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International Rescue Committee Dinner
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, San Francisco, Calif. , Monday, November 02, 1998

Thank you very much, John [Whitehead], we miss your wise counsel in Washington. Congressman Tom Lantos, Bill Gates, Reynold Levy, Tom Labreque, Alan Batkin, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to join you in honoring a remarkable American. Andy Grove is a man of unique vision and extraordinary accomplishment. His technological achievements and strategic judgement are writ large on the pages of 20th Century corporate history. His leadership, tenacity, tactical brilliance and blunt honesty are legendary. It strikes me, in fact, that those are the very qualities that make a first rate military officer. So, Andy, if you are ready for a career change...

Andy’s achievements are even more impressive in the context of his life story. As we have heard, it began under the severe and limiting cloak of Stalinist Hungary, which another refugee once described as a place governed by "the terror [of knowing] that someone could be put away for not applauding hard enough at [a procommunist gathering]" and the fear of a midnight visit from the secret police. Andy’s escape and resettlement, with the help of the IRC, began his remarkable journey to -- and with -- America.

Our honoree is a man who not only has the mind to remember his past, but has the heart to reach out to the next generation of refugees. He has gathered us here in support of the future Andy Groves, who tonight sit on desolate mountain sides, or in refugee camps on windswept deserts, or beside burned out homes in war-torn villages. Those young, restless minds are preoccupied with food and survival. But, with your help, they may find their way to safety, perhaps even to America, and bring to this nation new prosperity or service or leadership, just as Andy Grove did.

This tribute thus reminds us of the value of all those who come to our shores, whether they become technology titans or, like my grandfather, mere bakers of bread. From the hardships they left behind, each brings forth a new life, reliving the ancient ritual of America -- to cross the wide and cleansing sea and remake their world anew -- and in their small, but collectively immense way, remake America.

One of those immigrants, Albert Einstein, among whose most inspired ideas was the creation of this organization, once said, "The world is a dangerous place. Not because of the people who are evil; but because of the people who don't do anything about it." The International Rescue Committee is made up of people who are doing something about it, by aiding those in the greatest danger of all.

For 65 years, the IRC has been the world’s activist conscience. For the refugee who sees nothing but man’s capacity for destruction and cruelty, the saving embrace of your work restores not only body, but spirit and faith. Faith that in this world there are people of good will. Faith that someone can look through the horrors of war -- the massed armor, the rubble of cities, the terrible wail of hatred -- and see a fragile human life worth saving.

In your infancy, you rescued those fleeing the darkening shadow over Hitler’s Europe. In the decades since, on every continent, in nearly every conflict, you have been there, piercing Elie Weisel’s "night" of human suffering. And today, from nourishment for a child along the "Trek of Tears" in central Africa; to pure water for Afghan refugees in Pakistan; to healthcare training for Cambodian families in Thailand, you save lives by your noble deeds.

I am proud to say that the men and women of the US military have also worked to relieve the suffering of the world’s refugees. Imprinted on our collective conscience is the image of a million Iraqi Kurds, driven from their homes after the Gulf War, and sprawled out across snow-covered hillsides. Leaving behind burned villages, fleeing in terror from Saddam Hussein’s shock troops, they were hunted to the fringes of survival in those cold days of December, 1991.

One young Kurdish man, who led his family of ten for weeks on foot to reach the mountains, spoke for many. He said, "At first I didn't believe the American people would come to the mountain and help us. I thought at the time that Turkey would be our cemetery." But help from the American military did come, as part of Operation Provide Comfort. Only America’s armed forces had the reach and resources to meet that mission.

I’m pleased tonight to have someone else in the audience who happens to be my senior military advisor, Lieutenant General Jim Jones. He was one of those on the front lines "providing comfort" for those Iraqi Kurds and he is here with his lovely wife, Diane.

That operation in the mountains of northern Iraq exemplifies the military’s diverse and complex missions in the post-Cold War world. No longer are we engaged in a momentous global struggle with a single enemy across a fixed and fortified border. Rather, today we encounter a world laced with complex and dangerous challenges: Terrorism, missile-capable states, chemical and biological weapons, wars of ethnic and religious hatred, and humanitarian crises. And to protect American values, lives and interests in this new era, we have developed a strategy defined by three words: shape, respond, prepare.

First, we must remain engaged around the globe to shape world affairs. Our wisest and most cost effective actions are those that create an environment which encourages peace and discourages violence and instability -- instability which is the root cause of refugee tragedies. By remaining forward deployed in Asia and Europe, by exercising diplomacy backed by the credible threat of force, we influence events and have the chance to promote our values and avoid war, and its tragic permutations.

Part of our effort to shape world opinions and prevent conflict is our ongoing humanitarian operations. They include: The provision of excess medical, construction and other equipment to devastated areas; assistance and training to upgrade schools, hospitals, and sanitary facilities; and the provision of "Humanitarian Daily Rations," which can be air-dropped to isolated refugees and are specially designed to meet the dietary needs of the malnourished.

One of the military’s greatest contributions in these areas has been our effort to counter the world-wide scourge of landmines. While people of good will may differ about the best solution to this problem, we can all be proud of the US military’s work to protect innocent civilians. Our humanitarian de-mining program is the largest in the world. Since 1993, we have spent more than 246 million dollars in 21 countries clearing deadly mines for the people who live there and the refugees who pass through. We take these steps not only for the village children who’s soccer fields may be laced with these hidden killers, but because they also promote good will and stability and prevent future conflicts – all part of our effort to shape world affairs.

The second element of our strategy involves being fully prepared to respond to any crisis. We must be ready to answer any challenge to our interests, from the evacuation of Americans in danger, to peacekeeping, to major threats from regional aggressors.

Last month I visited a small, tattered Jewish cemetery on a hillside overlooking Sarajevo. Three years ago, Serb gunners used it to reign terror upon those below. Today, I am proud to report that you can look down from that spot, as I did, and see people rebuilding their homes. While the people of Bosnia live with perhaps an imperfect peace, the response of American diplomats in Dayton and NATO pilots in Europe gave them this chance to live another day and to remake their lives from the ashes of hatred. At the same time, the human tragedy in nearby Kosovo is a stark reminder: This chance remains denied to too many -- there are still those that would rather dig fresh graves than bury old animosities.

We also respond to emergency humanitarian crises, using the military’s unique capabilities. Air-dropped food to displaced Bosnians, water purification for Rwandan refugees, and supplies to support UN relief activities in West Africa are just a few examples of our operations in recent years. And I should note that many of these endeavors have succeeded because we have developed a rewarding cooperative relationship with the IRC, in places like Kurdistan, Somalia, Bosnia, and Rwanda.

At the same time as we shape and respond to the events of today, we must also prepare ourselves for the threats of tomorrow. For as surely as war creates refugees, unpreparedness invites war. Consider the possibility of a million North Korean soldiers, equipped perhaps with chemical or biological weapons, sweeping across the DMZ down 30 miles to Seoul, the fourth largest city in the world. The human cost of such a conflict defies imagination -- it would dwarf any humanitarian tragedy of the Post Cold-War Era. And recent history foreshadows the misery that would be caused if Saddam Hussein again let loose his forces on victims inside or outside Iraq.

Unless we are prepared leave the protection of those millions in the gentle hands of Kim Jong Il or Saddam Hussein, we must prepare for the future. We must maintain a military that is capable of protecting our values and interests. We must attract and retain the highest quality personnel and provide them with the tools they need to accomplish the missions we ask of them.

So there is a direct link between the military’s ability to shape, respond and prepare and the degree of human suffering we will see in the decades ahead. I think it is a fundamental truth that there can be no humanitarian mission and no steel in our peacemaking diplomacy without a strong and ready military. To meet the new challenges of the new century, we must each play to our strengths. Every organization -- the military, the IRC, corporate America -- must use its skills and experience to move us toward a more peaceful, more prosperous world.

When I think of Andy Grove, and the work of the IRC, I am reminded of words by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: "Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition. We have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to report to those who come after us. But, above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart."

Andy and the IRC have always brought to their work the mightiest of hearts. You remind us, as Elie Weisel said when he was awarded the Nobel Prize, that "Peace is not God’s gift to his creatures, it is our gift to each other." Together, we can dream of a day when the necessity for your noble work is no more. Until then, let us work together for peace and give that gift to each other.

Thank you all very much.