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Secretary Rumsfeld speaks at the 15th Anniversary of the Jesse Helms Center

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 18, 2003

            Senator Helms:  Thank you very much.  I've never been introduced on film before.  But it was an eloquent thing, and some of it was correct.  [Laughter]

 

            That videotape certainly brought back a lot of memories, as you can imagine.  Sooner or later I will get close to the microphone.  I'm not accustomed to sitting down.

 

            I have just seen a tape that brought back a million memories to me.  I don't want to choke up, but there was a lot of love between this old guy and two or three of the people you saw on the film.  In any event, it is an emotional night for Dot Helms and me and I'm so glad that you have honored my long-time friend the distinguished Senator and the Secretary of Defense for the United States of America.

 

            I'll not repeat what was said so well but I do want to pay my respects to my long-time friend the late Bud Nance whom I had known and admired since we grew up as little boys together in our hometown of Winter Oaks.  Bud was known around the world and certainly around the Senate as "the" Admiral.  But to those of us who knew and loved him all those years he was "good old Bud."

 

            Let me tell you something about this crowd here tonight.  There are a lot of "good old Buds" here who are lending a hand to those several of us who are trying to make forever available to us the miracle of America.  I choke up every time I say that because I have traveled some parts of the world as so many of you have and I come back and I say why was I dissatisfied about a little thing that happened last week?

 

            This country is the greatest country that has ever been created on the face of this world.  [Applause]

 

            Back to Bud Nance, if you will forgive me.  He would cause a lot of good things to happen.  I consider him the architect of the revival of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for example.  I asked Bud to lend me a hand when I became the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee some years ago because I knew, you see, that he could and would provide strong and wise leadership.  Old Bud said if you want me to try it I'll do it, and he did a splendid job.

 

            And without hesitation, he became a strong right arm for me.  He began by helping assemble the most able staff I think in the Congress of the United States.  That fine team is now scattered throughout the Bush Administration and having a significant impact on America's foreign policy.

 

            I'm proud of them, obviously, and I know Bud Nance if he were here tonight would be proud of them as well.

 

            Bud would have enjoyed being here and seeing so many friends.  I'm sure he didn't realize the hundreds of thousands who admired Bud Nance.  One of them that came tonight who I don't know, I don't know where he is seated in this auditorium, Bud Nance's roommate at the Naval Academy is with us.  I wonder if the Honorable Emory Widner, if I pronounced it right, will stand up and let us give him a round of applause.  [Applause]

 

            As I say, the Honorable Mr. Widner, or Widner, if I pronounced it better that way, is a distinguished Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.  And sir, because you loved Bud Nance you are welcome here.

 

            Others included in the group of leaders is the top foreign policy advisor to the United States Senate Majority Leader.  Also an Assistant Secretary of State.  Also here tonight is our senior advisors in the State Department, administrative assistants and administrators in any case of the Agency for International Development, and on down the list.

 

            Of course it's especially meaningful to me that the majority of that team are now working for our distinguished guest, the Secretary of Defense.  Several of them traveled with him here today.

 

            I guess it will be acceptable for me to ask these five to stand up and wave to this fine crowd of folks here tonight.  If you would do that, I'll appreciate it.  Will you stand?  [Applause]

 

            President George Bush the first started it, and the President George Bush took office and the first thing they committed was grand larceny.  They hired every time -- both of them -- our top people on our staff of the United States Senate. I must observe in all candor that things are far better in Washington, D.C. today than I could have ever imagined, and our former coworkers are playing a significant role in that.

 

            All of this, if you will forgive me, is a compliment and a tribute to my friend Bud Nance.  You say well why is this guy engaged in such lamentations about an obviously fine man?  Bud Nance and I were the same age.  We were born in the same town.  We were born in the same part of town.  We went to grammar school and high school and all the rest of it together.  And Bud had a way of teaching things.  He taught some of us how to make important differences in various things.  In particular, the United States government was the better because Bud Nance was a part of it in an important way.

 

            These people whom he had taught are experts in their respective fields and Bud helped them in that as well.  He was like a grandfather to them, offering sage advice that will serve them for a lifetime and he loved them as I do.  They felt the same way about Bud.  I have found out in recent months that there are people all over this country who miss Bud Nance and he did not gain that respect and affection and love by accident.  He was a good American and he was a great American.  So it is especially meaningful that Don Rumsfeld agreed to come here tonight to be the first recipient of the Admiral James Nance Medal of Freedom.

 

            Don Rumsfeld is a patriot like few others who's tireless work on behalf of all of us is so truly remarkable.  Don Rumsfeld is like that Energizer Bunny.  He just keeps going and going and going.  [Laughter]  He was enormously helpful to me during the years when I was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Time after time I called this man and he was not in the top position at that time, part of the time.  I called on Don to come and appear before our committee as an expert witness to offset some crazy testimony that had been given by people on the other side.  [Laughter]  He performed splendidly every time.  [Applause]

 

            By the way, I noticed last week some time that the Secretary was in California last week speaking to the Ronald Reagan Library.  And I just couldn't help thinking how proud President Reagan would have been of Don Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense.   [Applause]

 

            You know something?  As Mr. Rumsfeld addressed the assembled crowd, he sounded a lot like Ronald Reagan, and that's about the highest compliment that I can pay anybody in public because I think some of you, maybe all of you know of my devotion to Ronald Reagan and grateful for what he did for me and to me.

 

            My friends, this man understands the miracle of America, and he has throughout his career without hesitation always unfadingly been willing to take a stand on behalf of what I like to call the miracle of America.  [Applause]

 

            I wish you could be in the den of our home sometime when Don Rumsfeld is being interviewed by the press, how he can handle it.  He makes in most cases, certainly a lot of them, regret that they asked the question the way they did.  [Laughter]  It's a pleasure and delight to watch some of them in the press to try to twist a question so that they can get the wrong answer to the right question.  They just don't get it.  It can't be done.

 

            There is no spin with this gentleman.  He tells the truth.  He always calls it as he sees it.  And America is lucky to have him serving at such a critical time.

 

            Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, it's a personal privilege and a high honor to present the first Admiral James W. Nance Medal of Freedom to the distinguished United States Secretary of Defense, the Honorable Donald Rumsfeld.  A great American and treasured friend.

 

            Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for understanding so well the meaning of America because America is a miraculous episode in the history of mankind.

 

            Those of you who will present the award, if you don't want me to do it -- [Applause]

 

            Secretary Rumsfeld:  Thank you so much.  Thank you.

 

            Senator Helms, thank you so very much.  What a pleasure it is to see you and Mrs. Helms.  It's always a privilege to see you, and to meet your wonderful family earlier this evening.  And Senator, thank you so much for your truly dedicated and courageous service to our country.  [Applause]

 

            And also I thank you for this honor which bears the name of your friend, a patriot that I knew and admired, Admiral Bud Nance.

 

            Governor Martin, Jim, it's nice to see you, sir.  It's great to be in your state.  I used to live here.  People don't know that.  I didn't make much of a splash.  It was 1942 and World War II was on.  My father joined the Navy and moved to a blimp base in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.  [Applause]  There you go.  Where I got acquainted with grits.  [Laughter]

 

            I remember I was in the fifth grade, I was ten.  The teacher there wanted to put me back in the third grade.  [Laughter]  She said I couldn't talk Southern, and I came from a school in Chicago that wasn't teaching all the fancy stuff she was teaching, and my mother wouldn't have any of it, and she was a schoolteacher so she homeschooled me over the summer and kept me in fifth grade.

 

            Reverend Clergy, thank you so much.  Congressman  Burr and Congressman Ballinger -- Is Congressman Ballinger here tonight?  I thought he might be.  Your leadership in Congress is appreciated at this critical time.

 

            John Dodd, and to all the supporters of the Helms Center and the foundation here this evening, I thank you for all you do to help promote the ideals to which Senator Helms has dedicated his life -- the principles of free enterprise, representative democracy and freedom.  And thank you also for that very moving tribute we heard earlier this evening for the fallen evenings of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  [Applause]  Our hearts and prayers go out to their families, their friends.  We are all deeply in their debt.

 

            Now we're celebrating the 15th Anniversary of this Center, I'm told, and as Senator Helms indicated I did speak at the Reagan Library last week so it's fitting to be with you, Senator Helms, to honor another great piller of the modern conservative movement.  [Applause]

 

            And I'm told it's also your 82nd birthday.  Is that right?  [Applause]  He says, as Ronald Reagan would have called it, it's the 53rd anniversary of your 29th birthday.  [Laughter]

 

            Well as a fellow old timer, I must admit that I'm disappointed you decided to take early retirement.  We miss you and we miss your courageous leadership.  [Applause]  And we also miss you because you're a gentleman, a true gentleman.  [Applause]  That civility that you brought to public life is something that benefits all of us.

 

            Senator Helms, you spoke very generously about me this evening and it may surprise some of you to know that back in 1975, in fact I've been confirmed for the Senate I think four or five times for different things over the past I don't know, 40 years or 50 years, something like that.  I've only had two votes cast against me, and this gentleman was one of them.  [Laughter]

 

            I was confirmed 98 to 2 for Secretary of Defense in 1974 or '75, whenever it was.  And I searched for the reason why.  Why would that man do that?  And I was relieved to learn that his vote was really not against me but it was a protest against the removal of my predecessor -- my good friend and his good friend Jim Schlesinger, who is still a good friend to this day.  I must say that the Senator was not far off the mark because I had argued with the President that I thought he ought to keep Schlesinger in there as well because I thought he was doing a good job.

 

            In his floor speech Senator Helms declared that if President Ford felt he needed to replace one of his top two members of his Cabinet he should have fired the other one, Henry Kissinger.  [Laughter]  Of course Senator Helms and Henry Kissinger later went on to become very good friends and allies on a full range of issues, as I know, as have I.

 

            A reporter once asked about the transformation in that relationship and Henry said, "It's true that there have been periods when Chairman Helms did not speak about me with the same admiration that my mother feels."  [Laughter] 

 

            Now I'm highly honored to be the first recipient of this Admiral Nance Medal of Freedom.  Bud Nance and I shared something in common in addition to our respect for Senator Helms.  In the 1950s we were both flight instructors down at Pensacola in the Navy, although Bud left a few years before I arrived.  He brought courage and dedication to his every assignment.  Over six decades from the day he entered the Naval Academy to his service at Iwo Jima, Korea, Vietnam, to the day he passed on while still serving the Foreign Relations Committee, he served his country to his last breath. 

 

            And as Senator Helms indicated, I am indebted to him every day that I go to my post in the Pentagon because he's the one, along with the Senator, who recruited so many of these fine young men and women who now serve in the Pentagon and serve our country with such wonderful distinction.  They were the folks that were introduced earlier this evening.

 

            Others are serving in other portions of the Administration, as was mentioned.  Each is talented in their own right, but more, they were Helms-trained and they learned a great deal substantively but they also learned a great deal personally by seeing first hand the remarkable leadership in the Foreign Relations Committee.

 

            I should add that I was with our Senator's mutual friend, Vice President Dick Cheney this afternoon for some time just before coming here and he wanted to express his respect for you and his good wishes on your birthday as well.  [Applause]

 

            Under the Senator's leadership the committee was a force to be reckoned with.  It seemed that every time I turned around Senator Helms was blocking some bad idea or taking a good idea and making it better.

 

            Some of his critics, as you may recall, called him "Senator No."  And it wasn't a compliment.  But Senator Helms wore that moniker as a badge of honor, and indeed it was.

 

            What's also true but much less recognized it seems to me are the bipartisan efforts that he championed and the legislation that he passed by large majorities, bipartisan majorities, during his time as Chairman.

 

            Bill Safire, the columnist for the New York Times, wrote about him at the height of his tenure at the committee, he said, "Jesse Helms -- bete'-noir knee-jerk liberals, scourge of the U.N. boondoggling, darling of rock-ribbed reactionaries -- is turning out to be the most effective bi-partisan Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee since Arthur Vandenberg.  Let's see if he gets the credit for statesmanship that he deserve from the striped pants establishment."  [Applause]

 

            His power lay in his clarity of vision, his courage of his conviction, which gave him a certain imperviousness to media criticism.  Our mutual friend Bill Buckley has said of him, "Other than Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms is the only man in the world who really doesn't care what The New York Times says about him."  [Laughter]

 

            That gave him enormous power, particularly in Washington.  He answered only to his conscience and his Creator and he was willing to take a stand and he was willing to take the heat, and we're fortunate that Senator Helms did so.

 

            He also had a talent that was a lot like Ronald Reagan's where he could look out beyond the immediate and look out to the horizon and beyond and anticipate problems well before they actually were upon us.  Anticipate them at a time when something could still be done about them.

 

            For example, he warned of the danger of rogue judges and prosecutors that could one day use international law to launch politicized prosecutions of American citizens, soldiers and officials.  And he was right.  It's already happening.

 

            Just weeks after Operation Iraqi Freedom lawsuits were filed in Belgian courts using that country's "universal jurisdiction" law charging President Bush and Vice President Cheney and General Tom Franks and a number of us with alleged war crimes in Iraq.

 

            Senator Helms saw that danger that was posed by the International Criminal Court that would be a permanent forum for such politicized attacks and he held the Court in check for nearly four years.  And his legislation -- the American Service Members Protection Act -- is now the law of the land and it is a valuable tool in helping to defend American citizens from politicized prosecution.  [Applause]

 

            And our President George W. Bush took the Senator's advice, and when he came into office he revoked the U.S. signature on the International Criminal Court treaty.

 

            Jesse Helms stopped the effort to conclude a new ABM agreement with Russia as well, and in so doing he helped clear the way for President Bush to withdraw from the ABM treaty.  And Senator, as you know, we can now report that our withdrawal from the treaty did not spark a global arms race as was predicted by all the naysayers, and we're now on the track to begin deploying the first rudimentary defenses sometime next year if the tests continue to go well.

 

            Take the United Nations.  Now I've lived a long time but I never imagined that I would live to see the time when Senator Helms would walk into the U.N. Security Council chamber, take a seat at the Security Council table, explain to the assembled members the reforms they would need to implement if they wanted American taxpayers' dollars.  Nor did I ever imagine that the folks at the U.N. would actually listen to him and do what he asked, but they did.

 

            But perhaps the most distinctive aspect of his leadership was his belief in freedom and his insistence that America's founding ideals must also be the foundation of America's engagement in this world.

 

            That belief in freedom led him to champion the Iraqi Liberation Act, a law that made regime change in Iraq U.S. policy back in I believe 1998.

 

            Senator, President Bush has followed your leadership and changed the regime in Iraq.  [Applause]

 

            Senator Helms' belief in freedom is what made him such a tireless advocate of captive nations trapped behind the Iron Curtain by bringing the newly-liberated nations of Eastern and Central Europe into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

 

            There are many other examples one could cite, but let me conclude with a story I believe that captures Senator Helms' career.  Some of you may know how it begins.  I suspect that very few are aware of how it actually ended.

 

            Back in 1985 a Soviet ship docked in New Orleans.  A Ukrainian sailor named Miroslav Medvid jumped into the Mississippi River seeking political asylum.   Twice he jumped ship, and twice he was returned by border patrols to the ship.  The Soviets insisted he had fallen overboard.  Twice.  [Laughter]

Senator Helms didn't buy it. 

 

            Now the incident could not have come at a worse time.  It was really just days before President Reagan was to hold his first meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva.  But for Senator Helms, one man's freedom was more important than a superpower summit.  He tried to block the ship's departure by issuing a subpoena for the sailor to appear, if you can believe it, before the Senate Agriculture Committee -- [Laughter] -- which he then chaired.  [Laughter]  And he delivered the subpoena, I'm told, I can't vouch for all of this.  Some of this is folklore, maybe, but he had the subpoena delivered by having one of his aides stuff it into a carton of cigarettes, walk up the ship's gangplank, where the unwitting captain accepted it as a gift of North Carolina's finest tobacco.  [Laughter]

 

            Now eventually the State Department determined it really had no legal basis to hold the ship and it was forced to allow the ship to set sail for the Soviet Union with the Ukrainian sailor aboard.  He was not heard from again until, and here's the ending you may not know, I'm told that 15 years later this man came to Washington to visit the man who fought so hard for his freedom -- Senator Jesse Helms.

 

            Yes, he told Senator Helms, he'd been trying to escape.  He'd not fallen overboard twice.  That was the reason he joined the Merchant Marine in the first place.  When he was returned to the Soviet Union he said he was incarcerated in some sort of a mental hospital for the criminally insane.  The KGB tried to drug him.  He said a sympathetic nurse saved him by injecting some of the drugs into the mattress rather than into him.

 

            Eventually he was released and today he's a parish priest in his native village in Ukraine.  In the course of 50 interrogations, he told Senator Helms, "the KGB didn't fulfill its desire about what they wanted to do with me.  They were afraid of something," he said, "and now I know what they were afraid of," he told Senator Helms.  The KGB was afraid of Jesse Helms.  [Applause]

 

            Don't you love a man with that kind of conviction?  [Applause]  That's a legacy to be proud of.

 

            Now Senator, you did not succeed in rescuing the man in 1985, but you've often said that "the Lord doesn't require us to succeed.  He just expects us to try."

 

            Well Senator, over three decades of public service you have tried, and you have tried mightily.  And I would say well more than often you have succeeded.  Today America is a safer place and freedom is more secure here and across the globe because of you and your courage.

 

            I'm indebted to you, I'm indebted to your friend Bud Nance as well for all you've done for the country, and I say that even though you voted against me.  [Laughter and Applause]

 

            We miss you.  The President of the United States misses you in Washington.  The American people miss you in Washington.  But we thank you.

 

            God bless you, and happy birthday, and God bless you all.

 

            Thank you very much.

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