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Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Tampa, Florida , Wednesday, December 08, 1999

Rhea [Law; Chair, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce], thank you very much for a very generous introduction, and especially I appreciate your reference to my aspiration to be a professional basketball player. Actually, I had two aspirations when I was in college. One was to become a Latin professor. The second was to play professional basketball. And then when I was in the United States Senate, my colleagues said that I had achieved both I dribbled all the time while I spoke a dead language. [Laughter.]

Congressman [Jim] Davis, General [Anthony] Zinni [Commander in Chief; Central Command], General [Peter] Schoomaker [Commander in Chief; Special Operations Command], [Tampa] Mayor [Dick] Greco, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen.

First let me thank you for inviting me to this truly remarkable audience today. I don't think I've been to any convention or any association meeting that has been this large and, I might say, this enthusiastic. It truly is inspirational to see the kind of enthusiasm you have for the community and also in support of our fine military. So it is a pleasure for me to be here to say a few words to you today.

I must tell you that whenever I face a new audience, I think of the story of 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. His reputation for wealth had long preceded his

arrival. So when he finally stepped off the plane, there were a group of local town officials -- maybe someone like Rhea was there, as well -- to seek a contribution from him for the construction of a local hospital.

Ford was quite accustomed to being touched in that fashion. He pulled out his checkbook and made a check out for $5,000. The next day in bold print, in the local press, it said, "Ford contributes $50,000 for the construction of the local hospital." The local town officials came rushing back to him and said, "Mr. Ford, we are terribly sorry. This is not our fault. It must have been a typographical error, and we'll be happy to see to it that a retraction is printed in tomorrow's press."

He said, "Wait a minute. I think I have got a better idea. You give me one wish, I'll give you the balance of $45,000." It was an offer they couldn't refuse, and they said "anything." He said , "When that hospital is finally completed, I want a plaque over the entrance way with a quote taken from a source of my choice." They said, "It's done."

He made the check out, $45,000, the hospital was built, and in fact is there today. And 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 and applause.]

I come a little bit to you as a stranger, and I hope you'll take me in, but not quite in the fashion they took Ford in.

As I was searching for something better to talk to you about today, I thought of my son because yesterday was a very important day. I became a grandfather for the second time yesterday, and I was thinking of my son. [Applause.] And he told me when he was a senior at the school that I went to, a small college up in Maine called Bowdoin College, there was a very popular professor. He happened to be a professor of religion. That's not why he was so popular. But he was popular because he always asked the very same question each year on the final exam. And it was, "Discuss the wanderings of St. Paul."

And everybody liked him because they wouldn't have to do anything all year. They would gear up the night before. They would study and go in and cram for the exam and do very well. Until my son's senior year.

And the class walked into the classroom, they sat down, they looked at the exam. And suddenly, they started to feel ill, tremulations. They started to feel that they may have to go to the bathroom to regurgitate what they had eaten, and so forth, as they looked down at a test that said, "Discuss the meaning of Christ's Sermon on the Mount."

Within about five minutes, everybody had cleared completely out of the classroom except for one student, who sat there and wrote and wrote and wrote for the full three hours of that final exam. And he finally walked up to his professor, who was astonished, and he passed

him his exam. And he turned around, and he walked out with what Mark Twain might call "the calm confidence of a Christian holding four aces." [Laughter.]

And the professor looked down at the exam, and it said, "I will leave to the experts debate the meaning of Christ's Sermon on the Mount. As for me, I should like to discuss the wanderings of St. Paul." [Laughter.]

Now I mention this today because I feel not like St. Paul, but I've been engaged in quite a bit of wandering. For the past two months I have visited at least 21 countries, not counting Texas and California as separate countries [laughter] but 21 foreign countries.

And I will tell you that a month or so ago I was in Russia, where I witnessed something quite remarkable. They were preparing to destroy a Typhoon class submarine. I don't know if many of you have had a chance to ever see a Typhoon submarine, but it is the length of two football fields. They were in the process of preparing the Typhoon submarine to be cut up into very small pieces. And I have on my desk in Washington, as a matter of fact, a small vial filled with little slices of copper wire, which represent the interior of many of the piping tubes that are found in those submarines that are being destroyed. This was something of a legacy from the Cold War that we are now working with the Russians in order to dismantle and lower the tensions between our countries.

While I was in Moscow I also witnessed the aftermath of an explosion that took place. It was one of the four bombs that had been going off, and this was the final one that killed about 80 or 90 people. I saw the kind of terror that was struck in the hearts of the Russian people. And at that time, I pledged to them that we would do whatever we could to help them, by sharing information, by sharing intelligence, by sharing technology that would help them defeat acts of terrorism.

At the same time, I talked about something called the Y2K problem, and I thought it was interesting, in terms of the timing, that as you were showing the Year 2000 on the screen, that the lights went out. [Laughter.]

We want to make sure that if and when the lights go out or there is any shutdown of any of the systems in Moscow or throughout Russia, we want them to be reassured this is not some sort of diabolical plot against the Russian people. And so what we have is about 15 or 20 of their top engineers and scientists in Colorado Springs. And they are going to be there during this transition as we go into the new millennium to satisfy themselves that they are watching all of our early warning systems that monitor missile launches all over the world. And that's something that we should all take great comfort in. In addition to that, of course, we hope to establish a permanent joint shared early warning center that will be located in Moscow by next year.

After I left Russia, I soon traveled to Darwin, Australia, where I visited with forces from about a dozen countries, including some 200 from the United States. We are supporting and deploying our forces to a peacekeeping mission in East Timor.

From there I went throughout Southeast Asia. I happened to visit some nine countries in 10 days. I saw a recovering Asian economy in the thriving streets of Bangkok. I saw some jockeying for political power in Jakarta.

In Egypt, I stood on the shores of the Mediterranean. I watched an Italian ship off-load a British transport craft, which then carried dozens of Egyptian soldiers who joined Greek

and British and Dutch and Jordanian forces in a mock amphibious invasion, all under the cover of American aircraft. This is an exercise called Bright Star.

And there's another Bright Star in our audience here today, and that's General Zinni. I'd like to have you stand up, General Zinni, so we can pay tribute to you. [Applause.]

You know, it is really a remarkable experience to see 11 countries – some of whom used to look at each other through gun sights that were trained on one another -- now training together and exercising together while 24 additional countries were observing. It’s amazing what can take place when you have cooperation instead of confrontation. And I give great credit to General Zinni to be able to hold together that kind of a coalition and build that for the future security of that region and for us.

I recently returned, just last week from a number of countries. I went to Romania. I went to Hamburg to address the Bundeswehr -- all of the top generals in the German military -- and then I went on to NATO to address my colleagues at NATO. And it's a remarkable sight to see 19 democracies conducting business about shared interests, just as it is now routine to count among our neighbors and members Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. These are nations that just ten years ago were considered to be adversaries of the United States.

I sat in a room where they had 45 countries representing something called the EAPC, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. So now you have countries all over Eurasia meeting together, sharing information, sharing ideas, hoping to emulate what we've been able to achieve in the United States and throughout NATO.

I mention these travels not to tell you how busy I have been and all the countries that I have visited in the past two months, but to give you an idea that these are just little pieces of mosaic in a much larger emerging picture of the challenges for our next century.

I don't know how many of you remember the movie "Three Days of the Condor", but you may recall there was one scene in that movie where a young intelligence officer was talking to an older intelligence officer who once served in the OSS. And I happened to see as we were going through SOCOM’s building just as few hours ago a portrait of Wild Bill Donovan. It reminded me about the OSS. But in that scene the young intelligence officer looked to the older one and said, "Tell me something. Do you miss the good old days?" And the older man looked down, and he said, "No, not really. But I do miss the clarity of it all."

And I think it's perhaps tempting to remain nostalgic about the dangerous clarity

of the Cold War in this era of rapid transformation and deep turmoil. But this is an era of great promise, and I can feel that promise when I come to visit you in Tampa, and as I watch Monday Night Football and see the Bucs [Tampa Bay Buccaneers] triumph over the Vikings. [Cheers and applause].

But, you know, when we look to all of that promise we also have to be aware of the great perils. We have more and more nations who are embracing democracy and market economies than ever before. But we also have more and more terrorists and tyrants who are capable of striking at us virtually at any time with new types of weapons; chemical or nuclear or biological, or with cyber terrorist activities.

So we see threats to our interests abroad, we see them here at home, of a wide range of military missions that we have to confront, from war-fighting to peacekeeping to humanitarian relief. And there are a number of people in our society who would sing what I would call the

siren song of isolationism; who would have us withdraw into a sort of continental cocoon and watch events unfold on CNN.

Well, I believe that everybody in this room knows better, that it would be impossible for us to retreat from the world and simply sit in the United States and allow other countries to fend for themselves and not believe that is going to have a major impact upon us. Not only is it impossible, but it's not even desirable. It is not in our interests. If we are going to capture the promise of a new era, if we are going to counter the perils that face us, then we have to be actively engaged in the world.

In order to remain a force for good in the world, we have to maintain and strengthen what might be called the pillar of our engagement, and that is the high quality of men and women who are serving in our military.

They have to be as skilled at the computer as they are in combat. They have to be individuals who have the training and the creativity to adjust to the breakneck pace of change. We have them. There are some 7,000 of those individuals in the men and women who are serving at MacDill Air Force Base, some of whom are in this room today. I can look at the front tables and see some of them and say, thank you very much for what you're doing for our country. [Applause.]

We have the 6th Air Refueling Wing that provides critical in-flight refueling for our aircraft. And, indeed, the pilots in this wing flew life-saving missions during those combat operations over Kosovo this spring. And ladies and gentlemen, think about it. Think about what took place in Kosovo. We had 34,000 sorties that were flown. 34,000. We lost two aircraft and no pilots. That is a record that has never been achieved before in the history of warfare. [Applause.]

I mentioned that I had the privilege of visiting MacDill this morning, where I talked with the commanders from the Special Operations Command. Those are the persons that General Schoomaker leads, some 30,000 men and women who are spread across the globe. They are

exercising, they are educating allies and partners. They are engaged in operations in 114 countries.

And I must say this, that in the two years that he has been the head of SOCOM, General Schoomaker has devoted his considerable talent, his dedication and energy and

intelligence to making this one of the finest commands that we have anywhere in our military. General Schoomaker, you have done a magnificent job. [Applause.]

And of course, it is not only SOCOM that we have at MacDill. We also have 1,000 men and women in Tampa who serve in the Central Command, who are directing the operation of forces who are serving from Central Asia to East Africa, an area that is larger than the

continental United States. And they are responsible for the hundreds of pilots and air crews who are engaging daily combat missions in Iraqi skies.

I noticed we have a couple of demonstrators outside, and am pleased to see that we still allow that kind of dissent to take place. What we should also know is over the past seven years, CENTCOM has supported Operation Southern Watch with some 200,000 sorties, all

without the loss of a single aircraft. Ladies and gentlemen, that is another astonishing record, and we can also attribute that success to General Zinni. Again, General, you have been just an outstanding soldier-statesman. [Applause.]

I would be remiss if I did not talk about another important military presence here in the region. We have some 32,000 members of the Florida National Guard and Reserve, including one of our Army National Guard headquarters here in Tampa. They, as you know, undertake a range of missions, from fighting wildfires in Florida to supporting combat missions in Kuwait to keeping the peace in Bosnia.

The dedicated men and women at MacDill and the Guard and Reserves -- indeed, all of those who are wearing our uniform -- they deserve all the support we can give them. They need greater pay and benefits and, as I have said so many times before, we can't pay them enough but we can pay them more. And we are going to do precisely that. [Applause.]

I can see that I am exceeding the time allotted for my presentation today. I want to say just a couple of things to all of you. One of the major goals that I have set out for myself -- and my wife, Janet, has joined in that enterprise -- is to make sure that we maintain the connection between our military and our society. All of us know that we have fewer and fewer people who have either a son, a father, a brother, sister, mother, who is associated with the military. We all know that in the wake of the downsizing after the Cold War, we have had to close a lot of bases and we have had to realign and consolidate facilities. What that means is that we are achieving greater efficiency.

There is a downside to achieving efficiencies. You, as taxpayers, would demand that we be the most efficient people that we can be in Washington in using your tax dollars. But the other side, and a dark side of downsizing, is that there is a smaller and smaller military presence in fewer areas of the United States. And when communities do not see uniformed personnel serving in their community, they tend to forget exactly what they are doing; what contribution they are making. And that, ultimately, over a long period of time can, not unravel, but it can decrease the level of support that the military needs.

Happily, that is not the situation here in Tampa. Happily, I can say that you are one of the most enthusiastic, supportive groups of the military of any community that I have ever visited, and happily, we are maintaining that connection between the military and our society here.

Some of you may have read the book by Samuel Huntington called "The Clash of Civilizations." He predicted an inevitable clash between different societies because of our ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, and other types of tensions that exist across the globe. But prior to writing that book, he also wrote a book pertaining to a clash between civilian and military life, and he said that "nations which fail to develop a balanced pattern of civil-military relations run an uncalculated risk."

Ladies and gentlemen, we can't afford to risk the motivation and the dedication of America's armed forces that they derive from their pride in their country. And we can't afford to risk the confidence and the comfort that the public feels in today's highly professional military.

And that's why I have started, during the past couple of years, along with my wife Janet, to reconnect America to its military. It is why I went to Illinois, to the State legislature, not exactly a forum to start talking about defense policy; why I flew to the campus in Seattle of Microsoft. I descended in an Army helicopter. I am sure they thought it was an invasion coming, along the lines of "Red Dawn." But I went to tell them that the reason they can sit in front of those computers, the reason they can be so brilliant in fashioning new and wonderful technologies, is because of the service and the sacrifice that people are making out there day in and day out, and I wanted to remind them about that.

And so what we are trying to do is to make sure that connection always remains strong, that we always pay tribute to the people who are protecting us and serving us and building a better life for all of us. As a result of their service and sacrifice, you and I can sleep more comfortably, we can enjoy greater prosperity, and we can continue this effort to spread peace, democracy, free enterprise, all across the globe.

So I came here tonight because of Tampa's reputation, and it is certainly has changed over just a century. My understanding is that Tampa at one time was much more famous for its hand-made cigars. That has changed. Now it is much more famous for its high-tech corridor.

There is dramatic change taking place in this society. And I would suggest that the bonds that you have built between citizens and soldiers can be a beacon to this nation. I know that every year you now have a week-long air show sponsored by MacDill. Not a day, Rhea, as you pointed out, but a week. I don't know many communities that devote that kind of

attention to their military community. The Military Appreciation Week is sponsored by the Chamber, but it also increases the public awareness about the military community.

You have Operation Partnership, which allows service members to shadow business leaders and to increase their awareness of the business community. And there is something else I'd like to say to the business community, thank you. Thank you for pledging not to penalize those who serve in the Guard and Reserve, who are overseas, deploying, helping us to have

a Total Force. We need to have your continued support for the Guard and Reserve, who are so much a part of the Total Force defending this country. So thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for what you're doing in the business community.

And let me conclude. George Jessel once said if you can't strike oil in three minutes, stop boring. [Laughter.] I prefer Lord Bancroft, who said that a speech is much like a love affair. Anyone can start it, but it takes considerable expertise to end it.

So let me end this with an observation that was made Alistair Cooke, one of my favorite authors. He wrote a book some years ago actually celebrating the bicentennial of the United States, and he had a chapter comparing us to Rome. Many historians do. He said that we,

like Rome, were in danger of losing of that which we profess to cherish most. He said, "Liberty is the luxury of self-discipline, but those nations who have failed to impose discipline upon themselves have had it imposed by others."

And then he said, "America is a 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." And then he paraphrased Ben Franklin, and he said, "We have a great country, and we can keep it, but only if we care to keep it."

I can tell you, I will return to Washington confident that not only are we going to keep it, we are going to keep it because you and this community and so many like you care to keep it.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for the privilege of addressing you all. [Applause.]