Meeting With Staff and Families of Embassy Baghdad

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Embassy Baghdad
Baghdad, Iraq
March 24, 2013

Thank you very, very much. Hello, Embassy Baghdad. It is wonderful to be here. It’s great to be with all of you. I am a recovering politician. (Laughter.) So the notion that I don’t need an introduction has not yet worn off on me, because as a politician, you always need a fine introduction, and I’m getting used to it.

Anyway, I’m really happy to be here with all of you and I’m particularly glad to be here with one of our best ambassadors anywhere in the world. We’re delighted to have Steve Beecroft here, who’s doing just an extraordinary job under tough circumstances, so Steve, thank you very, very much. (Applause.) And the Deputy Chief of Mission Doug Silliman is somewhere over here – there he is, hanging over there. I met him in Turkey and he’s following me around the world – (laughter) – but thank you for being here also.

Now I have a profound thank you to all of you. I want to – I’m not going to talk very long because I really want to have a chance to shake hands and say hello and thank you to everybody personally. But let me just say to you that I have a pretty good sense of what a lot of you go through, because I was a kid of a Foreign Service officer way back in the 1950s – I’m dating myself – and was introduced to the Cold War in Berlin, Germany, and then in Europe in the post-war period. But I learned what it was like to leave school and pack up and leave your family and your friends and go off to some unknown place and learn about a new culture and new language and all of that.

And at first, I was intimidated by it, but boy, I’ll tell you, looking back on it, one of the greatest, most valuable experiences of a lifetime. And I’m so proud for the independence that I learned and the sense of possibilities about other countries, different cultures, who they are, what they think. And it really makes you, I think, a better global citizen, certainly, and somebody who has an awareness of the incredible complexities of this world that we are living in today.

And here in Baghdad, you all are on the cutting edge of one of the most extraordinary transformations and transitions that any of us could ever think of, from years and years of a dictatorship, of a very closed society that’s suddenly having this possibility of democracy, and suddenly having these set of choices that people are sort of learning about what the possibilities are.

We couldn’t do this without all of you assuming the incredibly difficult transition out of the war years, into the 2004 and 5, and now the last years of this transformation to the Strategic Framework Agreement, and we’re not sure what. It’s up for grabs. That’s the beauty of it all in a lot of ways. But each of you is playing a role. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing here. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Civil Service or a Foreign Service officer or political appointee or part time or contractor or local hire. We can’t do any of this without every single one of you, and every single one of you, even foreign nationals or third-party nationals who are here, third-country nationals who are working here, you may not want to be, but automatically, you’re an ambassador for the United States of America, because everybody you meet, everything you do working for the United States Embassy carries our hopes for this country and our values. And people who meet you, who have a sense of you, and a feeling about what’s America like, the only thing that they know about it is you, whether it’s a visa or a different kind of problem they have or whatever it is that brings them into your purview.

Now, we’re a big embassy here, still, even as we are downsizing, one of the largest in the world. And it’s going to continue to downsize, which is a challenge. And the reason for that is not because there isn’t value in everybody here. It’s because the mission changes. And as the mission changes, we need people in a lot of different places. By the way, you have no idea how many FSOs and civil servants and others I meet in London, Paris, Rome, all of whom came out of Iraq. So there’s some magic in serving here for a year or two, I guess. You wind up in pretty interesting places that kind of hopefully makes up for some of the things that you don’t have on a daily basis. Though I am told by everybody I had asked that this compound is pretty spectacular, and everybody appears to be very comfortable here.

One last note as I say thank you to all of you. I learned that one of your own, one of our own, that somebody who worked with many of you, Matt Jennings, passed away a week ago. I see a few heads nodding who may have known him. And his request before he died, as a request of everybody to remember him, was not to make contributions, not to send flowers, but rather was to anonymously make someone else smile. So that’s a pretty good thing, and I think it kind of personifies what this mission here is, what being a member of this team is all about. It’s to make other people have the ability to be able to smile in their lives.

So, profound thank you to every single one of you who are part of this extraordinary team. Keep doing what you’re doing. We’re going to try and support you as best we can. This is complicated, and I saw it today in the conversations I had even more so how complicated it has become. But we can still keep fighting and keep pushing, and we’re going to keep working to accomplish our mission here. When we do, it’ll be because of all of you.

So, thank you and God bless everybody here. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2013/T02-03