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Armed Forces Farewell to President William Jefferson Clinton
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Williams S. Cohen, Conmy Hall, Fort Myer Arlington, Virginia, Friday, January 05, 2001

General Shelton, thank you very much for your kind remarks. I might say to all here that one of the most important decisions that I had to make during the past four years was to recommend to our commander in chief that you serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. You've been outstanding in every way, and you've always offered me and the president great insight and wisdom and counsel. And it's kind of redundant for me to say that you stand tall -- [laughter] -- and always humbling to walk beside you -- [laughter] -- but I do thank you for being tall, and strong and wise and acting on behalf of our nation's military. Thank you for your contribution your entire career. [Applause.]

President Clinton, First Lady and as the chairman indicated, now Senator Clinton, welcome to the wonderful world of the world's greatest deliberative body, and you will encounter great challenges as well as quorum calls and other deliberations. But you have a great career ahead of you, and I know that you're going to represent the state of New York and this country in the same extraordinary fashion and inspiring fashion that you have as first lady of the United States. So let me take this occasion to congratulate you on your great victory. [Applause.]

Let me say to my colleague, Sandy Berger, it's been my honor and indeed pleasure to work with you during the past four years. You're tough-minded, but you're fair-minded, and you've always sought our judgment without making judgments about the advice we give or recommendations we give. You've never been judgmental. And I will always have lasting and fond memories of our time together at Ohio State. [Laughter.] And I here publicly forgive you for that. [Laughter.]

Secretary Slater, service secretaries and chiefs, Janet, distinguished guests, soldiers and sailors and airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, ladies and gentlemen.

In the chronicle of our country, decisive moments have been marked by a convergence of international and industrial transformation, moments when events fundamentally alter our place in the world, and technology fundamentally alters the world in which we live. And future historians are going to note that we faced such moments in the first and final years of the 20th century. At the dawn of the century, the airplane and assembly line established America's industrial dominance. At the end of the century, computers and communications led a resurgence of American economic supremacy.

A century ago, the old order of kings and colonies tore asunder in Europe, precipitated by a war begun in the Balkans. In our time, the world was reordered by the collapse of the Soviet Empire, leading to a war that commenced, but this time was contained, in the Balkans. In that earlier time, a progressive governor from a small state ascended to the White House, and Woodrow Wilson pursued peace through freer trade and international cooperation. In our time, America chose the man that we're honoring today to guide her through a new and uncertain world, to carry us on what the poet Auden called "the dangerous flood of history."

And I know it's tempting to judge a president's role on the world stage by the wars that were won on his watch, but I would suggest that there is a more telling measure -- the foundation that he lays for a future of peace and prosperity and security. And by that standard, history will surely record the past eight years as being nothing short of decisive.

As the Soviet Union gave way to Russia, it was this president who pushed for a greater Partnership for Peace, an enlarged NATO, and a more stable united Europe. And as freelance enemies the world over sought new and deadly means of attack, it was this president who brought about the elimination of nuclear weapons from three former adversaries, and led the fight for a treaty banning chemical weapons. As the end of the Cold War compelled the drawdown of U.S. forces, it was this president who saw to it that unlike after previous conflicts, that as our military forces became smaller, we also this time grew stronger.

And as a dark night of terror descended on the Balkans, threatening the safety of millions, the stability of Europe itself, it was this president who led NATO on its first military campaign, insisting that the worst crimes of the 20th century not be allowed to spill over into the 21st; refusing to allow either inaction or, indeed, indifference to endanger our allies or our vital interests in Europe. And indeed, as one cheerful young Albanian man later said to the president, "We will never forget that you brought us the most precious gift of all -- freedom."

Ladies and gentlemen, as he did at each and every moment, President Clinton acted in the most noble tradition of American foreign policy. America's interest and ideals were the first, the last and the only factors in his deliberations and his decisions.

And as General Shelton has already noted, and I would add, that after an era of shrinking budgets for the weapons and warriors who preserved the blessings of freedom that we enjoy, it was this president's fiscal policy that allowed, and his pen that signed, the largest increase in military spending in some 15 years -- historic investment in the next generation of tools and technologies, and the largest increase in military pay and benefits in a generation. Today, the hearts of the American people can swell with pride as ours do today when we look upon the finest fighting force in the world.

None of these achievements, none of these operations that I've mentioned would have been possible without the consultation and cooperation across the political aisle. Indeed, four years ago, this president reached across what President Washington called the jealousies and heartburnings of the partisan divide, and he selected, for the first time in American history, an elected official from the other party to serve as a senior member of his Cabinet and has sent an unmistakable message to this nation and to the world itself: When it comes to our men and women in uniform, America must always stand as one. And I think that we will always be indebted to you, Mr. President. [Applause.]

Mr. President, I would like to express just a very personal note. I would like to say that while being the secretary of Defense, I believe it's one of the most demanding jobs on the face of the Earth, second only to being president, I might add. It's also the most rewarding. You have given me and my wife, Janet, who has been by my side for almost all of the 800,000 miles that we have traveled, the opportunity to soar, to sail, and to walk among America's eagles, our patriots, the men and women who are prepared to sacrifice their lives on any given day; their lives to defend our freedoms. And I want to tell you that in 31 years of public service, nothing can ever compare to this experience. It has profoundly touched and enriched Janet and me beyond any earthly reward. And for that, the two of us will always be deeply indebted to you.

Now, I began with a reference to the great Democratic president of the progressive era, and so, in the spirit of bipartisanship, I'd like you permission, Mr. President, to close with a quote from a great Republican of that day as well.

Teddy Roosevelt once offered an assessment of his tenure that I think speaks volumes about the commander in chief that we honor today. He said, "While president, I have been president emphatically." And indeed I would say that few who have served in the spirit of the president who opened the 20th century more than the one that we honor today has represented that spirit of serving emphatically. You have brought to life Roosevelt's description of leaders as those who know the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spend themselves for a worthy cause, and who know, in the end, the triumph of high achievement.

Mr. President, on behalf of the United States armed forces, on behalf of the American people who live under the blanket of freedom that they provide, thank you for your great devotions. Thank you for the worthy causes you have defended, that have defined your presidency. Thank you for the triumph and high achievements of the past eight years.

I believe that history is going to record that the American people are safer and this nation more secure because of your guiding hand and your leadership. Thank you. [Applause.]