Washington Institute for near East Policy Soref Symposium as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Washington, D.C., Thursday, May 09, 2013
Thank you. I am grateful, Marty [Gross], for your generous contribution and also your very observant commentary on sequestration. There are certain privileges to this job, and one is, I do have fairly good travel accommodations. And I'm always grateful for that. I want to thank Rob [Satloff] and the board and each of you who are--and have been--part of this institution, which I am very familiar with, have been over many years during my days in the Senate. I often would ask for advice from many of you who are here tonight and always valued that advice in every way.
I want to also acknowledge those here tonight who Marty noted in the audience who have served the United States government in important capacities for their service and what they continue to do. Thank you. Also, the ambassadors here tonight, those individuals representing their countries and those individuals who continue to make contributions to helping make a better world, which, after all, is really the assignment and the objective for all of us. And it is the objective for every institution that cares about man.
And for all that, I am particularly grateful that you would have a currently employed secretary of defense. I shall pass on your regards to Gates and Panetta--I think Leon is probably with the pope at this very moment, having some wine in Italy.
Fortunately, he has a good sense of humor, and maybe he won't be offended by that. I actually do talk to Leon often and Bob Gates and others who have served in this job and ask for their advice, as I do so many people who have devoted their lives over the years to our country, the security of this country.
So thank you all. And truly thank you for the privilege to share some time with you tonight.
For nearly 30 years, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has helped the United States government better understand and respond to big policy challenges focused in the Middle East. Ahead of my recent trip to the region, my team and I benefited greatly from the consultations with Dennis Ross and others at the institute.
And now that I have returned, as has been noted here tonight, it just seems appropriate that I take advantage of this opportunity to share some of my perspectives from that trip, in particular the astounding challenges that face U.S. strategic interests and our allies together in the Middle East.
I have been to every country in the Middle East a number of times over the years, except Iran. And like all trips and visits, you are supposed to be much enhanced and enlightened when you come back, and that is if you keep your radar turned on and your transmitter shut down low and you listen. And I did a lot of listening on this trip in particular, because it was my first trip representing the United States of America as secretary of defense.
I've long had an interest in the Middle East and its rich and complicated history, its vibrant cultures and complex politics. It came to me not through academics, travel, or National Geographic magazine, but rather through an abrupt intrusion in my life, in June 1967. You all recall what happened in June of 1967, the Six-Day War. And when that Six-Day War broke out, I was taking Army Basic Training in Fort Bliss, Texas. This region of the world, which I knew nothing about, burst into my world in a very sudden way, in particular when our drill sergeant at Fort Bliss suggested that half of the recruits there in the barracks would be going to either Vietnam or a place called the Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, or the West Bank. I didn't know much about any of those places, didn't know anything about some, but I knew they probably weren't good places to be assigned.
And the knowledge that you probably would be going to war in some far-off land, it does give "paying attention" a new meaning. I still recall Sergeant Joyce asking, "What do you like, Hagel? Do you like dry heat or hot and humid? …