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Commencement Address at the Naval War College
Remarks as Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Newport, Rhode Island, Friday, June 20, 2003

Thank you, [President of the Naval War College, Rear] Admiral Rempt. Distinguished faculty, honored guests, members of the graduating class, families and friends.

What a wonderful day for a graduation! It's a shame that meteorology is not an exact science, or you could have taken this tent down and we could have enjoyed this beautiful Newport weather. But it's a great atmosphere inside here anyway.

Admiral, thank you for that warm welcome. President Johnson on one occasion received a particularly effusive introduction and he commented afterwards, saying he was just sorry that his late parents couldn't be there to hear it. He said, "My father would have been so proud. And my mother would have believed it!" [Laughter]

But today the honor is truly mine. It is a privilege to be able to join you this morning to recognize the Class of 2003 at America's oldest military graduate school.

I was also very pleased to learn that roughly half of your military officers here come from other branches of the U.S. military, which makes us I think a truly joint military graduate school. And that is particularly important in an era when we are taking jointness to unprecedented levels.

And in an era when coalition warfare is the order of the day, I was also pleased to learn that this class includes 70 international students from 58 countries around the world. I thank you because you bring an added dimension to the academic program and your attendance is a tribute to the quality of education here at the Naval War College.

It's customary in commencement speeches to say something about the dynamic world that graduates are about to enter and how that change is going to affect their lives. But that traditional message doesn't work on this occasion with this audience. You are graduating, but you are certainly not commencing. "To commence," after all, is "to begin." And when you return to your fleet or to your units you will not be beginning a brand new career. You will be going back to the noble profession to which you have chosen to dedicate your lives. But you will be going back enriched by what you've learned here and by what you will continue to learn with the tools that you've acquired here.

There have been dramatic changes in the world during your year at the Naval War College, particularly in the world of the military. You will be going back to operational assignments having had a chance to study those developments from a critical perspective. Your study here has prepared you to bring fresh ideas to the dynamic process of innovation that is underway in our military today.

One of the most significant elements that you observed was the battle of Iraq. I expect like many of the rest of the country you were glued to televisions for much of March and April. The battlefield -- or what we should more correctly call "the battle space" -- is the ultimate classroom for your profession and we are still learning the lessons from those crucial weeks.

But some of those lessons are already obvious, and they indicate lasting changes in the way the United States Armed Forces will operate in the future.

Some of those changes have been in the works for quite a long time. And I'm sure that many of you in this room and many here on the stage with me have contributed to those changes. But in the last year the whole world has had a chance to see what they are, and the effect has been dramatic. Thanks in part to yet another innovation, the concept of embedded reporters, the world has had a chance to see some remarkable changes in our military:

  • First has been the application of new networking and communications technologies, which has taken the integration of air and ground forces to an entirely new level and gave our soldiers and Marines on the ground nearly instantaneous access to precision air support. The presence of those brave soldiers and Marines in turn enabled our long range striking power to find targets with precision. And that, too, represents a quantum leap. Precision weapons are only good if you have precision targeting. We can now combine the two in dramatic new ways.
  • That new capability, in turn, enabled our ground forces to advance at an astonishing speed over distances far exceeding those of Desert Storm. It also made possible the use of Special Forces on a scale that would have been difficult to conceive in the past. More than 100 Special Forces A teams were deployed throughout Iraq in this conflict. And that in turn led to the disappearance of a "front" in the traditional sense, to be replaced by the concept of "battle space."
  • We also saw some remarkable organizational innovations. Who would have imagined a conventional tank unit under the command of a Special Forces lieutenant colonel? Or the first-ever combined forces land component commander integrating U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps and coalition forces in a single, brilliant land combat campaign?
  • And we saw revolutionary application of new technologies, such as unmanned aerial vehicles and hit-to-kill anti-missile systems.

So the question is not whether you will adapt to these changes. I have no doubt that you will. You are professionals. The real question is whether the organizations that we work in will adapt as well.

But adapt they must. The world has changed, both technologically and politically. The Armed Forces that many of you joined were organized to fight an enemy that no longer exists, along boundaries that were fixed and identifiable. Our enemy today does not have those attributes. He is illusive and often invisible. He uses unconventional weapons against unconventional targets including the American heartland. The conflict is, in a word, asymmetric, and we must be able to respond in kind.

The battle in Iraq -- like the battle in Afghanistan before it -- is a dramatic victory in the war on terrorism. There have also been important silent victories in the last year achieved by extraordinary international cooperation among intelligence, law enforcement, and military authorities of dozens of countries. Efforts have killed and captured terrorists, among them the mastermind of the September 11th attacks, Khalid Shaykh Mohammad.

But these victories are just battles in the larger war on terrorism. As President Bush said in announcing the end of major combat operations in Iraq, "The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001 -- and still goes on."

Our purpose is not to manage terrorism or simply to arrest and prosecute terrorists after they have attacked us. Our goal is to destroy and delegitimize it the way slavery and piracy were delegitimized in the 19th Century.

The global war on terrorism needs to be understood as a two-front war. The first and most obvious front is the effort to kill and capture terrorists and to dismantle terrorist networks. That is not just a military operation; it is an effort that requires all the instruments of national power including intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomacy. We are making important headway every single day. The enemy is on the run. We are destroying his bases of operation, his organization, his sources of funds, his ability to move and communicate, and his ability to strike. That is the first front in the war on terrorism. In the command and staff positions you will be assuming shortly, you will be on the front lines of that war. And let there be no doubt, we will win this war! [Applause]

As the President has said, "We do not know the day of final victory but we have seen the turning of the tide. No act of the terrorists will change our purpose, or weaken our resolve, or alter their fate," the President said. "Their cause is lost. Free nations will press on to victory."

And we will win in part because our military is the best equipped, best trained, best led fighting force on earth, and we have the support of dozens of other freedom-loving nations that are part of our coalition -- many of them represented here today. When we engage militarily, the outcome is certain.

But there's a second front in the global war on terror, the challenge to build what President Bush called "a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror," particularly in the Muslim world. That means helping a liberated Iraq to become the free and democratic country that it can be. It means resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. Winning the peace is an even greater challenge than winning the war.

But even though the war on terrorism will continue to consume our time and attention, it is vital that we also continue the transformation whose initial effects were demonstrated so dramatically in the battle in Iraq. We need to sustain that effort not only to win the war on terror, but to deter the wars of the future, or if necessary to fight them successfully.

The American military has an extraordinary history of innovation in time of war. Some might even say that we are more innovative under the stress of war than in the leisure of peace. We should use the urgency of the present war on terror to continue transforming our military not only to win this war but to be prepared to win, or (even better) to prevent, the next one.

Needless to say, transformation means profound change. And not only technological change. Not even primarily technological change. The changes enabled by new networking and information technology take the potential of joint operations to a dramatically new and unprecedented level.

And that is more than a mechanical change. It requires a change in the way we think and the way we organize. It is properly described as a cultural change. If we're going to depend on one another in wartime, then we must forge the bonds of trust in peacetime. And that means our training has to become increasingly joint as well.

With that thought in mind, we are developing a joint national training capability to create a distributed environment with a global reach in which individuals and units will receive training and experience in joint operations at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. It should include a live training component, connecting live training exercises, and allowing best practices to circulate among the Services. It should also include a virtual capability to link Service training centers. We want to increase the amount of joint field training that our forces receive because we need to train like we fight, as a coherently integrated team.

All of that requires what Secretary Rumsfeld has called a culture of "innovation and intelligent risk-taking."

Someone once remarked on the huge number of failures that Thomas Alva Edison had suffered in his efforts to develop a new battery. "Some 50,000 failed experiments," this observer said, "with no results." "Results?" Edison replied. "Why, I've gotten a lot of results. I know 50,000 things that don't work." [Laughter]

I'm sure I don't need to tell this audience that for all of their outstanding attributes, military organizations are not always the most welcoming of change. That great American inventor, who is better known for his successful invention of the steamboat, Robert Fulton, was contracted by a foreign government to try to build a submarine. After an embarrassing trial of his new submarine, he was approached by an admiral from that foreign navy who snorted, "Thank God we still fight our battles above the waves and not beneath them."

Well, we have to be prepared for change. In the interest of jointness let me tell a story on the Army. Our Army. It's a story of an infantry officer who began to write about the future of armored warfare here in the United States in the 1930s. Instead of generating support, he was chastised by his commander who told him that, if he published anything that was contrary to what was called "solid infantry doctrine," he would be court-martialed.

It took the intervention of General Pershing's chief of staff to save that soldier's career. That soldier, so interested in the future of armored warfare, who was nearly retired as a colonel, was Dwight David Eisenhower. The rest, as they say, is history.

In one sense, of course, the successful organization is right to question too much innovation. There's an old proverb that says, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And given the high stakes that attach to military decisions, there are good reasons to be conservative about risk-taking.

But there's another side to the same story. Professor Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School—in his book The Innovator's Dilemma—has pointed out that the most successful companies—the ones that seem to have done everything right—have been the most vulnerable when disruptive innovations come along. As he put it, I quote, "The very decision-making and resource-allocation processes that are key to the success of established companies are the very processes that reject disruptive technologies…."

Today one of our fundamental challenges is to encourage prospective Eisenhowers to inspire each of you to think about the war of the future.

During my present tour at the Pentagon, I have been privileged to know some remarkable innovators -- and I'm sure there are many in this audience today. The Commander of Central Command, General Tommy Franks, is a great example. In Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, for example, Special Forces on the ground took 19th century horse cavalry, combined it with 50-year-old B-52 bombers, and using modern satellite communications, produced a truly 21st century capability. When Secretary Rumsfeld was asked what he had in mind by reintroducing the horse cavalry into modern warfare he replied, with a big grin, "It's all part of our transformation plan." [Laughter]

As I'm sure you're all aware, the Naval War College has been one of the great generators of innovation for the U.S. military. During the period before World War II, naval officers here first thought about the concept of mass carrier operations. It was here that Plan ORANGE -- the prophetic concept for operations for a war against Japan -- was developed, long before Pearl Harbor. More recently, under the leadership of Admiral Art Cebrowski, this college developed the concept of network-centric warfare.

And at the same time this institution maintains a curriculum that is traditional in substance, with a focus on the Great Books and lots of history. Some of you probably say too much history, because you had to work at it. But that combination of innovative and classical thought has enabled the Naval War College to produce military leaders who harness an understanding of the past and the potential of technological progress to produce new ideas for the future.

So as you graduate you will take with you what is in effect a liberal education in the military art. The capacity for independent, critical thought and reflection and the ability to question assumptions and previous modes of warfare will give you an advantage over your adversaries in an age of great uncertainty and rapid change.

That classical education does several things:

  • One, it imparts a healthy skepticism about pat answers or easy solutions. It should make you wary about received wisdom.
  • Second, it exposes students to a tremendous variety of experience. As someone once said, "History has more imagination than any scenario writer in the Pentagon."

In the summer of 2001 who would have dared to predict that by the end of the year Americans would be viciously attacked on our own shores by an enemy without any capital, without any conventional military force?

And who could have predicted that, within weeks of that attack, America would be at war in land-locked Afghanistan?

Or who would have dared to predict that by the time the last fires of the World Trade Center were extinguished, U.S. forces would already be in Kabul?

  • Third, a classical education makes one think differently. It prepares you to continue self-education. It makes you more intellectually adaptable as circumstances change and when you confront surprise.

While technology confers many advantages, it cannot synthesize the value of interpersonal debate and discussion. There is simply no substitute for face-to-face learning and interaction between students and faculty and among students themselves.

Keep in touch with your classmates after you leave. You will cross paths again, and you can continue to learn from one another.

Education, as opposed to training, teaches us that clichés about war -- like the three-to-one rule for offense -- have fallen by the wayside. Unorthodox battle plans, such as those employed in Afghanistan or in Iraq, cannot be found in any textbook or manual. They were the product of military leaders who grasped the lessons of military history and applied them in entirely new circumstances.

Let me mention just one example: In preparing the urban offensive on Baghdad, one that many predicted would result in horrendous loss of life, General Franks and his staff developed a brilliant plan that was informed by the lessons of the Russian military experience in Grozny. But rather than simply taking away the superficial lesson that urban operations can be used to defeat advancing conventional armies and therefore should be avoided, their critical thought process allowed them to understand a fundamental difference about Baghdad -- a city with people awaiting liberation and blessed with wide boulevards. That was an important distinction from Grozny that could easily have been missed. No manual could tell you that. It proves that education is not the same thing as training.

We've entered a period in which discrepancies between militaries are far greater than any time in the recent past. The world of homogeneous armed forces that fought the same way with the same weapons is a recent development. And asymmetric warfare is not a new phenomenon. It is the story of our own national military history -- of Continental Army forces firing from the trees and wearing down a numerically superior, better-trained, and better-equipped British force.

Whatever conflicts lie ahead you can be sure they will be as different from Iraq as Iraq was from Afghanistan … as Afghanistan was from Kosovo … as Kosovo was from Desert Storm … as Desert Storm was from Just Cause…. Successfully meeting the challenges of the future will require continuous questioning of accepted truths, a constant pursuit of lessons from history, and lessons from technology that may have relevance to our contemporary situation.

Given the premium we place on innovation, we require a joint officer corps that has studied not only the technique of its profession but the very logic of war as an instrument of policy, a joint officer corps that is not afraid to ask questions and to come up with answers that seem to violate bureaucratic norms and conventional wisdom.

It is no accident that the commanders in Iraq include distinguished graduates of this institution. They include the commander of the Atlantic Fleet, Admiral Robert Natter, who won the college's Distinguished Graduate Leadership Award in 2000. They include the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral William Fallon … the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Vice Admiral Charles Moore … as well as the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Readiness and Logistics, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, who recently retired. It's a long list.

It's been said that this college made its greatest contribution to winning this war 10 or 15 years ago, when it educated the men and women who are now taking the fight to the enemy.

And you will be following in their footsteps. You have been preparing for what we expect will be senior leadership responsibilities. That is the sole purpose of this institution. In the 21st century we need leaders who can both think creatively and carry out orders.

Charles William Elliott had a distinguished career over 40 years as President of Harvard. When he was retiring in the early part of the last century, he was treated to a dinner by his faculty. The Harvard faculty, fell all over themselves to offer one praise after another for the retiring president. One finally said, "President Elliott, during your tenure here, Harvard has become a veritable storehouse of knowledge." And Elliott replied, "What you say is true, but I can claim little credit for it. It is simply that the freshmen bring so much and the seniors take so little away." [Laughter]

You have brought much to this institution, but I'm pretty certain you're also taking a great deal away. So I want to congratulate you, wish you best of luck as you continue your careers, and in closing leave you with the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, who walked these very grounds near the turn of the last century. A man of great vision and courage, Roosevelt said, "We see across the dangers of the great future, and we rejoice as a giant refreshed. The great victories are yet to be won, the greatest deeds yet to be done."

Thank you. May God bless all of our brave men and women in uniform, and may God bless America.