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Petraeus salutes 'Team Kagan' at AEI

The American Enterprise Institute has posted the text of the address given by Gen. David Petraeus upon receiving the Irving Kristol Award. It's largely fascinating, especially the part where he gives credit to the Kagan family for the "surge of ideas" that made his surge in Iraq possible.

In the fall of 2006, AEI scholars helped develop the concept for what came to be known as "the surge." Fred and Kim Kagan and their team, which included retired General Jack Keane, prepared a report that made the case for additional troops in Iraq. As all here know, it became one of those rare think tank products that had a truly strategic impact.

A key question they addressed was how many additional forces were needed. After rigorous analysis involving complex war gaming, Team Kagan recommended five additional Army brigades. Now, I'm sure it was pure coincidence that the number of brigades in our Army available for deployment at that time was precisely five.

At about the same time Team Kagan was authoring its study, President Bush's senior assistant on Iraq, Meghan O'Sullivan, called me at Fort Leavenworth. "What do you think is needed in Iraq?" she asked. "Everything you can get your hands on," I said. On reflection, it would have been a bit more impressive for me to say that, based on complex analysis, precisely five more brigades were required. It might have made my subsequent Senate confirmation hearings a bit easier, too!

Note, also, who Petraeus quotes at the end of the speech. Whole thing below the fold.

Good evening to you all. Thanks for that warm welcome. And thanks, Arthur, for that very kind introduction.

Earlier today, as I was talking with my wife about tonight's speech, she reminded me of a story about a young school boy's report on Julius Caesar. "Julius Caesar was born a long time ago," the little boy explained. "He was a great general. He won some important battles. He made a long speech. They killed him ..." I'll try to avoid Caesar's fate. But this is the Irving Kristol lecture -- and I do need to say something meaningful.

Well, needless to say, it's an enormous honor to be with you this evening especially given the many distinguished guests here this evening -- Vice President Cheney, Governor Allen, Members of Congress, Ambassadors, serving and former cabinet officials, and many, many others -- including a number of wounded warriors as well.

Indeed, I'm particularly pleased to have this opportunity because it gives me a chance to express my respect for AEI, an organization whose work I know not just by reputation--but also through first-hand experience.

One recent AEI effort, of course, stands out in particular. In the fall of 2006, AEI scholars helped develop the concept for what came to be known as "the surge." Fred and Kim Kagan and their team, which included retired General Jack Keane, prepared a report that made the case for additional troops in Iraq. As all here know, it became one of those rare think tank products that had a truly strategic impact.

A key question they addressed was how many additional forces were needed. After rigorous analysis involving complex war gaming, Team Kagan recommended five additional Army brigades. Now, I'm sure it was pure coincidence that the number of brigades in our Army available for deployment at that time was precisely five.

At about the same time Team Kagan was authoring its study, President Bush's senior assistant on Iraq, Meghan O'Sullivan, called me at Fort Leavenworth. "What do you think is needed in Iraq?" she asked. "Everything you can get your hands on," I said. On reflection, it would have been a bit more impressive for me to say that, based on complex analysis, precisely five more brigades were required. It might have made my subsequent Senate confirmation hearings a bit easier, too!

Well, I've been looking forward to tonight for some time -- and not just because it means I no longer have to keep tinkering with this speech!

Indeed, I've thought long and hard about what to discuss this evening. I thought, for example, I might provide an update on the Central Command area of responsibility, a region that clearly encompasses many challenges. But I've given the "CENTCOM 101" pitch far too many times in this city, and I thought tonight's event called for something different.

So tonight, I'm going to speak about a period in our Army's recent history near and dear to my heart--and to the hearts of some in this room as well. This period has not received anywhere near the attention given to that of the surge in Iraq. Nonetheless, what we did during this period proved critical to the progress that we ultimately achieved in Iraq.

The period in question -- late 2005 through 2006 -- predates the surge. Indeed, it was during this period that we developed the intellectual underpinnings that proved so critical when additional forces were deployed to Iraq in 2007. Indeed, as I have noted on a number of occasions, the most important surge in Iraq was not the surge of forces; rather, it was the surge of ideas that guided the employment of our forces in Iraq. Without these ideas on the conduct of counterinsurgency operations, we would not have achieved the gains that were made during the surge and beyond.

So tonight, I want to talk about the effort that developed and institutionalized those ideas -- ideas that ushered in a generational transformation that touched all aspects of our Army, from the doctrinal manuals that describe our operational concepts to the education of our leaders, from the training of our forces and the conduct of actual operations to the ways we sought to capture and share lessons identified in training and on the battlefield. Similar transformations, of course, took place during this time in our sister services; indeed, much of what the Army did was done in concert with the other services, especially the Marine Corps. And each service has changed significantly in recent years. However, this evening, I'd like to focus on the transformation in our Army, as it has had far-reaching implications for the conduct of our operations in Iraq and, more recently, in Afghanistan.

Tribute to Irving Kristol

This topic -- the ideas that helped transform our Army -- is one that I think would have appealed to Irving Kristol. He was, after all, a man who believed deeply in the importance of ideas and who understood that ideas precede action.

"The truth is that ideas are all-important," Irving Kristol observed over three decades ago. "The massive and seemingly-solid institutions of any society" he continued, "are always at the mercy of the ideas in the heads of the people who populate these institutions."

I couldn't agree more. And that is why I feel particularly honored to receive an award that bears Irving Kristol's name and why I welcome the opportunity to talk about ideas before an organization that is devoted to their development.

As Bill reminded us earlier, this is the first time the Irving Kristol Award has been presented since his father passed away. And I know that all of us here tonight join me in expressing our sympathy to Bea, Irving's intellectual companion and best friend for more than sixty years, and to Bill and his sister Elizabeth.

But while Irving Kristol may be gone, his influence will be felt for generations to come. He was, of course, one of our Nation's foremost thinkers on a host of topics, from economics and religion to social welfare and foreign policy. He was a man of staggering intellect who possessed a view of human nature and American politics that has, in many respects, stood the test of time. And, he was a man who loved his country deeply and who served it admirably -- in uniform as a combat infantryman in Europe during World War II and, subsequently, as a scholar, editor, founder of journals, and perennial contributor to the most important debates of the day. Again, in all that he did, he was a man who believed deeply in the power of ideas and who contributed enormously to their development.

So I am deeply honored to receive an award named for Irving Kristol, though I note that I can accept it only insomuch as I do so on behalf of the more than 210,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen deployed throughout the CENTCOM area of responsibility and the hundreds of thousands of coalition and Iraqi troopers with whom I was privileged to serve in my nearly four years in Iraq. These are, after all, the men and women who have turned big ideas from guys like me into reality on the ground, in the air, and at sea. They are the true heroes. And likely to be serving in their ranks soon is Irving's grandson, Joseph M. Kristol, whom I had the privilege of commissioning a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps at Harvard last spring. Irving had to be very proud.

Laying the Groundwork for the Engine of Change

Well, let me take you back some four and a half years. Our effort in Iraq was beginning to struggle. Despite progress in a number of areas, the insurgency was spreading. Levels of violence were escalating. Political progress was at a virtual standstill. And in the wake of the February 2006 bombing of the Samarra Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Shi'a Islam, sectarian violence, in particular, began to grow at an alarming rate. A sense of fear and terror grew through the summer as the violence began to tear apart the very fabric of Iraqi society. And while new operations periodically arrested the downward spiral at various intervals, in their wake the violence grew even more.

In truth, by late 2005, a number of us -- including my Marine counterpart, General Jim Mattis -- had felt it was important to produce a doctrinal manual on counterinsurgency operations. The developments in 2006 heightened the imperative to identify what changes might be necessary in Iraq as well. Indeed, as events marched on in 2006, we increasingly came to recognize the need for change if the forces in Iraq were to arrest a steadily deteriorating situation and help the Iraqis knit back together the fabric of their society.

Now here I want to emphasize the word "we" in that last sentence. What I'm about to describe was not a task I undertook alone. Indeed, you don't change an organization as large as the US Army by yourself. Quite the opposite. I may have been the front man for a good bit of our work, but this was the effort of a team of teams comprised of people who were passionate about transforming our Army. I just happened to be the coach of some of those teams after I left Iraq in the fall of 2005 following a second tour there and in September 2005 became the Commander of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

The position at Fort Leavenworth brought with it considerable influence over the organizations capable of changing the Army as an institution. Indeed, the Combined Arms Center Commander's responsibilities included developing the Army's doctrinal manuals, which are the repositories of our big ideas; supervising some 15 schools and centers across the US that educate all of the Army's leaders; disseminating the big ideas and fostering debate about them through various additional organizations; overseeing the scenarios at the combat training centers where big ideas are put into practice by units preparing to deploy; and, finally, capturing lessons that need to be learned about the application of the big ideas. And that's why the folks at Leavenworth have long claimed to have their hands on the controls of the Army's "Engine of Change."

That notwithstanding, when my assignment to Fort Leavenworth was announced, some suggested I was being sent out to pasture. Indeed, as those of you who have visited that historic post know, it is located in the middle of America's heartland on the west bank of the Missouri River, that wonderful body of water that farmers describe as being too thick to drink and too thin to plow. Some observers -- particularly some in this fair city, which reportedly likes to see itself at the center of every map -- felt that Fort Leavenworth was a place where you went to think deep thoughts and never be seen again. That, obviously, was not the case.

Now, some additional context. By the time I arrived at Fort Leavenworth in late 2005, the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Pete Schoomaker, had already launched a number of transformational initiatives. Under his leadership, the Army had begun migrating from a division-centric force configured for fighting one or two major-theater wars to a brigade-centric, modular force more appropriate for the operations we were conducting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Accompanying this initiative were a number of other significant changes in how we equipped, managed, and deployed Army forces. So, by the fall of 2005, substantial change was already underway.

But General Schoomaker wanted even more change, as he, too, was beginning to recognize the urgency of the situation in Iraq. And so, when he sent me to Fort Leavenworth, he gave me some simple, direct guidance. "Shake up the Army, Dave," he told me. I was delighted to salute and help do just that.

So there we were. The Army had just put an insurgent at the controls of its Engine of Change. The Chief of Staff had ordered me to shake things up. And that's what our team set out to do. Irving Kristol would have loved it…

Process of Change

When I arrived at Fort Leavenworth, I'd been in the Army for over three decades. During that time, I'd spent thousands of hours executing change. I'd spent countless hours more thinking about how one should plan for it and carry it out.

As I saw it then -- and as I still see it now -- there are four steps to institutional change. First, you have to get the big ideas right -- you have to determine the right overarching concepts and intellectual underpinnings. Second, you have to communicate the big ideas effectively throughout the breadth and depth of the organization. Third, you have to oversee implementation of the big ideas -- in this case, first at our combat training centers and then in actual operations. And fourth, and finally, you have to capture lessons from implementation of the big ideas, so that you can refine the overarching concepts and repeat the overall process.

Now, as anyone who has been involved in transformation knows, change can be hard. It can be challenging. And it can be frustrating. Inevitably, all institutions resist change to some degree--even when all recognize that change is needed.

Our effort to change the Army fit all those descriptions. But, it was also fun -- and even exciting. It was, in essence, a retooling of important aspects of our cherished institution, with the full support and encouragement of our Chief, General Schoomaker, and my boss at Training and Doctrine Command Headquarters, General Scott Wallace. Here's how the process unfolded.

Step 1: Getting the Big Ideas Right

Change starts, again, with getting the big ideas right. Developing the proper constructs is essential to having the right intellectual foundation for all that follows. And doing so typically requires an ability to think creatively and critically about complex challenges, constantly testing one's assumptions and often embracing new concepts.

In my experience, big ideas don't fall out of a tree and hit you on the head like Newton's apple. Rather, they start as seeds of little ideas that take root and grow. The growth takes place primarily in discussion -- spirited, freewheeling, challenging discussion of the kind that Irving Kristol would have enjoyed.

In early 2006, we set about capturing the big ideas on counterinsurgency operations. This most famously involved drafting the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, but it also entailed developing the overarching concepts for full spectrum operations and for what we call "Pentathlete" leadership, as well as guidelines for human intelligence operations and a host of other subjects. But the counterinsurgency -- or COIN -- manual was our principal focus, and working with our Marine partners, we published it in under a year, a timeline unprecedented for the publication of a major manual -- and just in time to inform the surge of ideas that would guide us in Iraq in 2007.

Mindful of the invaluable experience I'd had in grad school, which provided a truly out-of-my-intellectual-comfort-zone experience, we sought to broaden the usual pool of participants involved in drafting a doctrinal manual. In so doing, we engaged not just members of our military and partner militaries, but also diplomats, aid workers, representatives of NGOs and human rights groups, think tank members, journalists, and, also, of course, those with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. These individuals formed something of a guiding coalition for the development of the manual and our overall process of change. Pundits even developed a phrase for those who contributed to the manual and embraced its concepts. They called us "COINdinistas."

The collaboration and discussions spurred by the COINdinistas created a good bit of debate--and, periodically, some healthy discord. For example, one early and prominent critic of a preliminary draft, Ralph Peters, felt passionately that it was overly non-kinetic. Conversely, other commentators, including several of our drafters, felt we were being too kinetic. Similar debates ensued over whether to include recommended force densities in the manual, over the emphasis on various historical cases, and even on whether money was the best ammunition in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations--a debate I ended quickly by pointing out that, while money can be very valuable, when you're actually being shot it, the best ammunition has a full metal jacket. As each discussion evolved, we sought to create situations in which individuals could thrash out different views -- after which my West Point classmate Dr. Conrad Crane, the lead author, and then I would adjudicate by editing the final drafts, in close coordination with my Marine wingman for this endeavor, General Jim Mattis. Ultimately, the various debates resulted in a sharper, more thoughtful product, and they also likely helped with the ultimate communication and implementation of the concepts when we completed the project.

The resulting Counterinsurgency Manual proved to be very timely and important. Following its publication in December 2006, it received such an enthusiastic response -- to include 1.5 million downloads in the first month -- that it was published not only in the normal military manner, but also by the University of Chicago Press. It even became the first field manual to be reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. I just wish we'd been the ones to publish it commercially.

The wide dissemination was very helpful, as the COIN manual filled a critical doctrinal gap. It captured those big ideas that had been used in previous counterinsurgencies and were still relevant, many of which had already been employed successfully, if unevenly, in Iraq. These ideas highlighted, for example, the importance of:


focusing on security of the population;

living among the people to do so;

holding and building in areas that have been cleared;

promoting reconciliation--while pursuing the irreconcilables relentlessly;

achieving civil-military unity of effort;

living our values;

being first with the truth;

fostering initiative; and

learning and adapting.

Many of these ideas derived from the critical recognition that, in counterinsurgency operations, the human terrain is the decisive terrain. Even as we were drafting the manual, that recognition and the emerging big ideas guided the overhaul of all our courses for our Army's leaders, the training of our units, and, ultimately, the employment of our forces during the surge.

Step 2: Communicating the Big Ideas

Now, while getting the big ideas right is critical, simply developing them is not enough. The big ideas must also be communicated effectively throughout the organization. And this is the second step in the four-step process I described earlier.

Communication should flow in multiple directions to be effective. In the military, it involves communicating downward through leaders and units, upward through the chain of command, and outward through coalition partners, interagency elements, and the press. The most important of these directions is downward -- communicating the big ideas throughout the breadth and depth of the organization, and then ensuring they're understood, operationalized, and, ideally, embraced by leaders at all levels.

To enable rapid dissemination of the emerging big ideas on counterinsurgency in the institutional Army, we pursued a variety of initiatives. Many of them focused on changing the curricula at the various military schools where leaders learned their trade. To facilitate that, we hosted gatherings for the branch school commandants and combat training center commanders. We visited each of the schools and centers where the Army's commissioned, warrant, and noncommissioned officers were educated. And we used the Center for Army Leadership, located at Fort Leavenworth, to issue instructions on curriculum development.

One of the places where changes were made was the US Army Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The process there was particularly interesting. While running with several young captains one morning during a visit there in early 2006, I learned that a fair amount of the material they were studying in the Captains Career Course was outdated. This was not entirely surprising, as at that time, the instructors at the school generally had far less time deployed than did the captains who were their students. When I shared my concerns with the Field Artillery School Commandant, a sharp Major General, he got it immediately. In fact, he called me a few weeks later to tell me that he'd shut down the course, engaged the captains in an intensive review of the curriculum, and overhauled the entire program. This was the kind of initiative we needed, and I told our Army Chief about it shortly afterward. "Excellent!" he responded. "In fact," he observed, "there are three great aspects to the Commandant's actions. First, he made the changes needed. Second, he didn't ask permission. And, third, he didn't ask for more people or more money."

We also used a number of other means to disseminate our big ideas. We funded the creation of virtual communities to enable online discussion of branch-specific issues. We established a Counterinsurgency Center at Fort Leavenworth. A number of us traveled around the country to discuss the big ideas at military bases, think tanks, universities, and even on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" (though I left that latter task to COINdinista LTC John Nagl). We worked closely with the Counterinsurgency Academy that General Casey had developed in Iraq to help reinforce the big ideas to leaders as they began their deployments. And many of us wrote articles for military journals and encouraged others to do the same.

One article that was published in the journal published at Leavenworth, Military Review, confirmed for us that the Army Chief of Staff really did want us to shake up the Army. A month into my tenure at Fort Leavenworth, one of the COINdinistas sent me an article by a British officer named Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who happened to have been my deputy in the so-called "Train and Equip Mission" Iraq in 2004. His piece was quite critical of how US forces had conducted counterinsurgency in Iraq, arguing that our forces were, and I quote, "weighed down by bureaucracy, a stiflingly hierarchical outlook, a predisposition to offensive operations, and a sense of duty that required all issues to be confronted head-on." He also described our soldiers as "culturally insensitive." This was, in short, an unflattering assessment--and one that I didn't agree with in all respects. But it was also an assessment that I thought would stimulate discussion among the majors at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, in particular. And so I directed its publication.

Little did I know that this essay would receive attention far beyond the gates of Leavenworth, thanks, in large part, to an article Tom Ricks wrote about it in the Washington Post. Once again, the Army Chief's response was heartening: instead of questioning my decision to publish such a critical essay, he applauded the decision and sent the article to all our general officers, noting that it would be a good piece to discuss with subordinate officers. Needless to say, I was relieved to learn of his reaction.

In truth, when one thinks of the big ideas we were communicating--ideas like securing and serving the people and performing tasks across the full spectrum of operations--what we were really conveying was a significant change in our approach to thinking. In the past we had tended to teach leaders what to think, and we generally gave them a finite number of conventional missions and enemy approaches on which to focus. Now, we were striving to teach them how to think and telling them that they had to be prepared for anything from conventional operations to stability and support operations, and everything in between. Above all, we sought to encourage young leaders to think for themselves, to improvise, to exercise initiative, and to challenge the conventional wisdom.

A year after I returned to Iraq to command the surge, after completing a patrol with a company in western Baghdad, I noticed a sign that the company commander had posted on the wall of his command post. "In the absence of guidance or orders," the sign said, "figure out what they should have been and execute aggressively."

I realized then that we'd begun to achieve our desired effect. And I brought the sign back to the headquarters, shared it with our commanders, and incorporated it into my counterinsurgency guidance.

Step 3: Overseeing Implementation of the Big Ideas

Well, having gotten the big ideas right and having communicated them throughout the organization, the next responsibility of leaders in the process of change is to oversee their implementation. This meant spending time with those turning the big ideas into reality on the ground. And, in 2006 in the United States, it meant, in particular, overhauling the process of how we prepared our units for deployment.

Now, careful oversight should not be taken to imply micromanagement. Indeed, micromanagement is impossible when one is leading large organizations with many subordinate elements, as was the case in which I found myself in 2006. Instead, what we sought were leaders at all levels who understood the big ideas and then exercised the initiative needed to make changes in how their organizations helped prepare units getting ready to deploy. And so, the only sensible approach was to have a light hand on the reins and to encourage everyone involved to get on with it and do what they thought was necessary given the intent we'd mapped out.

Our overarching intent was to provide more realistic training for the units preparing to deploy, to ensure that units were schooled on and then able to practice execution of the ideas that were being codified in the COIN manual before those units headed to Iraq (or Afghanistan). Our overhaul included creation in January 2006 of a week-long counterinsurgency seminar to properly launch units down the road to deployment. We added numerous additional leader and staff training opportunities to help units following the seminar. And we focused particular efforts on the capstone pre-deployment exercise, a brigade-size, multi-week event at the Army's combat training centers in the Mojave Desert, central Louisiana, and Germany. Essentially, the commanders at those critical training centers transformed the so-called "mission rehearsal exercises" from a series of traditional, offensive and defensive force-on-force engagements to the kind of the continuous, complex counterinsurgency missions units were going to conduct downrange. They made these new exercises as realistic as possible, creating replicas of Iraqi villages; bringing in hundreds of native-speaking Iraqi-Americans to role-play local nationals; incorporating civilian counterparts; and using soldiers to replicate IED emplacers, car bombers, host nation forces, and suicide vest attackers. In short, we developed very realistic scenarios in which units could test their mastery of the counterinsurgency ideas we were developing and communicating.

Of course, after developing and communicating the big ideas and then changing how we trained on them, our units in Iraq were faced with an even more daunting task: executing the big ideas during combat operations. That task began in earnest in early 2007 with the commencement of the surge, though, to be sure, some of the ideas had been employed previously in Iraq by certain units at various times. But we needed all our units to employ them. Thus, as the first of the surge forces arrived in Baghdad, we focused on securing the population; doing so by living with the people, rather than by commuting to the fight from big bases; fostering reconciliation where possible while relentlessly pursuing Al Qaeda and the other irreconcilables; achieving civil-military unity of effort; and so on, all enabled, of course, by the additional forces being deployed as part of the surge. It got harder before it got easier, as you'll recall, and we experienced tough fighting and many difficult days. But ultimately, coalition and Iraqi forces were able to reduce the level of violence by well over 90% and to achieve a level of security that, while not without periodic horrific attacks, allowed the repair of infrastructure, revival of the economy, investment by international firms, and the conduct of elections--all of which gave rise to new hope in the Land of the Two Rivers.

In large part, this hope was created as a result of the changes our Army, together with the other services, made in the United States in 2006 that enabled the subsequent implementation of our big ideas on counterinsurgency in Iraq in 2007.

Step 4: Capturing and Sharing Lessons and Refining the Big Ideas

The final step of the change process is to capture and share lessons and best practices, to use them to refine the big ideas, and to then begin the process all over again.

Enabling this in 2006 was the fact that all of us in uniform had worked hard over the years to ensure that our services were "learning organizations." For example, we'd established lessons learned centers in our organizational structures, routinely conducted after action reviews in the wake of exercises and operations, and developed formal processes to capture and share best practices. These initiatives had long been hugely important to the long term effectiveness of our organizations. And they were -- and continue to be -- especially important in Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, war requires constant learning and adaptation, and that is particularly true in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations. As the COIN Manual observed, the side that learns and adapts the fastest often prevails.

So, in 2006 and 2007, we tried to speed our learning process. We deployed additional personnel from our Lessons Learned Center at Fort Leavenworth to the combat training centers and to Iraq and Afghanistan. We supported a new organization, the Asymmetric Warfare Group, that embedded experienced combat leaders with deployed units. We created web-based virtual communities to link those in combat with those preparing to deploy. We funded the network administrators for a virtual band of bloggers from all our Army's branches and communities to support the actual bands of brothers deployed in Iraq. And, after we launched the surge, I ensured that each of our commanders' gatherings in Iraq included time for leaders to share best practices and lessons of general interest. Over time, these and other initiatives enabled us to rapidly refine the big ideas, communicate the refinements, and oversee their implementation, first in the States, and then in Iraq.

And, so, there you have it. That's what we oversaw from the pastures of Kansas in 2006 and how it helped us in Iraq in 2007. This was the process that enabled the real surge in Iraq, the surge of ideas. Armed with, and trained on, these ideas, leaders and troopers who "got it" about counterinsurgency deployed to Iraq and enabled the considerable progress that we have seen there over the past three years. This was an exciting endeavor and one that was, needless to say, of enormous importance not just to the effort in Iraq but to our efforts in Afghanistan and in a host of other difficult missions around the world. It goes without saying that Irving Kristol would have enjoyed being a COINdinista.

Well, my goal tonight was two-fold: first, to explain the changes we made in our Army in 2006; and, second, to give a speech that I'd like to think Irving Kristol might have enjoyed.

As I noted earlier, I accept the Irving Kristol award this evening on behalf of the more than 210,000 troopers deployed at sea, in the air, and on the ground in the CENTCOM area of operations. As all of you know, these troopers endure long separations from their loved ones; operate in cultures vastly different than our own; confront ruthless, barbaric enemies; and carry out complex missions under tough conditions. And I know that this audience agrees that they -- and their families -- deserve enormous support and admiration.

I can remember a time when members of our military did not always receive the support they deserved. Two generations ago, we were engaged in war in Southeast Asia. American men and women in uniform fought with skill and valor for the sake of the country they loved and took an oath to defend. Many of them bled, and more than 58,000 of them died. With every one of those casualties, a family and a community were heartbroken, mourning a loss that could never be recovered, whose grief could never fully be assuaged.

But those returning from Vietnam often were not treated as the heroes they were. Recalling that, those of us in the military today are thankful beyond words that the American people seem to have such high regard and affection for their men and women in uniform.

Working with those men and women every day, seeing them perform missions in the toughest of circumstances imaginable, I can tell you that the regard and affection accorded our troopers are fully merited.

In truth, the members of this audience are foremost among those who recognize and support those in uniform and their families. And so, tonight, I'd like to close by thanking all of you on behalf of all of us who wear the uniform for that tremendous support.

It has, needless to say, been the greatest of privileges for me to have served with our men and women in uniform for nearly 36 years. Indeed, I can imagine no greater honor in life than serving with them in defense of America and our interests around the world.

Our first president once captured very eloquently the feelings of those who serve our nation: "I was summoned by my country," he said, "whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love."

And so it has been my great privilege this evening to accept the Irving Kristol Award on behalf of all those deployed in the CENTCOM area of responsibility -- individuals who likewise have been summoned by their country, whose voice they can never hear but with veneration and love.

Thank you very much.

By David Weigel  |  May 7, 2010; 2:40 PM ET
Categories:  National Security  
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