Remarks at the Special Operations Command Gala Dinner
Secretary of State
ADM MCRAVEN: Thank you, Steve. Well, good evening, everyone, and welcome to tonight’s gala dinner. Before I begin, please join me in a round of applause for the staff of the Tampa Convention Center and the action officers from USSOCOM who worked so very hard to make this event a great success. (Applause.)
To our international guests, our local, state, and national leaders, our guests from industry, and the National Defense Industrial Association, thank you for making this event a priority in your busy schedule, and for your continued support to Special Operations.
Now I have the great privilege of introducing our guest speaker, a woman who has spent virtually her entire life in the service of our country and in the service of the greater international community. She was the first lady of the state of Arkansas, the first lady of the United States, a U.S. senator from the great state of New York, and since 2009, she has held the position as the U.S. Secretary of State.
In a Time Magazine article last month, she was named one of the top 100 most influential people in the world. In that Time article, the former Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates, said of her, and I quote, “In a world that is ever more complex, turbulent, and dangerous, Secretary Clinton has made a singular contribution to strengthening this country’s relationships with allies, partners, and friends, rallying other countries to join us in dealing with challenges to the global order from Libya to Iran to the South China Sea, and reaching out to the people in scores continue – in scores of countries to demonstrate that America cares about them.”
No Secretary in recent memory has had to deal with more international challenges than the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the Arab Spring, to the always difficult and challenging North Korea and Iran. In spite of these challenges, she has made incredible strides in safeguarding democratic reforms in Burma, advancing women’s rights around the globe, and reshaping the State Department to align the incredible power of our diplomats, the civilian power, with our already strong military power.
Secretary Clinton is beloved by the men and women in the U.S. military. She is our type of lady – a woman of uncompromising integrity who won’t back down from a good fight, particularly when it comes to matters of principle, a leader who is passionate about the welfare of the world’s less privileged, the disenfranchised, and the downtrodden, and a Secretary who deeply cares for her people and who is an incredibly strong supporter of our men and women in uniform.
Over the last few years, I have had several opportunities to work with Secretary Clinton on some of the United States’s most sensitive military missions. In each case, she listened intently to my advice. In each case, she was instrumental in the final decisions. And in each and every case, she never, ever wavered from her commitment to the American people. She is, without a doubt, one of the finest public servants ever to serve this great nation.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the United States Secretary of State, The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good evening. Good evening. It is a great honor for me to be here with you this evening. I want to thank Admiral McRaven for that introduction, but far more than that, for his remarkable service to our country, from leading an underwater demolition SEAL platoon to heading the Joint Special Operations Command. He’s doing a terrific job as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command. (Applause.) Many of you know, as Admiral McRaven knows, that it takes real guts to run a mission deep into hostile territory, full of potential dangers. And of course, I’m talking about the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. (Laughter.)
I am pleased to be here with so many representatives to this conference from 90 countries around the world. Your participation is a testament to the important partnerships, and I am grateful that you are here. Because we face common challenges, we face common threats, and they cannot be contained by borders and boundaries.
You know that extremist networks squeezed in one country migrate to others. Terrorist propaganda from a cell in Yemen can incite attacks as far away as Detroit or Delhi. A flu in Macao can become an epidemic in Miami. Technology and globalization have made our countries and our communities interdependent and interconnected. And today’s threats have become so complex, fast-moving, and cross-cutting that no one nation could ever hope to solve them alone.
From the first days of this Administration, we have worked to craft a new approach to our national security that reflects this changing landscape, starting with better integrating the three Ds of our foreign policy and national security: diplomacy, development, and defense. And we call it smart power.
And I have been privileged to work with two secretaries of Defense, Bob Gates and Leon Panetta, and two chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen and Marty Dempsey, who understood and valued the role of diplomacy and development, who saw that we need to work to try to prevent conflict, help rebuild shattered societies, and lighten the load on our military.
For my part, first as a senator serving on the Armed Services Committee and now as Secretary of State, I have seen and admired the extraordinary service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. So we have made it a priority to have our soldiers, diplomats, and development experts work hand-in-hand across the globe. And we are getting better at coordinating budgets and bureaucracies in Washington as well.
To my mind, Special Operations Forces exemplify the ethic of smart power – fast and flexible, constantly adapting, learning new languages and cultures, dedicated to forming partnerships where we can work together. And we believe that we should work together wherever we can, and go it alone when we must. This model is delivering results.
Admiral McRaven talks about two mutually reinforcing strategies for Special Operations: the direct and the indirect. Well, we all know about the direct approach. Just ask the al-Qaida leaders who have been removed from the battlefield.
But not enough attention is paid to the quiet, persistent work Special Operations Forces are doing every single day along with many of you to build our joint capacity. You are forging relationships in key communities, and not just with other militaries, but also with civil society. You are responding to natural disasters and alleviating humanitarian suffering.
Now, some might ask what does all this have to do with your core mission of war fighting? Well, we’ve learned – and it’s been a hard lesson in the last decade – we’ve learned that to defeat a terror network, we need to attack its finances, recruitment, and safe havens. We also need to take on its ideology and diminish its appeal, particularly to young people. And we need effective international partners in both government and civil society who can extend this effort to all the places where terrorists hide and plot their attacks.
This is part of the smart power approach to our long fight against terrorism. And so we need Special Operations Forces who are as comfortable drinking tea with tribal leaders as raiding a terrorist compound. We also need diplomats and development experts who understand modern warfare and are up to the job of being your partners.
One of our senior Foreign Service officers, Karen Williams, is serving here in Tampa on Admiral McRaven’s staff. And under an agreement finalized this year, we are nearly doubling the number of military and Foreign Service officers who will be exchanged between the Departments of State and Defense. (Applause.) We know we need to better understand each other, and we know that through that better understanding there is even more we can do together.
When I served on the Senate Armed Services Committee, I was impressed by the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Reviews, called the QDR, which guided plans and priorities every four years. So when I became Secretary of State, I launched the first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and we call it the QDDR. Through it, we are overhauling the State Department and USAID to become more operational, more strategic in our use of resources and personnel, more expeditionary, and more focused on transnational threats.
Let me highlight a few examples. As part of the QDDR, we created a new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations that is working to put into practice lessons learned over the past decade and institutionalize a civilian surge capacity to deal with crises and hotspots.
Experts from this new bureau are working closely with Special Operations Forces around the world. I’ll give you, though, just this one example from Central Africa, where we are working together to help our African partners pursue Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. In fact, they were on the ground a few months before our troops arrived, building relationships in local communities. And because of their work, village chiefs and other leaders are actively encouraging defections from the Lord’s Resistance Army. Just a few weeks ago, our civilians and troops together helped one community set up its own radio station that is now broadcasting “come home” messages to the fighters. Our diplomats also saw that the UN staff in the region could be useful partners. So they worked through our team in Washington and New York to obtain new authorities for the UN officials on the ground and then link them up directly with our Special Operations Forces to share expertise and improve coordination. Now, this mission isn’t finished yet, but you can begin to see the potential when soldiers and diplomats live in the same camps and eat the same MREs. That is smart power in action.
Here’s another example. We know we need to do a better job contesting the online space, media websites and forums where al-Qaida and its affiliates spread their propaganda and recruit followers. So at the State Department, we’ve launched a new interagency Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. It’s housed at the State Department, but it draws on experts from the intelligence community and the Defense Department, including Special Operations Forces.
The nerve center in Washington is linking up to military and civilian teams around the world and serving as a force multiplier for our embassies’ communications efforts. Together, we are working to pre-empt, discredit, and outmaneuver extremist propagandists. A digital outreach team of tech savvy specialists – fluent in Urdu, Arabic, Somali – is already patrolling the web and using social media and other tools to expose the inherent contradictions in al-Qaida’s propaganda and also bring to light the abuses committed by al-Qaida, particularly the continuing brutal attacks on Muslim civilians.
For example, a couple of weeks ago, al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen began an advertising campaign on key tribal web sites bragging about killing Americans and trying to recruit new supporters. Within 48 hours, our team plastered the same sites with altered versions of the ads that showed the toll al-Qaida attacks have taken on the Yemeni people. And we can tell that our efforts are starting to have an impact, because we monitor the extremists venting their frustration and asking their supporters not to believe everything they read on the Internet. (Applause.)
Now, this kind of ideological battle is slow and incremental, but I think it’s critical to our efforts, because what sustains al-Qaida and its terrorist affiliates is the steady flow of new recruits. They replace the terrorists you kill or capture so that they can plan new attacks. This is not about winning a popularity contest, but it is a simple fact that achieving our objectives is easier with more friends and fewer enemies. And I believe passionately that the truth is our friend. Exposing the lies and evil that rests at the heart of the terrorist narrative is absolutely to our advantage.
Now, we’ve also changed the way we do business on the civilian side to be better partners to you in the military. As part of our reorganization, we’ve created a full Counterterrorism Bureau at the State Department that is spearheading a diplomatic campaign around the world to increase local capacity of governments and to deny terrorists the space and financing they need to plan and carry out attacks.
This fits right in with the purpose of this conference: deepening international cooperation against terrorism and other shared challenges. As the threat from al-Qaida becomes more diffuse and distributed, shifting from the core to the affiliates, it is even more important to forge close ties with the governments and communities on the front lines and to help build up their counterterrorism capacity. After all, they often are better positioned than we are to provide services to their people, disrupt plots, and prosecute extremists, and they certainly often bear the brunt of terrorist attacks. So we need to build an international counterterrorism network that is as nimble and adaptive as our adversaries’. Admiral McRaven helped establish the NATO Special Operations Forces Coordination Centre, so I know he understands how important this is.
Each year, the State Department trains nearly 7,000 police, prosecutors, and counterterrorism officials from more than 60 countries, including frontline states like Yemen and Pakistan. We’re expanding our work with civil society organizations in specific terrorist hotspots – particular villages, prisons, and schools – to try to disrupt the process of radicalization by creating jobs, promoting religious tolerance, amplifying the voices of the victims of terrorism.
This whole effort goes hand-in-glove with the work of Special Operations Forces to train elite troops in places like the Philippines, Colombia, and Afghanistan under the Army Special Forces motto: By, with, and through. You’re doing this in one form or another in more than 100 countries around the world. And this work gives you a chance to develop a deeper understanding of local culture and customs, to learn the human domain as well as the physical terrain.
I’m impressed by the work of your Cultural Support Teams, highly-trained female Special Operations Forces who engage with local populations in sensitive areas like Afghanistan. This is part of our National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security that was developed jointly by the Departments of State, Defense, and others to capitalize on the contributions women everywhere can make to resolving conflicts and improving security. Around the world today, women are refusing to sit on the sidelines while extremism undermines their communities, steals their sons, kills their husbands, and destroys family after family. (Applause.) They’re joining police forces in Afghanistan. They’re writing newspaper articles in Yemen. They’re forming organizations such as Sisters Against Violent Extremism that has now spread to 17 countries. And we are committed to working with these women and doing everything we can to support their efforts as well.
We have to keep our international cooperation going and growing at every level. Next week I’ll be heading to Europe, and I’ll end up in Istanbul for the second meeting of the new Global Counterterrorism Forum, which we helped launch last year. Turkey and the United States serve as the founding co-chairs, and we’ve been joined by nearly 30 other nations. Together, we’re working to identify threats and weaknesses like porous borders, unchecked propaganda, and then devise solutions and mobilize resources. For example, the UAE has agreed to host a new center to develop best practices for countering extremism and radicalization.
Now, some of you in this room have come great distances to be here because you understand that we need a global effort to defeat a global terrorist network. And I thank you for that recognition and for your commitment.
I want to say just a final word about American Special Forces and to thank the admiral and every member of the United States Special Operations Forces who are here today – Army Rangers and Special Forces soldiers, Navy SEALs and Marine special operators, Air Force commandos, every one of you. So much of what you do, both the tremendous successes and the terrible sacrifices, will never be known by the citizens we serve. But I know what you do, and so do others who marvel and appreciate what it means for you to serve.
We’ve just passed the one-year anniversary of the raid that killed Usama bin Ladin. (Applause.) And I well remember those many hours in the Situation Room, the small group that was part of the planning and decision-making process with Admiral McRaven sitting there at the table with us. And I certainly remember that day. We were following every twist and turn of that mission. It was a day of stress and emotion, concern and commitment. I couldn’t help but think of all the people that I represented as a senator from New York serving on 9/11 and how much they and all of us deserved justice for our friends and our loved ones. I was thinking about America and how important it was to protect our country from another attack. But mostly, I was thinking of the men in the helicopters, praying for their safety as they risked their lives on that moonless Pakistani night.
And one thing that I am always proud of and that I hope is conveyed to our visitors and partners around the world: When you meet our special operators or when you meet members of our military or our diplomats and development experts, you will see every shade of skin color, every texture of hair, every color of eye. And if you spend a little time talking and getting to know that man or woman, you will find different parentage, different ethnicity, different religions, because we are Americans. And as Americans, we have a special opportunity and obligation in this interdependent, interconnected world to stand up for the universal rights and dignity of every person; to protect every man, woman, and child from the kind of senseless violence that terrorism inflicts; and also, frankly, to model.
In many places where we go, I as a Secretary of State or our special forces as members of our military, we see ancient disputes between tribes, ethnicities, religions, sex of the same religion, men and women. Just about every possible category is used all too often to separate people instead of finding common ground. If we have learned nothing in the last decade, we should certainly have learned that the terrorists are equal opportunity killers. They want to inflict terror on everyone who does not see the world from their particular narrow, outdated, dead-end worldview.
When you are pursuing a mission in partnership or on behalf of your own country, let us remember that we are on the right side of history. We are on the side of right. Your service is making the world safer for people to be who they are, to live their lives in peace and harmony. That is going to be the challenge of the 21st century. Will we once and for all recognize our common humanity and stand together against the forces of darkness or not? I’m betting we will. And I think it’s a pretty good bet, knowing that our Special Operations Forces and their partners are at the point of that spear.
Thank you for all that you do, not only to keep us safe and protect our ways of life but to demonstrate unequivocally that the world will not tolerate being undermined by those who refuse to recognize that we are truly one world of humanity that deserves the opportunity to pursue our rights and opportunities for a better life. I am very proud to be here to thank you. Thank you for keeping our nation safe and strong. Thank you for working to keep other nations safe and strong. Thank you for helping us build the world that our children deserve.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, the commander will now present our guest of honor with a token of our appreciation.
ADM MCRAVEN: Madam Secretary, a small token of our appreciation for joining us here tonight. This is, as you quickly noted, our version of Excalibur, the sword and the stone. And of course, as legend has it, only the wisest and the bravest can pull the sword from the stone. My guess is it will come out easily in your hand. So thank you very much, ma’am, for joining us here tonight. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Admiral. (Applause.)