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The Business Council
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, The Boca Raton Resort, Boca Raton, Florida, Thursday, October 26, 2000

Ralph [Larsen, Chairman of The Business Council; Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson], thank you very much. You covered more than the waterfront in your introduction. I appreciate it very much. Bill Esrey [Chairman and CEO of The Sprint Corporation], congratulations on your election [as the next Chairman of The Business Council]. Members of the Council.

I look out into a darkened audience, and I have been advised that perhaps I should be brief. I recall being at the castle where Hamlet was supposed to have given his soliloquy, and I recall the words of Polonius who said that brevity is the wit of soul. I will try to keep that in mind.

There is an election going on so I don’t want to disclose any bias when I refer to Yale, but I am always mindful of what takes place at Yale every year. They do not have a commencement speaker but they make a very big deal of the baccalaureate service. There is a story that may be apocryphal about an Episcopal bishop who decided to give his baccalaureate speech based on the wonderful letters found in Y-A-L-E.

He said "Y" stands for youth, and he gave a vigorous presentation on youth for about 12 to 15 minutes. "A" was for ambition, and ambition took almost 20 minutes. "L" was for loyalty, another 15. And finally he got to "E" for enthusiasm. He became so enthusiastic he talked for a full 30 minutes on the subject of enthusiasm.


Finally as he descended from the podium he ran across a student in the front row who had his hand in kind of a prayerful attitude. He said, "My son, I can see that something that I said has touched you in a very deep and profound way. Could you tell me exactly what it was that has moved you so?"

He said, "I’m just sitting here thinking, thank God I’m not graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology." [Laughter.] So I can assure you, tonight I will not base any remarks on the wonderful letters found in the Department of Defense. [Laughter.]

In fact, I did give a speech one time to a Maine audience. I thought it was a brilliant speech, frankly, and a lady came up to me afterwards and said, "Oh, Senator Cohen, that was probably the finest speech that I’ve ever heard." She said, "It was just superfluous." [Laughter.]

I couldn’t tell whether she was slipping me the knife or had just slipped. I said, "Well, thank you, ma’am. As a matter of fact I was thinking of having it published posthumously." She said, "Oh wonderful, Senator. The sooner the better." [Laughter.] So much for my brief commentary to tell you how brief I’m going to be.

There are a couple of quotes I’d like to recite to you tonight. I keep them very handy to my desk. One of my favorites begins, "Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. Bribery and corruption are common. Children no longer obey their parents. Every man wants to write a book"—and I would put parenthetically, or start a dot-com—"the end of the world is evidently approaching." That has almost a familiar ring to it, but in fact it appeared cut in an Assyrian tablet some 4700 years ago.

There’s another one that I have right next to it. "It’s a gloomy moment in the history of our country. Not in the life time of most men has there been so much grave and deep apprehension. Never has the future seemed so uncertain as it does at this time. Our dollar is weak throughout the world, prices are so high as to be utterly impossible"—obviously they had not come to this hotel—"the political caldron seethes and bubbles with uncertainty. Russia hangs as usual like a cloud dark and silent upon the horizon. It’s a solemn moment of our troubles, and no man can see the end." But for the fact of the dollar being weak, that might be an editorial that appears in The Washington Post or The New York Times. In fact, it appeared in Harpley’s Weekly Magazine back in 1897.

I recite these words to try to put in some context and perspective some of the challenges that we are facing today. One of the more important books that I read back in the ‘70s when I was still a relatively young man was [the futurist, Alvin] Toffler’s Future Shock. Toffler talked how time is being speeded up by events, and we were seeing everything shaken in this "hurricane wind of change," our culture, our values, even our geography, and that world events were spinning faster and faster.

In fact, we have James Gleick who’s written a book called Faster, and he writes that we’re living in a nanosecond world. You can measure that by how long you’re able to stand in front of an elevator and wait for it to arrive before you express some anxiety, and you know that you have reached that nanosecond world.

I’ve also seen some dramatic changes in a very short period of time. Ralph indicated that, back when I was in the Senate, I was the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And I recall while serving in that capacity that in 1989 Gorbachev was putting the finishing touches on his five-year economic plan. The Berlin Wall—the Iron Curtain—was still up and still dividing Germany and much of Europe.

In the year 2000 we all know that the Soviet Union is in the boneyard of history. I have just come down from the Pentagon and in one of the corridors there is a large chunk of the Berlin Wall. It’s now in a trophy case. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic now part of NATO, and the countries lining up to get entry into NATO remind one of perhaps the waiting line for the next Harry Potter book. [Laughter]

In 1989, relations with China were fairly low. The Tiananmen Square massacre had just occurred. Today, we have the passage of the Permanent Normal Trading Relations [Act] with China, and they're waiting to go into the WTO [World Trade Organization].

In 1989, I think most of us felt that any kind of dialogue with North Korea was virtually impossible. Just two weeks ago I had the number two man from North Korea in my office, and, of course, just this past week Secretary [of State, Madeleine] Albright was in Pyongyang talking to "The Great Leader."

So we’re seeing the world spin faster and faster, and I would say that the economic situation has been much on the same kind of roller coaster ride. Back in 1989-1990, I was reading books [entitled] America, What Went Wrong?; The Age of Diminished Expectations; The Rise and fall of Great Powers. Today we’re seeing the strongest economy in the world. And we have our two presidential candidates who are debating how they’re going to spend the surplus as opposed to the deficit.

Then there was the abstract notion of a linked world. I recall reading articles and books about the linked world, but [the word] "linked" was always in quotes. Today we see that humanity is tied together by seven billion hyperlinks on the Web.

I saw a report from [the consulting firm] Booze, Allen [& Hamilton] that said the market value of the entire defense industry was less than a single Internet company that didn’t even exist seven years ago—Yahoo. And [the report said] if you add up the aerospace and defense operations of Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, Hughes, TRW, General Dynamics, and you throw in Litton, Loral, Northrop-Grumman—you still will not equal the net value of Cisco. Now when I was growing up the Cisco Kid didn’t look like John Chambers. [Laughter.] I’m told that he’s here tonight, or was here this morning.

But last year defense stocks were down somewhat. The tech stocks were the rage. Today General Dynamics is up by 31 percent [this year], Boeing 47 [percent], Lockheed Martin 50 [percent], Northrop[-Grumman] 50 [percent], so things have changed around rather dramatically. And I don’t mention this to say there’s any kind of a zero-sum game here. Both industries—the defense industry and the tech industry—are stronger than they were five years ago, and we need each other. The Defense Department relies heavily upon all of the high technology development that’s taking place.

But in this what I would call a kaleidoscopic world, it’s very hard to make predictions, as Yogi Berra said, especially about the future. With the election just 11 days away I thought it would be important to raise a couple of questions.

I remember back a few years ago, 1988, a man by the name of Ross Perot was on the ballot and he had a Vice Presidential nominee by the name of Admiral James Stockdale, who was a real hero to the military. And I recall the time that Admiral Stockdale walked out onto the stage and it was all lit up and he asked two what I would call existential questions. He said, "Who am I?" and "Why am I here?" There was almost a ripple of laughter that went through the audience at that time, but they were very important questions for him to try to talk to the American people about who he was as a person, and exactly why he would be up on that stage. Why was he trying to persuade them that they should at least listen to what he had to say?

I think those questions are fundamental to us as a nation. We have to constantly ask ourselves, Who are we? Why are we here? Or there? Or virtually everywhere? Why are we doing this? What are the burdens of being a super power? What are the benefits of being a super power?

I’ve heard a number of charges made from time to time that we are suffering from superpower fatigue. I don’t think that any country that sends its Secretary of Defense to 20 countries in less than two months is somehow shrinking back from the world. I don’t think that any country that has 100,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines deployed to the Asia Pacific region and 100,000 through Europe and 23,000 in the [Persian] Gulf and so many thousand elsewhere is a nation that is suffering from superpower fatigue.

I think all of you in this audience understand the proposition that business follows the flag. Every one of you understands that if you don’t have stability in the marketplace, wherever that marketplace is, you can’t make any investments. And if you can’t make investments, there’s very little likelihood there’s going to be any prosperity. If there’s no prosperity in any of those areas, then we’re going to see a continuation of either authoritarianism or totalitarianism and violence and chaos. So by being forward deployed, we are helping to shape the environment in ways that are advantageous to the United States. And that's the role that our military has played and will continue to play.

But sometimes I hear talk coming from the Left or the Right [saying], "It’s time to come home. It’s time to come home, America, and let the Asians deal with Asia, let the Europeans deal with Europe. Let’s just come back to good old continental United States as if it’s some kind of cocoon that we can shrink back to and then watch events unfold on CNN," [I argue that] that is not in our interest. We have a global role because we have global interests at stake, and we are the ones that are looked to, to provide that kind of stability for the rest of the world so that they can prosper.

I raise this because questions are being asked now about the [terrorist attack on the] USS Cole. That was a very tragic moment for all of us. And I don’t know how many of you had a chance to witness the [memorial] ceremony down at Norfolk last week. It was one of the most painful experiences that I’ve had to go through as Secretary of Defense.


We all see the benefits of the things that we are able to do in these positions of leadership, but I can tell you there’s nothing more heart-rending or [heart]-breaking than to spend two hours with the families who have just lost a teenage son or daughter and don’t know the reason why, and to see that kind of pain and agony and anxiety and apprehension. Then the calls come [saying]: "What were we doing there? Why were we going to that port in any event?" Then all the questions come out saying, "Why are we over there?"

And we say that this is a dangerous region; the entire region is considered to be at a high threat level. So there isn’t any place over there that we can say, "You can relax." It’s all dangerous. And we go to dangerous places because it’s in our interest to be there, and we do our level best to make sure that we have adequate force protection. We have that obligation.

Sometimes people will be able to get through, terrorists will get through, as they did here. And we’re now going through a self-examination to try to determine whether we did enough. Can we ever have 100 percent guarantee that no one ever gets through? The answer is no. But one thing we have to do is to make sure that we remain committed to being forward-deployed.

The moment we start to retreat, the moment we start to pull forces out and to say, "It’s time for somebody else to take that burden up," that is the time that you will see greater instability in the world. When I go to China to meet with the Chinese leadership, I tell them that they are the principal beneficiary of our presence in the Asia Pacific region because if we were not there, if we didn't have our 100,000 forces who were deployed throughout the region, then somebody else would fill the vacuum. Would it be China seeking to fill the vacuum? Would it be Japan seeking to fill the vacuum? Would it be India or Pakistan? Someone else would move to fill the vacuum. If you think that would create more stability or be in our interest, then I think we have a different calculation.

But I want to come back just for a moment to the USS Cole, because it was a very sad moment for our country, but it was also very inspiring. I don’t know if you saw the 6,000 or 7,000 people who were [at that memorial ceremony], but [among them were] all the sailors who wrapped their arms around the families, not only those who had lost their sons or daughters, but also the [families of the] wounded. There were 17 lives that were lost, there were 45 wounded, and a number of them were there that day. To see how inspiring they were [was moving] because they came up to me and my wife Janet and said, "We can’t wait to get back." I had one [injured] sailor who said, "I have to be here. I’m going to be here for this ceremony, and then they can amputate my leg." But that’s the kind of commitment that our men and women have in the military.

I have Colonel Roy Byrd who is with me here today as my military assistant, who’s wearing the Marine uniform. I can tell you that he represents the kind of people and talent that we have in the military. Tom Donohue [President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce], where are you? I want to personally thank you again for what the Chamber is doing to help our military. People frequently people say, "What can we do to help you?" Well, if you’ve ever met my wife Janet, she will tell you what you can do to help us. She’ll be on the phone to you the next day and she will say, "You can do a lot of things, Chamber. How about helping to find jobs for the spouses of our military?" Because the one thing that we find when we go out to all of these countries is that we have very talented spouses, but often they don’t have any work. If you don’t have someone who has talent working, then that’s going to have an impact upon morale. That’s going to have an impact upon their economic situation. So the Chamber is now dedicated to help find jobs for spouses in companies who are multinational and forward deployed.

What can you do? Jack Welch [CEO, General Electric] is sitting at my table. I recall the first time I had lunch with Jack he said, "I love coming to the Pentagon." I said, "Why is that?" He said, "It’s where I get my best people." So I try to keep him out of the Pentagon. [Laughter.] I don’t want you coming too soon. I want them to serve their full commitment and then look forward to joining your companies, because if you look at the military you’ll find these are precisely the people that you’re going to want. They’re highly motivated, they’re dedicated, they’re patriotic, they’re action-oriented, and they’re task-oriented. These are the kinds of young people we have in the military today that are serving you and me.

So I don’t want to carry on too long this evening, other than to tell you that we have to do everything in our power to support the forces who are on the front lines of freedom, because if we don’t, then the forces of terror and evil are going to be on the doorstep of our liberty and our security.

I want to close this evening with something I recall reading from Walter Lippmann. It’s stayed with me for 30 years or more. But Walter Lippmann gave a speech to the 30th reunion of his graduating class at Harvard. It was in 1940, on the eve of World War II. He looked out into the faces of his classmates and he said that every time we’ve had a tough decision to make we chose the easy way out. Every hard decision, we look for some easy solution. "Now for every right that you cherish, you have a duty you must perform. For every hope that you would attain, you have an obligation you must fulfill. For every good you wish to achieve, you must sacrifice your comfort and your ease. There is nothing for nothing any longer."

I believe those words were true then, and they are true today as we look into this brave new world with all of the opportunities and all of the challenges and all of the dangers. We are still mankind’s best hope for promoting democracy, peace, stability, and freedom, and we must do everything we can in the business world, in the academic world, and throughout our country to support the people who are supporting us. Thank you very much. [Applause]