Thank you very much. Thank you so much.
Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, I thank you so much for joining us. And I thank you for those generous words – for your support these many years.
Chairman Pace, thank you for your sound advice, and for your unfailing good humor through enormous challenging times.
· Deputy Secretary Gordon England. You have been a valued partner in this mission, and I thank you so much. You make a difference here -- every single day. Thank you Gordon;
· Service secretaries, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, combatant commanders. I saw my friend, former Chairman General Dick Myers, down here in the front row, Dick, it’s always good to see you;
· Chairman Warner, members of the Congress, ladies and gentlemen, thank you all;
And all of those gathered -- military and civilian -- who make this great department what it is -- thank you so much for what you do for our country.
As I look back over these past six years, and reflect on what has been achieved, I feel a sense of gratitude.
· Gratitude to Joyce, to be sure, our three wonderful children and our seven grandchildren -- we have been together in this every minute;
· Gratitude to the hundreds of thousands of people in this department, who, out of love of country, contribute so much;
· And, gratitude to all of those amazing young people – who volunteer and step forward and proudly wear our nation’s uniforms.
Last weekend, I was in Iraq. I wanted to personally express my heartfelt appreciation to the troops for their service and for their sacrifice. I wanted to leave them a sense of what they have given me -- pride in mission, and an abiding confidence in our country. It has been the highest honor of my life to serve with them -- these makers of history.
Mr. President, over the past six years, at your request, as you pointed out, this department has been determined to create a new framework to better defend against the irregular threats of this new era. These folks have had to depart from the conventional, and, the familiar, to wrestle with the new and the unfamiliar.
And they do it with no guidebook, no roadmap -- and they do it in full view of the Congress, and the press and the world – with generous scrutiny from all sides.
Today, I’ll break with convention one more time, and, instead of the traditional farewell remarks on past achievements, I will focus squarely on the future.
I say this with the perspective of one, as the President indicated, who has had the opportunity to lead this department in two different eras, in two different world conflicts, for two different presidents, and, yes it’s true, in two different centuries.
When I last departed this post in 1977, I left cautioning that “weakness is provocative.” That weakness inevitably entices aggressors into acts they otherwise would avoid. Then, our country was engaged in a “long struggle,” a struggle of uncertain duration, against what seemed, at the time, as an ascendant ideology and clearly an expanding empire.
Few would have believed that, 15 years later, the Soviet Union would cease to exist. Or that the dissidents then trapped behind an Iron Curtain would lead people out of the dustbin of history and into the family of free nations. Which they did.
That history did not happen by accident. And it most assuredly was not made by people sitting safely on the sidelines. It occurred only because America and our allies withstood the tough times, the bitter disagreements, and they stayed at the task with conviction that our security was linked to the defense and the advance of human freedom.
This is what history asks of us today. And as I leave the Pentagon for the second, and, I suspect, the odds are the last time, I do feel a sense of urgency about the very real challenges ahead.
As the President noted seven years ago, he said, we are living in an era of “barbarism emboldened by technology.” We live at a time when our enemies mix an extremist ideology with modern weaponry and have the ability to kill thousands -- indeed even hundreds of thousands -- of our people in a single, swift, deadly stroke. We forget that at our peril.
A number of us here came in 2001, with that mission and mandate: to prepare this defense establishment, to protect the American people, from the unconventional, and the irregular threats.
That mission was given powerful impetus that bright September morning, when that mighty building, just a few yards away -- shook, burned, and smoked. And 125 members of our Pentagon team did not come home.
The attacks of September 11th awakened Americans to the global extremist movement -- a movement with networks in nations all around the world. Even our own. A movement with tens of thousands of adherents who believe it is their calling to kill Americans and other free people. Ours is a world of unstable dictators, weapons proliferators and rogue regimes. And each of these enemies seeks out our vulnerabilities. And as free people, we have vulnerabilities.
Ours is also a world of many friends and allies, but sadly, realistically, friends and allies with declining defense investment and declining capabilities, and, I would add, as a result, with increasing vulnerabilities. All of which requires that the United States of America invest more.
Today it should be clear that not only is weakness provocative, but the perception of weakness on our part can be provocative as well. A conclusion by our enemies that the United States lacks the will or the resolve to carry out missions that demand sacrifice and demand patience is every bit as dangerous as an imbalance of conventional military power.
This is a time of great consequence. Our task is to make the right decisions today, so that future generations will not have to make much harder decisions tomorrow. It may well be comforting to some to consider graceful exits from the agonies and indeed the ugliness of combat. But the enemy thinks differently.
Under the President’s leadership, this country made a decision to confront the extremist ideology of hatred that spawned a worldwide movement, and to take the fight to the enemy. The alternative was inaction and defense -- a pattern that history has shown only emboldens the enemy.
Our country has taken on a bracing and difficult task -- but let there be no doubt, it is neither hopeless nor without purpose. Leadership is not about doing what is easy. It is about doing what is right, even when it’s hard -- especially when it’s hard.
President Lincoln once said, “determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way” – to do it. That remains true today.
We’re in what will be a long struggle. It’s new, it’s complex and, even after five years, it’s still somewhat unfamiliar. That we have been successful – I would add -- fortunate to have suffered not one single attack here at home, since September 11th, 2001, has contributed to a misperception in some quarters that the threat is gone. It is not!
As I leave, I do feel urgency, but I also feel optimism. I know that the American people can summon that same grit that helped our founders forge from a wilderness, a new frontier. I know it because I have seen it over my own lifetime. It’s the same steel that sent our fathers and grandfathers across oceans to defend free nations from tyrants. That same grit that gave Americans the will to endure 40 years of the Cold War under the specter of nuclear annihilation.
So it is with confidence that I say that America’s enemies should not confuse the American people’s distaste of war -- which is real and which is understandable -- with a reluctance to defend our way of life. Enemy after enemy in our history have made that mistake -- to their regret.
To those in uniform -- here and abroad -- who proudly serve, always remember that America’s example is a message of hope for hundreds of millions of people all across the globe.
America is not what’s wrong with this world. Ours is a message that was heard and fought for in places like Berlin, Prague, Riga, Tokyo, Seoul, San Salvador, Vilnius, and Warsaw. And that message is even now being whispered in the coffee houses and streets of Damascus, Tehran, and Pyongyang.
The great sweep of human history is for freedom -- and America is on freedom’s side.
As I end my time here, some ask what I will remember. Well, I will remember all those courageous folks that I have met deployed in the field, and those in military hospitals that we visit. And I will remember the fallen. And I will particularly remember their families, from whom I have drawn inspiration.
And, I will remember how fortunate I have been to know you, to work with you, to have been inspired by your courage and your love of country.
You will be in my thoughts and prayers. God bless you all.