And I’m especially honored when I think of the prior recipients of this very distinguished award, including my colleague, Secretary Gates, whom I had the honor of introducing in the State Department in 2009. We’ve had a very special evening with so many good friends here, and Christiane, thank you for not only MCing but for the role that you’ve played in bringing so much of the world into America’s homes over the last years. To General Odierno, whom I am so pleased will be assuming a new position, subject to Senate confirmation – I learned to say that as a Senator. (Laughter.) And to the extraordinary presence of all of the sponsors of this event, Michael Strianese, thank you for your comments, and to Brian Shaw, and everyone who has made this evening so special.
I want to, in her absence, thank my friend, the former president of Chile, who has her own remarkable life story of resilience and strength. And to my dear friend and predecessor, Madeleine Albright, who has been a colleague and advisor and counselor, and who just recently completed for NATO an incredible job of looking at NATO’s strategic positioning for the future, leading a group of very esteemed representatives from across the NATO family, just one more evidence of Madeleine Albright’s continuing service to our country.
I think a lot about George Marshall. I have an extraordinary sense of the character and integrity, the commitment to service that led him to perform so admirably on behalf of our country during some of the most challenging times that we have ever faced. Leading our nation in war as a general, in peace as Secretary of State and later as Defense Secretary, he was, they say, the only man, according to President Truman, who could get along with Franklin Roosevelt, the Congress, Winston Churchill, the Navy, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And he did so while never avoiding the hard issues, while always sharing his best advice, speaking his mind.
I’ve seen a lot of people in public service over my time here in Washington who would be well served – and we would be better served – if George Marshall’s example were followed. I also know from the work that I have done over the last two and a half years how still contemporary the views that Marshall brought to the fore, following the Second World War, are today. He certainly spoke his mind in 1947, when he outlined the principles of what became known as the Marshall Plan. He is certainly very well remembered for one of the great foreign policy achievements of the 20th century.
Now many of us think of the Marshall Plan in concrete terms, literally. The allies won the war with guts and valor, and the Marshall Plan won the peace with bricks and mortar. But there was more to the plan than constructing buildings and bridges. Marshall knew the importance of economic growth to build stability, democracy, and security, not only in Europe but everywhere. And he knew that the people of Europe needed economic opportunity to rebuild their livelihoods, recover their dignity, and reset their destiny. By spurring the market economy, rebuilding the agricultural base, modernizing industry, and training European business leaders, his plan helped 17 nations including Germany and Italy take the lead in their own revitalization.
Now the cost of the four-year plan was $13 billion, which translates into more than $120 billion today. I often think about whether we would today be able to summon that kind of vision of a future that would be in America’s interests but would require continuing sacrifice. Now my father, who served for five years in the Navy during World War II, came out of service like so many men of that generation and was committed to making up for lost time with his family, with his business, trying to seize as much of the American dream as he possibly could. And here was President Truman and General Marshall saying, well, you’ve sacrificed a lot during the last years. We defeated enemies that were putting at risk everything we cared about. And yes, you’ve earned the chance to turn inward and think about all that makes life worth living and wars worth fighting. But we’re going to continue to tax you. We’re going to continue to require you to help us rebuild the very enemies that you have spent years trying to defeat. It’s almost unimaginable that the case was made, that the political environment accepted that case and understood what it meant for us.
We can look back now and see how the investment reaped dividends in so many different ways. It prompted European governments to denationalize their industries and strengthen their labor laws. It preempted the westward creep of communism. It helped us lay the foundation for winning the Cold War. And it created strong allies for the United States and laid the groundwork for the European Union. And the Marshall Plan wasn’t just important for the rebirth of Western Europe. It became a model for many nations in 1989, after the Berlin Wall came down. By establishing enterprise funds to spur investment in Eastern and Central Europe, we helped post-Soviet countries develop robust economies and new destinies.
We were mindful of the lessons of the Marshall Plan in all of the years since. Tomorrow in the State Department, we’ll be having an investment conference for Iraq. Some of you have told me you will be there as we try to help rebuild a country devastated by tyranny and war to achieve sustainable economic growth. In our efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last years, we’ve certainly tried to apply wherever possible some of the Marshall principles, trying to target assistance toward private enterprise and ramp up existing energy infrastructure such as the electricity grids to attract investment and promote growth.
And today, as the Arab Spring unfolds across the Middle East and North Africa, some principles of the plan apply again, especially in Egypt and Tunisia. As Marshall did in 1947, we must understand that the roots of the revolution and the problems that it sought to address are not just political but profoundly economic as well. Remember the Tunisian vendor whose self-immolation launched the Arab Spring. He was what we might call a very small businessman, whose livelihood and dignity were threatened. Protesters across the region spoke out as passionately for jobs and economic opportunity as they did for freedom, human rights, and a voice in their own government.
An extraordinary entrepreneurial spirit is waiting to be tapped in countries like Egypt and Tunisia. Their people have the talent and the drive to build resilient economies and enduring democracies. If we support their efforts, we can help them unlock the region’s potential, rebuild their dignity, and realize their hopes. And I argue very strongly, by doing so we will advance our own security.
The United States has asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan that would help stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt. We have offered, as the President explained in his speech a week ago, to provide up to $1 billion in debt relief for Egypt, and we’ve issued a $1 billion loan guarantee program to help finance infrastructure and job creation.
In addition, we will launch programs to allow private investors to help local companies build new businesses across the region, and we are working with Congress to create the kind of enterprise funds that supported the economic recovery of so many post-Soviet countries. These funds, drawn from existing programs within the State Department and USAID, would give Egyptian and Tunisian entrepreneurs and businesses the capital they need to start new ventures and thereby create jobs.
The world took an important step in this direction last Friday, when President Obama and the G8 leaders committed at least $20 billion to build economic growth and create jobs. And that complements the strong response underway from the Gulf countries. I think we all understand the opportunity we face and the consequences if we miss it.
So as we go forward, we can all learn a lot from George C. Marshall’s life, his service, and what he stood for. And we should remember first of all that the genius of the Marshall Plan was not in the money it provided; the money opened the door to the reforms that were promoted. That is what we must do today. I am well aware of the difficult budgetary times in which we live. I face that every single day in the work that I do. And I think often about 1947, about my father, a small businessman, a Republican through and through, who was asked to continue sacrificing for his children and grandchildren, to help build a more peaceful, secure, prosperous world.
Marshall advocated, from the moment he launched his plan, that we should offer partnership, not patronage, and that we should never lose sight of the real bottom line. Prosperity and freedom abroad mean security and opportunity here at home. And Marshall said the purpose of our policy should be, and I quote, “the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.”
This is another important, historic moment. I think I can imagine the kind of ideas that George Marshall would be offering, and the challenge he would make to all of us as to whether we are up to this moment. It’s not only for Egyptians and Tunisians and others who may follow, but for all of us. So, General Marshall, let me reassure you that the United States is committed to the future of those willing to do the hard work of political and economic reform, to build democratic institutions, and open markets; to respect and protect human rights, and create conditions for men and women to fulfill their own God-given potentials.
If we recall what George Marshall did all those years ago and the benefits that still accrue to us, I hope we will summon the same will to do what is called for today. And with that, I thank you for keeping George Marshall’s values alive and present in this complex and fast-changing world. Thank you very much. (Applause.)