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Remarks Announcing Appointments Upon the Resignation of Caspar W. Weinberger as Secretary of Defense

November 05, 1987

The President. We're here today to say Godspeed to an old friend, the finest Secretary of Defense in the history of our nation, Cap Weinberger. And now, Cap, I'm going to take a few minutes to say exactly what I think about you. [Laughter] I know you don't go in for this sort of thing, but I'm still your Commander in Chief, so you'll just have to grin and bear it.

Courage, constancy, loyalty, together with uncommon brilliance, decisiveness, and determination—these are the qualities that Cap Weinberger has brought not only to the Defense Department but to all the positions that he's held in service to our nation. That service didn't begin in the high halls of government here in Washington nor in the executive chambers in Sacramento. No, it began about as humbly as you can imagine: as a buck private in the Army.

Today just about any enlisted man or woman will tell you that Cap is a Defense Secretary who cares about the troops. Well, maybe that's because Cap had seen firsthand that the backbone and the sinew, the soul and spirit, of our Armed Forces are the men and women who dig the trenches and swab the decks, fix the engines, drive the tanks, fly the planes, and face the enemy for all of us. He knows the truth of what his old commander, General Douglas MacArthur, once said: that "In the field, morale will quickly wither and die f soldiers come to believe themselves the victims of indifference or injustice on the part of their government."

Well, these past 6 1/2 years Cap has chiselled into the tablets of history a story of concern for those who defend peace and freedom. When I picked Cap for the job, America's military had gone through years of indifference. And his budget was only one sign of this, and yet a true one. During a decade in which our principal adversary had built up its armed forces as never before, America had cut defense spending. The year Cap and I took office, for every dollar the Soviet Union invested in its military, the United States invested only 65 cents; by 1984 it was 92 cents. And, no, we haven't made up for the years of neglect even today, but the dollar gap is a lot smaller than it used to be, and there's no longer an indifference gap.

Some of you may have heard me tell about when I went to one of our military bases a couple of years ago and sat next to the base commander. He told me that the young men and women coming into the military were the best he'd ever seen—the smartest, best educated, most motivated. Well, I've also been told that more reenlist than ever before in our history. We used to hear that all this was because of a weak economy, but it's kept up right through the longest and most widely shared peacetime economic expansion on record. I believe that the new enthusiasm of our soldiers, sailors, and marines has a lot to do with Cap's leadership. Once again the government treats those who defend America with respect. And, yes, once again our men and women in uniform know that America is proud of them and thankful for the work they do.

High morale won't be Cap's only legacy to our Armed Forces. When he was sworn in, not only was the government spending too little for America's defense, but too often what it did spend, it wasted. Four hundred dollar hammers, $9,000 wrenches were the kinds of longstanding abuses that Cap's tightfisted management uncovered and stopped. And I know Cap has taken heat for that very unjustly. If it hadn't been for his audits and his reviews, none of these abuses would have come to light.

Not only that, but in 1980 the annual rate of growth in the cost for major weapons systems was about 14 percent a year—a sure sign that when it came to buying sophisticated hardware the lights may have been on at the Pentagon, but no one was home. And by 1984 that was down to less than 1 percent. And some major weapons are cheaper than ever before. Others may have forgotten—I never did—the guy I put in charge was also called Cap, the Knife.

The mission of those weapons makes more sense, as well. Cap has overseen a reexamination and reformulation of American strategy. And one result has been that today we're embarked on a Strategic Defense Initiative that holds the promise of shifting deterrence increasingly to defenses, which threatens no one.

It took a remarkable man to do all this. And from our first days together in California, I've always found Cap to be an outstanding thinker, leader, and adviser. Yes, I've been listening to his advice for more than two decades now. But then, I'm in good company. Cap first gave opinions as an occupation during the Second World War. After enlisting, as I said, as a private, he rose to captain and became an intelligence officer for General MacArthur. One night he was sent to wake the General-and that's not an easy job to begin with-and tell him that an enemy destroyer group had been spotted steaming toward an American invasion fleet. MacArthur asked the young captain for his assessment. Cap didn't hedge. He didn't play it safe. He said his judgment was that the enemy movement was a coincidence, that he didn't believe they'd detected our fleet, and that the invasion should go forward. MacArthur approved, and Cap proved right.

Well, that's the kind of cool and sure judgment I've always prized in Cap, and he's never let me down. Something else I've prized in him: moral courage. He's not afraid to take chances when the ideals and principles he cherishes are at stake. When others hide in their foxholes, he rises to the battle. You may remember a few years ago that the Oxford Union invited him to debate the proposition that "There is no moral difference between the policies of the United States and the U.S.S.R." Well, many told him to forget it. The audience could be stacked against him, and a loss would be embarrassing. But he went ahead anyway, and he won. I've noticed that many people have rued the day they debated Cap.

I've occasionally called Cap my Disraeli. But as I think of him and the service he's given the Nation in the cause of freedom and peace, more than anyone else it's Churchill who comes to mind. After all, it was Churchill who said: "When great causes are on the move in the world, we learn that something is going on in space and time and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty."

Duty brought Cap to Washington. I know he didn't want to come when I called him 6 1/2 years ago. But today American peace and freedom are stronger and safer, because, as always, he answered the call and he served. Cap, thank you. And Jane, a very, very special thanks to you.

Now, before going, let me say a word about the job still before us: to preserve and build upon all that's been accomplished here in these last 6 1/2 years. We're about to conclude the first agreement to eliminate an entire class of nuclear missiles, because America is once again strong. And all around the world, the causes of freedom and peace are more secure today, because America is once again strong. We've come so far. We must not turn back now. I will name as the next Secretary of Defense, the best qualified man in America to carry on Cap's work: Frank Carlucci.

Now Frank, of course, served under Cap as Deputy Secretary of Defense during our first term. Before that, in over 30 years of government service, his assignments included Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, Ambassador to Portugal, as well as a number of senior domestic policy positions. This year he has served with unusual distinction as my national security adviser. And, Frank, congratulations.

And to replace Frank, I've chosen a seasoned professional and Frank's right-hand man here at the White House: Lieutenant General Colin Powell. General Powell has had a distinguished career in the field and at the highest levels of our government. Together with Frank, he helped design and direct the overhaul of the NSC staff. With him taking the helm, the NSC won't even break stride, and the team will remain intact. Colin, congratulations.

You know, this is quite a chore for me, standing up here as an ex-second lieutenant of horse cavalry. [Laughter] Before going to final goodbye, I want to extend my personal best wishes and congratulations to a great gentleman of the Senate who has played a leading role for many decades in keeping America strong and free. Today is the 40th anniversary of John Stennis' swearing-in as a Member of Congress. And as you know, Senator Stennis is retiring from the Senate. And America will miss him, but America is also grateful.

So, this is a day of mixed feelings for me. Two good men are taking new jobs, and I'm looking forward to continuing to work with them. But a great Senator will be retiring, and Cap is saddling up to head home. And, Cap, I close most of my speeches with the same words for the audience. Today, for America, I say them to you and to Jane: Thank you, and God bless you.

Secretary Weinberger. Thank you, Mr. President, Senator Stennis, and very distinguished ladies and gentlemen in the audience, and Frank and Colin, and all my friends. Normally, as you know, I think, I don't share my correspondence or recommendations to the President with anyone. But I thought I would, with your permission, sir, read a few excerpts from my letter to you today, because this is a pretty overwhelming day, and rather than making just a few short, unthought-through statements, I thought I would prefer to do this.

And so I would just say that with profound regret, but with unbounded admiration for all that you've accomplished for the country, I ask that you relieve me of the responsibilities of this great office that you entrusted to me nearly 7 years ago. And it's a source of great gratification to me to reflect on how much you have changed for the better the policies and, indeed, the whole agenda of the State and the Nation you've served so extraordinarily well for nearly 20 years.

So many of the ideas and programs that you first presented were dismissed without serious consideration, but they're now fully accepted, and it's only the details of those new ideas and those concepts that are debated. And virtually alone you reversed the idea that only government could solve problems and that you first proposed not only that taxes should be cut, but that the government's taxing power itself should be limited as a way to reduce the scope of government's power and thus increase the freedom of us all.

Also, virtually alone, you've challenged the incongruous and dangerous strategic concept that we're only safe when we're completely vulnerable to Soviet missiles. You've steadfastly kept us to the goal of deployment of your Strategic Defense Initiative, toward which we are making very great progress very rapidly. And you've refused all temptations, Soviet or otherwise, to be diverted from that deployment.

You've never hesitated to take unpopular paths nor to violate the conventional wisdom, because you recognize that principle must come ahead of what's popular and that the conventional wisdom is not always wise. Your leadership and vision have restored America's military strength and secured for all of us the benefits of freedom and the peace that could only be ours when we're strong.

Our NATO alliance and other allies are united and strong, and America is greatly respected again. And this, too, is part of the inspiration and the leadership you have provided. Most of all, it's been a continuing delight to serve with you all these years and to be buoyed by your unquenchable optimism and to have shared in the fun of working with you as you change the course of history.

So, I leave with great regret, but content in the knowledge that the Nation under your leadership is far more secure and happier and better than had you not served us. And I'm grateful, too, as I know the Nation will be, that in Frank Carlucci as Secretary and Will Taft continuing as the Deputy Secretary, you've chosen such a wise and capable defense team. And together with Colin Powell as your security advisor, for whom I have the very greatest respect and admiration, you will have the benefit of one of the very best teams America can provide.

I'm deeply grateful to you, sir, not only for all the very kind things you said today but for the privilege of working with you all these years.

Thank you very much.

Mr. Carlucci. Mr. President, Cap, Colin, friends, and guests. This is Cap's and Jane's day. And I'm just proud to be a part of it. You know, Mr. President, to you, Cap has been a loyal subordinate, a confidant, and a friend. To me, he's been an inspirational supervisor, colleague, confidant, and friend.

You may lose a subordinate today, and I may lose a colleague, but we keep a confidant and a friend. I will continue to look to Cap for advice and guidance, and I want to express to Cap and Jane my heartfelt thanks for all the great support they have given me through the, I guess, 17 years that we have been associated.

Large shoes, hard act to follow—however you want to describe it—it's a big job. And Mr. President, I'm comfortable in my relationship with you, and I know you will continue to give the Defense Department the same stalwart support you've always given it, comfortable in the relationship with your security team. And assuming I am confirmed, I know that, with many of the people assembled out here, the Defense Department will continue to provide you and America that same great service it has provided under Cap's leadership.

Let me just say a word of thanks to the NSC people here today. You've been absolutely great, and particularly to Colin Powell who has been a superb deputy. You have chosen well your national security adviser, Mr. President, and I look forward to working with him and you and all my colleagues in my new capacity.

Thank you very much.

General Powell. Mr. President, Secretary Weinberger, Secretary-designate Carlucci, ladies and gentlemen—Mr. President, I want to thank you for the confidence you have placed in me to succeed my distinguished boss and great friend Frank Carlucci, but at the same time, I share the sense of loss over the departure of Secretary Weinberger. At close hand for a number of years, I watched him use every ounce of energy everyday to push forward your defense program and the Nation's defense program. And as a field commander, I saw the results of those efforts in improved morale in soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines, who were well-trained, well-equipped, and ready for whatever they might face in the future. He will be greatly, greatly missed by those of us in uniform. But at the same time, I know that his work is being passed on to the very best hands in the land to carry on that work: Frank Carlucci.

So, Mr. President, I am honored at this appointment, and I look forward to playing my part in aggressively moving forward your national security agenda over the next 14 months.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:20 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Jane Weinberger.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks Announcing Appointments Upon the Resignation of Caspar W. Weinberger as Secretary of Defense Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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