Thank you. Thank you very much for welcoming me to VMI, and thanks especially to all the cadets – to those of you who aspire to serve our country as members of the military, or as entrepreneurs and engineers; as teachers and doctors; as development experts and maybe even a few Foreign Service officers. Each of you represents VMI’s commitment to the common good and you build on a long tradition of service.
Let me express my thanks to General Peay, Brigadier General Green, Brigadier General Schneiter, Colonel Hentz, and all of VMI’s leadership for stewarding one of our nation’s finest and most historic educational institutions.
I was telling the leadership team before I came in that I grew up next door outside of Chicago, Illinois in a suburb to a family that was headed by a VMI graduate, and so I heard about VMI from a very early age. And I often thought about my friend and neighbor and his son, who also went to VMI, someone who I went all through school with, and how proud they were to say that they had graduated. And for me, that is understandable because VMI has trained some our country’s most distinguished leaders. It is, as you know, one of the largest producers of commissioned officers to the United States military and the only military college whose graduates have led three of the four services – the Army, the Air Force, and the Marine Corps twice.
So it is a great personal honor to be receiving the Distinguished Diplomat Award from such a fine institution and to follow in the footsteps of those who have come before, and in particular, to be here on a campus that nurtured one of the greatest Americans of all time.
Now, I am sure you’re used to speakers coming here and singing the praises of George Marshall as both a soldier and a statesman, his integrity and valor, his selflessness and loyalty, his honesty. But one of my favorite stories about George Marshall comes from before the time his name was written in every American history book.
The story goes that when he first arrived at VMI, no one expected he would achieve very much at all. He was shy. He was scared. He was awkward and a rather mediocre student.
Many years later, General Marshall was asked what changed him. And he told a story about overhearing his older brother, also a VMI cadet, warning their mother that George was so weak and timid that he would “disgrace the family name” at VMI. And George Marshall said, “I decided right then and there that I was going to wipe his eye.” Overhearing that conversation sparked what he later called an “urgency to succeed.”
Now, I suspect we can all examine our lives and relate to that feeling Marshall was talking about – that urge to channel our doubts and uncertainty into a call to be better and stronger. And on a larger level, we can apply that lesson to our institutions and our society as we face this new age of challenges. Marshall’s contributions as Secretary of State did not come just from that urgency to succeed or from his courage and integrity. They really came from his vision of American strength and American leadership – a vision that was both perfectly suited to his time and far ahead of it.
Now, some of you may have heard that I like to talk about the Three Ds of foreign policy – the need to elevate diplomacy and development alongside defense as pillars of our national security. Well, George Marshall was the original Three D guy. Just by taking on the job of Secretary of State after a lifetime of military service and leadership, Marshall sent a message about the strong links between diplomacy and defense.
Now, of course, not everyone saw the connection. After World War II, many Americans wanted to withdraw from the world. They believed that strong defenses would be enough to keep us safe. But General Marshall knew even then that the world’s most powerful military was not sufficient to ensure our security on its own.
And make no mistake about it: American military strength still underwrites our exceptional leadership around the world today, as it did then. But here’s what Marshall said in his farewell speech from the Army: “Along with the great problem of maintaining the peace, we must solve the problem of the pittance of food, of clothing and coal and homes. Neither of these problems can be solved alone. They are directly related to one another.”
Well, that was a recognition that advancing our own interests depends on improving the conditions in which other human beings around the world live. George Marshall believed that to guarantee our own security, we had to draw on all the tools of our power. And that has never been truer than today. Once again, our country is facing tight budgets, and there is a dangerous impulse to withdraw from our responsibilities, because, some say, we can no longer afford to engage internationally. But now, as then, we must recognize that strengthening America’s global leadership is the best investment we can make in our own future.
So that’s why we are pursuing a foreign policy built on the three Ds, a strategy that updates Marshall’s vision and applies it to the globalized world of the 21st century. When Marshall looked at a Europe shattered by war, he knew that hunger and poverty would ultimately undermine our own prosperity and opportunity, that desperation and chaos would ultimately give rise to forces that would threaten us here at home. And today, we can see the truth of those insights in so many ways. We see how some of the greatest threats to our security come from a lack of opportunity, the denial of human rights, a changing climate, strains on water, food, and energy.
We see how resolving today’s conflicts depends on fostering economic development, good governance, the rule of law, alongside our military efforts. And just like George Marshall in his day, our military leaders have made some of the loudest calls for elevating diplomacy and development alongside defense. To cite just one example, when Leon Panetta became Secretary of Defense last year, he stressed the importance of this integrated approach right off the bat. He said national security is dependent on a number of factors. It’s dependent on strong diplomacy, it’s dependent on our ability to reach out and try to help other countries, it’s dependent on our ability to try to do what we can to inspire development. So we have worked hand in hand with our military colleagues to build a foreign policy based on smart power for the 21st century, a foreign policy that produces results for global peace, prosperity, and progress, all of which are profoundly in America’s interests.
Let me briefly explain how we are putting this vision of smart power into action. First, we are bringing all the tools of American power to bear in conflict and post-conflict situations, where the links among defense, diplomacy, and development are the most obvious. Think Afghanistan, Iraq, fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa, protecting civilians while helping support the creation of a new Libya. Security improvements only last when they are backed by effective, accountable governments that can deliver results for their people. And building up those governments and their institutions requires a strong and active civilian presence.
In Afghanistan, for example, we are pursuing a three-part approach that we call fight, talk, build. And this is 3-D security in action. Our military is maintaining pressure on the Taliban to come to the negotiating table and enhancing the security capabilities of the Afghan forces. At the same time, we are opening the door for Afghans to engage in an inclusive peace process that could separate the Taliban from al-Qaida and end decades of conflict in Afghanistan. And finally, we are working to lay an economic foundation for long-term, sustainable development.
These three prongs of fight, talk, and build are mutually reinforcing and crucial to strengthening and building on the gains the Afghan people have made over the past decade, from crucial advancements in women’s rights to enhanced access to basic medical care and education for girls and boys. Without a doubt, this has been a particularly difficult period in our relationship with Afghanistan, and there are enormous challenges ahead. Even as we move toward the end of our security transition in 2014, the United States will continue working with the Afghan people to help build a better future. And in the next month, we hope to finalize a Strategic Partnership Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, which makes our long-term commitment clear. We know that we cannot abandon Afghanistan without paying the price as we have in the past. So we think it is definitely in our interest to help continue moving Afghanistan toward self-sufficiency and establishing lasting security.
In Iraq, we have completed the largest transition from military to civilian leadership since the Marshall Plan. Civilians are leading our lasting partnership with a free and democratic Iraq. Now we are very clear-eyed about the challenges that remain and the work that lies ahead. But Iraq has taken charge of its own security and has the chance, if its leaders take it, to stand as an important example of an emerging democracy in a region experiencing historic transformation.
This time last year, we stepped up with military and civilian support in Libya’s hour of need. But the true measure of Libya’s success will not be in toppling a dictator, but in building a democracy based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.
And our troops and civilians are working together in other places as well. Long before the Kony 2012 campaign made the Lord’s Resistance Army a popular topic of discussion, we had soldiers and civilians on the ground, working to help communities address this threat. When a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan last year, our military forces, diplomats, and development experts pulled together to deliver a massive and immediate response. And in the Horn of Africa, the United States has provided almost $1 billion in humanitarian assistance that has saved countless lives from malnutrition, starvation, and disease. And our sustained commitment has demonstrated the best of America, helping to undermine the extremist narrative of terrorist groups like al-Shabaab in Somalia.
So our military and civilian forces, working alongside one another in many places, experience immediate conflict and crisis. But we also work together to try to reduce the number of places where we need to have that kind of response, because sending American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines into harm’s way is not a decision that any president makes lightly. So at the State Department, our diplomats work around the clock to do everything we can to exhaust all other options. So a second key element of our smart power agenda is using diplomacy to prevent conflicts and resolve disputes before they become crises that could demand military intervention.
Let’s look at one prominent example from the headlines: our ongoing efforts to apply international pressure on the Iranian regime. Now President Obama has made it clear that he is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and that all options remain on the table. But we believe there is still time and space for sanctions and diplomacy to work.
So we are preparing for another round of what’s called the P-5+1 talks – those are the permanent members of the Security Council: the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China, along with Germany and the European Union – for talks later this month, but not an open-ended session for both parties to talk around each other without ever coming to any agreement. We expect to see concrete commitments from Iran that it will come clean on its nuclear program and live up to its international obligations.
And in the meantime, we are maintaining a full-court press against the regime, enforcing the most comprehensive package of sanctions in history and further isolating Iran from the international community. This sustained pressure is bringing Iran’s leaders back to the negotiating table, and we hope that it will result in a plan of action that will resolve our disagreements peacefully.
Working hand in hand with our diplomacy efforts, the third D of smart power is development: investing in the long-term foundations of human security and stability. Now of course, our development work is rooted in our values. We think it’s wrong that people die of preventable diseases and conditions that have no place in the 21st century. But development is also an essential and equal pillar of our national security strategy. We want to help countries become more self-sufficient so they can be stronger partners to help us take on shared challenges. Broad based economic growth fosters human dignity and helps build more stable societies.
And not only research, but human experience, suggests that as many as 40 percent of countries recovering from conflict revert to violence within a decade. But when they grow their economies and raise people’s income, the risk of violence drops substantially. And there is no better way of doing that than introducing free-market principles, encouraging entrepreneurship, creating conditions for men and women to see the results of their own labor in rising incomes and better opportunities for their children.
Now, when we look at development, we start with the basics. What do we want in our lives? Because it’s not so different from what others seek. When a child dies from hunger every six seconds in the world, we want to do more to make sure mothers and children get enough to eat, especially during that 1,000 day window from pregnancy to two years old when malnutrition can permanently undermine a child’s development.
So our Feed the Future initiative is helping countries develop their own plans to improve agricultural output. In order for children to get enough to eat, farmers need enough to sell, and families should not have to worry where their next meal comes from. So our goal is not just to intervene in crises, like famines, but to try to help farmers improve their own yield. We’re looking for that day when countries no longer require outside aid to nourish their own people. And we also want to avoid conflicts over food resources, and foster a stronger, more productive population in our partner nations.
Our Global Health Initiative treats diseases while improving health systems because we want countries to take more responsibility for delivering health care to their own people. So that may mean in some places working to curb tuberculosis or other neglected tropical diseases, providing life-saving HIV treatment for 6 million people by the end of next year to lay the foundation for an AIDS-free generation. By working to really listen to the desires of other countries and bring them to the table as partners, we can actually accomplish more with the same resources.
And one particular principle throughout these programs is our focus on women and girls. Why? Because experience and, again, piles of evidence show that if we want to expand economic opportunity and growth, improve national health and education, promote responsible governance and democracy, we need to involve women at every step. And here at VMI – (applause) – in the 15 years since female cadets joined the ranks and the ratline at VMI, I think you’ve seen how women have made unique contributions to strengthen and honor this institution. We simply cannot leave half the population behind anywhere if we’re going to make progress together.
So using these principles of smart power, we are working with our military to support security gains and foster long-term stability, to solve problems and defuse crisis situations, and we are emphasizing development as a means to prevent conflict from taking root over the long term. And we recognize that in order to deploy these tools of smart power at this time, we have to reflect and respond to the dramatic global changes that are sweeping the world and that have changed the way we have to do business.
So we’ve taken a hard look at the structure of the State Department and USAID. We’ve taken a look at our approach and our basic capabilities. Now, some of you may have heard of the Quadrennial Defense Review. That’s the Department of Defense’s effort every four years to align its resources and organization with its strategies and demands. I saw firsthand how effective the QDR was when I served on the Senate Armed Services Committee, so we stole that idea for the State Department. And in December 2010, we released the first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review – the QDDR.
And since then, we have worked to break down the silos that too often build up between offices and agencies, to equip ourselves to deal with the long-term global trends. For example, when I arrived at the State Department, I realized that energy security was certainly one of the defining challenges of our time. So I created a new bureau in the State Department filled with experts and diplomats who lead our government’s work to ensure a stable, affordable supply of energy as we transition over time to a clean energy economy.
We also improved our focus on the essential elements of building democratic, secure, and just societies. And our counterterrorism and law enforcement programs are now housed side by side with those that defend human rights and promote opportunities for young people. Our new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations is working to improve our ability to prevent violent conflict and respond when crises break out. And we’re strengthening our leadership and our Civilian Response Corps to make it more flexible and expeditionary.
Today’s civilian experts are as likely to wear work boots and cargo pants as business suits and loafers. They function in some of the most remote and least governed places on the planet. They work as a unified force – development experts, agricultural specialists, democracy and human rights advocates – to advance America’s core interests.
Now, part of doing business differently means using new tools to engage more people in more places, and reaching beyond governments to talk directly to people. This is what we call 21st century statecraft. So our ambassadors are now blogging, and yes, tweeting. Every embassy has a Facebook page. And we’re doing more than just talking. We’re listening and hearing from communities we’ve never been able to reach before.
You saw some of that in this past year. After Mubarak stepped down and as Egyptians were beginning to grapple with tough questions about what next, I participated in a virtual town hall with Egyptian youth. And from my office in Washington, I took questions online from across Egypt. And they asked tough questions, and it was a vigorous exchange. Many, honestly, were critical of the United States and they were not afraid to say so. But just the act of talking honestly and openly with one another was revolutionary and gives us the chance to build new relationships. I’ve done the same with people from Iran, doing online talks that were immediately translated into Farsi, and hearing from people inside Iran about the challenges and the hopes and aspirations that they feel for themselves. So these are all smart power concerns, central to core national security.
Now, some Americans may question how rebuilding economies helps us respond to the biggest threats we face, and whether development aid is diverting money that would be better spent at home. Well, George Marshall heard these same concerns. I can remember reading about the Marshall Plan and just thinking how unlikely it was, after men like my father, who served in the Navy during World War II, came home, and all they wanted to do was just build a normal life, get back to business, raise a family, buy a house. And Marshall knew that, but he didn’t listen to the skeptics. He held fast to his vision. And he barnstormed around the country, along with others, to help build the understanding and the alliance that would build those enemies that just a short time before he and people like my father had been doing everything they could to defeat, because he understood that in order for America to have peace and prosperity, we have to invest in that potential for others.
As Americans look out on a global landscape of growing complexity with new powers and new challenges, we have to hold fast to that same vision. Our foreign policy can’t succeed unless it has the full support of the American people. And certainly, as we think about all those World War II veterans who came home and were told, you know what, you’re going to have to keep paying taxes, and a huge amount of that money is going to rebuild those very countries that we tried to destroy, well, can you imagine that argument today? Somebody stands up and says, “We need to tax you more to rebuild another country somewhere else.” I can imagine what would be said on talk radio and cable television. And it took a great citizen-soldier, a VMI cadet, to make the case for smart power then.
Well, I think it will take your generation of citizen-soldiers to make the case for smart power in the 21st century. Our American values – honor, duty, and sacrifice, freedom, compassion, humility – are a great source of our global strength and pride. And we look to each of you as you live these values and continue in your careers to make your contribution to our country and to help show the American people why our national security depends on human security, to prove that once again, American leadership makes us all safer when we promote dignity and opportunity everywhere.
I’m very excited about what the future holds. I agree that the world in some ways was simpler when we had a bipolar world with a clear dividing line between the United States and freedom, and the Soviet Union and others and communism. So yes, it’s more complicated. The problems are multipolar. But America’s strength is still necessary. We cannot solve all the problems in the world, but there is no big problem that can be solved without us.
So I thank you for your commitment to citizenship and to service, to your commitment to building your own lives and futures, to have that urgency to succeed, not only for yourselves but for this great nation that we love and cherish.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)