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DoD News Briefing: Secretary Cohen

Presenter: Secretary Cohen
November 19, 1997

Secretary Cohen: Sam, thank you very much. If Mark Twain was right, that a man can live for a month on a compliment, you have assured my immortality, and either your ascent into heaven for your benevolence, or your descent in the other direction for your exaggeration, but I truly am appreciative. As a friend of mine who I'll mention in a moment might say, quoting from Dr. Johnson, "In lapidary inscriptions, men are not under oath." That happens to be true for the introductions given at banquets as well. So Sam, thank you very much for your generosity or exaggeration. I'll accept it willingly.

There are so many people that I could point out in the audience for recognition, but I want to just take a moment to point to a few friends of mine who are here. Colette Phillips, who is the CEO of Phillips Communications. She is here visiting, and a very close friend of Janet. Liv and Peter Herrity, who are also very close to Janet, are with us this evening. And a special friend of mine in the audience this evening, special friends I should say, Tom Lambert and Elizabeth Lambert. Tom was my mentor following law school. I spent one of the most incredible years of my life working for one of the most extraordinary men that I've ever met. He was a prosecutor during the Nurenburg War Trials under Justice Jackson. He was a West Coast debating champion, a West Coast oratorical champion. He was the Dean of Stetson Law School at the age of 27. He taught torts at Boston University for many years and continues to this day to teach at Suffolk Law School.

I spent a glorious year working under his mentorship, and then had the occasion to drive him home almost every evening to his apartment overlooking the river. Elizabeth would be waiting, having opened up the New Yorker magazine or the New York Times that day to lay out all the things that he should have read. We would sit there sipping very wicked martinis, watching the sun set over the river, and the sailboats glistening in the sun. It was the most extraordinary year that I think I've ever spent, up until this year. But I do want to recognize Tom for the outstanding leader he has been in the field of the law, and to pay my respects.

And, of course, I want to pay a special tribute to Janet, who has returned to a city that has embraced her over the years as warmly and lovingly I think as any city could possibly do. So it's a homecoming for her, as well. We truly appreciate the warmth that you have extended to her on her, not her first return, but her most recent return to this great city. So thank you very much for that.

She's glad to be back in Boston, and I am, too. It takes me back to my days at law school I attended here at Boston University. On the first day of law school I had a professor who stood up and gave us some very good advice. He said, "Look to your left. Look to your right. Because one of you will not be here at the end of the year." He was merely expressing the law of probabilities at that time, because under the pressures of law school some would quit and some would fail, but inevitably, there would be at least a reduction of one-third if not up to 50 percent.

The second rule that I learned in Boston came from the wisdom of Tom Lambert. After working for him for a year I decided to go up and practice law -- something almost comparable to the lack of morality perhaps, as some might say, for investment bankers. But Tom said something to me very important at that time. He said, "You're a young man, and keep this in mind. A lot of pressure will come upon you. Don't ever sell your integrity to a client, no matter how much he offers you. Because over the years, no matter how wealthy you might become, how successful you might become, you'll never make enough money to ever buy it back."

Those are words that I've tried to live by. I think that's also true of what we have just heard about the honor we have bestowed to Nikki in the name of Paul.

There is honor in the air this evening. If the ancient Greek Diogenes were to wander into this room, in this hotel, in search of that honest individual, I'd pick out four names -- Paul Tsongas, who we talked about; Pete Peterson; my friend Warren Rudman, whom I've had to listen to for so many years in the Senate and again here tonight -- but I do so with great joy; and also Sam Nunn. Because if you shine a light upon their records and their reputations, a greater light shines back. And because what they have in concept is, as long as we're in the Greek mode, they have something called "arrete." That was a concept in ancient Greece that meant nobility. It wasn't nobility of blood, but nobility of purpose. That is something that each of these men that we just mentioned share in common -- a concept of honor.

Each one of them has had the courage to stand up to their respective parties and to challenge them -- not as cranks or iconoclasts, but as classic examples of John Gardner's loving critics. They didn't reject our institutions without any care or concern, and they didn't embrace them without question. Instead, they called upon their fellow Republicans and Democrats to embrace change where change is necessary; to be like a moving stream, to use one of Tom's favorite metaphors, of being open at one end to take in new ideas, but also open at the other end to slough off those that are obsolete and no longer functional.

Paul challenged Democrats to become what he called "compassionate realists." To lift up these blinders to ideological purity, face up to what he called national realities, and to pursue some workable solutions. He warned, and I quote from one of his first books, The Road From Here, "If we give into our creature comforts, if we drink from the wine of dogma or ideology, if we refuse to be what we can be, we will -- dare I say it? -- we will perish."

Then he used to draw a metaphor. He said, imagine that this boat, this canoe is going down the river and there's somebody over in the distance waving his hand and trying to get the attention of that person or those people in that raft or in that canoe. But he can't quite hear him. It sounds like they're trying to say "waterfall," but of course they ignore the person on the shore and they continue to proceed down that river until they get to the very edge, and of course they find that the most perfect place to hear the essence of a waterfall is as you are about to go over it. But they don't take the time or don't have the interest of jumping out of that canoe, or off that raft and swimming to the shore, because the waters are too chilly.

He loved to use that metaphor in terms of where we were heading as a country. I still see Paul as being that person on the shore who's waving his hands to all concerned saying, "It's a waterfall. You're about to go over. Time to get off the raft. Time to get out of the canoe."

He was a lone figure in that regard because he wrote that back in 1981 when, as a Democrat, that was pretty hard for him to say about his party.

Pete Peterson wrote a book called "Facing Up," and in that book he said that, "One day Warren Rudman and I were free associating about why we have so much affection and respect for Paul Tsongas. Warren said, "You know, he's one of the few Greek WASPS I've ever met in my life." Then Pete was saying, what I think Warren really meant was that Paul combines the warm passion of his Greek ancestors and the moral compass of his New England ancestors.

I suppose you could call Pete a sort of Greek Cassandra because he possess the same warm passion, the same moral compass, but also the frustration of having his foresight go completely unheeded.

He was a lifelong Republican, a student of Chicago economics, and yet at the height of the Republican party's powers, Pete declared that he felt "increasingly like a Republican abandoned by his party." He was concerned that our national leaders were paving the road to political success with promissory notes that were issued in the names of our children, and sacrificing their future on the alter of short term growth and tax cut fever.

Pete recalled that his friends were saying, "What's with you, Peterson? Don't you, of all people, son of poor immigrants, don't you realize that you're a beneficiary of the greatest, richest, freest country in the world which you're so bent on criticizing?" His answer was, "Yes, I certainly do. In the decades to come I want to keep it exactly that way."

Warren said about Pete, "He worries a lot."

Well, what worried Warren Rudman was his party's deficit spending on defense during the Reagan Administration's buildup. He is certainly what I would call a loving critic of the Pentagon. He's a Korean war hero who has led his troops in combat on Porkchop Hill, who never forgot a soldier, or what it's like to be a soldier. Then a few years ago, he returned to Hill 468. He returned to that hill in Korea where he served some four decades ago and he found a rusted old U.S. Army helmet with a bullet hole through the center of the helmet, and it brought back a lot of harsh memories. But he keeps that helmet in his office as a reminder of the bitter lessons of war and how it shaped his life and his outlook.

What concerned him about the Defense Department was what he called the joy of spending an unlimited amount of other people's money. He believed, as many of us do, that there's a point of diminishing returns in defense spending where we can spend ourselves into national insecurity, because a nation is only as secure as its economic and fiscal foundations are strong.

And Warren, of course, was all ready for combat, ready to step into the ring with his colleagues. Once during when a debate on the Gramm/Rudman/Hollings Amendment -- Gramm/Rudman, actually, because Hollings wanted a divorce and he got one -- there was a Pentagon spokesman who said their amendment would send a "message of comfort" to the Soviets because it's going to cut some $6 billion out of a $270 billion defense bill. Setting aside the fact that that statement came pretty close to calling a decorated war hero engaging in an act of treason, Warren in his soft, dulcet manner took to the Floor, and he said, "I suggest that our friends across the river ought to look at the dancing in the streets of Moscow when this government borrows $2.3 trillion, as they watch the American economy prepare to destroy itself." That was his fist in the nose of his Republican colleagues at that time -- a very courageous statement.

Sam Nunn was one of the Senate's most serious students of defense. We all recognized that. Whenever there was a defense issue to talk about they always went to Sam Nunn. But most of you probably don't know that he spent an equal amount of time and devotion to organized crime and deficit spending, which is a crime even if it's unorganized, but Sam was chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and devoted a lot of time to these issues.

He was fond of saying "before you can legislate, you must educate". He's got just a touch of Jesse Jackson in him in that regard. It must be that southern accent.

But he set out to educate his colleagues and the public about the short term pain that was worth enduring in order to have long term gain. Because of his efforts that began a long time ago, we were able at that time in, I think, 1992, to gather 28 votes in favor of the Nunn/Domenici Amendment which was one of the most responsible pieces of legislation ever introduced. Four, five, six years later, we now have a commitment to achieving significant deficit reduction and achieving a balanced budget, but it was because of Sam's dedication to doing that well and beyond dealing with defense issues.

So he is truly the person to step into Paul's shoes -- even though they may not ever be filled. But if ever there was a person, as Warren has pointed out, who deserved to achieve that position, be appointed to that position, it's Sam Nunn.

Now that Jiang Zemin's on his way to Harvard tonight, I thought it would be appropriate if I quote from a Chinese proverb that says, "He who sacrifices his conscience to ambition burns a picture to obtain the ashes." It seems to me that we've been doing so much of that in politics, where people are so ambitious that they would sacrifice their conscience in order to pursue those ambitions. The people that I've just talked about briefly this evening are notable exceptions to all of them.

I want to spend just a couple of moments this evening, because I know you've got a panel discussion coming up, but talk a little bit about defense.

This position that I now have is one of the most challenging that could ever be offered to any individual. The hours are very long, the pressures are quite great, but it is one of the most exhilarating positions that exist. And to be in a position to help shape and to influence the Defense Department of this country is truly an honor that I had not sought, did not ever believe that it would be offered to me, and I must tell you, I'm the most gratified I could possibly be at having been picked by President Clinton to serve in this position.

When he called me and I visited with him, I said you don't seem to understand, once I strip that label Republican off the lapel, there won't be many Republicans supporting me, there won't be any Democrats trusting me. You won't gain much by this. He said, "I really want to send a signal to the country that we have to have a bipartisan consensus for national security and for our domestic defense policy in this country. I want to send that signal to the people, so I'm asking you to do this." Of course it was one of those offers I couldn't refuse.

I was out of work or almost out of work, I didn't have any prime offers coming my way. Food stamps didn't look particularly attractive, so I said okay.

But what I really want to talk about is what's missing in this entire debate about defense. We have the most extraordinary military in the world. We are the envy of the world. I can't tell you how exciting it is for me, and Janet as well, when we travel around the world -- and we have been around the world together when we go out and we visit our troops. And you see how bright they are, how young they are. It's astonishing to realize how old I am getting. But 18 and 19 and 20 years old, and kids who are in charge of these multi-billion dollar pieces of equipment that we have out there, defending our interests. You see how educated they are and dedicated.

We have one example right here in our audience this evening. Captain Deborah Loewer, who holds two master's degrees in advanced mathematics; who when assigned to Germany decided to study German and take her law degree in German; and who will become the first woman commander of a major ship next year when she completes her assignment as one of my senior military assistants.

She seems like a rarity, but there are a lot of people like her in the military today. And we don't appreciate that enough. What you read about is sex in the military, gender integration as far as training is concerned. What you don't see is day in and day out how well our people are really performing and the kind of sacrifice they're making.

The first task that I had as Secretary of Defense was to decide about a strategy. Where are we going? Where are we going with the Defense Department? After all, the Cold War was over, the Berlin Wall was down, it was all swept into the ash heap of history. Where were we going? We had to develop a strategy. So I spent three months talking about Quadrennial Defense Review, the QDR.

It came down to something that I started off by talking about Admiral Stockdale, James Stockdale, who was very temporarily a vice presidential candidate. He got on the stage, to his embarrassment, I guess, but I think to his credit in the way he posed it, he said, "Who am I and why am I here?" That produced a ripple of laughter in the audience that watched that debate that evening. But they were very existential questions that were important for him to define himself in terms of who he was as Mr. Perot's vice presidential candidate.

But it's a question that we have to ask ourselves as a nation. Who are we? Why are we here? Why are we over there? Why are we in Asia, for example?

Last evening we had a wonderful dinner at the White House and we met with the President of China. The Chinese wonder why are we there? Well, we are there because we are providing great stability. That is one of the essences of our strategy, to provide stability; to be forward deployed; to have a presence. We have a presence in Europe, we have a presence in Asia, we have a presence in the Gulf. You influence people's judgments by having that kind of a presence. So you have to have a strategy of being forward deployed. So we're going to shape people's opinions about us -- our enemies as well as our friends.

We have to be able to respond to all the crises that might exist all the way from very small operations to very major operations, and we have to prepare for the future. That is where the Concord Coalition really comes into play.

What we are not prepared to do is to invest the kind of resources into the future that will keep us one or two generations ahead of all of our competitors. That's where we're falling short every year by 12 to 15 billion dollars of money that keeps coming out of investment for the future and putting it into current consumption -- operations and support or operations and maintenance.

So we've got to squeeze our bureaucracy. We're having what we call a "revolution of military affairs" that Sam Nunn was in the forefront in helping to develop. We're bringing technology much closer to the present. Future technologies that will revolutionize the way in which we conceive of fighting wars should we have to fight them; and to prevail in them should we have to wage them. Then we have to have a "revolution in business affairs" and that's where all of you come into play.

We have to change the way in which the Pentagon and the Department does business. We waste billions of dollars. We do it because we're holding onto an old way of looking at a new world. We still are mired in paper. We have to become a paperless society. We have to take advantage of commercial technology. We have to get rid of reams and volumes and warehouses full of regulations to allow us to be as efficient and productive as we possibly can, the way business has had to do in the past decade or two. That's where the revolution in business affairs comes into play, and that's where the revolution I think at the Concorde Coalition can play a most important role.

I will quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., who was the father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the great Supreme Court Justice. But the Senior said, "I find a great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we're moving. To reach the port of heaven we must sometimes sail with the wind, sometimes against it, but we must sail and not drift or lie at anchor." That is true of business, it's true of our national security as well. We've got to set a course and sail to achieve that particular destination.

A final quote I'd like to give you this evening, without inflicting too much pain and suffering upon you, is that of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., because I want to pay tribute to the hero that we've just honored this evening. When I consider the legacy of Paul Tsongas, it's Holmes' quote. He said, "Through our great and good fortune in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. That while we're permitted to scorn nothing but indifference and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes beyond and above the gold fields the snowy heights of honor. It's for us to bear and report to those who come after us. But above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from fortune a spade that will look downward and dig; or from aspirations or acts and (inaudible) will scale the ice; the one and only success which is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart."

Paul Tsongas brought to his work a mighty heart, and it's for us to bear the report to those who come after us.

Thank you for all that you are doing for the Concord Coalition. Thank you for bringing the political pressure to bear upon people who serve in office who are inundated day in and day out with conflicting pressures. But your message, and this organization which has blossomed in such a short period of time to become the most effective lobbying group, as such, for fiscal sanity and fiscal responsibility, and caring not only for the present but for the future, this is a tremendous tribute tonight to pay tribute not only to Paul Tsongas and what he represented, but to continue his legacy through the work of Warren Rudman whom I consider my closest friend, and Sam Nunn who, as you know, worked with me for 18 years on the three committees he mentioned. But these two individuals are remarkable, and we ought to take advantage of their energy, their intelligence, their honor, and to help complete the work that was begun so many years ago under the tutelage of Pete Peterson.

Thank you very much.