Senator Robert Casey’s Speech Transcript (4/24/2013) on SAJ

Senator Robert Casey’s Speech Transcript (4/24/2013) on SAJ

(Casey reaches podium after introduction by Ambassador Osman Siddique)

Mr. Ambassador thank you very much. I’m reminded about what an elected official in Pennsylvania once said in a similar position to where I am right now – ‘I’m standing between you and your dinner (laughs), and that’s a very dangerous place to be.’ So I’m particularly honored that you took the time out to bestow this award on me. And with an award like this, when you receive one of course, one person one principal receives them, but of course there are lots of people behind him or her that should be focused on for commendation. I don’t know where Damien Murphy is, but I’ve got to find him… There’s Damien over at the back table. Damien has done extraordinary work advising me on foreign policy, especially on the policy as it relates to South Asia. The other end of our subcommittee work is in the Middle East, but in both places we’ve been blessed to have Damien’s advice, his counsel, and his wisdom, so I accept this award on behalf of Damien and our whole office, because it does take an entire office to support the work that we do.

But I’m particularly grateful and really honored to accept this award especially because it’s so directly connected to my friend Ghulam, who is a dynamo. (Applause) When I first heard his story—which is really a great American story—a triumphant story about overcoming obstacles to get where he is today, I think it’s entirely appropriate that he’s the one who’s the driver—with as he’s acknowledged, with a lot of help—the driver behind the South Asia Journal, and how important that is: as a journal, as a place for scholarship and learning and…common bonds, not only for the region, but for us in the United States to learn and to have the benefit of a journal like that.

So Ghulam, I’m really honored to be with you tonight, again. And… I think I’m humbled as well to be accepting this award, and to be in a small way a part of the work you’re doing. If there’s anyone who can bring the region together but also continue to build bonds between The United States and South Asia, it’s this dynamo who… he’s not 7 feet tall (laughs) but when you tell his story it seems like he’s 9 feet tall. He’s packed a lot of living into his time here in the United States. We need journals like this. We need to have this kind of learning.

I do want to commend as well the Ambassador. Thank you for your service, and for that great introduction. My wife Teresa if she were here–we started dating in college so she knows me pretty well—she would not believe all that you said about me in such a kind and generous way. And she would not believe that I would be given an award like this at The Willard. This is a pretty fancy place. (laughs) I can tell people walking in, we do not get invited to the Willard every day of the week.  This might be in 6 and half years, only the fourth time I’ve been here for any kind of formal event except for passing through to stop by. So this is a pretty significant award and a pretty significant setting that you’re bestowing it in.

I’ll be brief because I want to make sure we leave enough time for not just dinner and camaraderie, but I want to leave enough time for Rich Verma. So I told Rich that I would do the first hour, and he’d do the next three (laughs).

Rich is someone who’s not only been a great friend to me, but who’s provided a great public service to the late Congressman Jack Murtha, and also to the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. We’re just honored that he’s here tonight. He knows these issues better than I. But I just have a couple of observations. One is, the observation that if I were going to deliver a message to the United States Congress, the State Department—and I’d do it respectfully of course with Congressman Honda here—I don’t want to speak directly at the house, you could deliver this message better than I could. But the message I’d deliver to our government no matter who’s President, no matter what the administration. It would be basically, in large measure, about this region—South Asia—the same message that I would deliver to all of you: that we have to stay engaged.

The worst thing that we could do for ourselves and our own security, and for so many other priorities we hold dear here: our vales, our ability to build common bonds, and also for the region itself, the worst thing we could do is to disengage.  And there is a narrative in Washington and beyond Washington of disengagement: “We don’t need that place or that country. We don’t need to engage, because we don’t get along on some issue, or we have a breakdown in our relationship.” We can’t listen to those voices, and we have to fight against those kinds of voices.

It doesn’t mean we’re not going to have some difficult moments, it doesn’t mean we’re not going to have disagreements. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to have difficulties with these bilateral relationships or with the region overall. But we cannot fail to engage. And I ask you to continue that– because everyone in this room in your own way, your own lives, your own success, and your own contributions to the foreign and economic policy of this country – each of you is already doing that in your own way now, and I ask you to continue that in the ways you know how.

The other thing I’d say is as much as I’ve been able to travel frankly in a very limited way in the region—not region wide yet—in my travels in the region, I’ve found a couple of things to be true. Number one, the complexity of the region, the enormous challenges, challenges I think sometimes we don’t fully appreciate, and I won’t list them for you tonight there’s no reason to dwell on how difficult it. But I think at the same time, when I travel to the region, I see the region in some many ways through the people, the remarkable people. We get to meet government officials and ministers and all of that and that’s important, the ambassadors here tonight will tell you that’s an important engagement. But sometimes the best insight comes from the people that you meet. People in civil society, people who have a chance to make an encounter with you. And one of the best examples of that was on one of my trips to Pakistan was to have an interfaith dinner, an Ifthar dinner, and being able to share that kind of dialogue with people of different faiths right in Islamabad. A place where there’s lots of tension and lots of challenge, but we sometimes don’t realize the people you can meet there.

So I’ve seen the region not just through the policy, or the budgets, or the difficulties or challenges, I’ve seen it through the people, through their eyes. Not enough yet, but certainly in the trips that I’ve had in the region I’ve seen it.

But I also see the region through your eyes, through your achievements. This is a remarkable American story in this room. So many people in this room — I could go to every table—if you told your story,–some of you know each other’s stories—but if you told your story, it would be a story of achievement and success and real pride the likes of which I could not match. I didn’t have to travel the distance that so many of you have had to travel. I didn’t have to surmount obstacles in the ways that many of you have had: language barriers, cultural barriers, and economic challenge, getting an education, more education, learning and studying and bringing the kind of excellence that you bring to your work. So as much as the Congress could do, or the State Department, or any President or any member of the Senate or the House itself, this relationship and the strength of this relationship and the value of it to our country’s future will be told by and inspired by and really will be built by people like those in this room tonight. We need you now more than ever to make sure we stay engaged. We need to draw upon this deep deep reservoir of talent, passion, and of commitment to this country as well as the country of your ancestors or for many of you still your family. So on a night like tonight–and I offer a note of gratitude for this award–I do so with a lot of humility, and I do so with the knowledge that this broader engagement will be driven by the people in this room as much as elected officials and government officials are a part of it. So I salute you for what you have done, but keep going. Stay engaged. Keep challenging us. Be honest when things aren’t going well, and let’s celebrate the common bonds that bring us together. And I’ve never been more humbled by an award like this in this way. If there is a video of this, I want to make sure my wife could see it, because she’d never believe I could get an award like this (applause) So I’m grateful.

(Award presented)

Let me say, when you get an award like this and it’s this heavy – this is

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Robert Casey
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