Remarks by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice at a Tribute to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter - As Prepared for Delivery
National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice
Center for the National Interest Tribute to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
June 9, 2015
Good evening everyone. Thank you, James, for that introduction. I want to thank General Boyd, Dov Zakheim, Dimitri Simes, and everyone at the Center for the National Interest for bringing us together tonight. It’s a tribute to this organization, and to our honoree, that this dinner has drawn such a broad cross section of Washington—academics and ambassadors, leaders from Congress and the Administration, Republicans and Democrats. For more than 20 years, the Center has reminded us of something we should never forget – that our national security should stand above politics.
Tonight, I’m proud to celebrate one of the most effective colleagues I’ve ever had the privilege to work with, my friend Ash Carter. Ash and I go back more than 20 years. We’ve collaborated both in and out of government. I love Ash. He’s a public servant’s public servant. He’s fiercely competent and wicked smart. He cares about the job at hand and about doing it well—even when it means long hours away from his wife Stephanie and his kids Will and Ava, especially when Will and Ava were young. Simply put, Ash believes deeply that American leadership can make the world a better, safer, more prosperous place.
I know how much President Obama values and relies on Ash’s counsel. I see it every day. But tonight, I want to say how much I personally appreciate Ash, whether we’re having our regular working lunches or logging hours together in the Situation Room. I could spend much of the evening extolling Ash’s virtues, but I’m standing between you and dinner, so I’ll be brief and focus on just three of the reasons I am so grateful to work alongside Ash again.
First, Ash comes from a science background—training that instills a commitment to starting from the facts and grounding analysis and recommendations in evidence. Which isn’t always the case in Washington. Of course, as a theoretical physicist, Ash studied constants like the law of gravity or the conservation of energy or…the Perturbative Quantum Chromodynamics in a Covariant Gauge. You know, the easy stuff.
In today’s rapidly changing world, however, there are few constants. We have to navigate a shifting landscape of rising global powers and nonstate actors and borderless challenges. So it’s all the more important to seek out the best information to shape our policies. Ash never fails to dig deeply into the evidence and think critically. I’m told that he even grades the memos that are sent to him at the Pentagon to make sure his staff are coming up to his standards. I’m not joking.
Second, Ash has a practical commitment to getting stuff done—to not just examining what we should do, but how precisely we can accomplish it. During his years teaching at the Kennedy School, Ash would relish playing the role of president in mock scenarios with his students. He would push them to get more creative with their solutions, dropping lines like “Don’t you put me in a box on this, I am the President of the United States.” Ash, I have this on the authority of several of your former students who now work at the White House. They sold you out.
He also warned students that he didn’t grant extensions because there is no such thing as a late paper in government. You have to be able to deliver excellence within the time and resources you have. That’s the mindset he’s brought to his work at the Pentagon over the years. When he served as Under Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense, he was so focused on cutting through red tape and getting needed equipment and protective gear to the field faster, our troops gave him a nickname—“The Deliverer.” Ashton is already a movie star name. With a nickname like “The Deliverer,” you could build a Hollywood franchise.
As Secretary, Ash is leading our armed forces through a period of transition while ensuring that our military remains the greatest fighting force in the world. He’s taking on multiple pressing national security challenges—from fulfilling a new mission in Afghanistan, degrading and destroying ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and affirming our enduring commitment to the Asia-Pacific region to improving our readiness to meet future threats. He’s also reaching out to tech-minded young people to show them that careers in national security are just as cool as Silicon Valley start-ups. You might have to relax the Pentagon dress code for that though, Ash.
But perhaps the brightest star in Ash’s constellation of honors is the respect he’s earned from the men and women who wear our country’s uniform. And that’s the third reason Ash is an invaluable partner. As President Obama has said, Ash has a deep regard and love for our military members and their families. He’s passionate about their well-being. He’s dedicated many hours of his personal time, together with Stephanie, to visiting our wounded warriors and listening to the stories and the struggles of American service members firsthand.
A couple weeks ago, as Ash marked his first Memorial Day as Secretary, he took a quiet moment to visit Arlington Cemetery. Walking among the headstones in Section 60, he left coins at a few graves—just a small sign to the families that he’d been there. And met a Gold Star widow visiting the grave of her husband—a Marine. She had their baby daughter with her. As a devoted dad, I know Ash’s heart was breaking for their loss. But he listened. He heard about their sacrifice. And I know beyond a doubt that he carries their story with him, because that’s what drives his service every day.
So Ash, on behalf of us all, thank you for your devotion to our men and women in uniform and to the defense and prosperity of this country that we all love. And thank you, as always, for being such a wonderful friend and partner.