At the 2008 awards dinner, the Atlantic Council honored Tony Blair, Rupert Murdoch, Mike Mullen, and Evgeny Kissin.  We had the likes of Colin Powell and Henry Kissinger introducing the introducers.   It was inconceivable that we would be able to top that.  And, yet, we did just that last night.

The 2009 Atlantic Council Leadership Awards banquet was a gala affair. For starters, we had a former United States Congressman emceeing the event.  Joe Scarborough, better known these days as the host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” and his co-host Mika Brzezinski both entertained the audience and expertly moved things along.

Thomas Hampson, the recipient of the award for Distinguished Artistic Leadership, performed for us.  Widely considered America’s leading baritone, he demonstrated both the remarkable range of his voice and his superb showmanship with his performance of “The Boatmen’s Dance” and “Shenandoah.”    He was introduced by Kareem Dale, the Arts Liaison for President Obama.

Next, we honored IBM chairman Samuel Palmisano for Distinguished Business Leadership.  He was introduced by Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, chairman of our International Advisory Board and National Security Advisors to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.

General David Petraeus, who accepted the award for Distinguished Military Leadership, is the closest the United States armed forces have had to a rock star in my lifetime — arguably since World War II.  He was introduced by General Jim Jones, President Obama’s National Security advisor and not only the immediate past chairman of the Atlantic Council but himself a former recipient of this award.

The evening would have been extraordinary if it had ended there.  Instead, the Council honored two former heads of government, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President George H.W. Bush, with the Distinguished International Leader Award in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and their role in ensuring the Cold War ended peacefully.

That segment was kicked off with a stirring video narrated by NBC News’ Tom Brokaw chronicling those days and the two leaders’ contributions. 

Chancellor Kohl was unfortunately unable to travel to be with us because of health issues.  The award was accepted on his behalf by Dr. Horst Teltschik, who served as his National Security Advisor from 1982 to 1990.   He was introduced by Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski who, in addition to being Mika’s fatherand a member of our International Advisory Board, was National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter.

President Bush was introduced by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who served as Deputy National Security Advisor and Director of Central Intelligence in his administration and proclaimed last night that he would follow Bush anywhere.  President Bill Clinton, Bush’s former political rival who has since formed a strong friendship with him owing to their partnership in raising relief money for victims of natural disasters, appeared via video to add his praise.   For good measure, Hampson came back on stage to perform  “Lindenbaum” in honor of Kohl and “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables, a personal favorite of the president’s.

The success of the evening was the result of months of work by Council Vice President for Development and External Relations Anna Eliasson Schamis and her team, notably Director of Outreach and Public Programs Ania Voloshin

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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