George H.W. Bush, David Petraeus, Robert Gates, Bill Clinton Spoke at Atlantic Council Awards Dinner

Washington, D.C. – The Atlantic Council yesterday presented President George H.W. Bush and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl its 2009 Distinguished International Leadership Awards in honor of their historic roles in bringing about the Cold War’s peaceful end and German reunification.  The Council also recognized General David Petraeus, the Commander of U.S. Central Command, with its Distinguished Military Leadership Award.

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary year of the Berlin Wall’s fall and the 60th anniversary of NATO, the awards were presented at a dinner attended by more than 900 guests from 54 countries, including four former heads of state and government, 46 ambassadors, and three dozen members of Congress and senior officials in the Obama administration.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates paid tribute to his former boss, whom he served as CIA director, saying, “One of the great privileges of my life was to be at President Bush’s side as he provided inspired leadership to a world that in a span of less than 36 months experienced the liberation of Eastern Europe, the reunification of Germany into NATO, the victory of the West in the Cold War, the first Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

In a personal tribute, President Bill Clinton praised President Bush as “one of our country’s greatest leaders” and Helmut Kohl as “one of the most important Europeans of the last seventy years.”  He said to President Bush via video, “You guided our country and its allies through the potentially dangerous and ultimately fruitful period that brought about the fall of the Iron Curtain and considerable progress toward your inspirational vision of a Europe whole and free.”

President Bush noted, “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.”  He joked that when he asked French President Francois Mitterrand, “What do you think about German unification?,” Mitterrand responded, “I like Germany so much I think there should be two of them.”  He credited his co-awardee Helmut Kohl, saying, “He would prove the doubters and his critics wrong. … My respect for him knows no bounds.”

General Petraeus, in accepting his award, countered criticism that the U.S. troop increase in Afghanistan suggested a move away from a reliance on NATO.  He noted a new alliance training mission, expanded resources and the decision to make General David McKiernan the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan while at the same time serving as NATO commander in the country.  “These and other initiatives are intended to ensure that, far from being Americanized, our campaign in Afghanistan will continue to be an alliance and coalition effort,” he said.

President Bush ended his remarks with a tribute to his son, President George W. Bush: “It’s a joy to have our son, the oldest son, the former president of the United States, back in our family, back in the Texas that he loves.  And I am very, very proud of him.”

The Council also presented its Distinguished Business Leadership Award to IBM CEO Sam Palmisano and its Distinguished Artistic Leadership Award to renowned baritone Thomas Hampson, who performed for President Bush.


Please visit for highlights, photos, commentary and more from the Awards Dinner.  For more information, please contact Peter Cassata at or 202-778-4991.