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Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (Henry Jackson Award) (Arlington, VA)
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Arlington, VA, Monday, October 15, 2007

Thank you Bob. Thank you for that introduction. Thank you for inviting me here tonight. And thank you for this honor. Above all thank you to all those recognized with the grateful nation award. You are the best and we all owe you and in all sincerity we are all humbled by you. The truth is, compared to you, I don’t know what the hell I am doing up here.
Well you know relations between the United States and Israel have been very close for a long time and there’ve been moments of drama and moments of humor. One of the latter was the time that President Nixon met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir just after he appointed Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State. And Mrs. Meir was accompanied by the very erudite Abba Eban. And Nixon turned to the Prime Minister and said “Just think we now both have Jewish foreign ministers.” And Golda Meir looked at Nixon and said, “Yes, but mine speaks English.”
The reception this evening and wine with the dinner and all of that reminds me of the risks of officials drinking in public. Some years ago, a European foreign minister who shall remain nameless, who was a notoriously heavy drinker, was on a trip to South America and he showed up at a reception in Peru and he was quite drunk. And there was music playing and he invited a passing guest to dance. And the guest somewhat haughtily replied, “First, sir, you are drunk. Second, this is not a waltz, it is the Peruvian national anthem. Third, I am not a woman I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima.”
There’s another example of this and it was passed along to me by Bob Strauss a number of years ago and it was the story of a long-winded after-dinner speaker. There’d been a long reception and lots of cocktails and then lots of wine with dinner. The speaker was at one of those table-set podiums, so there were people seated to both sides. And the speaker got up and droned on and on. And finally a drunken guest seated to the right of the speaker got fed up, picked up an empty wine bottle and swung it at the speaker and missed, and hit the chairman of the event who was seated on the left of the speaker who fell to the ground bleeding profusely. The drunk got down on his hands and knees crawled over to the chairman of the event to apologize. The chairman opened one eye and said, “hit me again I can still hear the son of a bitch.” 
So I promise not to go on too long. Although I think I am out of range.  
For more than three decades, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs has been a strong supporter and defender of America’s military might – and of America’s long-standing friendship with Israel. I thank you all for your contribution to the debate over our nation’s foreign policy.
I must say that it is humbling to receive an award named after Scoop Jackson, one of the great senators of modern times.  It is more humbling when one considers the long line of distinguished men and women who have stood before this organization, in receipt of this award.
For those of us who had the pleasure of working with Scoop Jackson on national-security issues, even if only for a couple of years in my case, his was a voice and a vote that could always be counted on to defend America’s interests abroad.  He had a profoundly realistic understanding of human nature and how the world worked.  He was fond of saying that he was neither a hawk nor a dove – he just didn’t want his country to be a pigeon.
When it came to national security, his was the consummate bipartisan voice.  He always said that, in defense matters, “the best politics is no politics.”  He was an outspoken and implacable critic of anti-Semitism, both at home and abroad.  He understood that in many places Jews lived under oppressive conditions and governments.  So he put forward legislation to pressure other nations, particularly the Soviet Union, to allow their citizens, and particularly Jews, to immigrate to friendlier nations, often Israel.  He personally intervened on behalf of Natan Sharansky and many others trapped behind the Iron Curtain.
On a fundamental level, I think he felt something that many presidents have felt – from John Adams to Abraham Lincoln to Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan and George Bush.  Like all of them, he believed that the Jewish people deserved a home in their ancient lands.  And he, like many, made it his duty to protect and preserve that nation.
Since the creation of Israel, and even before, there has been no small amount of discussion about what our relationship with the Jewish state should be.  And no small amount of ink has been spilled about what our interests are – whether strategic, political, moral, or some combination thereof.
Perhaps the best summary of our reasons for supporting Israel may also be the most succinct.  In 1967, Soviet premier Aleksei Kosygin asked Lyndon Johnson why he supported the Jewish state, even though its population represented only a fraction of the entire Middle East.  And President Johnson replied: Because it is right.
It was right to stand by Israel during its darkest hours when it fought for its very survival.  And today, with the new threats and challenges our nation faces in the region, it is even more important to maintain and bolster our partnership.
My personal experiences with Israel date back almost 35 years, and begin with one of my most embarrassing moments as an intelligence officer. I was in Geneva, Switzerland as an intelligence adviser to the U.S. strategic arms delegation in the fall of 1973. I was giving Ambassador Paul Nitze his morning intelligence briefing, and his eye was caught by one item in particular – the CIA’s analysis that Egypt would not attack Israel. Nitze asked me if I spoke French. I said no. He asked if I listened to the radio. I said no. He said, “Well, if you listened to the radio and understood French you would have known before you came in here that Egypt has already attacked Israel.” The Yom Kippur War had started that morning.
My first visit to Israel was nearly 30 years ago, in the final phase of the Camp David process. I was Zbigniew Brzezinski’s special assistant. We finished our work at the King David Hotel about 2 in the morning and the then-Deputy Executive Secretary of the Department of State, Frank Wisner, asked if I wanted to go for a walk. And so, my first walking tour of ancient Jerusalem was in the middle of the night. It was one of the most profoundly religious experiences of my life. The shops all shuttered, no tourists – in fact, not a soul in sight. I was transported in time back two thousand years. No distractions to interrupt the experience, just the sound of our shoes on the stones. I will never forget it. It’s probably a good thing, too, because I expect if I tried to do that today, the legions of security – mine and Israeli – would probably detract from the experience.
I would visit Israel on a number of occasions as Deputy Director and Director of CIA, with the opportunity to meet and work with then-Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister Shamir, several heads of Mossad and Shin Bet, and then-Chief of Staff Ehud Barak. Thus, it is not by accident that one of my first foreign trips included Israel and a meeting with Prime Minister Olmert and others. At the time of my visit, it had been more than six years since an American Secretary of Defense had visited Israel. And, while it has been many years since I have seen my friend, Ehud Barak, we have talked on the telephone and I look forward to seeing him tomorrow. You know, we old Kremlinologists pay a lot of attention to the little signs and gestures that matter a lot – I will share with you that, ten months into this position, tomorrow night I will host my first dinner for a foreign minister of defense – for Ehud Barak.
Well, enough reminiscing. As one looks around the broader Middle East today – wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an ambitious and fanatical theocracy in Iran, a malignant terrorism, and more – some might believe that our bond with Israel is more a hindrance to stability in the region, an irritant for already tense relationships.
In some respects, I think that view is borne of frustration, the outcome of a decades-long attempt to bring a lasting peace to Israel and the Middle East.  And yet, despite ongoing violence perpetrated by militant, jihadist organizations – as well as the strident posturing of Iran – progress has in fact been made.
Israel’s existence is no longer threatened or challenged by the armies or air forces of its immediate neighbors.  The nation is recognized and at peace with Egypt and Jordan – relations that, while tenuous at times, are nonetheless a far cry from 1948, 1967, and 1973.  Iraq no longer has a belligerent government, and no longer holds Israel’s safety hostage to deter actions by other nations.  And, just a few months ago, the Arab League sent its first-ever envoy to Israel.
I point this out because, as intractable as the situation may sometimes seem, the perspective of history does offer some degree of hope for relations among the governments of the Middle East.  Some degree of hope that Israel will not forever be watching its back.
History also has something to say about the tense situation with Iran, an issue of great importance not only to this organization, but to the entire world.
I remember back to November 1, 1979, when then-National Security Advisor Brzezinski was in Algiers representing the U.S. at the 25th anniversary of the Algerian Revolution. As his special assistant, I was along, and so was his head of Congressional Liaison, a woman named Madeleine Albright. While we were there, the Iranian delegation asked to meet with Brzezinski. I accompanied him as the note taker. Zbig offered the Iranians – their Prime Minister and Defense and Foreign Ministers – recognition of their revolution, continuation of their partnership that had existed under the Shah – including military assistance to the new government, and focus on a common foe to Iran’s north – the Soviet Union. They weren’t interested. They only wanted us to give them the dying Shah. Brzezinski refused, finally saying that to return the Shah would be incompatible with our national honor.  That ended the meeting. Three days later came word that our embassy in Tehran had been seized, and two weeks after that, the prime minister and defense and foreign ministers with whom we had met were out of their jobs and/or in jail. Thus began my now 28-year-long quest for the elusive Iranian moderate.
We should have no illusions about the nature of this regime or its leaders – about their designs for their nuclear program, their willingness to live up to their rhetoric, their intentions for Iraq, or their ambitions in the Gulf.
This Administration is keenly aware of the threats posed by Iran. It is also keenly aware of the challenges we and our allies face with a regime that seems increasingly willing to act contrary to its own national interests. With a government of this nature, only a united front of nations will be able to exert enough pressure to make Iran abandon its nuclear aspirations – a source of anxiety and instability in the region. Our allies must work together on robust, far-reaching, and strongly enforced economic sanctions. We must exert pressure in the diplomatic and political arenas as well. And, as the President has said, with this regime, we must also keep all options on the table.
But, obviously, instability in the region is not just driven by state actors.  The recent history of the Middle East has demonstrated the lethality and persistence of armed militias and movements that have no allegiance to any government, only to death and destruction and chaos.  Where extremists have seized and controlled territory – in western Iraq or eastern Afghanistan, for example – the result has been misery, and poverty, and fear.  The future they promise is a joyless existence – personified not by piety or virtue, but by the executioner and the suicide bomber. Symbolized by men kneeling not in prayer before their god, but kneeling and waiting for the executioner’s sword.
The United States and many of our allies, the prospect of terrorism on a large or prolonged scale is a relatively new concept, one that we are just beginning to appreciate.  For Israel, however, it is something that dates back many years.
Despite many tactical successes, overall strategic success against violent extremism has been elusive.  With the extent of the jihadist movement, with its breadth and numbers, even the most effective counterterrorism tactics can only reduce the number and lethality of attacks.  Total elimination is infinitely more complex, part of an ideological struggle between the forces of moderation and extremism.  It is a struggle currently playing out in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
I have in the past few months outlined a number of consequences of American failure in Iraq – consequences that would affect and potentially destabilize all the nations of the Middle East.  One of the consequences of greatest concern is ideological in nature.
The jihadist movement draw their support largely from perception – not necessarily reality.
Consider the prevalent myth that jihadists were solely responsible for bringing the Soviet empire to its knees in Afghanistan in the 1980s.  The reality is far less romantic.  The very diverse Afghan resistance was only able to be as effective as it was because of massive support from the United States and likeminded nations – support in weapons, in strategy, in dollars, in sanctuary.  Without those things, the insurgency may have ground on, but at an acceptable cost to the Soviet Union.  And yet, Osama bin Laden, not yet a key player in Afghanistan at that point, has embraced, co-opted, and severely distorted this history for his own ends.
A similar phenomenon could happen in Iraq if we pull out quickly, leaving chaos in our wake. It is not at all a stretch to imagine an all-out propaganda campaign in which the jihadists portray themselves as defeating not one, but two superpowers.  That would surely dramatically embolden an entire generation of Islamic extremists, and encourage countless others to join their ranks and wage war on our allies and our interests in the region, in Europe, and ultimately here at home.
The challenges in Iraq clearly are steep. Even so, I think there are reasons to be hopeful.
Over the last few months, there have been a series of public expectations about what the President should do in Iraq. It started with asking him to say he would draw down our forces; then it was a date to begin the drawdown of forces; then it was a timetable for the drawdown of those forces; and then it was asking him to state that there would be a change of mission.
The President has moved on all of those. He has announced that there would be a drawdown; he announced when it would begin – and that was a few weeks ago; he accepted General Petraeus’s schedule through next July with a review in March to see what to do beyond July, a conditions-based timetable; and the President announced that this December would mark the beginning of a transition of mission.
Most people now are focused on whether the drawdown is swift enough, whether the timelines should be binding, and so forth. It is not, it seems to me, a debate, however, about the overall trajectory of the President’s plan. And I think that’s is an important distinction, and promising for the creation of a bipartisan consensus for the future. I would only add that I hope those who have alleged that the views of our generals were neglected at the start of this war will not now dismiss the unanimous recommendations of our generals for the next steps.
I have on many occasions spoken of the need to get the next phase in Iraq right.  How we got to this point, whether and what kind of mistakes were made, will undoubtedly be the subject of historical analysis for a long time to come. Right now though, members of both parties are realizing the full extent of the challenges we face – how dangerous a failed state in Iraq and an ascendant Al Qaeda would be, not just in the short-term, but for decades to come. And, despite the sometimes acrimonious debate, I believe that members of both parties are slowly coming to the same conclusions about our future course in Iraq – even if they disagree on dates and details.
Progress toward peace in the Middle East, whether between nations or between peoples, has always been to the advantage of the United States – both in terms of our values and in terms of our interests.
But if we are ever to see a lasting peace, we must keep our objectives foremost in mind:
  • A unified and stable Iraq;
  • A just and comprehensive peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people, including, as the President has said, a two state solution;
  • An Iran that does not attempt to dominate the region by subverting its neighbors, by building nuclear weapons, or by holding Israel hostage with the threat of attack; and
  • A reversal of the growth and influence of extremist networks and sectarian militia organizations that have become, in the words of our former theater commander, “the curse of the region.”
I’d like to close by taking a step back in time to a period of great consequence for Israel and the formation of the modern Middle East.
During the late 1890s, the Ottoman Empire was under great stress, the Balfour Declaration still more than 20 years off, and change was in the air.  Both Zionism and Arab nationalism were still nascent movements, but their roots nonetheless had begun to take hold in the Middle East and elsewhere.
With tensions rising, Theodor Herzl responded to one of his critics in Jerusalem.  He wrote, “As a people, [the Jews] have long lost the taste for war.  They are . . . fully content if left in peace.”
I think that is a fitting description of all the mature democracies in the world.  We have no taste for war, no taste for the destruction and devastation that it creates.  We are content to live in peace.
But if we are not left in peace, if our security is challenged, we also know that there may be times when we have to defend in no uncertain terms our interests and our liberties. Some in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf and have said the United States is weak because of our engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Restraint should never be confused with weakness.
And let no one, friend or foe, ever forget the words of Dwight Eisenhower, who wrote before World War II, “ . . . beware the fury of an aroused democracy,” and who wrote after the war, “It is a grievous error to forget for one second the might and power of this great republic.”
We will do our duty to our people. We will do our duty to our allies and friends. And we will do our duty to posterity. Just as Scoop Jackson would have us do.
Thank you.