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John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, Southern Methodist University
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Dallas, Texas, Wednesday, November 10, 1999

Thank you very much. I was going to spend the first half of my presentation to you this morning talking about John Tower, but since that has already been done, I think I will skip the speech and just talk informally with you.

As I'm looking out in the audience there's quite a mixture of some executives, faculty members, young students, high school students as well. I don't want to take this opportunity to inflict a 27-page speech that I had prepared for you this morning.

I would like to begin with a quote taken from a book that was very important to me when I first went to Congress, it was written back in the late '60s. It was written by John Gardner called "The Recovery of Confidence."

In that book something caught my eye which has stayed with me all of these years. He said, "The problem today is that our institutions have become caught in a savage cross-fire between uncritical lovers and unloving critics."

What he meant by that was that at one end of the spectrum we had the uncritical lovers, people who were so enamored with the status quo they would do everything they could to blunt and nullify any prospect of change. At the other end of the spectrum we had the unloving critics, people who saw very little good in our present institutions and who would do everything they could to tear them down without any thought of what they might do to replace them.

What he suggested was that we have to become loving critics. We have to really appreciate the benefits of the institutions that we have, but also be willing to change them, to modify them, to alter them to deal with the present and the future.

That's something that I have tried to do during the course of my public service, which is now almost 28 years in national politics, and most recently now as Secretary of Defense. That is to be able to look at our present situation but be willing to change it, to adapt it, to modify it, to modernize it. And so it's always striking a balance. How do we hold onto the good that we have and yet make it better for the future?

I also recall a professor of mine who once talked about his view of life. He said, "If you have a situation where you have ideals without technique, you have a mess. But if you have a system where you have only technique and no ideals, you have a menace."

You think about that today as you look at the front page of the Dallas Morning News, you turn on the television set, you see the 10th year anniversary of the fall of the wall in Berlin, and you see the joy that was released when suddenly people who had been kept apart by that horrible wall were hacking and bulldozing it down, and now they're actually marketing those pieces today on a commercial basis. But in a very short period of time, ten years, you can see the tremendous power that has been unleashed all over the world.

At the end of the Cold War you had an academician by the name of Francis Fukuyama. He wrote a thesis called "The End of History." It was very provocative at that time. He said, now with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of Communism, the disintegration of the Soviet Empire, we now will see the spread of democratic capitalism all over the globe. That provoked some controversy.

You had a professor up at Harvard named [Samuel] Huntington who said, wait a minute. Fukuyama hasn't taken into account that you're going to have some fault lines here. He hasn't taken into account the power Islam, how it's going to conflict with that of Christianity or Buddhism, Confucianism, all of the regional ethnic conflicts that are out there stirring around. He hasn't taken any of that into account. He talked about the clash of civilizations. That's what we're going to see, the clash of culture.

I think we have come to the situation where nothing is inevitable until it happens. We can sit back and not try to shape events in ways that will be beneficial to us and simply let world events unfold. If we do that, we will ultimately become a prisoner of world events.

When people ask me, should we be the world's policemen, I say no. We can't be the world's policeman, but we never should become a prisoner of world events. That means we have to be engaged.

When I talk about striking a balance between loving critics and uncritical lovers, that we have to have ideals and techniques, that we also have to have diplomacy backed up by a strong military. If you simply have diplomacy without a military, you'd have what Simon and Garfunkel used to call "a dangling conversation," just talking. But if you had only a military without the diplomacy, you would have kind of a chest beating chauvinism. You would have a very dangerous situation where there was no diplomacy, only raw military power. So that could lead us into some dangerous situations. So we have to have a balance.

What we need to do as far as preparing for the future is to try to shape the future in ways that would be beneficial to us.

I remember in 1992, Admiral Stockdale. Do you recall that name? He was selected by Ross Perot to be his running mate. He took the podium on a stage much like this and he got up in front of the cameras and he said, "Who am I and why am I here?" And in some circles that provoked a great deal of laughter. They didn't realize that Admiral Stockdale had been a great war hero. He had been a prisoner of war. He had survived that. He’s a man of great courage and integrity. But he asked these kinds of questions, existential questions. Who am I? Let me tell you who I am. Let me tell you why I'm doing this.

We have to ask the same kinds of questions as a nation. Who are we in the United States? Why are we here? Why are we anywhere in the world? We have to ask these questions because people say do we really have to bear the burden of being a super power? What's that mean? When we say we're the only superpower in the world, well that connotes and conveys the notion that we have to be very responsible in how we conduct ourselves.

I recently was at a dinner in California. I spoke at this dinner following a ceremony out in Riverside, California, where we saw a new monument to all Medal of Honor recipients in our country's history. That evening I was at a dinner speaking to a group and the woman next to me said, how do you make these choices? How do you know exactly where you're going to send those young people off to put their lives on the line?

I have to go through an analysis, basically. What's in our interest? What's in our national security interest? How do we identify that?

Some of you are obviously very young. We have people as young as you in this front row who are over in Kuwait today, who are serving out on ships in the Persian Gulf, who have to endure temperatures in the summer time in the Persian Gulf of 150 degrees, who wear ice collars around their necks and ice jackets under their shirts to keep cool, who have to endure the blast of jets taking off from those aircraft carriers. They're all about your age, and they are out there putting their lives on the line every single day so that we can enjoy our security.

Every time our troops move I have to sign a deployment order. And I have to make a determination, is it in our interest to be sending our young people off -- young and older people off -- to put their lives on the line for the rest of us? How do I identify what's a national interest?

I go through this analysis. Certainly we want to protect our homeland, certainly we want to protect our interests and that of our allies abroad, and we want to protect our economic interests.

When the Persian Gulf War came about, we saw Saddam Hussein had moved into Kuwait. You say well, what difference does it make that he's in Kuwait? Well, he was only six hours away from being in downtown Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. What difference does that make? Suddenly, if you had a Saddam Hussein who's standing astride of the oilfields of the Middle East, that will have a major impact on the flow of oil and the price of oil to all of the Western democracies. Does that make a difference to you? The answer is, of course it does. It could jeopardize our entire economy. So there we had a clearly identifiable interest.

What happens when it's only humanitarian? I get asked this question quite frequently. Why are we in Kosovo? Why are we in Bosnia? What's wrong with being in Africa? We have certainly humanitarian disasters of a comparable magnitude. Why aren't we there?

So I have to go through this analysis. Is it in our interest to be there? Do we have a direct national security interest? Is it economic or is it simply humanitarian? And should we put our uniformed people in jeopardy for solely a humanitarian mission? Those are the kinds of questions that we have to grapple with every day.

I make those recommendations based upon whether we have enough of our force that can safely deploy to those reasons to conduct humanitarian operations as well.

I'd like to talk just a couple of minutes because I'm told you want to ask some questions, and I don't want to carry on for the whole time here and simply give you a speech, but rather to give you some idea of what's going on in the world, what I do in just my own job.

I do a lot of traveling. I spend a lot of time traveling over to Asia. I've spent a lot of time traveling to the Middle East. Most recently I was in Russia. Russia is very much in the news because of what? Chechnya. They are now conducting a major assault against the Chechnyans. Why are they doing that?

Well, during the time that I was in Moscow talking about a national missile defense system, a bomb went off. It was the fourth bomb that exploded in Moscow and it killed about 80 or 90 people. The Russian people were truly terrified. Suddenly terrorism had come to their soil and they weren't quite sure how to cope with it.

At that time I said, "We will join with you in the fight against international terrorism. We will share intelligence, information, techniques, and technologies, to help you defeat acts of terrorism on your soil."

We have a similar problem that we're going to have to contend with in the future as well. We had a bomb that went off as a result of domestic terrorism in Oklahoma City, and you saw the results of that. So we have to be concerned with terrorism when it comes to our soil.

It's going to come in a different form today. Not necessarily the kind of threat we saw during the era of the Cold War with Russian missiles or Soviet missiles possibly coming our way. We now have the threat of cyber-terrorism, when young people like yourselves, just as gifted on that keyboard, that you can hack into our computer systems in the Pentagon, the National Security Agency, get into our healthcare system, possibly alter our air traffic control patterns, possibly shut down our medical system, possibly wipe out our financial systems in New York and elsewhere. One day you have $1,000 in the bank, and the next day you have zero. Or if you have $100,000 in the bank, the next day you could have zero and it's totally vanished because someone will be able to get in the system and simply wipe it out and transfer it to an account in the Cayman Islands or elsewhere. Those are the kinds of threats, in addition to biological and chemical warfare, that we have to face.

For example, when a bomb went off in the World Trade Center a few years ago, those who conducted that bombing attack also were developing a chemical release. So we would have had not hundreds of people injured but potentially thousands. These are the kinds of things that we have to prepare for the future.

So even though it appears that we are at relative peace, we have to prepare for those kinds of contingencies. The Department of Defense is now going out to prepare 150 cities to say, how do you respond if sarin gas is released in one of your public transportation systems?

Do you recall reading a few years ago in Tokyo where they had a religious cult group in Japan that released sarin gas? Suddenly you have a number of people who died, a number of people who were seriously injured.

What happens if that comes to the United States? How do we respond to that? How do we prepare our people to go and identify what it was that was released? What if anthrax is released in a major installation? How do we identify what the item is? Biological? Chemical? Is it contagious, not contagious?

So we are now trying to prepare our cities for this type of threat. We have to do so not to really alarm you, but to prepare you, to prepare ourselves so if something happens that is catastrophic in nature, that we are prepared to cope with it. That's all a part of what our military is doing as well.

I have a young colonel here in the Marine Corps, Mastin Robeson. He's an example of the kind of caliber of people that we have serving today. But I've got a real challenge. For the young people that I'm looking at right now, the question would be how many of you want to go into the military service?

There's one, great! I'm going to sign you up right away. [Applause.] We're going to sign you up right away. But you see the problem that we have when you start reading about we've got recruitment problems, we've got retention problems.

We have the finest military in the world. Why is that so? It's because we have the best and the brightest people in our military. You compare that with any other nation in the world and we're number one. It's because we look for the best people. We also train them. We lead them. We educate them, the best in the world. We are the number one role model for everyone.

But now we have a situation, because our economy is so strong that we're having trouble. The business sector is saying, hey, we like those young people, we want them to come into business from us. So we are now drawing from the same pool of talent that our business community is drawing from, and they can do a lot better in terms of pay and benefits than can the military. So it's creating something of a challenge for us to continue to get the best people in.

Once we get them, how do we keep them in? If we can't provide a decent quality of life for the men and women who are serving, and their families, they're not going to stay. If they don't stay, we have to bring more people in and start the whole process of retraining, and that costs lots of money and it makes us less capable and less ready. So that's one of the real challenges that I and anyone who follows me will face. How do we continue to attract you to serve in the military?

One thing we want to do is to make you and others aware all across the country of what it means. That the notion of service and sacrifice for yourself certainly, because you will come out a better person after going through the military; but it's also for the country. If we ever lose that ethic of serving and making a sacrifice on behalf of the nation, then we no longer can guarantee our security. We no longer will be number one. And we will be at the whim and potentially under the threat of many other countries.

So it has been one of my missions and one of my wife's, Janet, to go out and spread the message all across this country that we have the finest military. We want to reconnect America with its military to tell them how good they are and what we need in order to keep them as good as they are and keep them in the service.

I'd like to conclude by talking about idealism and cynicism. Alistair Cooke wrote a book that I read many years ago on the 200th anniversary of America. He made an analysis between the United States and Rome. He said that we, like Rome, are in danger of losing that which we profess to cherish most. Liberty is the luxury of self-discipline. Liberty is the luxury of self-discipline. Those nations who have failed to impose discipline upon themselves have had it imposed by others.

He said, "America is the country in which I see the most persistent idealism and the blandest of cynicism." The most persistent idealism and the blandest of cynicism. "And the race is on between its vitality and its decadence." He said, "We have a great country and we can keep it, but only if we care to keep it."

That is precisely the purpose of the Tower Center. Because of John Tower and who he was, determined to make sure that we have this great country and we keep it and that we care enough to keep it. As a result of the Tower Center we are hoping to continue to interest young people to study foreign policy, to study the strategic interests of the United States, to become global in their mindset, not narrow and interested only in themselves and their particular livelihood, but to take a global vision of world events.

That's a lot of pressure that young people are under today, but that is the mission of this center and that's the reason I wanted to come by, because John Tower was a mentor to me. He's somebody I admired a great deal. He carried me all across the globe with him, and the two of us met with leaders all over the world. I studied at his feet, so to speak, in terms of how to negotiate, how to deal with foreign policy issues from strength and conviction, and also with a sense of purpose.

So ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here. I think I'm being told that you've got some questions that you want to ask me. Let me thank you for your interest in issues which will affect your lives and your prospects of prosperity for the future. Thank you very much. [Applause.]