ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: Good morning and welcome. And congratulations to all of you, graduates. This is a day many years in the making for each and every one of you. You should be very proud of your achievements.
Thank you, Dr. Thompson (sp), for that kind and mercifully short introduction. And thank you, Dr. Marquis, for inviting me to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Pardee RAND Graduate School. It’s truly an honor to be here and to be with you again.
I’m also honored to be sharing this day with Ann Korologos and Al Carnesale, two Americans who have left indelible signatures on some of this nation’s most prestigious institutions.
None of us have gotten where we are by ourselves and I’m sure this is particularly true for achievements like this, so I would like to give the graduates the opportunity to thank your friends and family and faculty here. There’s no doubt that their love, support and mentorship played a major role in your success. Thank you so much to all of you. (Applause.)
This is a gathering of trailblazers and innovators. When I think about 21st-century institution focused on real-world impact, RAND comes to mind. Santa Monica may be the only place in the world where a student’s day might consist of catching a wave at sunrise, taking a seminar on civil justice in the morning, rubbing elbows with a celebrity over lunch, building a model to predict tribal conflict in some faraway place in the afternoon, several hours of research on the evolution of aerospace that evening and all before getting a solid three or four hours of sleep before starting it all over again.
The education you have earned here has positioned you to lead the changes of the future. And bold leadership – bold leadership – is certainly in order. We need leaders with strength of character, broad perspective and sharp insight. Simply put, we need you.
From its founding, RAND’s first projects made a major impact, from grant strategy to force structure to weapons procurement. Two-thirds of our nuclear defense triad, 1950s continental-bomber basing and ICBM fielding were RAND concepts of that era. Indeed, many of those early accomplishments began as military advances. And many were, perhaps, regarded as more sci-fi than science. But all told, they helped transform our society.
RAND’s first generation, like this child of the ’50s, yearned to tune in on one of four available channels on a black-and-white television. We thought that was pretty exciting stuff. But today, there are more than 1,000 channels streaming to our handheld devices, computers and living rooms in high-def 3D with surround sound; totally recordable, downloadable and portable.
So many options, it’s dizzying – all for something that’s supposed to be entertainment. So it’s no wonder how much these communication advances have accelerated globalization and complicated our national security.
Back when RAND was born, our enemies were fairly obvious. We knew who the bad guys were and how they were planning to fight us. That knowledge didn’t make our security tasks any easier but it certainly focused our operational planning.
Those days are long gone. Today, we face borderless, transnational threats in our neighborhoods, in our nations and in the global commons: the seas, the skies, space and cyberspace. And our enemies wield destructive yet frighteningly simple weapons like fuel-laden aircraft and remotely detonated bombs. And they can unleash them from a cell phone or with a click of a mouse.
These uncertainties struck all Americans very deeply on September 11th, in 2001. And your dean, Susan Marquis, quite literally had a front-row seat in the Pentagon, as I did that day. She felt the shudder, saw the smoke and knew almost instantly we had lost friends and shipmates. We also knew our world had changed forever.
While the ways and means of our enemies have changed over time, their goals have not. They want to see an end to our way of life and I have no doubt that they would have killed ten or even a hundred times more American citizens if given the chance.
We have only to look at the daily headlines to identify challenges where reasoned, principled analysis could make a big difference. Change has become the norm. The world is flatter, faster, inextricably interconnected. I frequently talk with author Tom Friedman, whom I believe has it right: Power, opinion, media are all becoming less monolithic, more dispersed and more diverse.
So what are the implications? How can we just keep up, let alone predict where we’ll be in 2025? Back in 2003 or 2004, Secretary Rumsfeld was asked a question along the lines of, so what about the future? He gave what I thought was a great answer.
He pointed out that when Mr. McNamara testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation, there wasn’t one question about Vietnam. In the early 90s, or late ’80s, when Mr. Cheney was being confirmed, he received not one question about Iraq. And when Secretary Rumsfeld was in his confirmation hearing, he was asked not a single question about Afghanistan.
So predicting the future is pretty hard. Actually, we’re really lousy at it. While this certainly isn't the most profound thing a speaker has ever told you, I’ll offer, whatever happens in the future, we’re simply going to have to be able to adjust. And that’s why I believe our strategies and our policies should constantly struggle with each other more so than in the past; interact and inform as conditions evolve. I’ve said before and I see every day, success on the battlefield these days is iterative, so both the way we plan and the way we execute our operations must adjust with the situations that we face.
Along those lines and certainly most germane to you, analysis must keep pace. To really help us, the strategists, the policymakers and especially the operators and the people we defend, analysis must be timely, nonpartisan, adaptive and objective; all in keeping with our volatile security environment, our unpredictable world and its broad range of actors and cultures.
So in order for your analysis to help shape the world we’re living in, you must – and I was told I couldn’t get off the stage if I did not say this – you must be the answer. Being the answer is more than just having the right answer. The most rigorous, well-reasoned quantitative analysis in the world will fail and fall on deaf years if the analyst ignores relationships. The importance of understanding challenges from someone else’s perspective becomes more and more evident to me with each passing day.
I’m a Navy guy. I grew up on the sea, learning diplomacy with every port call. And I’ve found that no e-mail, no phone call, no PowerPoint slide, no VTC can adequately substitute for face-to-face conversations, shaking hands and what my friend Greg Mortenson calls drinking tea.
Greg’s mission began as a repayment to the villagers who saved his life after a failed attempt to summit K2. The village chief who later became a surrogate father to Greg told him, we drink three cups of tea to do business. The first, you are a stranger; the second, you become a friend; the third, you join our family. And for family, we are prepared to do anything – even die.
Through Greg’s truly amazing persistence and compassion and his thirst for tea, he kept his promise to build the villagers a school, creating opportunity and hope. Since then, he’s built more than 130 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2000, 800,000 children – all boys – were enrolled in Afghan schools. Today, there are over 9 million, one-third of which are girls; girls who can be doctors, teachers and wise mothers who educate their children and discourage and even prohibit jihad.
The relationships that you build, what you learn from listening and seeing challenges through others’ eyes will inform and enable your analysis. It will make that analysis better. When I consider more than two dozen different countries represented here, I am confident that you have gained an appreciation for the importance of diverse perspectives; perspectives that equip us to lead lasting change.
But we can never – no person, no organization, no nation – go it alone. Those days are gone. Across the government, across the country, across the world, we depend on one another – communities, partners and allies – to supplement and complement our own best efforts with theirs.
One need that I see mounting which particularly concerns me is the wave of veterans, wounded warriors, surviving families these wars are producing. These are young men and women dedicated to service, who’ve done everything we’ve asked of them, and many have made the ultimate sacrifice. And I truly believe we owe them and their families care for the rest of their lives. Those who return, for the most part, have another 40, 50, 60 years ahead of them. Their contributions are only going to grow. Yet, they have needs beyond what the Defense Department and the VA can likely provide. And I wonder who is doing the analysis for them.
In addition to the public policy opportunities related to our veterans and wounded warriors, there are other relevant areas where we could use help from the great minds in this audience. Improving interagency cooperation, DOD energy policy and efficiency, acquisition reform, better-integrating public-private partnerships – those are a few things for you to think about. There are many more; the type of challenges I think about every day and informed by actionable, relevant analysis consistent with our nation’s needs and the extraordinary pace of global change.
Finally, I leave you with a small warning. I can see this is a gifted and upwardly mobile group with much to be proud of. Many of you rightfully have ambitions to make a huge impact; perhaps, to rise to the top of an organization.
But do not be seduced by what C.S. Lewis has termed, “the phenomena of the inner ring,” – the quest for inclusion into a tightly knit circle of likeminded workers who make work its own end. Instead, I hope that you can take Lewis’s counsel to be sound craftsmen and craftswomen of your professions, dedicated to service, enriching your lives by improving the lives of those you serve.
So for our graduates, now that there cannot possibly be any more school for you, with the exception of a post-doc fellowship or two, it’s time to act. Continue to broaden your partnerships, let your studies evolve with society’s needs and always live up to the greatest ideals of your profession. Then, and only then, will you be relevant and truly be the answer.
Thank you for your dedication to improving public policy. And thank you for always remembering the service of more than 2 million men and women in the United States armed forces. Congratulations and God bless.