General David Petraeus received the American Enterprise Institute’s Irving Kristol Award at AEI’s annual dinner on May 6. His speech — “The surge in ideas” — is of great interest. It is a long speech that discusses “the intellectual underpinnings” of “the surge” of American forces in Iraq.
AEI itself played a critical role in “the surge” and is an interesting venue for the speech. General Petraeus notes: “Fred and Kim Kagan and their team, which included retired General Jack Keane, prepared a report that made the case for additional troops in Iraq. As all here know, it became one of those rare think tank products that had a truly strategic impact.”
Introducing his remarks, General Petraeus paid tribute to Irving Kristol, who died at the age of 89 this past September:
This topic–the ideas that helped transform our Army–is one that I think would have appealed to Irving Kristol. He was, after all, a man who believed deeply in the importance of ideas and who understood that ideas precede action.
“The truth is that ideas are all-important,” Irving Kristol observed over three decades ago. “The massive and seemingly-solid institutions of any society” he continued, “are always at the mercy of the ideas in the heads of the people who populate these institutions.”
I couldn’t agree more. And that is why I feel particularly honored to receive an award that bears Irving Kristol’s name and why I welcome the opportunity to talk about ideas before an organization that is devoted to their development.
As Bill [Kristol] reminded us earlier, this is the first time the Irving Kristol Award has been presented since his father passed away. And I know that all of us here tonight join me in expressing our sympathy to Bea, Irving’s intellectual companion and best friend for more than sixty years, and to Bill and his sister Elizabeth.
But while Irving Kristol may be gone, his influence will be felt for generations to come. He was, of course, one of our Nation’s foremost thinkers on a host of topics, from economics and religion to social welfare and foreign policy. He was a man of staggering intellect who possessed a view of human nature and American politics that has, in many respects, stood the test of time. And, he was a man who loved his country deeply and who served it admirably–in uniform as a combat infantryman in Europe during World War II and, subsequently, as a scholar, editor, founder of journals, and perennial contributor to the most important debates of the day. Again, in all that he did, he was a man who believed deeply in the power of ideas and who contributed enormously to their development.
So I am deeply honored to receive an award named for Irving Kristol, though I note that I can accept it only insomuch as I do so on behalf of the more than 210,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen deployed throughout the CENTCOM area of responsibility and the hundreds of thousands of coalition and Iraqi troopers with whom I was privileged to serve in my nearly four years in Iraq. These are, after all, the men and women who have turned big ideas from guys like me into reality on the ground, in the air, and at sea. They are the true heroes. And likely to be serving in their ranks soon is Irving’s grandson, Joseph M. Kristol, whom I had the privilege of commissioning a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps at Harvard last spring. Irving had to be very proud.
In his conclusion, General Petraeus harked back to is introductory remarks paying tribute to Irving Kristol:
Well, my goal tonight was two-fold: first, to explain the changes we made in our Army in 2006; and, second, to give a speech that I’d like to think Irving Kristol might have enjoyed.
As I noted earlier, I accept the Irving Kristol award this evening on behalf of the more than 210,000 troopers deployed at sea, in the air, and on the ground in the CENTCOM area of operations. As all of you know, these troopers endure long separations from their loved ones; operate in cultures vastly different than our own; confront ruthless, barbaric enemies; and carry out complex missions under tough conditions. And I know that this audience agrees that they–and their families–deserve enormous support and admiration.
I can remember a time when members of our military did not always receive the support they deserved. Two generations ago, we were engaged in war in Southeast Asia. American men and women in uniform fought with skill and valor for the sake of the country they loved and took an oath to defend. Many of them bled, and more than 58,000 of them died. With every one of those casualties, a family and a community were heartbroken, mourning a loss that could never be recovered, whose grief could never fully be assuaged.
But those returning from Vietnam often were not treated as the heroes they were. Recalling that, those of us in the military today are thankful beyond words that the American people seem to have such high regard and affection for their men and women in uniform.
Working with those men and women every day, seeing them perform missions in the toughest of circumstances imaginable, I can tell you that the regard and affection accorded our troopers are fully merited.
In truth, the members of this audience are foremost among those who recognize and support those in uniform and their families. And so, tonight, I’d like to close by thanking all of you on behalf of all of us who wear the uniform for that tremendous support.
It has, needless to say, been the greatest of privileges for me to have served with our men and women in uniform for nearly 36 years. Indeed, I can imagine no greater honor in life than serving with them in defense of America and our interests around the world.
Our first president once captured very eloquently the feelings of those who serve our nation: “I was summoned by my country,” he said, “whose voice I can never hear but with veneration
And so it has been my great privilege this evening to accept the Irving Kristol Award on behalf of all those deployed in the CENTCOM area of responsibility–individuals who likewise have been summoned by their country, whose voice they can never hear but with veneration and love.