American Presidents at the Council on Foreign Relations

December 07, 2005

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Presidents at the CFR

Since the founding of the Council on Foreign Relations in 1921, eight American presidents have addressed the membership, two of them – Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – while still in office. Here are excerpts of these historic addresses:

Herbert Hoover, ‘Europe today is a rumbling war machine,’ March 31, 1938

Herbert Hoover Reflecting on a recent trip to Europe, former President Hoover told the CFR: “Europe today is a rumbling war machine, without men yet in the trenches…. I find most nations of Europe convinced that we would be inevitably drawn into the next war as in the last. Some people build confident hope upon it, but every phase of this picture should harden our resolve that we keep out of other peoples’ wars.”

Herbert Hoover, ‘Europe’s Food Problem,’ April 7, 1947

Former President Hoover spent the previous year surveying food problems around the world. As William Diebold, Jr., wrote in his summary of the meeting, Hoover returned “Convinced that world famine had reached the stage where there was a serious threat of political disorder. The U.S. and Britain are meeting this problem in Japan and Germanyby paying large food bills for those countries. Had we started right, there would have been no such deficits.”

Harry S. Truman, ‘Comments on a European Trip,’ July 5, 1956

Former President Truman, commenting on a trip to Europe, says he encountered “a sincere respect and genuine admiration for the American people.” Truman stressed the importance of “opportunities to meet and have ordinary intercourse with the Russians.” He counseled presciently: “The situation behind the Iron Curtain should be taken advantage of: The people will some day realize it is possible to attain, peacefully, individual freedom under a government responsive to its citizens.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower, ‘Dinner in Honor of Dwight D. Eisenhower,’ October 31, 1962

Prior to becoming president, General Eisenhower chaired the Council on Foreign Relations’ Study Group on Aid to Europe from 1948-1951. The group examined the Marshall Plan, which Eisenhower called "a program in the foreign field without precedent in our peacetime history," and considered suggestions "that in addition to economic aid we should make certain political commitments in Western Europe and also provide the countries there with military assistance." Subsequently, a year and a half after leaving office, Eisenhower attended a dinner in his honor at CFR.

George H.W. Bush, ‘A Current Look At the United Nations.”October 2, 1972

No transcript exists from this address by the future president, who spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. While serving at the UN, Bush actively worked to promote President Richard Nixon’s policies. Looking back on that experience in 1990, Bush described the world body as having been "be frozen by the divisions that plagued us during the cold war." Then-President Bush told the General Assembly, "The founding of the United Nations embodied our deepest hopes for a peaceful world."

Jimmy Carter, ‘The Continuing Middle East Peace Process,’ May 6, 1987

The broker of the Camp David peace between Egypt and Israel, former President Jimmy Carter came to the Council on Foreign Relations to discuss the latest developments in the Middle East peace process, which at the time centered on the first tentative moves by the Reagan administration to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization. No transcript of Carter’s speech is available.

Jimmy Carter, ‘Policy Options for Latin America,’ April, 11, 1989

Former President Carter addressed U.S. policy in Latin America, a topic which throughout the 1980s proved to be a lighting rod for partisan divisions in the United States. No transcript of the meeting exists. However, during his tenure, Carter told the Organization of American States "a single United States policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean makes little sense." His policy goals for the continent focused on three principles: sovereignty for Latin American nations, respect for and promotion of human rights, and closing the gap between the developed and undeveloped nations of the world.

William Jefferson Clinton, ‘Global Economy,’ September 14, 1998

The first sitting U.S. president to address the Council on Foreign Relations, President Clinton described globalization as "the biggest financial challenge facing the world in a half-century." Clinton said: "What is at stake is more than the spread of free markets and their integration into the global economy. The forces behind the global economy are also those that deepen democratic liberties." Complete text.

William Jefferson Clinton, ‘Our Shared Future: Globalization in the 21st Century,’ June 17, 2002

Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations on a range of topics, former President Clinton told his audience, "No one I know seriously believes that we can build the world we want with a security-only strategy. With a strategy devoted only to prevent and punish. We need to build a world with more partners and fewer terrorists.... We also need a commitment to explicitly winning the battle of ideas. We basically are seeing all over the world today a contest between people who are obsessed with yesterday and people who are obsessed with tomorrow. People who want a separate future and people who want a shared future." Complete text.

Barack Obama, ‘Challenges Ahead For Cooperative Threat Reduction,’ November 1, 2005

While working as a Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama discussed at CFR a trip he and Senator Lugar took to Russia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine to review progress in implementing Cooperative Threat Reduction Programs. During his remarks, Senator Obama said, "The nuclear, chemical and biological weapons within the borders of the former Soviet Union represent the greatest threat to the security of the United States....We need to start thinking creatively about some of the next-generation efforts on nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.  On our trip, we saw two areas where this is possible: elimination of heavy conventional weapons, and the interdiction efforts to help stop the flow of dangerous materials across borders." Complete text.

George W. Bush, ‘Strategy for Victory in Iraq,’ December 7, 2005

In the second of four speeches outlining his strategy for the Iraq war, President Bush told the CFR: "By fighting the terrorists in Iraq, we are confronting a direct threat to the American people. And we will accept nothing less than complete victory.... victory will be achieved when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq’s democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks against our nation." Complete text.

Jimmy Carter, ‘Peace versus Democracy in Palestine,’ March 2, 2006

Former President Carter addressed CFR on the role of the United States in negotiating with Israel and Palestine: "History has proven the need for a strong mediation role by the United States, and there is little doubt that a lack of a persistent effort to resolve the Palestinian issue is a primary source of anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East and a major incentive for terrorist activity.  There is almost complete deference by other nations to the United States as a strong and objective mediator, but this balanced role is constrained by powerful lobbying forces....An overwhelming number, both the Israelis and Palestinians, want a doable two-state solution, based on well-known criteria that have been spelled out in the Quartet's road map and with complete compatibility in what is known as a Geneva Initiative."  Complete text.

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