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Release No: 016-97
January 14, 1997


(These remarks follow presentation of the Medal of Freedom to Secretary Perry by President Bill Clinton.)

I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence. Two roads diverged in the wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.

Four years ago, America faced a choice, a choice between two roads that diverged. One road led to isolation and apathy, the other road to engagement and action.

This century has taught us that the road of isolation and apathy leads to instability and war. President Clinton chose the road of engagement and action. He strove to bridge the Cold War chasms, to reduce its nuclear legacy, to reach out to former adversaries, to prevent the conditions for conflict and to create the conditions for peace. And that, as Robert Frost has said, has made all the difference.

It has made all the difference in Europe, where by establishing the Partnership for Peace we have replaced an Iron Curtain which divided the nations of Europe with a circle of security which brings them together.

It has made all the difference in our own hemisphere, where all nations save one have chosen democracy, and by establishing the Defense Ministerial of Americas we have forged new links of trust and cooperation.

It has made all the difference in the Asia Pacific, where by establishing a framework agreement we froze the North Korean nuclear program and prevented a nuclear arms race, and where by strengthening the security agreement with Japan, we have ensured America's security presence -- the oxygen that fuels the region's prosperity.

Choosing the right road has made all the difference around the world. By executing the Nunn-Lugar program, we have dismantled 4,000 nuclear weapons that once targeted America's cities. Today, the threat of nuclear holocaust no longer hangs like a dark cloud over the heads of our children.

Four years ago, the Department of Defense faced a choice. One road was well-traveled and easy to follow, but it would have allowed our forces to atrophy as we completed the post-Cold War drawdown. The other road was less traveled by, twisting and bumpy with hard choices -- hard choices to ensure that we had strong capable military forces ready to respond in a world of new dangers.

Twice before in this century when faced with that same choice, we chose the well-traveled road of neglect and we paid the price -- in Korea with Task Force Smith, and after Vietnam with a hollow army. This time we chose the road less-traveled by, the road of readiness. We established training as our highest priority, training designed to make the scrimmage tougher than the game. We established the iron logic that quality of life for our forces meant quality people in our forces. We reformed our acquisition system to give our quality people the most effective technology -- technology that enables them to dominate the battlefield; to win quickly, decisively, and with minimum losses. And that has made all the difference.

It made all the difference wherever we sent our forces to prevent, deter, or defeat aggression: In Haiti, where we restored democracy. In the Arabian Gulf, where we contained a brutal dictator. In the Korean Peninsula, where we stood firm with an ally. In Bosnia, where we have stopped the killing and brought to a war-ravaged people the blessings of peace. The readiness road ensured the success of each of these missions. Readiness made all the difference.

Four years ago I faced a personal choice between a well- traveled road to a quieter life centered around family and friends, and a less-traveled road that led to turmoil, tension, and tough decisions. But it also led to an opportunity to serve our nation, to support the troops I cared for, and to achieve the dreams I cherished.

I thought long and hard upon that choice and took counsel from sage friends. I questioned my wisdom, my patience and my ability to endure. But the courage to take that test came from the advice of a tough Sergeant Major: Take care of the troops, he said, and they will take care of you.

I have followed that advice, and that for me has made all the difference. It made all the difference every time I advised President Clinton on when and how to use military force. It made all the difference when I negotiated with ministerial colleagues, when I met with presidents and kings. It made all the difference when I decided on force levels, mission goals and rules of engagement every time we put our troops in harm's way. It made all the difference when I met with soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, in distant lands, on domestic bases, on training fields, ships at sea and cargo planes or fighter jets. It made all the difference when I shared Thanksgiving meals with them in Haiti, in Macedonia, in Bosnia.

That advice -- Take care of the troops, and they will take care of you -- has made all the difference as I learned from my mistakes, as I took pride in my achievements.

Today, I say farewell to the President, who honored me by asking me to serve as Secretary. I say farewell to my colleagues in the administration who worked with me to achieve common goals. I say farewell to my friends in the media, and in the Congress, and to the wonderful friends I have made in the embassies.

And I say farewell to our military leaders who have served our country so brilliantly. They have prepared our forces for war, but they are dedicated to peace. Elie Wiesel has said, Peace is not God's gift to mankind. Peace is our gift to each other. And for the last four years peace is the gift the we have given the American public.

But the hardest farewell to say is to the troops who have served me and whom I have served. Words cannot adequately describe my pride in you. So my farewell to you is a simple benediction: May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord cause His face to shine upon you and give you peace.

Thank you. (Applause.)

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