Sharing in this program will put Turkey in the forefront and leadership of building a secure and stable Middle East.

I can look at the eyes of my audience and tell that there's a certain hunger that has embraced you. I would conclude today by expressing to you my deep appreciation for what the American Turkish Council has achieved, for what you represent, for the kind of leadership that you show in bringing our countries together in a much stronger relationship and bond, and helping to build a more secure world for all of us. So I thank all of you for inviting me.

Nancy, I especially thank you for extending me this invitation and to tell you that not only when you speak, as E.F. Hutton, that he listens, but so does Howard. [Laughter.] So does everybody who ever had the pleasure of serving with you. I am here today primarily because of your reputation and your legacy, because you've always been a voice for independence and for integrity and honesty and candor. And you continue to help me in my job as Secretary of Defense, which I must tell you is the highlight of my career.

Notwithstanding having the former Majority Leader of the Senate here, I will tell you that being Secretary of Defense of the finest military in the world is the greatest opportunity that anyone in the world could have. I am always grateful to President Clinton for reaching across the aisle to ask me to serve in this capacity. It was a great statement to make to the Congress and to the country to say, "When it comes to national security, there is no party label." And so I'm grateful to him. I'm particularly grateful to all the support I've received, and especially Nancy for the kindness you've extended to me and the many jobs I've asked you to perform for me. So thank you very much. [Applause.]