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Atlantic Council Honors Politicians, Executives, Musicians for Leadership
Diplomatic Pouch/ June 2013

By Larry Luxner

Two former secretaries of state talked geopolitics, the chief of NATO praised the U.S.-European alliance and two celebrites sang their hearts out at the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished Leadership Awards dinner earlier this month.

The May 1 extravaganza, held at Washington’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, attracted 700 people and featured the presentation of awards to five people: NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for international leadership; Chevron chairman and CEO John S. Watson for business leadership; Colombian pop star and social activist Juanes for humanitarian leadership, and singer Tony Bennett for artistic leadership.

In addition, Miami businesswoman Adrienne Arsht officially launched the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, a reflection of that region’s growing importance on the world stage.

“It has long been my dream to create this Latin America Center,” said Arsht. “I am thrilled to spearhead an initiative that will embrace Latin America as an integral part of the transatlantic world and give this vibrant region the recognition it deserves.”

In introducing Rasmussen, Fred Kempe — president and CEO of the Atlantic Council — said “it is fitting tonight that our first honoree is one of the most gifted and resourceful secretary generals of the greatest alliance the world has ever known.”

Rasmussen noted that for more than 60 years, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been “our collective insurance” — defending personal, political and economic freedoms that are more powerful than any military might.

“As communism collapsed, NATO and the EU opened their doors to new members, spreading feedom across Central and Eastern Europe. Former foes became friends and allies,” said Rasmussen, a native of Denmark. “But now we face a new challenge: to protect our shared values across the globe and shape the global agenda in line with those values. We need to strike a new transatlantic deal — to come closer, not drift apart, to turn outwards, not inwards. My long-term vision is of a transatlantic common market, so I welcome talks on a TTIP. This would stimulate jobs, innovation and growth.”

In the face of terrorism, missile proliferation and other threats, said Rasmussen, “European nations need to do more and to do better in order to remain America’s partner of choice.”

A light moment came when Bennett and Juanes appeared onstage together to perform “The Shadow of Your Smile” — Bennett in English and Juanes in Spanish. Then the other honorees joined them onstage to sing “Happy Birthday” to Kissinger on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

Bennett, 86, received lavish praise from former President Bill Clinton, who addressed the crowd via video linkup.

“As long as I’ve known him, he’s truly been a citizen of the world, who served his country in World War II, marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma in 1965, and has always fought for abuses close to his heart,” said Clinton. “We’ve been talking about Tony Bennett’s heart ever since he released his signature album 50 years ago.”

Repaying the compliment to her fellow award winners, Hillary Clinton quipped that “Tony Bennett is the Henry Kissinger of music, and Henry is the Tony Bennett of diplomacy. Tony’s pitch and timing are still perfect, and that does induce a bit of an inferiority complex in those of us who talk — not sing — at dinner.”

Even so, it was evident to all that the former secretary of state, New York senator, first lady and possible presidential candidate in 2016 was the real star of the evening.

“It is my great privilege and great personal joy to introduce Hillary Clinton,” said Kissinger. “I think of Hillary with admiration and affection. When I call Mrs. Clinton ‘Hillary,’ I do that not so much to indicate familiarity, but to use a name that the whole world uses. It’s also been an honor to watch Hillary break my record in traveling the world — and doing it in less time than was available to me.”

Clinton, who in fact visited Europe 38 times as secretary of state, said the security and prosperity of the United States “are intimately intertwined with that of our European friends and allies.”

With that in mind, the popular politician addressed what she sees as the economic and strategic pressures facing the United States and Europe.

“Growth remains too slow and unemployment too high on both sides of the Atlantic. This limits our capacity to act, weakening our mutual influence in the world,” she warned. “Our shared economic model is also under increasing pressure. We see new barriers to trade. We must stand for a level playing field where the rules of the road apply to everyone. That should help as we embark on some serious discussions on harmonizing our regulatory scheme. We should be moving forward on a comprehensive free-trade agreement that addresses long-standing impasses.”

Clinton said both sides need to be just as forward-leaning when it comes to the emerging threat from cyberattacks.

“Advanced economies in the U.S. and Europe are particularly vulnerable to attacks, and the stakes are higher than many people realize. This should be a priority not just for governments but for businesses as well,” she told her audience.

“The watchword for our alliance must continue to be shared responsiblity. Let’s face facts. NATO is turning into a two-tiered alliance, with a shrinking percentage of members willing to pay the price and bear the burden of defense. During the NATO operation in Libya, we saw that fewer than a third of NATO members participated in NATO strike missions. Others did not have the military capacity. NATO is being hamstrung, not just by budget deficits, but by political deficits. Even in these difficult economic times, we cannot afford to let the greatest military alliance in history slide into irrelevance.”

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