Seal of the Department of Defense U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
On the Web:
Media contact: +1 (703) 697-5131/697-5132
Public contact:
or +1 (703) 571-3343

American-Turkish Council
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Washington, DC, Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Thank you, Tom, for that kind introduction.
And Brent, thank you for those uncharacteristically generous remarks. (Laughter.)
Brent Scowcroft is someone I have known and worked with since I was first detailed for the National Security Council from CIA 33 years ago this summer. Brent was then the deputy national security adviser. And as I recall, President Nixon's final appeal for the Watergate case was being heard by the Supreme Court. I later wrote that working for Brent in the White House at that time was like being a deckhand on the Titanic. (Laughter.)
When Brent offered me the deputy national security adviser job 15 years later, in 1989, I accepted on one condition -- that I would keep his work schedule, which averaged 14 to 16 hours a day. I had two young children, and I wanted to see them once in a while. Brent quickly agreed to my conditions, believing clearly that I would never stick to them. (Laughter.) I didn't. He knew me better than I knew myself.
Even that occasion was far from the last time he talked me into doing something I didn't want to do, which would then turn out to be a life-changing experience for me. But even Brent didn't have the temerity to try to talk me into taking my present job. (Laughter.)
He did offer some guidance for me today. It was along the lines of, "Remember, there's no such thing as a bad short speech.” (Laughter.)
That was kinder than the time George Bernard Shaw was introducing a speaker and told him he only had 15 minutes to speak. The speaker replied, "How can I tell them what I know in 15 minutes?” And Shaw responded, "I advise you to speak very slowly." (Laughter.)
It's been just over three months since I returned to Washington to take on my current assignment. You know, the place -- the Pentagon is just a huge place. David Brinkley told a story about a woman who told a Pentagon guard she was in labor and needed help in getting to a hospital. The guard said, "Madame, you shouldn't have come in here in that condition." She replied, "When I came in here, I wasn't.” (Laughter.)
But seriously, in a relatively short period of time I've had the opportunity to meet and work with some extraordinary people dedicated to serving their country.
At the top of that list are our men and women in uniform, and especially those serving on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. I've come away from my visits in theater impressed by their resilience, their good humor, their courage and their determination in the face of danger and personal sacrifice.
At the Pentagon, one of the more impressive people with whom I've become reacquainted is no stranger to this group -- former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, and current Under Secretary for Policy Eric Edelman. As is often the case, Eric is on the road today doing the nation's business. I'm sure he won't mind if I tell you that, as a career diplomat, he manages to do very well in a building where more than a few share Will Rogers' view that diplomacy is the art of saying "nice doggy" until you find a rock. (Laughter.)
One of the first conversations I had with Eric on my return to Washington was about the importance of America's relationship with Turkey, an ally my friends know I have long believed to be undervalued and under-appreciated. And for that reason, as the Soviets used to say, it is not by accident that my first public speech since becoming secretary is before this group.
Today, I'd like to speak a few minutes about that relationship and about the challenges to our shared values and interests in the Middle East in the years ahead.
It was 60 years ago this month that President Harry Truman addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress to ask for emergency assistance for Greece and Turkey to stave off Soviet expansion in the Mediterranean area.
In those historic remarks -- subsequently known as the “Truman Doctrine” speech, President Truman laid out the fundamental objectives of U.S. foreign policy for the next four decades, to include, quote, "the creation of conditions in which we and other nations will be able to work out a way of life free from coercion," unquote. A central component of that policy was maintaining Turkey's “national integrity,” which he said was “essential to the preservation of order in the Middle East.”
That holds true today. In addition to the commitments we have made to each other as long-standing allies, there is Turkey's unique cultural and geographic position in the world -- a position of vital importance to the security challenges we face today.
Rudyard Kipling wrote that, "East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet," but in fact, Kipling was wrong because for centuries Turkey has served as a bridge between East and West.
Many of the competing forces that historically have been at play in Turkey are also found in the Middle East in the broader Muslim world -- extremism versus moderation; tribalism versus nationalism; authoritarianism versus pluralism; and secularism versus Islamism.
Turkey has been the seed of several civilizations -- including the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. In the last half of the 20th century, Turkey courageously defended NATO's southern border against a very different empire, helping hold off Soviet aggression during some of the most difficult days of the Cold War.
For nearly 200 years, Turkey has been on a modernizing and westward course -- a course set early by Ottoman reformers in the 19th century, strengthened and given modern form by Kemal Ataturk, and continued by men like Turgut Ozal. It is a course the United States has strongly favored and continues to support.
It is no secret that the strategic relationship between the United States and Turkey has undergone some turbulence in recent years. Even so, our military, economic, political, and personal ties remain strong.
Turkey is, for example, one of the major allied partners on the Joint Strike Fighter, and 16 U.S. Navy ships called on Turkish ports last year.
Turkey provides key support in the difficult struggles against violent extremism we find ourselves in today:
·        America appreciates the role Turkey has played in the effort to help the Afghan people build a secure and stable democracy. Turkey has commanded two ISAF rotations and a Provincial Reconstruction Team.
·        Turkey has provided access to Iraq through the Incirlik Air Base and the Habur gate, without which our operations would be exceedingly more difficult and vastly more expensive.
Regardless of the resilience of our strategic relationship, we should not forget that all relationships need work to remain strong. Our two nations should oppose measures and rhetoric that needlessly and destructively antagonize each other.
That includes symbolic resolutions by the United States Congress, as well as the type of anti-American and extremist rhetoric that sometimes finds a home in Turkey's political discourse.
No doubt one of the most difficult matters we have had to work through as allies is the conflict in Iraq. Indeed, it is perhaps the most difficult matter facing many allies of the United States.
The situation on Turkey's border with Iraq's Kurdish region is of particular concern. We recognize that every Turkish citizen killed by the PKK is a setback for success in Iraq and a setback in our relationship with Turkey. The United States has appointed one of our most distinguished military officers, General Joe Ralston -- former NATO commander -- as Special Envoy for Countering the PKK. But we know more needs to be done.
As President Bush has underscored, the United States is committed to the stability and territorial integrity of Iraq, and opposes policies or groups that would undermine that integrity in any way.
As I said to some of our allies and friends last month in Munich, whatever disagreements we might have over how we got to this point in Iraq, the consequences of a failed state in Iraq -- of chaos there -- will adversely affect every member of the Atlantic Alliance -- and none more so than Turkey.
In Iraq, we face historical rivalries and rifts in a society brutalized by decades of dictatorship and war -- and more recently by terrorist attacks and sectarian violence. The Iraqis are trying to do something that has never been done before in their long history -- create a government that actually serves the people. And the elected government they now have essentially started from scratch less than a year ago.
The Coalition has a new commander -- General David Petraeus -- who's implementing a new approach based on sound counterinsurgency principles. Providing basic security and a decent quality of life for the population are the top priorities -- an approach that gives the Iraqi government breathing room to take steps toward reform and political reconciliation.
Additional U.S. and Iraqi forces are being employed to “hold” and “build” neighborhoods that have been cleared of insurgents, militia, and foreign terrorists. The Iraqi government has committed to providing the forces necessary to secure their capital, and there are encouraging signs, though it is too early to call them trends.
But as General Petraeus has said, the situation will not, and cannot, be resolved ultimately by military means.
Iraq's neighbors will need to play a constructive role going forward, even if they haven't done so in the past -- especially in encouraging political reconciliation and a reduction in violence within Iraq.
This is certainly the case with Syria and Iran, who have not been helpful. The regional talks recently held in Baghdad were a good start toward improved cooperation, and our government is open to higher-level exchanges.
It is no secret that, as a private citizen, I advocated for some dialogue with Iran. But in dealing with a regime like Iran's, one has to be realistic.
The American search for elusive Iranian “moderates” is a recurring -- and mostly fruitless -- theme since the revolution in 1979. I remember when then-National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brezinsky and I met in Algiers along the with the Iranian political leadership on November 1st, 1979. Brezinsky offered American cooperation and recognition of the Iranian Revolutionary Government.
He offered to continue the partnership that had previously existed under the shah, including military assistance to the new revolutionary government. Our interlocutors had only demand: give us the Shah. And ultimately, Zbig said that would be incompatible with our national honor. Three days later, word came that 66 of our diplomats had been seized at our embassy in Tehran, and two weeks later, the president -- the prime minister, the Defense minister and the foreign minister, with whom we had met, were all out of office, and several of them in jail.
We should have no illusions about the nature of this regime or about their designs for their nuclear program, their intentions for Iraq or their ambitions in the Gulf region.
Still, at this time, Iran and all the actors in the region, friends and adversaries alike, are invested and involved to some degree or another in what is happening in Iraq.
They are watching what the United States and our coalition partners are doing and will draw their own conclusions about the reliability of our word and the strength of our commitments.
Multiple administrations of both American political parties have concluded that stability in the Gulf region is a vital American interest -- an interest and a responsibility we will not abandon.
America's approach to this part of the world has over time lent itself to discussions over conflicting U.S. policy traditions and schools of thought. There are debates over the role of:
·        Realism versus Idealism,
·        Stability versus Freedom; and
·        Interests versus Values.
In the real world, I believe American foreign policy must be a blend of all these approaches, with different emphases in different places and at different times. What matters are results that benefit the long- term security, prosperity, freedom, reputation and influence of the United States and our allies.
Abandoning Iraq and leaving regional chaos in our wake clearly would be an offense to our interests as well as our values, a setback for the cause of freedom as well as the goal of stability.
The realities we face today in the Middle East and elsewhere are a stark reminder of the fact that the fundamental nature of man has not changed. There will always be those who will not bow to reason, to accommodation or restraint -- those who have few, if any, “better angels” to whom we might appeal.
I remember what Harold Brown, Secretary of Defense during the Carter Administration, used to say about the arms race with the former Soviet Union. He said: “when we build, they build; when we cut, they build.”
This dynamic was true during the Cold War, and it is the case today in dealing with the jihadist terrorism and other bad actors.
In this strategic environment, we have to be willing to spend the resources, absorb the costs, take the risks and meet the commitments we make to one another. It means having the credibility, ingenuity and skill to dissuade and divide our potential adversaries, while reassuring and uniting our friends.
These principles apply to our new partners -- like the brave Iraqis and Afghans who are risking their lives to build, in President Truman's words, "a way of life free from coercion." And these principles apply as well to decades-old friendships like the Turkish- American relationship that brings us here together today.
And so I would like to close with an old Turkish proverb that we should keep in mind as our two nations face together a variety of threats and challenges as well as agreements and disagreements in the years ahead, and that is, quote, "A wise man remembers his friends at all times, a fool, only when he has need of them." The United States and Turkey have wisely remembered our friendship at all times.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)