Senator Mitch McConnell at the 2022 USGLC Tribute Celebration

December 2, 2022 By USGLC


Full Transcript

Wasn’t it fun to listen to President Bush. Bill Frist and I can tell you that when we had many meetings at the White House, his consistent good humor and humanity always came through in private — sometimes not in public — but always in private. And thank you for honoring him, he’s the real hero at the beginning of this important cause.

So I want to thank you, Jane and Leslie, for the introduction.

USGLC knows that civilian-led assistance is indispensable to successful American foreign policy. This work makes you indispensable in turn. I’m honored to help celebrate this special cause.

I’m also honored to be receiving the award tonight alongside an all-star roster of fellow recipients this year.

I’ve had the privilege of working with Pat Leahy for 37 years. For many of those years, we jointly led the subcommittee on State and Foreign Ops, handing the Chairman’s gavel sort of back and forth. We didn’t always agree on details, but we firmly agreed that America does well when we do good. By coincidence, by pure coincidence, this morning, I delivered my farewell speech to Pat on the Senate floor. It’s really kind of hard to imagine the place without him.

Ambassador Power and I have disagreed on plenty as well. I won’t underscore that too much, but her forceful advocacy for American leadership and moral responsibility offer a striking example. I was honored to introduce Samantha as a  guest lecturer at the program I have, the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville back in 2015 and so I want to applaud her as well for her commitment to public service.

And as I said earlier,  I’m most humbled to share this year’s honors with the 43rd President and the First Lady – George W. and Laura Bush who are really special people in Elaine and my life.

President Bush said in his 2003, in his State of the Union that “the qualities of courage and compassion that we strive for in America [must] also determine our conduct abroad.”

Courage and compassion — two essential pillars of American leadership. They always describe the character of the man who spoke them. Through times of grief and war and uncertainty, President Bush led our nation with resolve, faith, and a clear understanding that our greatness and goodness are linked.

There’s no better distillation of this belief than in the President’s and First Lady’s work on PEPFAR. One visionary program helped tens of millions of people, as you have all heard described tonight, live longer and healthier lives and deepened the roots of American strategic partnerships across an entire continent.

Mr. President, Mrs. Bush we are deeply grateful.

So my remarks tonight actually come at a moment of tension, or apparent paradox, for the cause that unites us in this room.

On the one hand, American leadership keeps lengthening its long track record of successful results. But on the other hand, there’s small factions on both sides of the aisle that seek to downplay, diminish, or even desert key pillars that have produced that success.

PEPFAR has directly saved the lives of millions. The Millennium Challenge approach to aid has helped counter corruption and foster better governance to make sure that we are truly teaching our friends to fish.

Over many decades, U.S. aid has helped Asian partners including Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan move beyond their authoritarian pasts and grow into vibrant democracies that reinforce our own American prosperity and security.

Of course, you have the Marshall Plan.

History has proven over and over again that America does well when America does good. Here’s a shining example of it, 11 of our top 15 trading partners were once recipients of U.S. foreign assistance.

Yet there is growing resistance from some parts of the political right to foreign assistance, despite the fact that such programs do not just represent powerful philanthropy, but dramatically expand our strategic influence and advance our core interests — really at bargain rates.

General Mattis said, I like the way Jim Mattis put it: If Congress doesn’t want to fund smart diplomacy and foreign aid, we’d better get ready to spend the same money buying a whole lot more bullets later. Well said by General Mattis.

On that note, America’s hard power and defense-industrial base is also as important now as it’s ever been. For example, our strategic assistance to Ukraine is not just helping a courageous people fight back against a brutal invasion, it is helping preserve a buffer between Russian aggression and our treaty allies, and changing the cost-benefit analysis for would-be tyrants all over the world.

Yet a long holiday from history has allowed our critical defense-industrial base to actually atrophy. And many on today’s political left are losing their appetite for adequately resourcing and modernizing our U.S. military.

So I’ll just speak for myself and put it this way: It’s an odd feeling when my party has to poke and prod the Commander-in-Chief and Defense Secretary to actually request the necessary resources for their own Pentagon.

Let me dwell on Ukraine for a moment. America’s indirect involvement is helping a brave people defend their homes and their families against an onslaught they never asked for. With a darkening winter ahead, the Ukrainian people have paid and continue to pay an unbelievable and tragic cost for Putin’s violence.

But as I constantly say in the Senate, this is not just some altruistic project. This passes every cold, hard, realistic calculation with flying colors. It’s the right move for American taxpayers, for American servicemembers, for our allies and partners. As the Ukrainian people defend their country with our help, they are massively degrading the future offensive military capabilities of one of the greatest self-appointed foes of international peace and stability.

So of course, nobody primarily views this in financial terms. And we shouldn’t. But even through that narrow lens, our investment in Ukraine is restoring and rebuilding deterrence for pennies on the dollar.

The United States must sustain our support. Our European friends must do more — both delivering short-term aid and making long-term investments in their own strength. The West must not abandon Ukraine to Putin’s gains.

So here’s the paradox. The kinds of aid and assistance that we support are getting results. But this small yet vocal opposition to these forms of American leadership persists.

Here, I think, is the explanation: A failure to grasp the co-dependency of the two twin pillars that President Bush laid out, which I mentioned earlier.

On this mistaken view, courage and compassion are polar opposites. They see strength and sympathy as opposite ends of a spectrum. In this perspective, hard power and soft power are rivals, and prioritizing our interests is mutually exclusive with prioritizing our values.

But here’s the good news: The entirety of American history tells us that is completely and totally wrong.

The successful track records we’re celebrating, and the headlines we read each morning — it all demonstrates that courage and compassion are complements…

The military might and civilian programs are mutually reinforcing.

The American power and American ideals are frequently two sides of one coin.

The greatest nation in world history is not facing some impossible fork in the road — where our ethical obligations point in one direction, and our core national interests point in another. That’s not where we are at all.

Both our values and our interests point towards standing with Ukraine entirely through to victory.

Towards continuing to shore up Taiwan before any crisis.

Towards seizing opportunities to invest in peace and stability now, right now, so we can spend less on bullets, bombs, and funerals later.

And towards rebuilding and modernizing our superpower military so that we preserve peace through overwhelming strength and deterrence.

Way back in 1986, when I was a freshman Senator, barely two years in I was firmly behind President Reagan’s muscular approach to winning the Cold War. But actually I split with the President in favor of sanctions against the outrageous apartheid regime in South Africa.

The point being that I believed then what I believe now: Courage and compassion are not opposites, they are not opposites, they are complements. And both in theory and in practice, a strong America requires them both.

But look, the truth is clear. But our politics keep reminding us that it is not quite self-evident. Winning arguments don’t automatically win themselves. And there is no corner of our political spectrum that will not benefit from the following reminder.

So let’s keep making both the moral case and the practical case for this work.

Because from Ukraine to Taiwan, from Africa to Southeast Asia, from domestic prosperity for American families to international trade with our friends, our real nation’s interests and values do converge.

So let’s never forget that and let’s all act accordingly.

Thank you all so much.