Remarks at the U.S. Diplomacy Center Groundbreaking Ceremony
Secretary of State
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Good afternoon. It is my great pleasure to welcome everyone here today for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new United States Diplomacy Center. We are celebrating the start of construction of the center, a state-of-the-art museum and educational resource that will illustrate the Department of State’s 225-year history of supporting our nation’s national security efforts.
As Under Secretary of State for Management, my office has long supported this project. I also suspect that I was asked to officiate today because I might be the only member of Secretary Kerry’s leadership team who has actually worked for every single Secretary of State in attendance, beginning with Secretary Kissinger. (Applause.)
As a career State Department employee, I have the privilege of representing the multitudes of Civil and Foreign Service employees, Americans and host nationals, who have carried out the vitally important work of diplomacy for our country. The men and women of the State Department have done this essential work with skill, dedication, energy, and creativity, and in many cases, uncommon bravery. Two of those held in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis, Ambassador Bruce Laingen and Ambassador John Limbert, are here with us today. Bruce was the highest-ranking officer and John was a newly tenured one. Their story will have a special place in the Diplomacy Center.
The center’s award-winning design was created by the Washington, D.C.-based architectural firm of Beyer Blinder Belle. Once completed, the center will house the Power of Peace Theater and a global classroom among many other interactive exhibits. The Diplomacy Center staff has already acquired over 6,000 artifacts which will be on display in the center and online.
I wish to extend the Department’s appreciation to the Diplomacy Center Foundation’s board and officers for their selfless, far-sighted, and enthusiastic support. In particular, I am pleased that Ambassador William C. Harrop, the chairman of the foundation, is with us today. I would also like to particularly recognize the late Ambassador Stephen Low, who was president of the creation of this effort, and who is represented here today by his wife Sue and his son Diego, and also extend our appreciation to the late senator Charles “Mac” Mathias of Maryland, a staunch supporter of the State Department and this effort. Without their vision and commitment to the Diplomacy Center, we would not be having this groundbreaking ceremony today. And a very special and equally heartfelt thanks to all of the private sector donors in the audience whose generosity and support for American diplomacy has brought us here today.
Finally but certainly not least, a very special acknowledgement to Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley, who has been instrument in bringing donors to us. Without her untiring efforts, we would still be in the long-term planning stage. Many of you can personally bear witness to her formidable powers of persuasion – (laughter) – which she exercises with the utmost diplomatic charm. (Laughter.) Ambassador Bagley, on behalf of all assembled here today, thank you very much. (Applause.)
It is now my pleasure to introduce Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley, senior advisor to the Secretary of State for Special Initiatives.
AMBASSADOR BAGLEY: Thank you, Pat, for that very generous and very diplomatic introduction. It is indeed a wonderful moment to finally put shovels in the ground to start building the U.S. Diplomacy Center. You, Pat, have been there from the very inception of this project and your stewardship over the past 15 years has made today’s groundbreaking possible. So thank you for your leadership. (Applause.)
In commemorating this historic day, I would first like to acknowledge Secretary of State John F. Kerry, whose boundless energy, perseverance, and global statesmanship exemplifies the essence of diplomacy. (Applause.) Despite grappling with daily international crises, your enthusiasm and steadfast support of the center has led to this very moment, and thank you.
I also wish to thank former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who, among other initiatives, championed the concept of smart power, using all the tools in our toolbox, and established the Office of Global Partnership Initiatives to promote and formalize public-private partnerships. The U.S. Diplomacy Center is the perfect model for this visionary enterprise, and I’m proud and honored to have served on your team. (Applause.)
Secretary Baker, your tremendous generosity and commitment to the center from the very beginning has been an inspiration to me and everyone else. Thank you for your leadership and your unwavering support. (Applause.)
I would also like to thank former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell, who have given their time and effort to promoting the center, and to another former boss, Madeleine Albright, who first inaugurated the Office of the U.S. Diplomacy Center in early 2000. So I thank all of you as well. (Applause.)
There are a number of people who have worked tirelessly to make the center possible. I know Pat has mentioned them, but I will mention them again. I’d like to acknowledge the leadership of Ambassador William Harrop on the stage and the board of the Diplomacy Center Foundation, many of whom are here today, for your dedication to the cause and your unflagging support throughout these many years.
And a special thanks to the U.S. Diplomacy Center staff, led by Kathy Johnson, for their ongoing advocacy; to Ambassador Stuart Bernstein for co-chairing the Founding Ambassadors program; and to the many individuals, foundations, corporations, and foreign government partners whose generous support have brought us to this day. Your donations to the center will make it possible for the American people as well as visitors from around the world to learn about the history, the achievements, and the varied, vibrant, and often dangerous work of American diplomacy – all of which would not be possible without the men and women of the Diplomatic Corps who advance and defend America’s national interests and promote our founding values.
Edward R. Murrow, a renowned journalist and a former USIA director, spoke of diplomacy this way, and I quote: “The crucial link in international exchange is the last three feet bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another.” That is what our diplomats around the world do each and every day, engaging their adversaries as well as their friends, defusing conflict, forging international coalitions to combat the scourge of terrorism, and finally, finding common ground and a path to peace.
This is the mission of the U.S. Diplomacy Center, and to honor our diplomats by telling their story and explain why diplomacy matters to every citizen of the world, and hopefully to inspire a new generation of diplomats and peacemakers.
So thank you all for bringing us closer to bridging that last three feet, and I will look forward to celebrating with you on opening day. Thank you. (Applause.)
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: It is now my honor to introduce the Honorable Henry A. Kissinger, the 56th Secretary of State. Mr. Secretary. (Applause.)
SECRETARY KISSINGER: The organizers are anguishing at this moment to see how long it will take me to place my first verb. (Laughter.)
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great privilege to be here with four other Secretaries of State. We have shared common experiences of the indispensable role of the United States in working for peace and progress in the world; the privilege of working with the Foreign Service, the most distinguished group of public servants that I know; and we also know that we will never do anything more challenging in our life than to serve these objectives. I would say all of us except one have this, but let me talk about diplomacy as a relationship.
In foreign policy, we read about dramatic encounters between Secretaries of State and diplomats. But the essence of diplomacy is to build permanent relationships. It is essential to create confidence so that when the difficult issues come up and the close decisions have to be made, the – there is a basis on which the minds can meet.
It is essential for diplomacy to deal with people before you need them, so that they have faith in what you are saying when you do need them. It is imperative to outline the concept of what you – our country – is trying to do, so as to prevent foreign policy from becoming a series of tactical issues. For all of these reasons, the Diplomacy Center is a great and imaginative idea.
It’s a privilege to be here for this occasion. It’s an honor to have been able to serve in this institution, to share the concerns of so many dedicated people, and to realize that every great achievement was a vision before it became a reality. And it is a great privilege to see how this vision has turned into a reality. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: It is now my honor to introduce the Honorable James A. Baker III, the 61st Secretary of State. Mr. Secretary. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BAKER: Thank you very much, Pat. Ladies and gentlemen, Washington, of course, is blessed with museums and memorials that are dedicated to a broad array of topics that have helped shape the history of this great nation. There are museums of American art, the Jewish Holocaust, and our news industry. There are memorials that preserve the memory of the brave men and women who fought in the two World Wars, the Vietnam War, and other major conflicts. And of course, there are testaments to George Washington, to Thomas Jefferson, to Abraham Lincoln, and other Americans who helped make this nation great.
But until now there hasn’t been a center dedicated to one of the most important aspects of our nation-state, and that’s its diplomacy and the diplomats who’ve practiced it over the centuries. Since the days of our founding, the United States has really been blessed by adroit diplomacy. It was, after all, successful diplomacy that allowed us to strike the Treaty of Paris; diplomacy that made possible the Louisiana Purchase; diplomacy that formulated and implemented the Marshall Plan; and diplomacy that made sure that the Cold War ended with a whimper and not with a bang.
Throughout American history, our nation has been strengthened and protected through strong diplomatic alliances and agreements. And so I think we should be very pleased that this Diplomacy Center is being built. For one reason, it will tell the amazing story of the brave men and women who have served on the front lines of American diplomacy – the stories of all of them. Although too often overlooked, their tales of heroism are truly inspiring.
When I was Secretary of State, I knew I could count on my State Department colleagues to respond with speed and skill to any challenge, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even as the world shifted under their feet. The Diplomacy Center will capture this trademark quality in an exhibit entitled “Diplomacy is Everywhere 24/7.” The exhibit will emphasize a simple reality: No matter what political upheaval or crisis the world faces, diplomacy never sleeps. American diplomats are and will be hard at work managing a myriad of problems.
There’s, of course, another big reason that this center is very important. It will explain why diplomacy matters to every American citizen. Such an understanding of the purpose and practice of statecraft in a democracy like ours is extremely critical, because the people are, after all, the ultimate arbiters of our foreign policy.
During tough times like today, as crisis brews in the Ukraine, the entire Middle East burns, tensions rise in the Far East, and terrorism grows stronger, not weaker, diplomacy is going to play an important role in peacefully resolving many of the challenges that we face. As a result, the better educated Americans are about this nation’s diplomacy, the more effectively our leaders can engage on the world stage to find sound solutions.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, I look forward to returning to Washington for the grand opening of the United States Diplomacy Center. It will remind us of the great diplomats in our past, and it will remind us as well of the importance of diplomacy in our future. Thank you all for supporting this very important project. (Applause.)
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: It’s now my honor to introduce the Honorable Madeleine K. Albright, the 64th Secretary of State. (Applause.)
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: And the shortest Secretary of State. (Laughter.) Thank you very much, Under Secretary Kennedy and Ambassador Bagley. And as I look out at the audience, there’s so many friends and so many colleagues and so many of you that have really participated in what is America’s great gift, our diplomacy, and I’m delighted to be here.
I served as Secretary of State at a time when America was working to articulate a new foreign policy strategy that, after the end of the Cold War, would reflect what our position was as the world’s sole remaining superpower. And we all are unbelievably, as you will listen to us, very clear about how much – how honored and grateful we were to serve as Secretary of State and to sit behind that sign that said “United States.” And I speak for Henry and myself as two immigrants who made it. And so I think there’s no way to really capture what it’s like to represent this amazing country.
We knew at the time of the end of the Cold War that it wouldn’t be possible to leverage our strength and solve every international crisis, but we did have a newfound responsibility to take the lead in resolving the most pressing issues of the day. And that’s why I prioritized the promotion of core values such as democracy and human dignity as well as the development of robust civil societies around the world.
I also devoted a considerable amount of energy to strengthening our humanitarian assistance efforts and to ensuring the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons with the former Soviet Republics. America, as the world’s indispensable nation, does have a duty to engage on issues essential to the peace and prosperity of all global citizens, and I was very proud to listen to President Obama today in Estonia really saying how we had to defend our allies and our values.
The promotion of our core American values still rings true today, and they are featured in one of the center’s main exhibits entitled “Diplomacy is our Mission.” And this exhibit will showcase the heart and soul of diplomacy, the work we do to encourage peace and prosperity, democracy and development through examples that illustrate our tireless efforts on issues such as civilian security, good governance, energy, the environment, and gender equality. In other words, the USDC will present the State Department as an operational organization. Our people are not stuck in offices or forts; they are out in the field every day, participating in provincial reconstruction teams, meeting with activists, and doing hands-on work. And so through the USDC, the American public will be able to see what its government is doing around the world and how it connects with what happens here at home.
The concept of the museum was originally proposed to me while I was Secretary of State, and I just thought it was a no-brainer to think that we needed to do this, and we hired a museum curator to renovate an exhibit space within what we had renamed the Harry S. Truman Building, and it was viewable only to employees and other cleared visitors to the building. And we thought, why are we keeping these amazing artifacts to ourselves, and we should be sharing them with the public and using them to inform visitors about the fundamental role of the – that the State Department has played and continues to play around the world.
And I immediately said that this was great, that it would be a museum and an education center that would do exactly that, and this day has been a long time in making, and I believe that what we started in 1999 was one of the best initiatives that we took. And I applaud everybody that has been involved with this, and I think that it really is time to share what diplomacy has achieved and is achieving every day for Americans. And so it’s a story that deserves to be told, and the U.S. Diplomacy Center is the ideal place to tell it. And as a professor, I am going to get my students over here to really watch and do the simulations.
So I’m delighted and very honored to have been there when we started this project, and I will be there when it’s over. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: It is now my honor to introduce the Honorable Colin L. Powell, the 65th Secretary of State. (Applause.)
SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Patrick, and thank you, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a great pleasure to be with you this afternoon on this memorable occasion. Another memorable occasion was my first day as Secretary of State. And I was sitting in my office, and one of the senior members of the staff came in and closed the door and says, “Sir, I have to ask you something, and a lot of confusion in the building.” I said, “What’s wrong?” He said, “Well, what do we call you? Do you we call you General or Mr. Secretary?” And I said, “By all means, it’s Mr. Secretary. Now drop and give me ten.” (Laughter.) He almost did. I had to stop him. (Laughter.)
Another question I’ve always gotten for many, many years now has to do with the connection between my time as chairman and my time as Secretary of State. And they say, “Is the leadership challenge the same? Was it the same?” And the answer is two different organizations, two different cultures, two different histories, two different, but complementary jobs that the military and the Department of State do.
But there’s one thing they have in common: They are manned by volunteers. They’re manned by people in our Foreign Service, in our Civil Service, and our Foreign Service nationals, people who volunteer to serve their nation both in the military and in the Department of State. They want to have a vision, they want to have a purpose; why are we doing this, how does this serve the interest of the American people, how does this serve the interest of freedom and democracy around the world, how do we help the world?
They want to be taken care of. They want to make sure they get all the resources needed to get the job done. And above all, both of these, soldiers and statesmen, want to make sure that they are serving the country to the best of their ability. They’re people of courage, people of competence, people who want to make sure the American people are safe and that we’re trying to bring safety to as many people in the world as we possibly can.
If you walk out the front of this building and go down the hill, the first memorial you’ll come to is the Vietnam Wall. If you continue across the Mall, you’ll then see the Korean War Memorial, and then up the Reflecting Pool, at the other end, you’ll see the World War II Memorial. And in the distance, you’ll see the Marine Memorial, you’ll see the Navy Memorial further up the Mall. You’ll see all sorts of recognition to those men and women I was privileged to serve with as soldier and as chairman to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
And you can do this all over this city, but you will never see anything until this moment, until this program that pays tribute to the men and women of the Department of State, the diplomats, the Foreign Service officers, the political appointees, all of the others, Civil Service included and Foreign Service nationals who do such a great job for this Department. What do they do? Through diplomacy, we do everything we can to prevent wars. We do everything we can to stop wars or bring conflict to an end. We help after wars to rebuild the societies and economies of our former enemies. We execute treaties, we negotiate treaties and get them ratified, treaties that reduce arms or bring a peaceful level of action to different parts of the world.
We spread our values throughout the world without lecturing just by showing ourselves as a successful nation and demonstrating our values system. We execute trade negotiations and treaties which benefit us. We focus on human rights, on health, the environment. We talk to friends and adversaries, and we work with adversaries to make sure they do not become enemies. This is vital work. This is work that is the best interest of the nation. We talk about all the ambassadors and other diplomats we have, but my favorite Foreign Service person is the young, in his first tour, her first tour, consular office – in some consular office somewhere in the world. This is America to the rest of the world, that person at the window. And when somebody comes up and asks for help or says “I want to go to America,” it’s that young person in their first tour who paves the way and gives a face to the American people to the people wanting to know more about America, wanting to come here.
And so we should be so proud of what these men and women have done over the years. It is only fitting, proper, and timely they get this kind of recognition through the U.S. Diplomacy Center, where we can demonstrate all that they have done and let it take its rightful place among all the other monuments and memorials and tributes that exist throughout this city. So I express my thanks to all who have worked so hard on this. I express my thanks to those who have contributed, to those who have put all of their energy and devotion into this center. And I also look forward to coming back when we open this place and I can be one of the first ones through the door. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: It is now my honor to introduce the honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton, the 67th Secretary of State. Madam Secretary. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, welcome to all of you. And I think on behalf of myself and all of our colleagues, we are so grateful to you, especially those who have been carrying the mission of the center for so many years – since 1999 – and those of you who have supported this mission by your very generous contributions to the creation of the very first United States Diplomacy Center. It’s wonderful to see under Secretary Kennedy – I think he is a time traveler, because I’ve never been at an event with him where he has not served with everyone there. (Laughter.) But his unflappable professionalism and counsel is something that we have all very much benefited from.
I also want to thank Ambassador Bagley. As Pat Kennedy said in introducing her, many of you have experienced firsthand Elizabeth’s ability to set her mind to a mission. That’s why I encouraged her to take on this diplomacy center, to build on all of the good work underway since 1999 and launch this campaign to enlist the private sector. And I’m very grateful to her for this extraordinary success. It’s wonderful being here with all of my colleagues, and particularly Secretary Kerry. None of this would be possible without Secretary Kerry’s leadership, and we all thank you very much, Mr. Secretary, for that.
Now, the Diplomacy Center is, as I think you have heard from each of my colleagues, a labor of love for all of us. Now, Henry Kissinger has written the book on diplomacy. I’m sure he’ll have another book out just in time for the opening of the center. (Laughter.) He’s got one coming out this fall, so Henry, get started on the next one so that we can appreciate that.
Jim Baker has been the real champion of this center and its realization, and Jim, it’s wonderful once again being with you and Susan, and thank you for the championing of this center and for your very strong words of support. As Madeleine said, she was present at the creation of the Diplomacy Center. I was looking to see what pin she was wearing, whether it was an optimistic pin or a pessimistic pin. (Laughter.) It’s an American pin, so that’s particularly appropriate for this day and this dedication. And I thank her for really conceiving of this idea.
And Colin Powell, who has been in this unique position – really only General Marshall, because he served as both Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State has anything comparable to Colin Powell’s service as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and as Secretary State – brings a very unique perspective, which we heard here just earlier. I thank all of them for their insights and their extraordinary commitment to our country.
We are here in large measure to honor all those who have served from the very beginning, even before the Treaty of Paris, which might not have been possible without good American diplomatic efforts keeping our friends the French involved on our side and staving off some of the other challenges that came our way. Right now, nearly 70,000 diplomats and development experts are serving around the world. You’ve heard briefly about some of the exhibits that will shine a spotlight on the crucial work of diplomacy and development, and it will also highlight how that work has changed from Benjamin Franklin to John Kerry and beyond. That’s an important part of the mission of the center, because we want people who come to this center to understand what diplomacy is all about – what it has accomplished, but also how it has evolved.
It’s clear in today’s world that we communicate differently. We have a lot of ways of understanding what is happening in other parts of the world. But nothing substitutes for the professionals who are there to assist every Secretary of State, every president in understanding what the backstory is, what’s happening sort of below the surface; to try to break through for those peace treaties or for those breakthroughs in trade or human rights. For the United States, that means we do have to build strong relationships – not only with governments, but also with publics. I think this has been one of the major changes in the last decades. I kid in my book about how it would’ve been so difficult for Henry to sneak away from Pakistan to China when everybody in the world has a cell phone. So you have to think differently about how to achieve the same goals, how to convince others to work together on behalf of a world of peace, prosperity, and progress.
So 21st century statecraft is harnessing new technologies, public-private partnerships, diaspora networks. We did build a digital division to amplify our messaging across a broad range of platforms, from Twitter and Facebook to Flickr, Tumblr, and beyond. By 2013, more than 2.6 million Twitter users followed 301 official feeds in 11 languages. And our diplomats, particularly our ambassadors but up and down the ranks, were developing their own Facebook pages and their own Twitter accounts. They were going on local television. They were engaging in every way they could imagine. They were meeting people in what we call civil society, but which are community activists, volunteers, journalists, students, business leaders, labor leaders, religious leaders. And we do encourage more such contacts. And in fact, that will be the message of the Center’s exhibit entitled “Diplomacy Is Connecting People.”
I think the visitors, particularly young people, will be able to interact in real time with the Department’s social media feeds, learning about cultural and educational exchange programs, even having the chance to stand behind a podium and engage with the media as an official Department spokesperson for a few minutes. We hope that will encourage some to consider a career in diplomacy.
So today, we take a major step forward. We still need some help, and I would be remiss – and Elizabeth would never forgive me if I did not mention that, because we want to be able to move this exciting project forward. I think at a time when there are those who wonder about our role in the world, this center sends an important – indeed, an indispensable message that diplomacy and development are at the heart of America’s leadership, and that that leadership remains absolutely essential for everything we hope to see happen in the world, not just for our country and for Americans, but for people everywhere. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: It is now my honor to introduce the 68th and current Secretary of State, the Honorable John F. Kerry. Mr. Secretary. (Applause.)
SECRETARY KERRY: (Laughter.) See, I’m the only one who knew that secret here. Thank you, Pat Kennedy. (Laughter.)
Ladies and gentlemen and members of the diplomatic corps, thank you so much for being here with us today. The entire State Department-USDC team, many of whom have literally been working for this day for about 15 years, to the Diplomacy Center Foundation, and the many private sector partners – you know who you are and we’ll recognize you a little bit later – it’s your generosity that has brought us to this point and we’re all unbelievably grateful to you for that, so that today, we get to break ground on groundbreaking American diplomacy.
Both Colin and Jim talked about the array of monuments around the city that honor those who have served and given their lives in the course of wars. But those who are part of the diplomatic corps understand that there is the same kind of sacrifice and challenge for people who leave their families and pack up their kids and go away, in many cases unaccompanied tours, people who work unbelievably long hours, extraordinary risks on a daily basis, and particularly more so in today’s world. And so today, we commit to telling the story of power that comes not from the muzzle of a gun or from the belly of a B-52, but from the force of diplomacy, and it is a force – diplomacy that ends wars, saves lives, resolves frozen conflicts, opens markets, creates jobs, brings dignity and respect to lives all around the world, spreads freedom, lifts up millions of people who get to touch opportunity for the first time. Witnessing what we witnessed in Tunisia where a fruit vendor saw none of that opportunity and chose to self-immolate himself and ignited what for a while was called the Arab Spring reminds all of us of power, of the ideas that bring us all together and which we will celebrate in this center.
I’m very privileged to be here with 56, 61, 64, 67, and 65. (Laughter.) And I’m extraordinarily grateful to our protocol office for arranging them in chronological order, so – (laughter) – I could almost get it right. Hillary Clinton, my immediate predecessor, and I got to serve in the Senate together. In fact, I was privileged to work in one way or another – I wasn’t in the Senate when Henry was Secretary, but we worked together on a number of different issues. But Hillary Clinton came to the State Department to rebuild alliances and restore our place in the world at a time where people were questioning it, and to help to make an opening in Burma and, across so many miles, breathe new life into old partnerships and gave meaning in every corner of the globe to the notion of personal diplomacy.
Colin Powell, revered still by everyone I’ve met in the State Department and outside of it who is retired, legendary stories told of a Secretary who picked up the phone to tap the talent not just of under secretaries and assistant secretaries, but of desk officers and line officers, and a man who knew war so well that he valued diplomacy so much more, whose exhaustive personal engagement after the 9/11 attacks was absolutely essential in uniting a coalition of allies and partners to wage war on terror.
Madeleine Albright, whose purpose and passion in ending bloodshed and brutality in Kosovo and Bosnia and in working to heal old wounds in Northern Ireland to this day epitomizes moral leadership and continues to inspire American diplomats wherever they serve.
James Baker, a tough Texas poker player – (laughter) – and dealmaker extraordinaire, which I can attest to because he negotiated with Vernon Jordan the debate rules for George W. Bush and me – (laughter). We’re still talking to each other. That’s diplomacy. (Laughter.) Actually, my campaign folks were caught in a squabble with the Bush folks, which is not unusual, and Jim Baker and Vernon Jordan got together, had a great lunch, perhaps had a martini, I’m not sure. It took them about half an hour, the rules were done, and they said goodbye and remain great friends.
He made the lonely decision to touch the third rail of American foreign policy and plunge headlong into the peace process at a time when there was very little support for it, and his work to build a global coalition to confront Saddam Hussein ahead of Operation Desert Storm to this very day is the gold standard by which modern coalition building is judged and which I will personally use as I go out in the next days to work on the ISIL issue.
And Henry Kissinger, the man, who as we’ve heard, literally wrote the book on diplomacy; the Secretary whose exploits and expertise gave us the vocabulary of modern diplomacy, the very words “shuttle diplomacy” and “strategic patience”; and whose special insight into history has been an invaluable gift to every secretary who has sat in that office on mahogany row ever since the day that Henry left it.
Join me, all of you, in thanking five of our six living former Secretaries of State. (Applause.)
They all look so great. It makes me – I’m sort of thinking, 2016, okay. (Laughter.)
So we’re here, obviously – and I’ll be very brief to salute diplomacy and to break ground on the first ever museum – to tell the really remarkable story of American diplomats who have been daring in breaking new ground themselves from the earliest days of Jefferson and Franklin and John Jay through the secretaries that are here now that I just talked about some of their exploits. But even as we celebrate a greatest generation of diplomats, it’s time to focus on what they’re going to say about the next generation. Will we allow our country’s foreign policy debate to be stolen by a false choice between force without diplomacy or diplomacy without force, or succumb to the easy appeals of those who promise Americans that the United States can step aside or that we can afford to think of active leadership not as a strategic imperative for America but as a mere favor that we do for other countries?
We have seen these moments before. Opposition to Wilson’s League of Nations, the isolationism that followed the first World War, deep-seated reluctance in Congress to pass the Marshall Plan to win the peace after so much had been given to win the war, the shortsighted rush to cash in a peace dividend after the Berlin Wall fell to pull inwards when the cold, hard post-Cold War truth was that a more complex world needed America more than ever than the bipolar world that had preceded it.
We’ve been here before, actually. And here we are today, living in a world smaller and more interconnected than ever before. In the blink of an eye we’ve gone from an era where power lived in hierarchies to an era where power lives in networks, many of those networks formed and created by people under the age of 30. Now we’re wrestling with the fact that those hierarchies are unsettled by the new power, a world where mobile devices represent a lot more than your ability to put a picture on Facebook or Instagram, but are instead powerful, powerful new instruments of change that make hierarchies uncomfortable because you can communicate with everybody all of the time, anywhere at any time.
And we now see young people across the globe who see the opportunity that other people have – and I run into this – I know my colleague – the former Secretaries have each of them commented about these changes that exist today, and it’s a world where a clash of ideas is as real as ever, from the nihilism and the destruction of ISIL to the opportunity and the freedom of the civilized world.
That’s what this center is going to be about. One thing every diplomat here today knows is that on that battleground, American leadership and engagement should not be up for debate in the first place. Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Gaza, South Sudan, Libya, North Korea, just to name a few. I’m not saying that we can or should do any of it alone; that’s not the proposition. But the world, I think most people here understand, will not do it without us. I can tell you for certain most of the world does not lie awake at night worrying about America’s presence. They tell me that they worry about what would happen in our absence.
So as we write the next chapter of American diplomatic history, as we think about how tomorrow’s diplomats will fill the exhibit halls of this museum, we have to remember engagement and leadership, not retrenchment and isolationism, are the American DNA. It is doing the difficult work that makes America’s values real in the world, which ultimately defines as a country.
I pick up on Colin’s comment about that person behind the window. When I travel abroad and have an opportunity, like my predecessors did, to have a meet and greet with our embassy personnel, I tell everybody that they’re all ambassadors. Every single one of them, particularly the people behind that window, because they may be the only American somebody walking into that consulate ever meets, and the impression they have of our country will come from that young Foreign Service officer. I think this center will remind us, all of us here, as it should, and as each of these former secretaries do with their presence here today, that we’re an exceptional nation. Not because we say we are, but because we do exceptional things. And today we celebrate a tradition of American diplomacy that has done those exceptional things, that has brought us to this important moment, and today we will all commit to keep that tradition strong. Thank you. (Applause.)
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Ladies and gentlemen, the secretaries will now proceed to the construction site outside for the groundbreaking. The audience is welcome, after a discreet pause, to travel outside into the heat, or you can watch the shovels being turned on the screen that will appear behind me. (Laughter.) Thank you all very much. (Applause.)