Public Papers

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Presidential Medals of Freedom and Presidential Citizen's Medals


Thank you all very much. Welcome, all of you, to the White House. And particular greetings to those who have come from State, Defense, the intelligence community, the NSC, and other Agencies in this big Government. And a special welcome to the Cabinet members who are here and to our diplomats who are honoring us with their presence and to those outside of Government who played such a crucial role in building public support for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Tomorrow, all across this country, Americans will celebrate the birth of our Nation, a day of fireworks and family and parades. And I know many of us are going to participate. I'm looking forward to a small town parade and then another one in Michigan in the afternoon. And it will be a great Fourth of July. But I think this year these festivities take on a very special significance as we properly celebrate the safe return of our sons and daughters from the Gulf and we honor those who have fallen in the cause of freedom.

We date our independence from the Declaration of July 4, 1776. But the truth is that in the eyes of the world, the full meaning of America's triumph remained in question well after our revolution was won. And it wasn't until the War of 1812 and the decisive defeat--with all respect, Ambassador Acland--[laughter]--of the British forces--if I'd known you were going to be here, I'd have changed this--[laughter]--at the Battle of New Orleans. This is historical fact--[laughter]--that America truly seized the world's attention and Americans truly believed that they had arrived as a nation. That victory helped to shape our new Nation and move our country toward a destiny that few dreamed possible.

Like that early battle, Desert Storm marks another turning point in America's destiny. The young men and women we've welcomed home from the Gulf return to a Nation far different than the one they left. They come home to a country that is confident and proud, an America that is sure of itself and strong, an America other nations look to for leadership. That's been true in the past, but I think there is a newfound credibility around the world. And Desert Storm proved once more that America's strength of character begins in the heart of every individual.

And it's always risky to single out a few for special honors, especially in this case, where so many inside the Government and out of Government played such vital roles in Desert Storm. Today, here in the White House, we honor 10 Americans, 10 of the hundreds of thousands of heroes who answered the call, who honored the American ideal in ways that warrant special recognition.

Normally, the honors conferred today are given for a lifetime of service or near the end of a long career marked by distinction. But in Desert Storm we have, you see, a watershed event so unique, so singular given the history of the past half-century that it is fitting, particularly before our day of independence, that we recognize now the exceptional service which was rendered by a special few. The events of August 2d, Iraq's brutal invasion of tiny Kuwait, thrust today's honorees into the midst of history. Some were center stage, some behind the scenes.

And today we begin by honoring six whose work took place out of the spotlight, in the offices across from the White House, in the EOB, in the State Department, across the Potomac at the Pentagon and the CIA: Robert Gates, the Deputy National Security Adviser; Bob Kimmitt, the Under Secretary of State; the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Dave Jeremiah; Paul Wolfowitz, the Under Secretary of Defense; the Deputy Director of CIA, Dick Kerr; and Richard Haass, the NSC Director for Near East Affairs.

In the weeks and the months after August 2d of last year, these six men became known simply as the "small group." This was not an attestation to their intellect--[laughter]--but rather to the way in which they came together. And now you know that any committee in this city limited to six people alone is indeed small. It was miraculous. But despite the modest name, the contribution made by the "small group" to our success in the Gulf was really nothing short of monumental. That small group met several times a week, and at the peak of the crisis, several times a day. And they made sacrifices; they spent long hours away from family and friends. And literally they worked late into the night, missed weekends at home and holidays and, in one case, a honeymoon, which I understand has been corrected now, Richard. [Laughter] But really I think the bottom line is, what they did made a difference.

In addition to these six men, we also honor the Deputy Secretary of State, Larry Eagleburger, and the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Don Atwood, because throughout the conflict they both worked tirelessly: Don Atwood, to focus the formidable military and economic resources of the coalition on a single goal. And among the many vivid images of the war, we will remember Larry Eagleburger on his mission to Israel, cane in hand, amid the torn and twisted ruins on streets shattered by a Scud attack.

To Larry and Don, and to Bob Gates and Bob Kimmitt, to Paul and Dick and Dave and Richard: Our heartfelt thanks. Your Nation honors you. In recognition of your critical contributions to the success of Desert Storm, I take pride in presenting to each of you the Presidential Citizen's Medal.

[At this point, the medals were presented.]

The next two men that we honor today need little in the way of introduction. They would be the first to tell us that we owe our success in Desert Storm to the real heroes, the brave men and women who served so proudly in the Gulf, who, half a world away, upheld the American ideal. Well, I've met with many of our sons and daughters who fought in the Gulf, and they are the heroes of Desert Storm. No question about that, they are the ones. But let me tell you what I know, something that speaks volumes about the stature of the two men we now honor. These are the men that our heroes look up to: General Norman Schwarzkopf and General Colin Powell.

General Schwarzkopf and Chairman Powell, your commitment and good counsel, your deep compassion for every one of the thousands of men and women under your command will always be remembered. Your objective was clear. It was the liberation of Kuwait. But our victory secured more than even the precious freedom of that small country. Desert Storm marked the end of an era of self-doubt and lingering uncertainty about America's staying power and sense of purpose.

Under your leadership, America sent its sons and daughters to confront an enemy abroad, and in the process, you transformed a Nation here at home. Desert Storm dispelled all doubt: America is and America always will be a force for good in the world.

As President, and in this instance as Commander in Chief, on behalf of a grateful Nation I now present to General Schwarzkopf and to General Powell the highest civil honor that this country can bestow, the Medal of Freedom.

[At this point, the medals were presented.]

Well, as I think history will show that we had a great team here, at the Pentagon, out at Langley, and in many other Departments of this Government. It was a team effort, and I will always be very grateful to those who were at my side here in the White House, particularly the Vice President and the Chief of Staff; to the Director of Central Intelligence, Bill Webster.

Having said that, in my view, this ceremony would not be complete without honoring three more American leaders, exceptional public servants who each contributed singularly to our success in the Gulf: Secretary of State Jim Baker, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft. Few Presidents have been better served at a crucial point in American history than I have by these three and by the men and women who work for them at State and Defense and at NSC.

Secretary Baker pursued every avenue to a diplomatic solution to this crisis, traveling tens of thousands of miles to seek any way possible to achieve Iraq's unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait. I think history, as we look back, will say that nowhere were his achievements more marked than at the United Nations. The U.N. Security Council adopted 12 resolutions dealing with the Gulf crisis including an historic, perhaps unprecedented resolution authorizing the use of force to expel Iraq from Kuwait.

Jim worked with our European allies, the Congress, our friends in the Middle East, the Soviets, and countries around the world to achieve our goals. And he stood up for American principles, and in the process he earned the admiration of the world.

As to Dick Cheney, Secretary Cheney not only oversaw one of the largest deployments of forces in American history but also worked hard at the beginning of the crisis to ensure that America would respond decisively to aggression. His effective testimony before the United States Congress helped all our fellow countrymen understand what was at stake in the Gulf. Working swiftly, yet skillfully, when time was truly of the essence, he traveled to Saudi Arabia and arranged for the first deployment of U.S. and coalition troops to that nation. And when war came America was ready, and Secretary Cheney's leadership contributed enormously to the victory.

And lastly, but not leastly, Brent Scowcroft. As National Security Adviser, he was at my side, poor guy—[laughter]—throughout the crisis, quite literally from the early morning hours on August 2d until victory. He performed superbly every step of the way, coordinating the various national security agencies as they prepared recommendations for the National Security Council and for me and working with our coalition partners. Put simply, he ensured that I received the unfettered advice of our key national security members. He offered his own consistently sage counsel and practical advice on all aspects of the crisis. A true patriot, General Scowcroft is, in a very real sense, one of the unsung heroes of the Gulf war.

And now it is my great pleasure, on behalf of the United States and particularly on behalf of all those who served in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, to conclude this ceremony by presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jim Baker, Dick Cheney, and Brent Scowcroft.

[At this point, the medals were presented.]

And now, in conclusion, may I ask the Ambassadors from the various countries represented here today to stand up. We've honored Americans today, but this was truly a coalition effort, and we're very pleased to see you all here. Would you please stand?

Thank you all. That concludes the ceremony. And may everybody have a wonderful Fourth of July. Thank you all for coming.


Note: The President spoke at 10 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Antony Acland, British Ambassador to the United States, and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf.