Went to the big BENS gala last night (Business Executives for National Security) in downtown Washington, along with some Microsoft colleagues – the company was a sponsor – and several guests who fit right in with the rest of the crowd, military brass and IC muckety-mucks. I first met BENS founder Stanley Weiss back in the late 1980s when he came to Silicon Valley to recruit support for the new group, “a nonpartisan business organization aiming to cut through ideological debates on national security issues.”
The evening’s billed highlight was the awarding of the annual BENS Eisenhower Award to Sec. of Defense Robert Gates, who gave just a phenomenal speech (see Reuters and AP coverage today, and the full text here). I blogged a couple of days ago about his speech to the Heritage Foundation, which I read the text of, but seeing Gates deliver this speech really impressed me, to be honest. He comes across as sincerely dedicated to fixing some of the fundamental problems of DoD and the intelligence community (his career after all was at CIA and he is obviously a thoughtful critic of the DNI structure and “reforms”). I sat there wondering whether Gates would be willing to continue at the Pentagon in the next Administration (odds are much higher of that with a McCain victory, obviously, and infinitesimal otherwise).
Brent Scowcroft introduced Gates with a warm and witty tribute, and it was nice to see him in person. He told several jokes making fun of the Beltway culture, getting big laughs. Gates continued in kind at the beginning of his remarks, before he got serious – keep reading for one of Gates’s best jokes:
The festivities this evening – the cocktail hour, wine with dinner – remind me of the risks of government officials drinking in public. Some years ago, a European foreign minister who shall remain unnamed, and who was a notoriously heavy drinker, was on a trip to South America. And he showed up at an official reception in Peru and was quite drunk. There was music playing and he invited a passing guest in a flowing gown to dance. The guest somewhat haughtily replied, “First, sir, you are drunk. Second, this is not a waltz – it is the Peruvian national anthem. Third, I am not a woman. I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima.”
I say that Gates was the “billed highlight” because to me another fun part of the evening was having a chat with some Washington celebrities. At one point I said excitedly to my wife, my wife excitedly said to me, “Look! There’s Charles Krauthammer!!” [Blogger’s Note: my wife, an infrequent-reader of this blog, says she noticed him first.]
I have loved Krauthammer’s column for many years, and told him so; we had a nice time talking about his TV gig on Fox News. He noticed my University of Virginia bow tie, and I commiserated with him for having to put up with two of my fellow Cavaliers, Fred Barnes and Brit Hume (both Class of ’65), who have been lifelong friends even predating college. (I only know that because Hume told some funny stories in an interview in the UVa alumni magazine a couple of months ago).
A little later, we happened upon the legendary John McLaughlin, inimitable host of the McLaughlin Group. (Well, he’s actually imitable, at least by Dana Carvey.) He laughed when I addressed him as “Father McLaughlin,” because of his long-ago priestly position, and was supremely happy when I began the conversation by mentioning his local channel switch last week – yes, I am a regular viewer, and teased him about his direct-to-camera address at the end of last week’s show explaining why the show had changed from one local station to another. Coddling those remote-wielding viewers!
I was also able to tell Mike Hayden that I will be dropping off at his office his autographed copy of James Swanson’s best-selling book “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer.” Kathryn and I ate dinner with Hayden and his wife last month at the Lincoln Assassination memorial event put on by Ford’s Theater and the National Portrait Gallery, and Hayden really enjoyed Swanson’s talk about the assassination and its aftermath – with James and Mike both loving battlefield tours, we all wound up having an engaging chat about the War and the study of history. James is a good friend who is now working on another Civil War book, about the pursuit of Confederate President Jefferson Davis at the end of the war.
Filed under: Government, Intelligence, Microsoft, Society Tagged: | AP, Beltway, BENS, books, Brit Hume, business, Charles Krauthammer, CIA, Civil War, Confederacy, DC, Defense, Department of Defense, diplomacy, DNI, DoD, Fords Theater, Fox News, Fred Barnes, history, humor, IC, Intelligence, Intelligence Community, James Swanson, Jefferson Davis, John McCain, John McLaughlin, John Wilkes Booth, jokes, Lincoln, Manhunt, McCain, McLaughlin Group, media, Michael Hayden, National Portrait Gallery, national security, Pentagon, political, politics, Reuters, Robert Gates, television, TV, University of Virginia, UVA, Virginia, Washington