Atlantic Council Awards Dinner
Speaker: George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States
Wednesday, April 29, 2009

PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH:  Well, thank you all very much.  And, Bob, what a pleasure to be introduced by Bob Gates, who is doing such a wonderful job for our country as secretary of defense.  (Applause.)

I want to thank Mika and Joe, who are now modestly off in the corner somewhere here.  There they are.  They’re great people on the television and great people here tonight.  And Thomas Hampson, who did that wonderful rendition of “Bring Them Home,” outstanding voice.  (Applause.)

I know you think now what you need is another speech.  So before I get to the matter at hand, let me simply say that it is great to be here.  I bring you greetings from Barbara Bush, the “silver fox.”  (Applause.)

Frankly, I’m glad she’s not here.  Every place we go:  “How’s Barbara?  Where’s Barbara?”  (Laughter.)  I was the president, for god’s sake.  (Laughter.)

Incidentally, she’s doing very, very well.  (Laughter.)  I want to salute Chuck Hagel, Fred Kempe and, of course, my dear friend, Brent Scowcroft, who Colin Powell just said, this is the eighth time you’ve been announced Scowcroft; get up there!  Every time they mention his name, we’re honored and you’re well-positioned to have him take an active role in this council.

Other former colleagues are here.  I want to single out former – Presidente Aznar of Spain, President Kwasniewski, who is here and, you’ve got a wonderful group of people.  It would be a high honor under any circumstance to receive this leadership award from this prestigious organization, but to do so in conjunction with my respected friend and former colleague and black-belt eater, Helmut Kohl – (laughter) – is an honor I will never forget.

And, given my memory these days, that’s saying something.  (Laughter.)  I was so pleased to see Horst Teltschik here this evening, even though his presence here is necessitated by, you might say, unfortunate circumstances, please give the chancellor our warmest regards, Hors.  I was deeply touched by the letter I recently received from him.  And tell him I look forward to being with him this fall in Berlin.  Of all the political leaders with whom I had the privilege of serving, few match the singular leadership and political courage that I witnessed time and again in Helmut Kohl.

When he became chancellor in ’82, the Atlantic alliance faced one of its greatest challenges of the Cold War over a decision to deploy Pershing II missiles.  Shortly thereafter, President Reagan asked me to go over there to Germany as vice president to help sell the program.  And I witnessed first-hand the intensity of the public opinion against it.  Believe me, you haven’t lived until you’ve had your motorcade egged in Krefeld, Germany.  (Laughter.)  I mean, these people were coming from everywhere.

But it’s been said that hope is putting faith to work when doubting would be easier.  And at that tense time in the early 1980s, it would have been easy to doubt Germany’s ability to stay with the United States and NATO.  But such doubters would have been underestimating Helmut.  And, as he often did during his remarkable career, he would prove those doubters wrong.  And, of course, throughout 1989 and 1990, Helmut Kohl showed uncommon vision when he seized on the fall of the Berlin Wall to work for German unification.

It wasn’t as easy back then as it seems now.  In fact, I asked my friend, Francois Mitterand, who I enjoyed working with – and so did Brent and others – what do you think about German unification?  He said, I like Germany so much I think there should be two of them!  (Laughter.)  True story.

But there was a lot of doubters back then on the prospect of uniting Germany at that time.  It was not what they call a “gimme” in golf.  But Helmut Kohl would not be denied.  Once again, he would prove the doubters and his critics wrong and, looking back now, it’s easy to understand why my respect for him knows no bounds.

Let me add a kind word here also about Mikhail Gorbachev, who also deserved great credit for his pivotal role in shaping and facilitating the events we celebrate here this evening.  (Applause.)  Without Gorbachev’s understanding and vision, we might not have had such a smooth transition to a unified Germany inside of NATO.  If it hadn’t been for Mikhail, I’m not entirely sure the Cold War would have ended peacefully or that Germany would have been unified within NATO or that Eastern and Central Europe would have risen from the abyss to join what is today a Europe whole and free.

As for me, I would simply like to salute the capable men and women I had at my side during four years of genuine change and challenge.  Together we not only upheld the public trust placed in us; we also helped to leave the world a safer and more secure place than we found it.  And the gratitude in my heart for their loyalty, their selfless service and their friendship is beyond my limited gifts of expression.

So thank you for this high honor.  My sincere congratulations to the other well-deserving honorees, but, most of all, my best wishes for the continued work and success of the Atlantic Council and its vital mission.

Let me add a personal note:  It’s a joy to have our son, the oldest son, the former president of the United States, back in our family, back in Texas that he loves.  And I am very, very proud of him.  Thank you all very much.


Transcript by Federal News Service, Washington, D.C.

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