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William J. Clinton: Remarks at Georgetown University
William
William J. Clinton
Remarks at Georgetown University
November 8, 1999
Public Papers of the Presidents
William J. Clinton<br>1999: Book II
William J. Clinton
1999: Book II
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Thank you very much, Secretary Albright, for your introduction and your leadership. From the reception you just received, I would say you can come home at any time. But I hope you'll wait a while longer.

Thank you, Father O'Donovan, for welcoming me back to Georgetown. Dean Gallucci, thank you. Mrs. Quandt, thank you so much for this lecture. And to the representatives of BMW, members of the diplomatic community, the many distinguished citizens who are here, and to Mr. Billington, Mrs. Graham, and others, and to all the young students who are here. In many ways, this day is especially for you.

I too want to say a special word of thanks to Prime Minister Zeman of the Czech Republic and Prime Minister Dzurinda of Slovakia. They have come a long way to be with us today. They have come a long way with their people in the last decade, from dictatorship to democracy, from command and control to market economies, from isolation to integration with Europe and the rest of the world. It has been a remarkable journey. You and your people have made the most of the triumph of freedom after the cold war. We thank you for your example and for your leadership and your friendship, and we welcome you. Thank you.

Today we celebrate one of history's most remarkable triumphs of human freedom, the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, surely one of the happiest and most important days of the 20th century.

For the young people, the undergraduates who are here who were, at that time, 9 or 10 years old, it must be hard to sense the depth of oppression of the communist system, the sense of danger that gripped America and the world. I still remember all of our air-raid drills when I was in grade school, preparing for the nuclear war as if we got in some basement, it would be all right. [Laughter] It, therefore, may be hard to imagine the true sense of exuberance and pride that the free world felt a decade ago.

So today I say to you, it is important to recall the major events of that period, to remember the role America was privileged to play in the victory of freedom in Europe, to review what we have done since, to realize the promise of that victory, and most important of all, to reaffirm our determination to finish the job, to complete a Europe whole, free, democratic, and at peace, for the first time in all of history.

Let's start by looking back a decade ago at Berlin. If the Soviet empire was a prison, then Berlin was the place where everyone could see the bars and look behind them. On one side of the wall lived a free people, shaping their destiny in the image of their dreams. On the other lived a people who desperately wanted to be free, that had found themselves trapped beyond a wall of deadly uniformity and daily indignities, in an empire that, indeed, could only exist behind a wall, for, ever if an opening appeared, letting ideas in and people out, the whole structure surely would collapse.

In the end, that is exactly what happened in the fall of 1989. Poland and Hungary already were on the road to democracy. President Gorbachev of the Soviet Union had made clear that Soviet forces would not stand in their way. Then Hungary opened its borders to the West, allowing East Germans to escape. Then the dam broke. Berliners took to the street, shouting, "We are one people." And on November 9th, a decade ago, the wall was breached. Two weeks later, the Velvet Revolution swept Czechoslovakia, started by university students, just like the undergraduates here, marching through Prague, singing the Czech version of "We Shall Overcome." Then, in Romania, the dictator Ceausescu fell in the bloody uprising. A little more than a year later, the Soviet Union itself was no more. A democratic Russia was born.

Those events transformed our world and changed our lives and shaped the future of the young people in this grand room today. Yes, the students of our era will still grow to live in a world full of danger, but probably, and hopefully, they will not have to live in fear of a total war in which millions could be killed in a single deadly exchange. Yes, America will still bear global responsibilities, but we will be able to invest more of our wealth in the welfare of our children and more of our energy in peaceful pursuits.

You will compete in a global marketplace, travel to more places than any generation before you, share ideas and experiences with people from every culture, more and more of whom have embraced and will continue to embrace both democracy and free markets.

How did all this happen? Well, mostly it happened because, from the very beginning, oppressed people refused to accept their fate; not in Poland in 1981, when Lech Walesa jumped over the wall at the Gdansk Shipyard and Solidarity first went on strike, or in Czechoslovakia, during the Prague Spring of 1968. I was there a year and a half later as a young student, and I never will forget the look in the eyes of the university students then and their determination eventually to be free.

They did not accept their fate in Hungary in 1956, or even in St. Petersburg way back in 1920, when the sailors who had led the Soviet revolution first rose against their new oppressors. They did not accept their fate in any Soviet home where the practice of religion was preserved, though it was suppressed by the state, or in countless acts of resistance we have never heard of, committed by heroes whose names we will never know.

The amazing fact is that all those years of repression simply failed to crush people's spirits or their hunger for freedom. Years of lies just made them want the truth that much more. Years of violence just made them want peaceful struggle and peaceful politics that much more. Though denied every opportunity to express themselves, when they were finally able to do it, they did a remarkable job of saying quite clearly what they believed and what they wanted: democratic citizenship and the blessings of ordinary life.

Of course, their victory also would not have been possible without the perseverance of the United States and our allies, standing firm against the Iron Curtain and standing firm with the friends of freedom behind it. Fifty years ago, when all this began, it was far from certain that we would do that. It took determination: the determination of President Truman to break the blockade of the Soviet Union of Berlin, to send aid to Greece and Turkey, to meet aggression in Korea. It took the determination of all his successors to ensure that Soviet expansion went not further than it did.

It took vision: the vision of American leaders who launched the Marshall plan and brought Germany into NATO, not just to feed Europe or to defend it but to unify it as never before, around freedom and democracy. It took persistence: the persistence of every President, from Eisenhower to Kennedy to Bush, to pursue policies for four decades until they bore fruit.

It took resources to bolster our friends and build a military that adversaries ultimately knew they could not match. It took faith to believe that we could prevail while avoiding both appeasement and war; that our open society would in time prove stronger than any closed and fearful society.

It took conviction: the conviction of President Reagan, who said so plainly what many people on the other side of the Wall had trouble understanding, that the Soviet empire was evil and the wall should be torn down; the conviction of President Carter, who put us on the side of dissidents and kept them alive to fight another day.

And it took leadership in building alliances and keeping them united in crisis after crisis and, finally, under President Bush, in managing skillfully the fall of the Soviet empire and the unification of Germany and setting the stage for a Europe whole and free.

This was the situation, the remarkable situation that I inherited when I took office in 1993. The cold war had been won. But in many ways, Europe was still divided, between the haves and have-nots, between the secure and insecure, between members of NATO and the EU and those who were not members of either body and felt left out in the cold, between those who had reconciled themselves with people of different racial and religious and ethnic groups within their borders and those who were still torn apart by those differences.

And so we set out to do for the Eastern half of Europe what we helped to do for the Western half after World War II: to provide investment and aid, to tear down trade barriers so new democracies could stand on their feet economically; to help them overcome tensions that had festered under communism; and to stand up to the forces of aggression and hate, as we did in the Balkans; to expand our institutions, beginning with NATO, so that a Europe of shared values could become a Europe of shared responsibilities and benefits.

Since then, there have unquestionably been some setbacks, some small and some great. Under communism, most everyone was equally poor. Now, some people race ahead while others lag far behind. Former dissidents who once struggled for freedom are now politicians trying to create jobs, to fight corruption and crime, to provide basic security for people who are simply tired of having to struggle.

Most terrible of all have been the wars in the former Yugoslavia, which claimed a quartermillion lives and pushed millions from their homes. But still, 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, most of Europe is unquestionably better off, as these two leaders so clearly demonstrate.

Democracy has taken root, from Estonia in the north to Bulgaria in the south. Some of the most vibrant economies in the world now lie east of the old Iron Curtain. Russia has withdrawn its troops from Central Europe and the Baltics, accepted the independence of its neighbors and, for all its own problems, has not wavered from the path of democracy.

The armed forces of most every country, from Ukraine to Romania all the way to Central Asia, now actually train with NATO. NATO has three new allies, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, three strong democracies that have stood with us in every crisis, from Iraq to Bosnia to Kosovo. Other new democracies are eager to join us as well, including Slovakia, and they know our alliance is open to all who are ready to meet its obligations. Eleven countries are beginning a process that will lead them to membership in the European Union.

And just as important, because we and our allies stood up to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo, the century is not ending on a note of despair with the knowledge that innocent men, women, and children on the doorstep of NATO can be expelled and killed simply because of their ethnic heritage and the way they worship their God. Instead, it ends with a ringing affirmation of the inherent human dignity of every individual, with our alliance of 19 democracies strong and united, working with partners across the continent, including Russia, to keep the peace in the Balkans, with new hope for a Europe that can be, for the first time in history, undivided, democratic, and at peace. I hope all of you will be proud of what your country and its allies have achieved, but I hope you will be even more determined to finish the job, for there is still much to be done.

On Friday, I will leave on a trip to Greece and Turkey, Italy and Bulgaria. This trip is about reinforcing ties with some of our oldest allies and completing the unfinished business of building that stable, unified, and democratic Europe. I believe there are three principal remaining challenges to that vision that we must meet across the Atlantic and, I might say, one great challenge we must meet at home.

The first is the challenge of building the right kind of partnership with Russia, a Russia that is stable, democratic, and cooperatively engaged with the West. That is difficult to do because Russia is struggling economically. It has tens of thousands of weapons scientists—listen to this—it has tens of thousands of weapons scientists making an average of $100 a month, struggling to maintain the security of a giant nuclear arsenal. It has mired itself again in a cruel cycle of violence in Chechnya that is claiming many innocent lives.

We should protect our interests with Russia and speak plainly about actions we believe are wrong. But we should also remember what Russia is struggling to overcome and the legacy with which it must deal. Less than a generation ago, the Russians were living in a society that had no rule of law, no private initiative, no truthtelling, no chance for individuals to shape their own destiny. Now they live in a country with a free press, with almost a million small businesses, a country that should experience next year its first democratic transfer of power in a thousand years.

Russia's transformation has just begun. It is incomplete. It is awkward. Sometimes it is not pretty, but we have a profound stake in its success. Years from now, I don't think we will be criticized, any of us, for doing too much to help. But we can certainly be criticized if we do too little.

A second challenge will be to implement, with our allies, a plan for stability in the Balkans, so that region's bitter ethnic problems can no longer be exploited by dictators and Americans do not have to cross the Atlantic again to fight in another war. We will do that by strengthening democracies in the region, promoting investment and trade, bringing nations steadily into Western institutions, so they feel a unifying magnet that is more powerful than the internal forces that divide them.

I want to say that again—I am convinced that the only way to avoid future Balkan wars is to integrate the countries of Southeastern Europe more with each other and then more with the rest of Europe. We have to create positive forces that pull the people toward unity, which are stronger than the forces of history pulling them toward division, hatred, and death.

We must also push for a democratic transition in Serbia. Mr. Milosevic is the last living relic of the age of European dictators of the Communist era. That era came crashing down with the Wall. He sought to preserve his dictatorship by substituting Communist totalitarianism with ethnic hatred and the kind of mindless unity that follows if you are bound together by your hatred of people who are different from you. The consequences have been disastrous—not only for the Bosnians and the Kosovars but for the Serbs as well.

If we are going to make democracy and tolerance the order of the day in the Balkans, so that they, too, can tap into their innate intelligence and ingenuity and enjoy prosperity and freedom, there can be no future for him and his policy of manipulating human differences for inhuman ends.

A third challenge is perhaps the oldest of them all, and in some ways, perhaps the hardest: to build a lasting peace in the Aegean Sea region, to achieve a true reconciliation between Greece and Turkey, and bridge the gulf between Europe and the Islamic world.

When I am in Greece, I'm going to speak about the vital role Greece is playing and can play in Europe. The world's oldest democracy is a model to the younger democracies of the Balkans, a gateway to their markets, a force for stability in the region. The one thing standing between Greece and its true potential is the tension in its relationship with Turkey.

Greece and Turkey, ironically, are both our NATO Allies, and each other's NATO Allies. They have served together with distinction in the Balkans. Their people helped each other with great humanity when the terrible earthquakes struck both lands earlier this year. This is a problem that can be solved. Eventually, it will be solved. And I intend to see that the United States does everything we possibly can to be of help. When I go to Turkey, I will point out that much of the history of the 20th century, for better or worse, was shaped by the way the old Ottoman Empire collapsed before and after World War I, and the decisions that the European powers made in the aftermath.

I believe the coming century will be shaped in good measure by the way in which Turkey, itself, defines its future and its role today and tomorrow, for Turkey is a country at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia. The future can be shaped for the better if Turkey can become fully a part of Europe, as a stable, democratic, secular, Islamic nation.

This, too, can happen if there is progress in overcoming differences with Greece, especially over Cyprus, if Turkey continues to strengthen respect for human rights, and if there is a real vision on the part of our European allies, who must be willing to reach out and to believe that it is at Turkey where Europe and the Muslim world can meet in peace and harmony, to give us a chance to have the future of our dreams in that part of the world in the new millennium.

Now the last challenge is one we can only meet here at home. We have to decide, quite simply, to maintain the tradition of American leadership and engagement in the world that played such a critical role in winning the cold war and in helping us to win the peace over this last decade.

Think about it: We spent trillions of dollars in the cold war to defeat a single threat to our way of life. Now we are at the height of our power and prosperity. Let me just ask you to focus on this and measure where we are as against what has been happening in the debate about maintaining our leadership. We have the lowest unemployment rate in this country in 30 years, the lowest welfare rolls in 30 years, the lowest crime rates in 30 years, the lowest poverty rates in 20 years, the first back-to-back budget surpluses in 42 years, and the smallest Federal Government in 37 years. In my lifetime, we have never had—ever—as a people, the opportunity we now have to build the future of our dreams for our children.

In the early 1960's, we had an economy that closely approximated this, but we had to deal with the challenge of civil rights at home and also the Vietnam war abroad. Today, we are not burdened by crisis at home or crisis abroad, and the world is out there, looking to see what we are going to do with the blessings God has bestowed upon us at this moment in time.

Everything else I said will either happen or not happen without American involvement unless we make up our minds that we are going to stay with the approach to the world that has brought us to this happy point in human history. That is the most important decision of all.

Now, what are we doing? Well, first, our military budget is growing again to meet new demands. That has to happen. But I want to point out to all of you, it is still, in real terms, $110 billion less than it was when the Berlin Wall fell. Everyone agrees that most of that money should be reinvested here at home. But don't you think just a small part of the peace dividend should be invested in maintaining the peace we secured and meeting the unmet challenges of the 21st century?

Look at all the money we spent at such great cost over the last 50 years. The amazing fact is we are not spending a penny more today to advance our interest in the spread of peace, democracy, and free markets than we did during the 1980's. Indeed, we are spending $4 billion less each year.

I think it's worth devoting some small fraction of this Nation's great wealth and power to help build a Europe where wars don't happen, where our allies can do their share and we help them to do so; to seize this historic opportunity for peace between Arabs and Israelis in the Middle East; to make sure that nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union don't fall into the wrong hands; to make sure that the nuclear scientists have enough money to live on and to feed their families by doing constructive, positive things so they're not vulnerable to the entreaties of the remaining forces of destruction in the world; to relieve the debts of the most impoverished countries on Earth, so they can grow their economies, build their democracies, and be good, positive partners with us in the new century; and to meet our obligations to and through the United Nations, so that we can share the burden of leadership with others, when it obviously has such good results.

I think most Americans agree with this. But some disagree, and it appears they are disproportionately represented—[laughter]—in the deciding body. Some believe America can and should go it alone, either withdrawing from the world and relying primarily on our military strength or by seeking to impose our will when things are happening that don't suit us.

Well, I have taken the stand for a different sort of approach—for a foreign affairs budget that will permit us to advance our most critical priorities around the world. That's why I vetoed the first bill that reached my desk, why I'm pleased that Democrats and Republicans in Congress worked together last week on a strong compromise that meets many of our goals. But we're not finished yet. We still must work to get funding for our United Nations obligations and authorization to allow the use of IMF resources for debt relief.

This is a big issue. It has captured public attention as never before. I mean, just think about it: This initiative for debt relief for the millennium is being headlined by the Pope and Bono, the lead singer for U2. [Laughter] That is a very broad base of support for this initiative. [Laughter] Most of the rest of us can be found somewhere in between that—our pole-star leaders there.

But it's not just a political issue. It is the smart thing to do. If you go to Africa, you see what competent countries can do to get the AIDS rate down, to build democratic structures, to build successful economies and grow. But we have to give them a chance. And the same is true in Latin America, in the Caribbean, in other places. This is a big issue.

I hope the bipartisan agreement we reached over the weekend on the foreign affairs budget is a good sign that we are now moving to reestablish and preserve the bipartisan center that believes in America's role in the new post-coldwar world.

In the coming year, we have an ambitious agenda that also deserves bipartisan support. We have about 100 days to meet the ambitious timetable the leaders of the Middle East have set for themselves to achieve a framework agreement. We have to secure the peace in the Balkans. We have to ease tensions between India and Pakistan. We have to help Russia to stabilize its economy, resolve the conflict in Chechnya, and cheer them on as they have their first democratic transfer of power, ever.

We have to bring China into the World Trade Organization, while continuing to speak plainly about human rights and religious freedom. We have to launch a new global trade round, enact the African and Caribbean trade bills, press ahead with debt relief, support the hopeful transitions to democracy in Nigeria and Indonesia, help Colombia defeat the narcotraffickers, contain Iraq, and restrain North Korea's missile program. We have to continue to do more to fight terrorism around the world. And we must do what is necessary—and for the young people here, I predict for 20 years this will become a national security issue—we have to do more to reverse the very real phenomenon of global warming and climate change.

To meet those challenges and more, we simply must hold on to the qualities that sustained us throughout the long cold war, the wisdom to see that America benefits when the rest of the world is moving toward freedom and prosperity, to recognize that if we wait until problems come home to America before we act, they will come home to America.

We need the determination to stand up to the enemies of peace, whether tyrants like Milosevic or terrorists like those who attacked our Embassies in Africa. We need faith in our own capacity to do what is right, even when it's hard, whether that means building peace in the Middle East or democracy in Russia or a constructive partnership with China. We need the patience to stick with those efforts for as long as it takes and the resources to see them through. And most of all, we need to maintain the will to lead, to provide the kind of American leadership that for 50 years has brought friends and allies to our side, while moving mountains around the world.

Years from now, I want people to say those were the qualities of this generation of Americans. I want them to say that when the cold war ended, we refused to settle for the easy satisfaction of victory, to walk home and let our European friends go it alone. We did not allow the larger prize of a safer, better world to slip through our fingers. We stood and supported the Germans as they bravely reunified, and supported the Europeans as they built a true union and expanded it. We stood against ethnic slaughter and ethnic cleansing. We stood for the right kind of partnership with Russia. We acted to try to help Christian and Jewish and Muslim people reconcile themselves in the Middle East, and in the bridge represented by Turkey's outreach to Europe. I want them to say that America followed through, so that we would not have to fight again.

A few months ago, my family and I went to a refugee camp full of children from Kosovo. They were chanting their appreciation to the United States, thanking America for giving them a chance to reclaim their lives. It was an incredibly moving event, with children who have been traumatized far beyond their ability even to understand what has happened to them but who know they have been given a chance to go home now.

Years from now, I believe the young people in this audience will have a chance to go to Europe time and time again, and you will, doubtless, meet some of those children or maybe some of the young people who actually tore down the Berlin Wall or marched in the Velvet Revolution. They will be older then. I hope they will say, "When I was young I sang America's praises with my voice, but I still carry them in my heart." I think that will be true if America stays true. That is what we ought to resolve to do on the anniversary of this marvelous triumph of freedom.

Thank you very much.


NOTE: The President spoke at 3:27 p.m. in Gaston Hall at Georgetown University, as part of the Herbert Quandt Distinguished Lecture series. In his remarks, he referred to Father Leo J. O'Donovan, president, and Robert L. Gallucci, dean, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University; Johanna Quandt, widow of Herbert Quandt; James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress; Katherine Graham, chairman of the executive committee, the Washington Post; Prime Minister Milos Zeman of the Czech Republic; Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda of Slovakia; and President Slobodan Milosevic of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro).
Citation: William J. Clinton: "Remarks at Georgetown University," November 8, 1999. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=56892.
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