Swearing-in Ceremony Remarks

Charles H. Rivkin
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
April 15, 2014

Mr. Secretary, Ambassadors, State Department and White House colleagues past and present, distinguished guests, friends and family: your presence here today means everything to me. Thank you, Deputy Chief of Protocol Natalie Jones. And thank you, Mr. Secretary, for presiding over this ceremony today. What an honor it is for me to be sworn in by someone whom I not only call my boss, but a long-time friend.

The most special feeling of all is to have Susan be a part of this ceremony. She is my soul mate, best friend and most trusted advisor - and that has been especially true during my last five years in government. As many here know, Susan represented our country with intellect, elegance and dignity during our time abroad. I’m the luckiest guy in the world and am unbelievably grateful for her love and support.

Mr. Secretary, I really appreciated your generous words, especially the ones about my father. As you mentioned, he had a rich career as Ambassador to Luxembourg, Senegal and the Gambia under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He passed away when I was only five years old, but my family and I have had the chance to honor his memory here at the State Department every year since 1968 when we present the William R. Rivkin Award to mid-level Foreign Service Officers exhibiting intellectual courage and constructive dissent.

I got to know my father through his memoirs and was inspired by his belief that serving your country is the highest possible honor. That idea has shaped my life’s trajectory. I even wrote my application to Yale on being a U.S. Ambassador. But I never dreamed that I would – one day – be given the chance to take up the torch for my family and serve as Ambassador to France.

Nor did I dream that I would one day be asked by one of the most admired and courageous Secretaries of State in a generation to serve as his Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs.

Here was the opportunity to serve my country again, continue my family’s legacy at State, elevate America’s economic agenda in the world, and justify the trust of a longtime friend.

No pressure.

In all seriousness, I couldn’t be more honored, humbled, and profoundly energized. I have already started working with the talented men and women at the Economic and Business Bureau and I’m thrilled to join Cathy Novelli and David Thorne as a member of the Secretary’s top economic team.

This is a truly defining moment for the United States. More and more, the major challenges of our time are taking place on the economic playing field, not the military battleground. So it stands to reason, as Secretary Kerry has said, that “economic policy is foreign policy.”

Especially our foreign policy. America was built on the ideas and values of our founding fathers, but many of its successes were forged in our markets. We are as passionately idealistic as we are industrious and practical. We are a nation of entrepreneurs, brimming with ideas, inventions, products and services.

Working for the Jim Henson Company and other creative companies in the entertainment sector, I have seen that American can-do spirit of enterprise in a very personal way. Small and medium sized businesses are the backbone of our economy and I know what it’s like to make payroll each week. I have a hands-on understanding of the importance of protecting our intellectual property and I’ve seen firsthand how a free and open Internet drives innovation and economic growth.

It’s rare for a bilateral Ambassador to run the economic bureau here at State, and I intend to use this unique vantage point to better lever our embassies around the world and to work with our friends in the private sector to advance our economic policy.

As a businessman, I am already compelled by what I see because EB – the Economic Bureau – is truly where the rubber meets the road.

When we speak of Economic Statecraft and the Prosperity Agenda, this office is working to make real differences. Working with our interagency partners, we’re implementing sanctions that have a direct impact on our foreign policy – as we’ve recently seen in Russia, Crimea and Iran.

We are constructing loan guarantees to help countries in transition, including a $1billion loan for the Ukraine – signed yesterday at Treasury.

We are working with USTR to help negotiate multilateral and bilateral trade deals – generating hundreds of thousands of jobs and promoting U.S. exports.

We’re taking the lead internationally to fight for a free, open and accessible Internet.

We’re negotiating Open Skies agreements that bring businesses and entire cities together – generating thousands of jobs worldwide.

And we act as State’s primary interface with the private sector using our overseas assets to drive inward investment and promote U.S. exports working with our friends at Commerce.

I’ve inherited a vast and diverse portfolio but all of our activities coalesce towards the same goal: bringing jobs and economic opportunity to Americans at home and abroad. Our hard working experts here at Main State, and the more than 1,200 economic officers serving abroad, make this possible. I gladly accept the Secretary’s challenge to build an even better home for these officers and help build an even stronger economic frame to our foreign policy.

As the Secretary has said, we need to be better at telling our story to the world, and we need to help the American people understand that “State means business.”

I am inspired every day by a young man named William Clayton. Clayton was named as the first Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs in 1944. So he was my predecessor, more than 50 years ago. He sat down and wrote a couple of very succinct memos with one powerful idea:

“If we attached the contingency of economic reform and free enterprise to a broad based aid program, we could help European nations rise from the rubble and build a new architecture of prosperity” he said, “and we would create trading partners and investment opportunities for Americans.”

That idea became the Marshall Plan, and Dean Acheson said that Clayton was the catalyst who made it happen. An obituary described Clayton as a man who didn’t care about taking credit, and asserted that, but for this humble broker, there may never have been a plan. His idea ultimately helped a continent become great again, and reset the future for millions of people.

As we work with USTR to create the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, in many real ways, we are bringing that vision to its fullest conclusion.

Let me be clear, I’m not advocating more Marshall Plans. I simply want to underscore some possible lessons.

First, great ideas can come from anywhere. Not just the fabled garages where Walt Disney, Google and so many American companies were hatched, but in a quiet corner office in the State Department. It can happen in government, as well as in the private sector.

Second, that it’s not just important to be innovative and think differently – but to have leadership that recognizes and rewards creativity. We must embrace the possibility of great ideas when we see them, whether they come from the economic officer in Cape Town or the civil servant in Commercial and Business Affairs. Egos need to be checked at the door as we are all fighting for the same cause.

Third, we should never dispense economic assistance merely as a handout. Instead, it should be a 21st century diplomacy tool that builds better global partners for Americans, makes the world safer for investment, and demonstrates the transformational power of our economic diplomacy not just for our country, but our neighbors and allies alike.

To my colleagues, let me say: No pressure.

But let me also say this: let’s pick up William Clayton’s torch and run with it. Let’s make sure the can-do spirit and innovation that define our culture continue to drive us forward. These are important stakes for our country. Let’s not be afraid to fail, as long as we are always striving for what we can do better.

Mr. Secretary, family, friends and colleagues, I am honored by the trust you have placed in me. I will work my hardest to fulfill that trust, each and every day. Looking around this room right now … seeing all these familiar faces … and thinking about the support I know you will give me …. I have to say, I like our chances.

Thank you all so very much.