ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage Atlantic Council President and CEO Mr. Fred Kempe. (Applause.)
FREDERICK KEMPE: Ladies and gentlemen – ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this warmup event for the Indiana GOP and Democratic primary returns. (Laughter.) Just kidding.
By your presence here tonight, you demonstrate either your exasperation with the primaries thus far or your support for the Atlantic Council mission of galvanizing U.S. constructive leadership alongside our most important friends and allies around the world to secure the future.
If you are here because you’re exasperated with the primaries and didn’t want to stay home and watch television – (laughter) – then I won’t relay to you that most of the major news outlets have declared Donald Trump as the winner this evening by a 20-point margin thus far with the returning districts. And I won’t tell you that no one has called yet the Democratic primary, but with 9 percent returning it’s about 51 (percent) to 49 (percent) for Secretary Clinton. But since you haven’t come here to know about that, I won’t tell you about it. (Laughter.)
But because you’ve come here to celebrate the Atlantic Council and its mission, I will tell you about that. So, in that spirit, we welcome you to the Atlantic Council’s 2016 Distinguished Leadership Awards dinner. This year is particularly meaningful, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of this award and we celebrate the 55th anniversary of the Atlantic Council – born in the first year of the Kennedy administration, in 1961.
And look around you. What an amazing audience. More than 750 guests from 50 countries, including former heads of state and government, legislators, top Obama administration officials, some 40 ambassadors, countless business executives, media, civil society leaders, and one world-renowned tenor. Benvenuto, Vittorio. (Applause.)
To kick us off, it is my great pleasure to invite to the stage the chairman of the Atlantic Council Board of Directors, Governor Jon Huntsman – a man who embodies the Atlantic Council’s nonpartisan ethos, its results-oriented ability to get the job done, and its commitment to decency and to integrity. Governor Huntsman. (Applause.)
JON M. HUNSTMAN JR.: Thank you, Fred. And thank you for reminding all of us about the primary tonight. I’ll be tuning out of the primary, personally. Don’t hold it against me, but I was accused of tuning out of primaries when I actually ran for president four years ago. (Laughter.) So that’s nothing new for me.
I want to thank Fred, who for a Utah boy is pretty good at calming down and managing very sophisticated audiences. So, Fred, we love you. You’re terrific. And to Pamela, who is here, and Jojo, who’s probably at home, I know they love you too.
So, ladies and gentlemen, and distinguished guests and friends, welcome to the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished Leadership Awards Dinner. As mentioned, this is a record-breaking turnout. This is a big deal. We’ve got over 40 ambassadors here who are serving in Washington, which I got thinking is probably even better than the turnout for the State of the Union, when you stop to think about it. (Laughter.) That’s pretty darn good.
I’m here with family, and I want to salute them. My wife, Mary Kaye, is here. My daughter, Mary Anne, is here. My son, Will, in uniform, is down here. He’s celebrating a very special occasion today: it was his last class at the U.S. Naval Academy that he’ll ever take. (Cheers, applause, laughs.) And now here’s the tricky part: he’s not supposed to be away from the Yard tonight. (Laughter.) I assured him that there wouldn’t be anybody here tonight from the military-industrial complex. (Laughter.) So he should be safe.
On the 55th anniversary of the Atlantic Council’s founding, we’re here to celebrate four remarkable individuals. We’re so excited about those who you’ll be learning more about later on because they exemplify leadership, vision and character – the kind of attributes needed to lead in today’s turbulent times.
Together, the United States, Europe and our allies and friends worldwide face one of the most volatile geopolitical environments in recent memory. Seldom has the world been so urgent in need of the kind of leadership that we’re celebrating here tonight.
So, when we gathered exactly a year ago, the world confronted a host of challenges, including a revanchist Russia exerting pressures on Europe’s east and non-state extremist factions spreading violence throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Today, 12 months later, Ukraine’s sovereignty is still menaced by Russia, and the bloodshed and instability in the Middle East persists. Europe’s solidarity continues to be plagued by an unprecedented set of tests tearing at the continent’s fabric and endangering Europe’s place on the global stage.
And all the while, new challenges persist. We see the rise in global populist movements characterized by anti-democratic rhetoric, fueled by a surge in terrorism and sectarian tensions. We’re grappling with a migrant crisis of historic dimensions. And we must adapt to the reality of China’s rise.
Perhaps the most daunting challenge of all, though, when you stop to think of it, is the shortage of long-term strategic thinking and leadership to navigate these complex times. It remains unclear whether our key institutions, or indeed our leaders, will be able to rise to these new challenges or simply be overwhelmed by them.
So tonight, we recognize the accomplishments of four outstanding individuals. We hope to advance a far more ambitious form of leadership that is equal to the challenges of our times. Beyond that, we celebrate the fundamental conviction that, through common purpose and inspired leadership, together we can forge better outcomes for the future.
In that spirit, tonight we honor Robert Gates, former U.S. secretary of defense and former CIA director, for his exceptional leadership and lifetime commitment to public service. (Applause.) Having served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, Secretary Gates embodies the bipartisan spirit the Atlantic Council represents. And besides that, he’s a fellow Eagle Scout, which is the best thing of all. (Laughter, laughs.)
We salute Henry Kravis, co-chairman and co-CEO of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company, for his groundbreaking work in private equity. He wrote the book. (Applause.) For his impressive philanthropic leadership alongside his great wife, economist Marie-Josée Kravis, along with daughter, Kimberly. And besides all that, my son-in-law calls him “boss.” (Laughter.) So the Huntsmans tonight are on best behavior. (Laughter.)
And we honor tonight General Joseph Votel, former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and new commander of U.S. Central Command, for his steadfast leadership of special operators at a time of global turbulence. (Applause.)
And we celebrate Vittorio Grigòlo – I think I got that right – (laughter) – the renowned Italian tenor, for the inspiration of his exceptional vocal and dramatic talents and his breathtaking performances, which have received widespread global acclaim. (Applause.)
Finally, it is a privilege to also be joined this evening by some of the most accomplished strategic minds in America’s recent history. With us in this room, we have three of my predecessors as Atlantic Council chairman, each of whom contributed significantly to the Atlantic Council’s success and to positioning the United States as a beacon for freedom and prosperity around the world: General Brent Scowcroft, General Jim Jones and Secretary Chuck Hagel. (Applause.) Thank you all for being here tonight. And I’d like to invite the three of these very special people to stand up while we salute them for everything they continue to do to advance the Atlantic Council’s mission. General Scowcroft, General Jones, Secretary Hagel, let us give you a salute, please. (Applause.)
Of course, General Scowcroft, General Jones and Secretary Hagel didn’t do it alone. We, as chairmen, have had the great fortune to work shoulder to shoulder with President and CEO Fred Kempe. Fred, as most of you know, operates with a level of energy and targeted vision that had propelled this organization forward in ways that most would have deemed absolutely impossible decades ago. Notwithstanding the fact that we come from rival high schools in Salt Lake City, we’ve been able to get along reasonably well. (Laughter.) We’ve created a template for operational peace within the Atlantic Council that we think has great applicability throughout the world. (Laughter.)
So, Fred, thank you for your leadership, for working tirelessly and brilliantly to advance the Council’s mission, and for convening this remarkable community that we’re here to celebrate tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, Fred Kempe. (Applause.)
MR. KEMPE: You know, I only have one answer to that, Governor Huntsman: Go Skyline Eagles! (Laughter.)
It is true that Governor Huntsman was the governor of Utah. It is true that I’m from Utah. It’s also true that General Brent Scowcroft’s from Ogden, Utah. I think this overwhelming Utah influence on the Atlantic Council is one of the reasons why we have not suffered from this anti-establishment backlash. (Laughter.)
Governor, thank you so much for your remarks. Thank you for everything you do for the Atlantic Council. It really is such an honor to work with you and to work with Mary Kaye. Thank you so much for you as well.
I’d like to recognize several key individuals before we go forward. We’re joined by three former heads of state, all of whom sit on the Atlantic Council’s International Advisory Board. I’d ask you gentlemen to stand, receive our applause – and if you could hold until I finish their names – Shaukat Aziz, former prime minister of Pakistan; Aleksander Kwásniewski, former president of Poland; Carl Bildt, former prime minister of Sweden – and he comes here with a large Swedish delegation including Jacob Marcus and Peter Wallenberg. We have more Swedes in the audience than we have ever had before, even more than there are Utahns. (Laughter.) But it’s great to have you all here. (Applause.)
We are joined by five Cabinet ministers from friends and allies of the United States. I’d ask you also to stand and hold your applause until we’ve finished the list of five. Miro Kovač, minister of foreign and European affairs of the Republic of Croatia; Aïchatou Boulama Kané, minister of planning of the Republic of Niger; Karim Keïta, chairman of the Commission on National Defense, Security and Civil Protection of the Republic of Mali; Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou, minister of the presidency and chief of staff, Republic of Niger; Brownie Samukai, minister of national defense of Liberia. Before you applaud these people, you may have noticed that four of these ministers are from Africa. This just underscores that we have one of the strongest Africa Centers of any organization in the United States, under Dr. Peter Pham. And salute all the ministers here. (Applause.)
We also have several former Atlantic Council awardees in the audience. You can see a full list on page 36 of your programs. And please stand as I read your names. Again, please hold your applause. Tom Enders of Airbus; Secretary Chuck Hagel is backstage, about to come out; Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin; General Jim Jones; General David Petraeus; Lord Robertson of Port Ellen; General Brent Scowcroft; Senator John Warner. (Applause.)
I’d also like to ask all members of the Atlantic Council Board of Directors and International Advisory Board to rise so I can thank you personally and we can all thank you for everything you do every day for the Atlantic Council. Without you, none of this would work. Please stand, board members and International Advisory Board members. (Cheers, applause.)
This is – this is my favorite – my favorite moment of the evening. I want all Atlantic Council staff and fellows to rise. Many of them are out in the hallways helping you come in, taking care of you on your way out, but I would like you all to rise. You are the best in the business, and each year you grow stronger. You work with a pace and a purposefulness that is unique in our industry. I’m so proud to work with you. Thank you so much. Please stand up. (Cheers, applause.)
As previously noted, this year we celebrate our 55th anniversary. As the world has changed, so too has the Atlantic Council. Thanks to the help of so many of you in this room, we as an institution have never had this robust of capabilities. We’ve grown tenfold over the last decade, and more.
Yet we may be facing the most complex set of challenges in our half-century history. We believe that the world faces a defining moment as important as the end of World War I, the end of World War II, the end of the Cold War. We are driven at the Atlantic Council by a conviction that if the United States shapes the future constructively alongside our closest allies and friends, we can forge one of the most enlightened, secure and prosperous periods of world history, fueled by human advance that is empowered by technological and scientific progress. Alternatively, if we fail to lead and combine forces effectively, less benevolent forces or chaos will fill the void. Witness Ukraine. Witness Syria.
For us at the Atlantic Council, this is not just rhetoric. Each day, across our 10 programs and centers, we execute projects, convene communities, generate ideas, and explore strategies aimed at securing a better future. I’ve never liked the term “think tank.” It begins with thinking, but then you have to take it so much further.
In that spirit, it is my pleasure to turn the stage to a man who has devoted his life to the sort of nonpartisan, principled leadership the Atlantic Council represents: our first introducer of the evening, the 24th United States Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel.
In addition – (applause) – in addition to being the first enlisted soldier and the first Vietnam veteran to serve as secretary of defense, Secretary Hagel was co-chairman of the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board, was a two-term U.S. senator from Nebraska and a successful – highly successful – business leader. He was twice decorated with a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam. He served as the Atlantic Council’s chairman from 2009 to 2013. He might think working alongside me deserved a third Purple Heart. (Laughter.) It was a time of remarkable growth and transformation for the organization. He retains his ties to the Council as distinguished statesman, a member of our International Advisory Board, and a member of the Advisory Council of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. As Jim Jones, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Frank Carlucci once wrote of Secretary Hagel: “He is a rare example of a public servant willing to rise above partisan politics and advance the interests of the United States and its friends and its allies.”
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Secretary Chuck Hagel to present our first award of the evening. (Applause.)
CHUCK HAGEL: Fred, thank you very much, and good evening.
I feel at home being up here, because this is an organization that I so strongly believe in and have been so proud to be part of. So, to all of you who continuously support this organization, thank you. It is a(n) organization of great purpose and character.
I want to begin my remarks this evening by recognizing and congratulating the awardees tonight. Each, as you have heard from Governor Huntsman and Fred, are not only worthy recipients, but important leaders, and have been important leaders in this country and in the world for a long time. And, to each of them, my heartfelt congratulations.
And in particular, to my predecessor at the Pentagon and friend who I have collaborated with over the years, Bob Gates. And to you, Bob, and to all of you, we’re very proud of you. And thank you for what you continue to do for our country and the world.
My assignment tonight is one that brings me great pleasure and pride – one that is essentially an easy assignment – and that is to introduce you to our evening’s first honoree, General Joe Votel, who, as been noted and you will see in your programs – and most all of you know him. All of you know who he is. He is the new commander of our Central Command, the most complicated, difficult, dangerous area of responsibility in the world. He comes at this job with a considerable amount of experience.
But experience, as we all know, is not everything that defines leaders. There’s more to it than that. And I’ve always thought, regardless of the leadership position and regardless of the endeavor, that there are three requisites for leadership: one is character, two is courage, and three is judgment. And if those three components are there, along with the experience and the other dimensions of the completeness of an individual, then you have a real leader.
And in General Votel, he possesses all of those characteristics. He is a humble Minnesotan. He really represents the aspect of quiet confidence of leadership as much as anyone that I’ve ever worked with. I had the privilege to work with General Votel when I was at the Pentagon and always found him checking the boxes on each of those areas that I noted.
He, in particular, as leader of our Special Operations Command, recognized the partnership of our Special Operations people in a complicated world that’s going to continue to become more complicated – the partnership with our conventional forces. And sometimes not enough credit is given to that partnership. And for each to be effective, they each have to be effective in their own way. But if they’re both effective together – a real partnership, which General Votel has understood from the beginning – it’s a powerful entity. It’s a powerful dynamic in our national security enterprise.
He also does something that is a trademark of real leaders, in that he gives credit to others. He is an individual who is always acknowledging what others have done, and allows those individuals to soar and to develop. He’s a tremendous role model and mentor to those who have served under him. His respect is widespread, not just in our armed forces but in our diplomatic corps around the world, as any leader we have today.
He represents the best. He represents the best of our country, first, and of our military and of our national defense enterprise. And he understands his awesome responsibilities.
I would go on, could go on, but I think at this point I am going to here in a moment call your attention to a special video on General Votel that will tell you a little bit more about him. You know from your program about his preparations to become the new leader of our Central Command, the command positions that he has had, the tough assignments. All have been responded to with not only diligence, but with the capacity to do it the right way. And there is a difference, as we all know, in just succeeding and succeeding the right way. And he’s done it the right way. And he has earned the trust that we have all put in his leadership and who he is as an individual.
Ladies and gentlemen, before I ask General Votel to come out and accept this honor, this award tonight from the Atlantic Council, if you would pay some attention to the screens. In particular, note it talks more about this particularly amazing American leader. Ladies and gentlemen, the screens. Thank you.
(Video plays.) (Applause.)
MR. HAGEL: Ladies and gentlemen, General Joseph Votel. (Applause.)
(Music.) (The award is presented.)
MR. HAGEL: Now that General Votel has acquired the hardware, we will ask him to say a few words. But it’s an honor and a privilege, General, to introduce you.
GENERAL JOSEPH L. VOTEL: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
MR. HAGEL: Thank you.
GEN. VOTEL: Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Well, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.
And, Secretary Hagel, thanks very much for – and by the way, that was not me jumping out of that – (laughter) – out of that airplane. I just want to clarify that. But, Secretary Hagel, thanks very much for those kind words and that introduction. And special thanks for the fantastic video that the Atlantic Council team put together. I certainly need to hire some people from your research and media departments to handle my future public relations, perhaps CENTCOM’s information operations program.
Mr. Secretary, you are a man who I deeply respect and admire, and I enjoyed our time serving together and serving our country. Your very kind words and the video mean a great deal to me, as does the honor of receiving this award that you’ve bestowed upon me this evening, which I accept on behalf of the wonderful men and women serving our nation throughout the Central Command area of responsibility and globally from United States Special Operations Command.
Council Chairman Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., President Fred Kempe, it’s a great honor to be invited to one of the premier centers of excellence for constructive leadership and engagement in international affairs. It’s an even greater honor to be selected for recognition here tonight, and I’m humbled by this honor and the company of the awardees that I share it with.
The Atlantic Council provides a unique forum for exploring and debating the many issues that influence and shape our broader national foreign policy trajectory, a role all the more critical given the security trends we bear witness to across the globe generally and in the greater Atlantic security community more specifically. Your efforts to analyze, study and socialize these dynamics shape and influence the dialogue on defense and strategic issues in a profound manner, providing valuable insights and contributions to matters of utmost importance and consequence. No matter if you are an analyst, a researcher, a fellow, or a policy practitioner at the Atlantic Council, your contributions matter to furthering our national dialogue on defense and strategic issues.
And after 33 days as the CENTCOM commander, I can tell you unequivocally that I will need your help. And I look forward to our continued interaction. CENTCOM is a region where there is little chance of a home run; where our vital interests collide with multiple conflicts, confrontations and situations; where our daily challenges are affected by long-simmering and deep-rooted issues that influence the region, and indeed spill across our bureaucratic boundaries to have a global effect. We need the Atlantic Council to keep playing its nonpartisan role in helping us think through and address our most pressing security problems. Thanks to all of you for what you do every day.
Now, I am aware I am the fourth of what I understand is a fairly long list of speakers tonight, all of which will have very memorable remarks. What I would like you to remember the most about my remarks this evening is that I will be brief. (Laughter.)
In my confirmation hearing for my position as CENTCOM commander, I briefly reflected on what I learned in 20 months as the Special Operations commander. And I touched on three areas, and I’d like to share those with you this evening.
First, I learned the importance of taking full advantage of the authorities granted to combatant commanders. Leaders must be willing to press within their authority and capitalize on opportunities as they see them.
Second, I learned that, as a combatant commander, I must have relationships built on candor, confidence and responsiveness. These attributes are imperative to provide transparent communication up, down and laterally throughout large organizations. Transparency underpins an organization’s credibility, and allows it to optimize human capital by creating shared awareness. The best ideas are born from diverse, informed people across the depth and breadth of an organization. And it is the role of leadership to see, care and implement those ideas.
Third, and most significantly, I learned that people are our most important resource. They are the ones who make an organization what it is, and they are the ones who make leaders like me look good and succeed, oftentimes in spite of ourselves. They come into our services from across our great country bearing the values instilled in them by their parents, their teachers, their coaches, their communities, and they prominently display them at every opportunity they have. They are incredibly innovative and imaginative. And as we wrestle with a plethora of complex challenges across the Central Command region, it is clear to me that while great weapons systems and technology will enhance what we do, it is the uniformed service members and their civilian teammates, and their ideas, that will ultimately be decisive.
They are courageous and they serve selflessly. They don’t do it for glory, and they certainly don’t do it for money. And they don’t have a lot to gain for it. And as many of us have been today, the price has to be paid, and it is willingly paid by their service to our country. They do it because they know that if they don’t it simply won’t get done. Their commitment is truly inspiring, and it has been the greatest privilege to serve these men and women for the last 36 years. And it is, again, on their behalf that I accept this award.
Thank you very much for honoring them this evening. (Applause.)
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage Artistic Director of the Washington National Operate, Ms. Francesca Zambello. (Applause.)
FRANCESCA ZAMBELLO: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Good evening, everyone. It is a pleasure and an honor to be here. Thank you so much, Fred Kempe and Adrienne Arsht, for inviting me to introduce the next recipient. I feel actually a little overwhelmed right now in this group. Even though at the opera at the Kennedy Center we are presenting “The Ring” Cycle right now, this feels even bigger. This is amazing group of individuals and awardees, and we are honored to be part of it here.
Opera many of you probably don’t really know, but we are actually a very great U.N. We come from every country in the world to work together to make music and theater. We perform in practically every country in the world right now. And I think we’re really special because we break down borders that I know so many of you are working to break down as well. But somehow we often, through art and culture, have a passport into different places.
And the next awardee is someone who has really reached all corners of the world. Vittorio Grigòlo, who is a native of Tuscany, began his career in the Sistine Chapel Choir 26 years ago. He’s only 27 now. (Laughter.) He has performed principal tenor roles around the world in all of the major opera houses, but he has also performed in places like China, Russia, many of the Arab nations, and Africa. His music and voice can be heard on a Grammy-nominated recording of Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” He also has done his own debut album, which has soared to the top on a gold platinum – gold- and platinum-selling level.
But what’s more is Vittorio works to make performances accessible to wider audiences and to new generations of opera- and theatergoers. He was recently seen in the Metropolitan Opera’s worldwide broadcasts of “La Bohème” as Rodolfo, “Chevalier des Grieux” en Manon, and the title role in “Les Contes d’Hoffmann.” He strives to share his musical knowledge with the next generation of performers by offering very profound and deep master classes.
A little secret about this guy, too, is that he rebuilds Porches. (Laughter.) You can see him afterwards for that.
Clearly, his talents are very wide-reaching. And so it is a pleasure and an honor to present to Vittorio Grigòlo this evening’s Distinguished Leadership Award for his extraordinary talent not only as an artist, but in his deep commitment to communicating music to wider audiences. Vittorio, viene. (Applause.)
(Music.) (The award is presented.) (Laughter.)
VITTORIO GRIGÒLO: Should I give it back? I don’t know. I just received it and it sounds incredible to me.
Thank you for welcoming me here in this incredible town that gave me home and – a home and a theater in 2007, when I came here to do my debut of – in the role of Rodolfo, “La Bohème,” che gelida manina. I remember that day. I remember the study. I remember everything of this incredible town.
I am – I don’t know what to say. It’s me here. I mean, it’s – I see – I’ve seen behind and it seems so glorious, and it is glorious because you’re giving importance to communication when there is a time that there are no communication. And I think that it’s important to share what is – what we know and what is the best in the world. And you are recognizing here tonight, giving excellences all over the world, and especially in many fields – army, I mean, I – Larry, Mr. Kravis, that I know, in private equity, and music. I mean, all corners. And this is incredible.
I mean, I think that music has an extreme power that is – that is held behind. And I’m not a great talker. I mean, I do better when I sing. (Laughter.) So I do apologize. And I just – I don’t know what to say. I mean, it was the prize – sing, yes – (laughs) – the prize was beautiful, and I’m really honored and thrilled. And I would like to dedicate it to all the people that believed in me when I was a little kid, when I start this hard career, when I found that my teacher that broke my first CDs – I was singing Mario Lanza like a crazy guy. (Laughter.)
I remember, I came to my first lesson singing – (sings) – “Be my love, la de da da da da, keeps burning.” (Laughter.) And he said to me, oh, OK, “keep burning”? We’re going to break this CD – (laughter) – because you – because I said, but, no, what about Mario Lanza? What about the technique and, you know, all the high notes? And he said, you need to empty the cup, kid. (Laughter.) Because my cup was so full of what I’ve seen around me, those great masters before me, and I was so excited, and I had it already all in my head. My head was full of them, and I couldn’t learn. So he said, no, when you come to me, to my teacher, you need to empty the cup. We need to start, zero. You need to be a white canvas in order to let me show you how it’s important and how you have to paint on it with your voice.
I started and I’m here tonight. I don’t want to be too long. And I hope one day you will all come to see a performance, maybe at the Met, maybe in Washington, or maybe in another country, because you are connected. The Atlantic Council and all of you are connected with the entire world. That’s what I learned tonight from the speeches of the other people. And connection is important through communication. And I do believe that communication is something that has to arrive each one of you. I do it by singing, but each one of us do it in our own life every day. And I think it’s important to understand that to communicate something is the way we want the people next to us to feel how special they are.
So I thank my family, my mom, my dad, that since I was a little kid they put all – I mean, all what they had – the money, the thoughts. I mean, they really think – and I think that I might be someone or do something good in the future. I think I’m trying to do my best.
And I would like to thank also the beautiful girl that I met and is enlightening my heart and my singing. So far, they say that since I met her I sing even better, so good for you. (Laughter, applause.) In Italian, her name is Beatrice, so it means that – you know, Beatrice – as Dante has his own Beatrice, all the time she says to me, oh, in my life I heard the Dante thing and, you know, stop it, so it’s fine. (Laughter.) I will stop it, otherwise tonight is not going to be too long for me.
So thank you so much again, and to be – welcome me and give me this award. Thank you. (Applause.)
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back to the stage Atlantic Council Chairman Governor Jon Huntsman and Atlantic Council President and CEO Mr. Fred Kempe.
MR. KEMPE: Vittorio, congratulations. And we’re delighted that Vittorio has consented to do a short performance for us at the end of the dinner. So thank you so much for giving us that gift. (Cheers, applause.)
MR. HUNTSMAN: Go glad it’s not you, Fred.
MR. KEMPE: (Laughs.) Thank you so much, Vittorio. Arrivederci. (Laughs, laughter.)
Governor Huntsman and I would like to recognize this evening’s co-chairs, without whom tonight’s dinner and so much of the Atlantic Council’s crucial work would not be possible. So hold your applause until all of our co-chairs have been named and have joined us onstage.
Kurt Amend of – and all of you can start walking up, and we’ll introduce you as you’re going – as you’re coming up. So Kurt Amend of Raytheon.
Adrienne Arsht, founder of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, of TotalBank.
Tewodros Ashenafi of SouthWest Holdings.
Emily Beizer of JPMorgan Chase.
Rafic Bizri, representing Bahaa Hariri.
Hakan Buskhe of Saab Group.
Richard Edelman of Edelman.
Thomas Enders of Airbus Group.
Kate Friedrich of Thomson Reuters.
C. Boyden Gray of Boyden Gray Associates.
Mehmet Nazif Gunal of MNG Group.
Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin.
Ed Holland of Southern Company.
Karl Hopkins of Dentons.
Miroslav Hornak of PSJ.
Joia Johnson of HanesBrands.
General Jim Jones of Jones Group International.
Maria Pica Karp of Chevron.
Nazzic Keene of SAIC.
Henry Kravis of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.
Alexander Mirtchev of RUSI.
Mary Claire Murphy of Textron.
Franco Nuschese of Georgetown Entertainment Group. And, Franco, thank you also for Vittorio Grigòlo.
Ahmed Oren of Ihlas Holding.
Alan Pellegrini of Thales USA.
Robert Schulz of Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, or you’re German – (changes pronunciation) – Wegmann.
Laura Favinger of Zurich.
And then, not in the stage but in the audience – and, General Scowcroft, we aren’t going to sing “Happy Birthday” to you this year. We didn’t think we should do it two years in a row. But happy birthday anyway. Brent Scowcroft of The Scowcroft Group.
Please join me in a round of applause for all of our co-chairs. (Applause.)
MR. HUNTSMAN: Now everyone please enjoy your dinner. We’ll be back in just a short while for our two remaining honorees. Thank you, and enjoy the evening. (Applause.)
ANNOUNCER: (In progress) – Atlantic Council President and CEO Mr. Fred Kempe. (Applause.)
MR. KEMPE: Just to keep you apprised of the events of the evening so you don’t feel you’re missing anything, Ted Cruz has dropped out of the 2016 race, removing the last hurdle to Donald Trump’s quest to become the Republican nominee for president. Trump, with 60 percent reporting, has 52.6 percent, against 36 percent for Cruz. With 65 percent reporting, Bernie Sanders has 53 percent and Secretary Clinton 46.7 percent.
So one other thing before I pass to our next speaker. We will be sending you home with three books in the gift bags you’ll receive as you leave – excuse me, we’re about to pass to our next speaker – from banking – “From Banking to the Thorny World of Politics” by Shaukat Aziz, former prime minister of Pakistan and member of our International Advisory Board, with Anna Mikhailova. So that’s one of the books, and it’s fresh off the press – it’s not even going to be released till May 26th, so you’ll have an early copy. We also will have in your bags “The Envoy” by Zal Khalilzad, Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Atlantic Council board director. And then a third book, “A Passion for Leadership” by our esteemed honoree, Robert Gates – Secretary Gates. Two of these gentlemen are here tonight, Prime Minister Aziz and Secretary Gates. Zal, characteristically, is on business in the Middle East.
But with that, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage – if I could have your attention, please. If I could have your attention, please. Please welcome to the stage President and CEO of Sponsors for Educational Opportunity Mr. William Goodloe. (Applause.)
WILLIAM GOODLOE: Thank you, Fred. And thank you for the update on the returns from Indiana, as well. I won’t have to check my phone later now, so. (Laughter.)
So, this evening, I have the privilege of introducing Henry Kravis, who is receiving the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished Business Leadership Award. For many years now I have worked closely with Henry, and I’ve come to know someone who is an exceptional leader and an even more exceptional person.
Now, most of us know a lot about Henry already. You have heard and you’ve read about the man who was a pioneer in creating the industry now known as private equity, who has played and is still playing a key role in building and turning around countless businesses, and whose firm – KKR – remains a leader in private equity 40 years after the firm was founded, or co-founded, by Henry. And by the way, it’s 40 years to the day this past Sunday that the firm was co-founded by Henry, so. (Applause.)
So that’s the Henry Kravis that you know. Now I will tell you about the Henry Kravis I have come to know.
I’m president of a nonprofit organization, Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, or SEO for short. And we are – our mission is focused on preparing underserved young people for college and career success. Since 2009, Henry has worked with SEO as a funder, a strategist, and a tireless advocate for our work. He has been particularly involved with our SEO Scholars Program, which works with low-income public school students for eight years, from ninth grade through college. And we’re proud to have a 95 percent college graduation rate. (Applause.) Now, this is at a time when 20 percent of low-income students who start college actually graduate.
In January 2014, SEO elected Henry as board chairman, asking him to spearhead a significant expansion of our programs. And he has delivered beyond all expectations. We have almost a thousand students – we have almost a thousand high school students in our SEO Scholars Program this year, and 100 percent of our seniors are heading off to four-year colleges in the fall. (Applause.) Now, and about 75 percent of those students will be attending schools that are among the most competitive in the U.S. Thanks to Henry’s leadership, in two years that number of seniors heading off to four-year colleges will more than double.
Now, Henry has just been an invaluable resource, asking of SEO the same types of questions he asked of KKR’s businesses. What are others doing in our sector? How can SEO get better? And how can we expand our impact? And Henry is just incredibly passionate about our work to close the opportunity gap in education and in careers, and he is spreading that passion to others.
He’s also personally investing in the success of our students. Henry regularly invites SEO Scholars to meet with him at KKR, and he asks them about their lives, about their backgrounds, while encouraging them to keep striving. After one of these meetings, a 10th grader said to me, you know, when a man like Henry Kravis says he believes in me, it just makes me want to work that much harder to prove him right. (Applause.)
This is the impact that Henry Kravis is having in helping young people to end the cycle of poverty in their families permanently. Henry is inspired and inspiring, and I cannot thank him enough for all he has done for SEO. And that’s why it’s such a privilege for me to present him with this richly deserved honor. Ladies and gentlemen, Henry Kravis. (Applause.)
(Music: “Don’t Stop.”) (The award is presented.)
HENRY R. KRAVIS: Well, William, thank you. And very nice and generous introduction. I really appreciate it.
And, as William said, he leads an organization that has changed and is changing the lives of so many underprivileged and underserved students – giving them support not only to graduate from high school, but to graduate from college. This is an eight-year program. And their track record – he mentioned the 95 percent, but there’s a piece that I even like more than that, and that is 75 percent of these students graduate from top colleges in four years. Now, just think about it. When we think about what our graduation rate is for similar kind of students, it’s about 20 percent in eight years. And he leads an organization that is significantly outperforming it.
Also, I want to thank my friend Jon Huntsman and Fred Kempe of the Atlantic Council for this award. You know, the work you do to raise the quality of the public policy debate here and abroad is stimulating and it’s essential. And this honor I accept with humility, surrounded as I am tonight by such outstanding honorees.
Robert Gates has served eight presidents. And if that weren’t enough, he’s had a remarkable career in academia, and his insights and knowledge continue to be sought by business and other enterprises that consult him or have him on their boards.
And General Joseph Votel, exceptional military career in the U.S. infantry, Special Ops, various task forces, and now at Central Command, has helped keep our nation safe. And my gratitude to him and to the U.S. military is boundless.
And, of course, Vittorio Grigòlo, my friend, who – what you probably don’t know, he plays a very mean game of cards. (Laughter.) You know, he has a phenomenal innate talent and a visceral stage presence, but his success as one of the world’s great tenors stems from an unflinching commitment to his art, his constant learning, rehearsing, hard work and search for excellence. Just listen to his “Nessun Dorma,” and there is a man that can really sing for his dinner. (Laughter.)
Now, I’m deeply touched to be here with these honorees, but I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the exceptional team that we have at KKR, and so this is really their award as much as it is mine. And I’m particularly pleased that my partner and friend and former Atlantic Council honoree, General David Petraeus, is here this evening. Thank you, Dave, for nearly four decades of service to our country, and for the impressive work that you do at KKR and joining me as one of my partners. (Applause.)
Now, it’s an understatement to say that today our world seems afflicted by a deep bout of schizophrenia. But much hope and promise emanating from technology, medical progress, improvements in the living conditions of hundreds of millions of people; and yet, so much frustration and fear triggered by the competition globally, by technology, and by anemic growth, stagnant incomes, environmental uncertainties, terrorism, intolerance, and what seem like intractable humanitarian problems.
Just a little over 25 years ago, as the Berlin Wall fell, it seemed that Western liberal democracy and the free-market economy and democratic ideals that sustained it were on the march. In the great ideological struggle of the 20th century, freedom appears to have won. Well, today that hard-won victory does not look so secure. Authoritarianism, dogmatism, nationalism have re-emerged. And I might add a last: barbarism.
In the U.S., the post-Cold War consensus on markets, openness, engagement in international institutions, and trade is mired in controversy and what could, unfortunately, could be breaking down. So what could be done? Well, far for me to pretend to have the answers to these problems. Others are certainly more qualified to discuss the geopolitical, economic, and military strategies required to reshape and rebuild this consensus.
However, I’d like to share a perspective on what the business community can contribute. I firmly believe that business leaders must play a role to rebuild trust in an economic and political system that, despite its many flaws, is the world’s most powerful force for human advancement, innovation and prosperity. As CEOs, we can do more, we must do more, and we shall do more.
At least at KKR, we’re determined to do more. As business leaders, we’re not only stewards of the companies we lead, we’re also stewards of the capitalist system that creates the conditions for business and economic well-being to grow. It remains the best vehicle to meet the aspirations and dreams of the American people.
When George Roberts, Jerry Kohlberg and I founded KKR in 1976, shortly after the OPEC crisis and in a climate of stagflation, the ideas of economist Milton Friedman were ascendant. Friedman is very famous for having said that the one and only social responsibility of business is to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits. Now, KKR has met that part of the Friedman challenge, creating jobs, products and services that people want; paying taxes; and generating impressive returns for our investors – 26 percent compounded annually for 40 years. But KKR’s strategy of finding and building businesses we can improve for the long term – our average holding period, which is now seven years – has enabled us to deliver market-beating investment return that have grown college endowments and enhanced the retirement security of millions of pension beneficiaries, including teachers, firefighters, police and other public servants. And I’m proud of the work we have done and continue to do.
But the rest of Friedman’s sentence that is almost always left out says that a firm should seek to maximize profits, quote, “so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” End quote. Now, I’ll spare you a lengthy discussion of Milton Friedman, but even this paragon of free markets understood that corporations operate in a broad framework that is defined by social and political goals that extend beyond short-term profit. Financial performance alone is not a strategy. Rather, it’s the result of a well-executed strategy that addresses a wide range of needs and desires.
Now, as I mentioned a few minutes ago, KKR started to make the companies we acquired stronger and more effective. The work involves not only understanding the balance sheet and financial statements, but also analyzing a company’s environmental footprint; ensuring that its sourcing practices are ethical; engaging employees in education, training and wellness; encouraging the hiring of veterans; and being good participants in community life.
Now, we do this at KKR and for most of our over 100 portfolio companies that we have a major interest in. Several years ago, we instituted environmental and sustainability metrics that evaluate businesses. Now, we believe that this is the smart thing to do. We also believe that it’s the right thing to do. We partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund to improve our use of energy, waste disposal and other environmental practices. From 2010 to 2015, we took 27 of our portfolio companies and they participated in our Green Portfolio Program. And collectively, 25 of these 27 have achieved an estimated $1.2 billion of financial impact and avoided 2.3 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, 6.3 million tons of waste, and 27 million cubic meters of water use.
Now, purpose and profit are not antonyms. As an example of our efforts, during the past five years KKR has also invested $5 billion in companies whose mission is to solve critical societal problems. These include food safety in China, urban water infrastructure in the U.S., solar and wind energy, better hospital care, and high-quality skills training and education enterprises. These companies promise strong returns consistent with the asset class in which we’re investing. Focusing and resolving societal changes can indeed be good business.
But we’re not the only company attuned to the broader needs of our communities. There are many, many other companies where purpose and profit are indivisible.
Why, then, is trust in business and capitalism so low? A recent public opinion poll showed that Americans under 30 had less faith in capitalism than any other age group. They do not believe that they would be better off than their parents. Now, this is not surprising; for years, is not decades, the quality of K-through-12 education has been deteriorating, college tuition costs have been climbing, and student debt has been growing. Young graduates cannot find well-paying, career-building jobs that they’re expecting. And they wonder: What is so inspiring about this system, that does not deliver on that long-held American promise that anyone can get ahead if you work hard and play by the rules?
I fear this skepticism about capitalism reflects a much deeper problem of a complete loss of trust in established institutions. People increasingly are distrustful of government, business, organized labor, the media to do the right thing – even to do the minimally competent thing. And almost every institution in this country, except for our military, is held in lower esteem than it was a few years ago.
This is a perilous slope. Without trust, there is no confidence. Without trust, we cannot forge consensus and build for the future. Without trust, people become risk-averse, less collaborative, and more divided. And the thing about trust is that you lose it a mile at a time and gain it back only one foot at a time.
But let us not become too depressed. You know, writing in the 1960s, Daniel Bell asked: “Why are so many of those who live within modern liberal democracies so discontented? Why is there so much fury and disdain for the authorities whose traditions and discipline produced the luxury of such emotions in the first place?” I’ve always been, and I remain, a guarded optimist. I believe that the business community can and must embrace the difficult challenge of regaining the public trust one foot, even one inch at a time.
This year, KKR is commemorating our 40th anniversary by giving employees 40 hours of paid time to do volunteer work. Over the years – (applause) – thank you. Over the years, KKR employees have devoted thousands of hours of private time to volunteer causes. By letting our employees do so on KKR time, we’re acknowledging the value of their engagement in the nonprofit world and encouraging them to be more active in their respective communities, one foot at a time.
There is a saying in this town that you’re either at the table or on the menu. (Laughter.) Well, business must either work to improve the system or become even bigger targets for accusations and exhortations. It is up to all of us in the business community. American business and its leaders can rebuild trust and earn public confidence, first, by being trustworthy and delivering on our promise to create jobs and profits; but also in actively participating in the search for solutions to common problems, ranging from disease to ecological balance, inequality and opportunity. Clearly, there’s no silver bullet or magic wand. But rather than reticence, I hope that business will open up, take the path less traveled – which, in the spirit of Robert Frost, might make all the difference. Isn’t that what American business is all about?
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage Co-Founder and CEO of the Center for a New American Security Ms. Michèle Flournoy. (Applause.)
MICHÈLE FLOURNOY: Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it’s really my honor and pleasure this evening to say a few words about Robert Gates, who will receive tonight the Distinguished International Leadership Award.
President Obama called Robert Gates “one of the nation’s finest public servants.” President George W. Bush said, “He’s a man of integrity, candor and sound judgment. He knows that the challenge of protecting our country is larger than any political party.” Indeed, Secretary Gates has served eight American presidents, both Republican and Democratic.
Starting as a young second lieutenant in the Air Force, and then as a career civil servant, he spent nearly 27 years as an intelligence professional, nine of those in the White House at the National Security Council. Over time, he rose in the ranks to take on positions of greater and greater leadership and responsibility. He was assistant to the president and deputy national security under General – I’m sorry, deputy national security adviser under General Scowcroft from 1989 to 1991. He was director of the CIA from 1991 to 1993, as we were coming out of the Cold War. And then, after a stint as president of Texas A&M University, he was recalled to public service at the height of the Iraq War as the 22nd secretary of defense for the United States, from December 2006 to July of 2011.
The more you know Bob Gates, the easier it is to understand why so many presidents have sought the advice and counsel of this straight-talking Kansan.
When I first walked into the Obama transition office, the headquarters, in November of 2008, there was this gigantic banner over the foyer. You could not (have) missed it. It was strategically placed so anyone joining the transition team would see it. And it said, “No ego. No drama. This is not about you.” It was a reminder to all of us who were serving in government that it wasn’t about advancing our own careers, it was about serving the American people.
I also came to understand how apt a description that was of the person who would become my boss, Bob Gates. For him, serving in government has never been about Bob Gates. It’s been about duty, mission and country.
President Obama also called him “a humble American patriot.” And it’s that rare mix of humility, commitment to public service, and deep love of country that has made so many presidents want him to be by their sides.
Of course, they relied on him because he’s also just so damn smart. As I quickly learned as his undersecretary of defense for policy, he is an analyst at heart, and a brilliant one at that. Those of you who know him have undoubtedly witnessed his incisive intellect in action – able to take in massive amounts of material, sort the wheat from the chaff, ask just the right questions, and then hone in on a judgment. And 99.9 percent of the time, he hits the ball out of the park.
Though he usually was the smartest and most experienced person in the room, he never acted like it. On the contrary, he started almost every meeting I ever had with him by listening. How rare is that in this town? Even when he had strong views on a subject, he kept an open mind, he solicited the views of others, always willing to hear new facts, to learn, question, consider dissent, reevaluate. His depth of experience, that incisive intellect, the impeccable judgment often gave him the last word in the Oval Office or in the Situation Room. And more often than that, that last word carried the day.
In addition to being a sage and sought-after presidential adviser, Bob Gates has distinguished himself as a leader – one of the most effective and important and impactful secretaries of defense ever to hold the office. On the wall behind his desk, he had hung a portrait of General George C. Marshall, the American statesman and soldier who famously said, “I will give you the best I have.” And every day that Bob Gates occupied that office with General Marshall looking over his shoulder, he delivered on that pledge: he gave the best that he had.
He had a vision of what he wanted to accomplish as secretary of defense. He set clear priorities. He used the priorities to drive his agenda for change in the Pentagon and in the broader interagency. He was clear with us as his subordinates about the roles he wanted us to play and the roles he didn’t want us to play, and he empowered us to do our jobs and then held us accountable. He was willing to make the hard decisions, even when it included firing people, such as when it was discovered that wounded warriors at Walter Reed were being mistreated or that the Air Force had inadvertently and unknowingly flown nuclear weapons all the way across the country.
But he also understood that despite the tremendous authority vested in the secretary of defense, nothing gets done in Washington without engaging your stakeholders. And so he frequently exercised the art of inclusion to leverage the good ideas of others and to generate buy-in. He reached out to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to forward a shared agenda on a way forward. He invested heavily in his relationships with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the vice chairman, the service chiefs, the combatant commanders, making them his partners in moving the department forward.
He understood the critical role he had to play in civil-military relations, helping the commander in chief and the uniformed military better understand and respect one another. Sometimes he found himself in the rather uncomfortable position of being the ball bearing in this relationship, under pressure from both sides. But his leadership helped to navigate that relationship through some tough and turbulent times.
Most importantly, Secretary Gates knew how to inspire people, getting others to do their best work, always looking for the opportunities to encourage, to recognize, to reward excellence.
And then there was his sense of humor. Although many see Bob Gates as the quintessential button-down, all-business professional, there is another side that’s actually very funny and just a little bit irreverent. Whether it was gently teasing us about some aspect of our work or recalling with childish glee that he had taken the motorcade through the drive-thru at Burger King – (laughter) – or offering us one of his infamous quips – one of my favorites: “in trying to understand government behavior, never mistake malice for what is more likely explained as incompetence” – (laughter) – he was a cutup.
And he inspired tremendous loyalty from his staff. On his very last day in office, literally thousands of civilians and military personnel lined the halls and stairways of the Pentagon to give him a standing ovation as he walked out of the building for the last time. (Applause.)
Lastly, Secretary Gates understood the stewardship dimension of his job. He believed that his job was to leave the U.S. military stronger and better prepared for the future than when he found it.
President Obama also said, “To know Bob is to know his profound sense of duty to country, to our security, and most of all to the men and women who get up every day and put on America’s uniform and put their lives on the line to keep us safe and keep us free.” Indeed, Secretary Gates has been a champion of those men and women in uniform and their families. One of the things that’s really distinguished him as secretary of defense was his deep sense of care for the members of the all-volunteer force, the less than 1 percent of Americans who raise their right hands and take an oath to support and defend the Constitution and this great nation. They were his most important stakeholders.
And it was clear that he felt a profound personal sense of responsibility for them, especially those who were sent into harm’s way. And this was evidenced in ways large and small – in the probing questions he would ask before signing any deployment order; the handwritten notes to every family of every fallen service member that he would write; to his countless visits to Dover Air Force Base to receive the remains of the fallen and comfort the families; his regular visits to Walter Reed, to Landstuhl, to visit with wounded warriors and encourage them and reassure them in their recovery; and to the lunches he hosted in his own SecDef dining room for wounded warriors and their families. Those at the pointy end of the spear were always top of mind for Bob Gates when he was making tough decisions or driving change in the Pentagon.
And when it came to making sure that our troops in the field had what they needed, watch out: Secretary Gates was a force of nature, moving heaven and earth, and the Pentagon bureaucracy. You did not want to be the one standing between him and getting to his goal. Whether it was getting more ISR – intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance – assets to commanders downrange who needed it, whether it was accelerating the delivery of the MRAPs to protect our soldiers and Marines from IEDs, or whether it was surging medical evacuation – medevac resources to Afghanistan to ensure that any American wounded there would receive medical attention within that golden hour that often makes the difference between life and death, he simply refused to take no for an answer. And today, many American service members from Iraq and Afghanistan, many are alive today because of his dogged determination and his tireless advocacy on their behalf. (Applause.)
So, ladies and gentlemen, each year the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished International Leadership Award recognizes an individual who exemplifies the notion of service above self. There is no one who better fits this description than Secretary Bob Gates: a valued adviser to presidents from both sides of the aisle, an extraordinary leader, and a faithful steward of those who serve in uniform. His enduring commitment to public service, his record of accomplishment transcends partisanship, and it will long be remembered.
Therefore, it’s truly my honor and my pleasure to welcome to the stage to receive this award The Honorable Robert M. Gates. (Applause.)
(Music: “The U.S. Air Force Song.”) (The award is presented.)
ROBERT M. GATES: It’s just like a CIA award. They give it to you, and then they take it away. (Laughter.)
Well, first of all, let me thank all of you for your endurance this evening on a weekday night. I would like to thank the Atlantic Council for this honor, and thank all of you for attending this wonderful event tonight.
I’m especially pleased that my best friend, most important mentor, and godfather of the Atlantic Council, Brent Scowcroft, is with us tonight. Brent? (Applause.)
Thank you, Michèle, for your generous remarks. I believe you should be the first woman to serve as secretary of defense. (Applause.)
I may also offer my congratulations to the other award recipients this evening: Henry Kravis, Vittorio Grigòlo and General Joe Votel.
Now, a little side story about Vittorio. I was giving a farewell dinner at Café Milano for General Pete Pace, who was going out as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And the owner of Milano, Franco, came to Mary Claire Murphy and said, we have this amazing young tenor sitting at the bar here in the restaurant; would you like him to come sing? (Laughter.) And Mary Claire, with her obvious eye for talent, said, well, of course. And so my first encounter with Vittorio was in 2007, when he sang at the farewell ceremony and dinner for General Pete Pace.
Well, I was told that I’m expected to provide substantive acceptance remarks for this award – (laughter) – but to keep my substance to five minutes. (Laughter.) Which, I might add, would probably be short than everybody else’s remarks tonight. (Laughter, applause.) But it does remind me of the occasion when George Bernard Shaw told a speaker he was introducing that he had to keep his remarks to 15 minutes. The speaker complained and said, how can I tell them everything I know in 15 minutes? And Shaw said, well, I advise you to speak very slowly. (Laughter.)
Almost exactly five years ago, in my last major speech as secretary of defense, I warned an audience in Brussels of a growing threat to the Atlantic alliance, a threat from within. I said then: “Some two decades after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the U.S. share of NATO defense spending has now risen to more than 75 percent. The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress and in the American body politic writ large to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources, to make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”
I continued: “Indeed, if current trends in the decline of European defense capabilities are not halted and reversed, future U.S. political leaders – those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me – may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost.”
A lot of Europeans were offended by what I had to say. But that future day I warned of five years ago has arrived, with at least one presidential candidate urging reevaluation of our commitment to NATO, including our troop presence in Europe, and in Asia as well, and other prominent voices – political voices in both political parties sounding more isolationist with each passing day.
We see a world where Russia and China are becoming ever more assertive, terrorist networks are actively targeting multiple European countries as well as the United States, crises in the Middle East are destabilizing multiple states and flooding Europe with immigrants. There’s Iran. There’s North Korea. The EU faces deep internal divisions and challenges. And the international environment is ever more complex and more dangerous than it has been for decades.
In such a world, continued global leadership on both sides of the Atlantic, with all of its cost, is more necessary than ever. Europe must get its internal security house in order to deal more effectively with terrorism, and must as well increase its investment in defense capabilities. The United States must increase its military capabilities, both through spending defense dollars more wisely and finding additional resources to deal with the growing capabilities, both in numbers and technologies, of potential adversaries.
But above all, Americans, and especially American leaders, must reject isolationism. Whether prompted by the need to address domestic needs or the belief that some of our allies are taking advantage of us, their inaction must not become an excuse for our own. Contrary to the views of some politicians, continuing American global leadership in our own – is in our own economic, political and security interests, not simply and only an altruistic act. America turning inward not only will make the world more dangerous for others, but also for us.
Seven years ago, in presenting this same award to President George H.W. Bush, I quoted him as saying that “a peaceful, prosperous world required the leadership, the power, and, yes, the conscience of the United States of America.” That wisdom is as true today as ever.
In a speech at Harvard in September 1943, Winston Churchill told his audience: “The price of greatness is responsibility.” The people of the United States cannot escape world responsibility. The United States today is still a great nation, but it cannot – and it will not – remain great if it seeks to escape responsibility and global leadership. And that message must be carried forward by this audience, and all who believe that only if America leads can the Atlantic alliance and our other friends and allies work together to secure the future.
Thank you for this honor. (Applause.)
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage President of the Georgetown Entertainment Group Mr. Franco Nuschese. (Applause.)
FRANCO NUSCHESE: Thank you. I promise you I’m not a performer.
But prior for me to invite to the stage a special guest tonight, I wanted to thank the Atlantic Council for supporting us, and I wanted to thank the management of Mr. Vittorio Grigòlo to allow us and to work on the agenda so to make sure that Vittorio could be with us tonight.
I’m not going to go through our history because it was already done by Francesca Zambello, our history, but we know each other for a long time. And it is my privilege to welcome to the stage someone that now no longer needs an introduction in the global opera world. Ladies and gentlemen, Vittorio Grigòlo. Thank you. (Applause.)
(Singing by Mr. Grigòlo: “Una Furtiva Lagrima.”) (Cheers, applause.)
MR. GRIGÒLO: Thank you so much. I don’t know if you’re standing up because you’re – it’s too late and we have to go. (Laughter.) Because I might have a surprise for you if you want it, or. (Cheers, applause.)
When it comes to the end, it is the entertainment moment. Everybody’s happy, right? (Laughs.) But this is a special song. I start my career in a restaurant. It’s true. I was singing with pizza going up and forward and, you know. (Laughter.) Singing this song, “Una Furtiva Lagrima.” And actually, this aria I’m going to sing and offer to you is called “Nessun Dorma.” (Applause.) It means – nobody’s leaving tonight, right? I don’t know your plans tomorrow. But this is the song that will – keeps you awake tonight.
(Singing by Mr. Grigòlo: “Nessun Dorma.”) (Cheers, applause.)
MR. HUNTSMAN: Woo! (Applause, laughs.) So very good, so very good. (Applause, cheers.)
MR. GRIGÒLO: Where is my award? Maybe the CIA got mine, too? (Laughter, applause.)
MR. HUNTSMAN: What a great way to end the evening, absolutely spectacular. I’m speechless, Fred. I don’t know what to do from here, other to say this has been a phenomenal, phenomenal evening.
We have one final act, and that is to bring out the awardees and the introducers for one final family picture. So please once again welcome all of our awardees and those who introduced them for one final picture. Thank you all again for being here tonight. It’s been a great pleasure. (Applause.)
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, all of you. And while they’re coming up on the stage, we’ll see you next year and maybe September 19th in New York for our Global Citizen Awards. Thank you so much for coming. (Applause.)