Forrestal Lecture at the Naval Academy
Secretary of State
And Midshipmen, thank you for taking this time away from your studies. (Laughter.) You’ll take just any excuse. (Laughter.) And Plebes, I’m sure you’d rather be sleeping. (Cheering and applause.) And Youngsters, well, you’re still just glad you’re not Plebes. (Cheering.) And Second Class, you’d rather, I’m sure, be catching up on some homework. (Cheering.) And Firsties, you’re already dreaming of throwing your cover in the air and putting all this in your rearview mirror. (Cheers and applause.)
But to one and all, it is such an honor for me to be here this evening. Now, I am fortunate to know and work with quite a few graduates of this academy and to call many of them my friends, including the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, and Admiral Harry Harris, class of 1978, who travels the world with me and is here with me tonight. And as I was signing the guestbook for the lectures, I know you recently heard from my former colleague, Senator John McCain, who, by his own admission, was nowhere near the top of his class, but that didn’t stop him from becoming a genuine American hero and a great colleague and travelling companion during my years in the Senate.
Now, I received a note, an email, from another graduate I know, just in the last day, who had heard that I would be coming here to the academy. And he wanted me to understand how this academy prepares you not just for military service, but for citizenship and life. Carlos came to Annapolis after fleeing Cuba as a child with his parents, who both worked two jobs to make a new life in America. The naval training he received helped him eventually become the first commanding officer of a guided missile destroyer, and his study of strategy and diplomacy landed him a job as a White House fellow.
But that’s not all. He used what he learned in, yes, electrical engineering classes – and I know how much you all love those – to start his own small business that now employs 50 people. The academy’s emphasis on integrity and character led this first-generation American to get involved in his own community and even to make a run for local office. In his email to me, he said, “My life would not be what it is today if it were not for the United States Naval Academy. Annapolis taught me to always strive in my own small way to make a positive difference in the lives of others because it is the right thing to do.”
Now, that is not only a wonderful sentiment for an individual’s life, but also for our country and our country’s future. You see, we need you to become leaders who can use every tool and every bit of training to make contributions across a wide range of disciplines. The challenges of the 21st century are blurring the lines between defense, diplomacy, and development, the three Ds of foreign policy. So we need officers who can fight wars, negotiate agreements, and provide emergency relief all at once. Call it the smart power Navy. That’s what Annapolis is preparing you for, and that’s what your country is counting on.
And as we consider this future, let us also remember our past. This is the Forrestal lecture, named for the first-ever Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal. He helped create the modern military and reorganize the government for the Cold War. And throughout his career, he championed the Navy as a pillar of America’s global leadership.
Now, that was not always a popular position. After World War II, many Americans would have been happy if we just retreated behind our borders. But Secretary Forrestal was part of an extraordinary generation of leaders who realized that Americans’ interests were inextricably linked to the fortunes of people everywhere. In 1946, he noted in his diary that the Soviets believed that the post-war world should be shaped by a handful of great powers acting alone. But “the American point of view,” he wrote, “is that all nations professing a desire for peace and democracy should participate.”
In the years that followed, the United States and its partners constructed a new international order – an architecture of institutions, norms, and alliances that delivered peace and prosperity across what was then called the Free World. We saw old rivals like France and Germany feeling secure enough to reconcile and break their cycle of conflict. We watched as increasing economic integration raised standards of living, as fundamental freedoms became enshrined in international law, and democracy took root and thrived.
Now, today, no totalitarian empire threatens the world. But new actors are wielding increasing influence in international affairs. And emerging regions, especially the Asia Pacific, are becoming key drivers of global politics and economics. As a result, the post-war architecture is in need of some renovation. Still, amidst all this change, two constants remain. First, a just, open, and sustainable international order is still required to promote global peace and prosperity. And second, while the geometry of global power may have changed, American leadership is as essential as ever.
Now, I have said that the 21st century will be America’s Pacific century, just like previous centuries have been. And today, I want to describe briefly the diplomatic, economic and military investments the United States is making in a strong network of institutions and partnerships across the Asia Pacific. This vast region, from the Indian Ocean to the western shores of the Americas, is home to half the world’s population, several of our most trusted allies, emerging economic powers like China, India, and Indonesia, and many of the world’s most dynamic trade and energy routes.
Surging U.S. exports to the region are helping drive our economic recovery here at home. And future growth depends on reaching further into Asia’s growing consumer base and expanding middle class. Indeed, the shape of the global economy, the advance of democracy and human rights, and our hopes for a 21st century less bloody than the 20th century all hinge to a large degree on what happens in the Asia Pacific.
Take a look at this month’s headlines, and it shows the challenges and opportunities that the region presents. As we meet here tonight, North Korea is readying a long-range missile launch that will violate UN Security Council resolutions and put its neighbors and region at risk. Now this new threat comes only weeks after North Korea agreed to a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing. The speed of the turnaround raises questions about Pyongyang’s seriousness in saying that it desires to improve relations with us and its neighbors. This launch will give credence to the view that North Korean leaders see improved relations with the outside world as a threat to the existence of their system. And recent history strongly suggests that additional provocations may follow.
So we are working around the clock with South Korea and Japan to strengthen our alliances and sharpen our deterrent. As President Obama said in Seoul last month after visiting the demilitarized zone, the commitment of the United States to the people of the Republic of South Korea is unshakable. We will also work with Russia and with China. They both share a strong interest in the stability of the Korean Peninsula and will join in sending a message to the North Koreans that true security will only come from living up to commitments and obligations first and foremost to their own people.
Yet at the same time, Burma offers a meaningful opportunity for economic and political progress. For decades, that Southeast Asian nation has been locked behind an authoritarian curtain while many other countries in the region made successful transitions to vibrant democracies and open markets. The United States, supporting these transitions, has been one of our defining efforts in the Asia Pacific from South Korea to the Philippines to Thailand to Indonesia. In fact, I’m often a little frustrated that people forget how hard it was for those four countries to make their transitions. They went through all kinds of military dictatorships and coups and instability. And so we have to continue to have the patience and persistence to nurture the flickers of progress that I saw when I visited Burma, the first visit by a Secretary of State in 50 years. Of course, it is still too early to say how this story will end. But just nine days ago, the long-imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi was voted into parliament.
Much of the history of the 21st century is being written before our eyes. And a quick glance at Burma and North Korea shows that we have a deep stake in how that history plays out. So from our first days in office, the Obama Administration began directing America’s foreign policy to account for the Asia Pacific’s growing importance. I broke with tradition and made my first overseas trip there as Secretary. President Obama has traveled to the Western Pacific four times. We stepped up our engagement with countries and institutions in what I call forward deployed diplomacy. And we’re not turning away from our old friends and interests in other parts of the world. Our relationships with European and NATO allies who are, after all, our partners of first resort, remain indispensable for our work around the globe. And we need to deepen our engagement in the Asia Pacific region in coordination with them.
So just as we are not losing old friends, we are not seeking new enemies. Today’s China is not the Soviet Union. We are not on the brink of a new Cold War in Asia. Just look at the ever expanding trade between our economies, the connections between our peoples, the ongoing consultations between our governments. In less than 35 years, we’ve gone from being two nations with hardly any ties to speak of to being thoroughly, inescapably interdependent. That requires adjustments in thinking and approaches on both sides. Geopolitics today cannot afford to be a zero-sum game. A thriving China is good for America and a thriving America is good for China, so long as we both thrive in a way that contributes to the regional and global good. Let me go one step further. We will only succeed in building a peaceful, prosperous Asia Pacific if we succeed in building an effective U.S.-China relationship.
So our aim is to build mature and effective institutions that can mobilize common action and settle disputes peacefully, to work toward rules and norms that help manage relations between peoples, markets, and nations, and establish security arrangements that provide stability and build trust. I am well aware that some in Asia fear that a robust American presence and our talk of architecture and institutions and norms is really code for protecting Western prerogatives and denying rising powers their fair share of influence. The argument goes that we’re trying to draw them into a rigged system that favors us. Well, that is just not the case. We agree that regional and international architecture cannot remain static. Rules and institutions designed for an earlier age may not be suited to today.
So we need to work together to adapt and update them and even to create new institutions where necessary. But there are principles that are universal and that must be defended: fundamental freedoms and human dignity; an open, free, transparent, and fair economic system; the peaceful resolution of disputes; and respect for the territorial integrity of states. These are norms that benefit everyone and that help all people and nations live and trade in peace. The international system based on these principles helped fuel, not foil, the rise of China and other emerging powers such as India and Indonesia. Those nations have benefited from the security it provides, the markets it opens, and the trust it fosters. And as a consequence, they have a real stake in the success of that system. And as their power grows and their ability to contribute increases, the world’s expectations of them will rise as well.
But some of today’s emerging powers in Asia and elsewhere act as selective stakeholders, picking and choosing when to participate constructively and when to stand apart from the international system. And while that may suit their interests in the short term, it will ultimately render the system that has helped them get to where they are today unworkable. And that would end up impoverishing everyone.
History shows us that a strong regional architecture can bring to bear incentives for cooperation and disincentives for provocation and problematic behaviors. But this kind of architecture does not just spring up on its own, just as NATO and other aspects of the post-World War II architecture didn’t just happen. It takes consistent effort, strong partnerships, and crucially, American leadership. And that is, at core, what our strategy in the Asia Pacific is all about. All of our actions – diplomatic, economic, and military – are designed to advance this goal. Let me offer three examples about how it works.
First, President Obama’s attended something called the East Asia Summit this past November. The East Asia Summit is a gathering of the heads of state of all kinds of the nations in the region to grapple with the biggest challenges and pursue comprehensive solutions, whether it’s on nonproliferation, disaster response, or maritime security. But no U.S. President had ever attended before. And President Obama’s decision to participate capped three years of intensive engagement with institutions like ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations, and APEC, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, and reflected our support for the East Asia Summit as the region’s premier forum for discussing political and security issues.
Having an institution like this can make a difference. Take the South China Sea. It connects many of the region’s nations, some of whom have competing claims on its waters and islands. Half the world’s merchant tonnage flows through the South China Sea, so the stakes for maritime security and freedom of navigation are very high. The United States has no territorial claims there, and we do not take sides in territorial disputes. But we have always been a seafaring nation, and we have an abiding interest in protecting the seas and respecting international law and promoting the peaceful resolution of disputes that arise out of navigation.
Trying to settle complex disputes like this bilaterally, one-on-one, was a recipe for confusion and even potentially confrontation. There were too many overlapping claims and interests, and the concerns of some countries were being elevated while others were being diminished. But when President Obama joined his fellow leaders at the East Asia Summit, they were able to support a region-wide effort to protect unfettered access to the South China Sea, work toward developing a code of conduct, and respect the legitimate interests of all claimants to ensure that disputes were settled through a consensual process based on established principles of international law.
Now, it was a reminder that, for certain issues, there’s no substitute for putting the relevant players in the same room and letting giving them a chance to begin to exchange ideas and work towards sorting out problems. In cases like this one, smaller countries then can be sure their voices are heard. And larger countries, which have a significant stake in broader regional stability and security, can pursue solutions to these complex challenges. That’s what an effective architecture permits.
Here’s a second example, which demonstrates how strong rules and norms matter in people’s lives. As part of that same trip last November, the President built momentum for a new far-reaching trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership that we are negotiating with eight other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. This agreement is not just about eliminating barriers to trade, although that is crucial for boosting U.S. exports and creating jobs here at home. It’s also about agreeing on the rules of the road for an integrated Pacific economy that is open, free, transparent, and fair. It will put in place strong protections for workers, the environment, intellectual property, and innovation – all key American values. And it will cover emerging issues such as the connectivity of regional supply chains, the competitive impact of state-owned enterprises, and create trade opportunities for more small-and-medium-sized businesses.
These kinds of rules help level the playing field for all countries and companies. And when the competition is fair and the rules are transparently known and there are systems to enforce them, American businesses can out-compete and out-innovate anyone in the world. Now of course, the rules only work if they’re known and enforced, which is why this Administration continues to bring suits against violators of trade norms and to speak up against abuses.
And on the subject of norms and rules, let me add that the United States is increasingly concerned about the growing threat to our economic and national security posed by cyber intrusions, particularly the theft of intellectual property and classified material via cyber means. Because the United States and China are two of the largest global cyber actors, establishing clear and acceptable practices in cyberspace is critical. And I was delighted to hear from Admiral Miller that the Naval Academy is introducing a cyber course that will be – begin to not only educate you about the opportunities and challenges in cyberspace, but help prepare you as part of what will certainly be an essentially function of our defense.
Now we will continue to be very candid about this and clear-eyed in addressing the harms and risks that have evolved over the past few years. At the State Department, we are attacked countless times every single day. Actually, our defenses aren’t breached, but sometimes people, for whatever reason, decide they want to dump national security material into the public domain. So we have to think figure out how to deal with the human factor while we build up our technical expertise.
My third example will be familiar to many of you, because it deals with how strong alliances and partnerships – especially our military cooperation with militaries around the world – saves lives, builds trust, and advances our interests. For decades, the United States military and our enduring alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand have underwritten security and stability in the Asia Pacific. Every day, the Navy has some 50 ships, hundreds of aircraft, tens of thousands of sailors and Marines in the Pacific at any given time. And the Navy’s role is growing, as evidenced by President Obama’s new Defense Strategic Guidance.
Each year, United States Navy ships and sailors and Marines participate in more than 170 bilateral and multilateral exercises and conduct more than 250 port visits in the region. One of my favorite port visits was of the USS McCain to Vietnam. This allows us to respond more quickly and efficiently when we need to work together with partners, such as responding to natural disasters in one of the most environmentally volatile and vulnerable areas in the world.
I hope you know and are proud of the Navy’s efforts after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in Japan last year. The 7th Fleet had developed a close partnership with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force over many decades, so we were able to work hand in hand, delivering food and medical supplies, conducting search and rescue missions, evacuating the injured, and so much more. After the operation was over, I had the chance to visit with the crew of the destroyer USS Fitzgerald when we were both in Manila, and they told me how all that preparation and partnership had paid off.
To maximize our ability to participate in these kinds of efforts all over the Asia Pacific and to meet an increasingly diverse set of security challenges, the United States is moving to a more geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable force posture in the region. We are sending Marines to Australia for joint training – the first six-month rotational deployment arrived in Darwin last week. We are deploying state-of-the art ships to Singapore. We are modernizing our basing arrangements with allies in Northeast Asia.
We’re also working hard to reduce the risk of miscalculation or miscues between the American and Chinese militaries and to try to forge a durable military-to-military relationship. Our navies already work together to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa. But we can, we should, and we must do more together. We also hope to strengthen the newly established Strategic Security Dialogue, which brings American and Chinese military and civilian leaders to the table to discuss sensitive issues like maritime security and cyber security.
Here’s the bottom line, which I think is worth remembering as you work, study, and prepare for your futures in the Navy and the Marine Corps: The extraordinary service and sacrifice of America’s men and women in uniform makes a difference in the lives of people all over the world. In this region, it made a difference in the lives of those people in the Japanese community rescued from the floodwaters, or to the Singaporean sea captain protected from pirates, or the Korean family shielded from aggression. When it comes to ensuring stability and security in the Asia Pacific and beyond, there is simply no substitute for American power. Only the United States has the global reach, the resources and the resolve to deter aggression, rally coalitions, and project stability into diverse and dynamic areas of danger, threat, and opportunity.
Now this is not 1912, when friction between a declining Britain and a rising Germany set the stage for global conflict. It’s 2012, and a strong America is welcoming new powers into an international system designed to prevent global conflict.
We have come through a long decade of war, terrorism, and recession. And these continue to be difficult days for many of our fellow Americans. But America still has the world’s largest economy with the most productive workers, the best universities, the most innovative companies. Our military is the finest in the history of the world, far outclassing any rival. There is no other nation that boasts a global network of alliances and partnerships that can project force on every continent and in every ocean.
And just as importantly, no other nation can bring disparate countries and people together around common goals. I see it when I travel across Asia and the world: American leadership is respected and required. Now yes, this is because of our military and our material might, but it’s more about our values and our commitment to fairness, justice, freedom, and democracy. Our record may not be perfect, but the United States consistently over history seeks to advance not just our own good, but the greater good. And this is part of what makes American leadership so exceptional. There is no real precedent in history for the role we play or the responsibility we have shouldered. And there is no alternative.
But our global leadership is not a birthright. It has been earned by each successive generation, staying true to our values and living up to the best traditions of our nation. In the years ahead, it will be up to you and your classmates to carry this important work forward.
One of the enduring memories of my own childhood is listening to my father talk about his service in the Navy during World War II. He was a chief petty officer, responsible for training thousands of new recruits at Great Lakes Naval Station outside of Chicago before they shipped out to sea, mostly to the Pacific theater. He never forgot how it felt to watch those young men get loaded onto troop trains heading for the West coast, knowing that many would never return home. He never lost his sense of duty or his belief in our exceptional country. And after he died, I received letters and photographs from so many of the sailors who he had trained and who had served with him. Even all those years later, they shared a deep and abiding faith in our nation and the work we must do in the world.
One day soon, you, too, will leave this place and board ships, submarines, and aircraft bound for distant seas. Some of you will sail the Atlantic, renewing old bonds and defending old friends. Others will head to the Pacific to face the challenges of a new time. Wherever you go, you will represent the pride and power of this great nation we cherish. And you will embody our hopes for a freer, more peaceful, and prosperous world.
But before you head out into that world, I think you need to make some more memories here at home. So with the approval of the superintendent and the commandant, I am pleased to grant an uncharged overnight for plebes and an uncharged weekend for upper class midshipmen. (Cheers and applause.)
Thank you. Thank you for your service to our country. Good luck and Godspeed. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Thank you Secretary Clinton. And we’re going to open up the floor for a few questions. There’s mikes posted on the first and second deck, and for the NAPEC delegates, the closest mikes will be to my left and right here on the first deck.
MODERATOR: You can use this – walk around.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Great. Okay. Jordan, where should we start?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay.
MODERATOR: We’ll start right back there, straight ahead.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay. Right back there, straight ahead.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, Midshipman First Class Connors, Third Company. As the situation in Syria stands, Russia is providing support for the Assad regime while the Western world and other Middle Eastern countries are at least indirectly supporting the Syrian resistance. We are also trying to improve our relations with the Putin government. How can we best balance these competing interests?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, those are the kinds of questions that I spend a lot of time every day thinking about, so I appreciate you’re thinking about it as well. Let me just say a few words about Syria. You’re right that the Assad regime is being supported primarily by Iran and by Russia, as well as Iranian proxies like Hezbollah. It is a terrible, violent situation which you are all reading about or seeing on the screen, and it has been our effort to try to reach international consensus that have so far been prevented in the Security Council because primarily of Russia but also China joining Russia to veto or block any action that might have the support of the United Nations.
Now Kofi Annan, who is the Joint Special Envoy of both the United Nations and the Arab League, reported to the Security Council today that despite Assad’s commitment to abide by the six-point plan that Kofi Annan presented, he has failed to do so and, in fact, the violence is even increasing. And there were two quite dangerous incidents where Syrian military forces fired across borders into both Turkey and Lebanon within the last 48 hours. So, I will be meeting tomorrow with the foreign ministers of the so-called G-8 countries, and that includes Russia. So Foreign Minister Lavrov will be in Washington and we will have another go at trying to persuade the Russians that the situation is deteriorating and the likelihood of regional conflict and civil war is increasing.
The challenge in Syria is so much more complex than what was faced in Libya, in part because of the outside support that the Syrian regime is receiving and in part because of the makeup of the population within Syria. So you’ll notice that the Arab League, which – actually for the first time ever – called for intervention in Libya, has not been able to achieve that level of consensus because of competing concerns. So we will be working to try to reach some kind of agreement within the Security Council.
Part of the difficulty is the change in leadership that is occurring in Russia. Vladimir Putin will assume the presidency very soon, but he’s not president yet. It appears that Medvedev will be appointed prime minister. He’s putting together a government, but it’s not put together yet. So the Russians have a long-term relationship with the Assad family. They sell a lot of arms, continuing to do so, to the Assad regime. They use a port in Syria that has been made available to them for a number of years. So there are a lot of deep connections between Russia that go beyond whoever the leader is and Syria. So I think there will be a very rough couple of days in trying to determine whether we go to the Security Council seeking action knowing that Russia is still not on board but continuing to require them to have to either veto or abstain, and see what we can try to bring about because we’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep pushing for both humanitarian and strategic reasons.
I spoke late last night with the foreign minister of Turkey, and understandably, the Turks are quite upset with the barrage of fire coming across their border, with the Syrian military setting forests along the border on fire to try to flush out opposition fighters. People were killed in Turkish territory. So this situation is only getting more dangerous. And the Russians have consistently said they want to avoid civil war, they want to avoid a regional conflict, but their refusal to join with us in some kind of constructive action is keeping Assad in power, well armed, able to ignore the demands of his own people, of his region, and the world. So we are going to keep pushing as hard as we can until we get some action that can provide, at the very minimum, humanitarian access and keep pushing a political transition.
So there’s no satisfying, immediate answer, but that’s part of what diplomacy is. You just get up every day and you keep going at it. It’s oftentimes quite frustrating, but there doesn’t seem to be any other path but that one to follow right now.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, ma’am. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay. Okay.
QUESTION: Midshipman Second Class Jacqueline Blackburn, 16th Company. Secretary Clinton, in my French class we recently discussed the crisis in Congo. In 2009, as part of your African tour, you visited Congo. Could you expand on your experience in this region as well as provide us with insight on where you see the United States future involvement in providing humanitarian aid to these areas marked by such genocide? In your opinion, what role can we as young Americans have in putting an end to this violence?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you for asking about Africa, and specifically about Congo. Probably the two worst conflicts over the last 20 years, in terms of loss of life, were in the conflict between Sudan and what is now known as South Sudan, which unfortunately seems to be heating up again, and the conflict in eastern Congo. I was in Goma in 2009, which is in the center of the ongoing atrocities committed by marauding militias and undisciplined soldiers, members of either the Congolese army or the armies of neighboring countries. It’s estimated that 5 million people have been killed in the last 20 years. I have to tell you though, it was both a gut-wrenching experience to go to the refugee camps, the hospitals where survivors, particularly women who’ve been – women and children who’ve been brutally assaulted are cared for. And it was exhilarating because so many of the people who I met with were looking to the future despite what horrors they had personally experienced. The level of violence seems to have receded to some extent. Part of the reason for that is that the Lord’s Resistance Army, which was one of the marauding bands, has moved out of the Congo.
As you know – you asked what we could do – well, the President ordered 100 special forces to work with the militaries in the region, primarily the Ugandan military, to go after Joseph Kony, who you now have all heard about because of the video, but who for more than 20 years has been killing and raping and kidnapping and abusing children and others. So our military is working to play its role. And then in addition, we have many programs from our international assistance – the Agency for International Development, USAID. We have many nongovernmental organizations, groups from the faith community, who are working to provide support of all kinds.
So Americans are active in the regions, but what we’ve tried to do is to work toward a resolution that would take away the incentives for, number one, the exploitation of the natural resources, which fuels a lot of the violence because there’s a lot of money to be made extracting all those minerals that you find in your cell phone or your laptop.
So we passed legislation to require our companies – and hopefully to get to that international standard where all companies will have to be transparent about the business that they do in the eastern Congo to try to shut down the rogue illegal mining operations which fuel and fund a lot of the militias, to work with the neighboring countries to try to end their using eastern Congo as a proxy battleground. After the genocide in Rwanda, a lot of the Hutu militias fled into the Congo. The Rwandan Government chased them. You had Ugandans who had all kinds of grievances against Joseph Kony and others. So it became a – just a cauldron of militias and proxies and other kinds of supported and funded violence.
So we’re working at a governmental level and a nongovernmental level. We’re working on the civilian side and the military side. But it is still a dangerous place. And it really goes to show how a poorly governed country is unable to protect its own people, to run an economy, to try to offer legitimate paths to better futures for people. So we’re trying to build up the government and the institutions.
And I’ll just end with this one story. When I was in Kinshasa, I learned that the way that the Congolese military, which was notorious for having all these rogue commanders and soldiers who would rape and pillage and steal and never be disciplined – how the central government paid their soldiers. They paid them by giving a big load of cash, like a pickup truck filled with cash, which was then either driven or put into a plane or even carried by couriers going to various military outposts. Well, guess what? By the time it got into its third or fourth day of travel, there wasn’t anything left. So a lot of the soldiers were never paid. They weren’t paid for years. And they turned to terrible illegal activities to feed themselves and their families.
So we said, “Wait a minute.” We saw more and more people with cell phones. Why don’t we try to bring mobile banking to the Democratic Republic of Congo like we brought it to Afghanistan, and by using mobile banking get the money, get the corruption, out of the hands of the military leadership that were basically stealing from their own men and try to get it into bank accounts or into the hands of the soldiers to begin to build up some sense of reliability and of discipline, of loyalty. These are things that you don’t think about until you actually get into a place and you start analyzing, why is this not working?
So there’s a lot that the United States is trying to do in all of these areas. But I thank you for raising it because the bloodiest, most horrible conflicts that are still being waged in the world today are in Africa, and they don’t get the attention they need, and I’m glad we have a new AFRICOM that is trying to work with governments to bring about peaceful resolution to conflict.
Over here? Okay.
QUESTION: Ma’am. Midshipman Third Class Roman, 16th Company. There’s a famous picture of you in the Situation Room with the President and other Cabinet members on the night of Usama bin Ladin’s death. What was going through your mind at that moment?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s funny you should raise this because that’s – we talked about it over dinner. I guess May is approaching, so we’re – it’s on our minds.
Well, I was a senator from New York when we were attacked. And one of my goals as a senator, and then as the Secretary of State, was to do everything I could to try to bring bin Ladin to justice. When I went to Pakistan for the first time as Secretary of State back in 2009, I said I can’t believe that there isn’t anybody in the Pakistani Government who doesn’t know where bin Ladin is. And that caused a little bit of a ruckus, but I believed that somebody had to have known where he was.
So when we got the leads about where we thought he was and we began this very small group process to try to work through all of the contingencies and problems that one would face in trying to launch an attack, either by air, missile, or assault, I just kept thinking about all of the people that I had represented and helped as a senator during the years of my time as the representative of New York. And I was very committed to doing everything we could to make the right decision about how to advise the President.
It was an intense, thorough process that we went through. Obviously, the number of people involved was small, but represented the Department of Defense, both civilian and military leadership, the CIA and the intelligence community, the State Department, the White House. And we did our very best to try to give the President our honest assessment. And ultimately it was his decision, which I fully supported, because I believed that we had to take the risk – and it was a risk – that that large house in Abbottabad was the haven for bin Laden.
So the decision was made, and I won’t say anything that’s not already in the public record, so some of you probably already have seen everything I’m about to say, but we did try to plan for every contingency. And our Special Forces who were given the responsibility had a lot more experience because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, because of the many missions that they’ve had to run over all these years. I remember one of the Special Forces leaders saying, “Look, this may sound really exotic and scary to you all, speaking in the Situation Room, but we’ve probably done something similar to this, helicopter in, take the target, look for who you’re after, and then get out of there. We’ve probably done it now a thousand times.”
But we still went through all of the thinking about okay, what if something goes wrong with the helicopters, like we tragically saw when we tried to rescue hostages in Iran. What if, what if, what if. And everybody was very honest in expressing all of their concerns. So eventually the President makes the decision, looked for a moonless night. There was concern – I think it’s understandable – as to what the Pakistanis would or wouldn’t do. But all in all, the decision was made.
So when we gathered that Sunday, it was a pretty intense, tense, stressful time, because the people who were actually doing it on the ground were thousands of miles away. We did have good communications, so – in the White House, there’s a large Situation Room in the whole protected sort of secret area in the basement, and there are smaller rooms, so we were in one of the smaller rooms when the attack began, and we were able to have some communication, so we were, in real time, aware of what was happening. And I’m not sure anybody breathed for 35 or 37 minutes.
And for me, the worst part was when one of the helicopters – if you remember looking at drawings of what the compound looked there, there was a yard and there was a wall, and as the helicopter went in the tail got stuck and it was not flyable. That had been planned for, but it was still somewhat worrisome that this had occurred. And it took time to get the next reserve helicopter in.
But I think you could tell from the – I mean, I wasn’t even aware people were taking pictures. I mean, the White House photographer obviously was, but it was just – you were just so concentrating on what you could see and you could hear. We could see or hear nothing when they went into the house. There was no communication or feedback coming. So it was during that time period, I think, everybody was particularly focused on trying to just keep calm, keep – just prepared as to what would happen. And then we got the word that they thought they had killed bin Ladin.
But think about what they had to do because it was imperative that we take the body – the decision had to be made to blow up the disabled helicopter, which didn’t completely work because of the way it was positioned. So the SEALs had to take the women and children out of the house, to get them away from the site of where the disabled helicopter was, if you didn’t want any collateral damage. All of this is happening – the body’s going out, the women and children are coming in, the reserve helicopter is on its way but it’s not there yet. There was a lot of breath holding. And then finally, all the helicopters were up and out and on their way to – back to Afghanistan.
Then we had to wait to make sure that the body really was bin Laden. I mean, you had visual identification, but you needed DNA. And there was the immediate DNA, and then you had to – you wanted to be absolutely sure, and then so the second DNA test would take longer. But I think, finally, everybody was comfortable with concluding that yes, he was there. We did get him. They were sure of it. And that’s when the President went out.
And I was saying to Admiral Miller – and I think something happened similar to this at the Academy – some of us went to the Oval Office and then walked with the President from the Oval Office through the colonnade into the White House to the East Room where he addressed the nation. Admiral Mullen was there, I remember. So the President made his televised address. Leon Panetta was there – he had come over from the CIA where he’d been during the operation.
So we were walking out of the White House and as we got closer to the door to the colonnade, we heard this roar. We had no idea what it was; none of us had slept for a long time. So we walked down the colonnade, and we just heard these incredible cheers and shouts and all of these students from around the area – mostly from GW, which is near the White House, but elsewhere – had just spontaneously come to the gates of the White House. I mean, many of them, like many of you, were children when we were attacked. And this had been part of your consciousness for as long as you could remember.
So listening to those cheers, feeling the relief that came from knowing that it was a job very well done, and for me personally, having the sense that for many of those who lost their loved ones, who had been grievously injured during that attack whom I knew personally, that they could in a way they hadn’t been able to the day before, think about the future. And I was very, very pleased.
Thank you all. (Applause.)