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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at No Limits Public Policy Conference Luncheon

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Ronald Reagan Building
Washington, DC
November 6, 2009


Thank you so, so much. Thank you. I told Terry after that introduction, there was no limit to his enthusiasm. (Laughter.) I cannot tell you how excited and really grateful I am to be here with all of you. I want to thank Mark for his remarkable commitment to be the chair of the board of No Limits, Ann Lewis who has served the – so many roles, who is the president of this new, but exciting organization.

Before I start, I just want to say that our thoughts and our prayers are with the soldiers killed at Ft. Hood, and with their families and their friends and their colleagues. I join all Americans in expressing our sympathy and in wishing the more than 40 who were injured a full and speedy recovery. These terrible incidents, especially one like yesterday, reminds us of the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform make every day. It is difficult when you lose brave Americans overseas, but it is horrifying when they come under fire because they wear the uniform of our country or they work to defend our nation right here on American soil. So we all owe them a debt of gratitude and are recommitting ourselves to make sure that they know that they have a grateful nation behind them.

This conference is really a special opportunity for me because I get to see so many of my friends. I look around this room and there are countless familiar faces of people who – (applause) – I have worked with and we have had some extraordinary times. You’ve heard from some real stars today, including the incomparable Barney Frank. Now, Barney, as those of you who may not have known before, is one of the most talented public servants in Washington. He’s also famous as the man with the best one-liners on Capitol Hill. But of course, we in this room know the secret of his success, namely, he learned from his long-suffering older sister, Ann Lewis. (Laughter.) And it was funny when I said to Ann, I said, “Oh, I’m so sorry I missed Barney.” And she goes, “Oh, he was brilliant, but he didn’t have his shirt tucked in.” (Laughter.) I mean, it sounded like every big sister, including myself, that I have ever heard.

Ann is the reason that we are here today, because she’s been in the trenches fighting for equal rights, and equal pay, and equal opportunity, blazing a trail for generations of women like me whose path in politics was a little easier because of the battles that Ann Lewis fought and won. Before there was an EMILY’s List, or a Feminist Majority, or even a sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits – (laughter) – there was Ann Lewis, and she is still going strong. I am so proud to call her my friend. And I am so impressed that in less than a year, she decided to bring us all together, put this organization together and create a platform for people to think of new ways to join together on behalf of issues and causes that we all share.

In this room are people who I went through the battles of the 1990s on behalf of healthcare. And I think tomorrow, we’re going to win a major part of that effort. (Applause.) I cannot tell you how excited I am at the prospect that, for the first time in American history, the House of Representatives is poised to pass a comprehensive health care reform. I am still keeping fingers and toes crossed because we know that there are those who would try to derail it, even at the last minute. But it looks so promising, and it is so long overdue. And as someone who has fought this battle for so many years, I cannot tell you how proud I am that it will be under a democratic President and a democratic speaker and a democratic speaker and a democratic Congress, that we’re going to actually get this to happen. (Applause.)

And there are others of you in this room who stood with me as we told the world something that was self-evident, but needed to be said, that women’s rights are human rights, as well. (Applause.) And as Terry said, there are many friends from New York who worked with me and stood with me and campaigned with me, on behalf of not only working families, but 9/11 victims and survivors and so many others who looked to us to help them have a chance to end the limits on their own dreams and pursue those.

And of course, there are so many of you here who were with me on that long, exciting, death-defying journey across our country. (Applause.) And you’re the ones who helped put all those cracks in the glass ceiling. And I want to thank each and every one of you for really committing yourselves to the political process, believing in the importance of what needed to be done in our country, working with me and then working with me to elect Barack Obama. And now working with all of us to try to translate into reality the dreams that we hold for our nation and our world.

We’ve stood together over all these years because we share a deep conviction about the importance of our nation and the significance of public service. And I have to say that, my path into politics and what still guides me today is my belief that every child deserves a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential, and that is what motivates me and what I know is important to all of you. (Applause.)

And so here we are, and there has been just an enormous amount of extraordinary happenings in the time since I’ve seen many of you last. And for me, this new position just reaffirms that we live in an interconnected, interdependent world. Whether I’m in a small town in Africa or I’m in a big metropolis in Asia, I’m always reminded of how important it is that we see each other as fellow human beings, that we share a journey. We may come from very different backgrounds, have all kinds of experiences that are not at all in common. But we do actually share a commitment to making it possible for not only our nation, but all nations to forge a new future. It is hard because we face some of the most complex problems that I think any time in history has ever presented. And for me, being in this new position and being so mindful of the responsibility that the Obama Administration holds just encourages and urges me to work as hard as I can on behalf of creating new partnerships, on reaching out and explaining what the United States stands for, showing people the respect they deserve by listening to them, but standing our ground, making clear what it is we value, and how we intend to pursue our interests.

And so for the last nine months, I’ve had the good fortune and the high honor of representing our country around the world, whether it was in Zurich for the landmark signing of an agreement between Turkey and Armenia, with such a long and difficult history between them and seeing the last-minute falling apart of that, and having to work hard with my colleagues to make it happen and reminding people that every day leaders around the world have a choice – whether they continue to show allegiance to a past they cannot change or a new commitment to a future that they can shape. And one of the biggest issues we have to overcome is how people cannot leave behind their history. That doesn’t mean that they have to forget it. It doesn’t mean they have to deny it, but it means they have to be willing to keep looking forward instead of in the rearview mirror.

Every conflict we have in the world today is really bound up in whether people will invest in the future, whether they will seek common ground with others, or whether they will either stay frozen or go backwards. And part of our job in the State Department is to better explain what it is the United States represents. We got a little off track over the last eight years. We’re trying to get back on track today. I was very pleased that – some of you know Judith McHale was appointed the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, and she is traveling the world, looking for the ways that we can better connect so that we can tell our story. Because everyone has a story to tell, and everyone needs to be thinking about how we better tell America’s story.

Whenever I travel, as Terry said, I try not just to meet with diplomats and officials, but to go out and meet with people. And that’s been kind of a interesting experience the last nine months, because a lot of people thought, “Well, why are you doing that?” Well, it’s because no matter what society you’re in, public opinion matters to a greater or a lesser degree, but it matters. You can be an authoritarian dictator, but you still have to listen to what people are saying and thinking. And we needed to do some concerted work to try to create a better communication between our country and others.

That’s why I’ve held town hall meetings from Santo Domingo to Moscow to Nairobi to Bangkok. I even appeared on what’s called the Awesome Show in Indonesia. (Laughter.) And at every turn, I have listened and responded, but also stood up for what I think are our core values. It is critical in today’s world that we recognize information is not compartmentalized; it doesn’t stay in official channels or in diplomatic cables. It is pervasive.

And we are now using the new tools of technology. Some of you might remember during the demonstrations in Iran during the post-election period, the way people were finding out where they should go and learning what was happening was through Twitter. And the young men and women who work for me in the State Department, the twenty-somethings, realized that Twitter was going to shut down for some kind of technical rebooting whatever they do. (Laughter.) So these young people called Twitter and said, “You can’t shut down. The demonstrators in Iran are depending on you.” I mean, that could not have happened five years ago. And so part of what our challenge is, is to really try as directly as possible to reach people through governments, around governments, under governments, in every way possible. We’re also doing more to build partnerships, which I think are key to our success. Again, another long-time friend of many of us, Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley, is now heading up our global public-private partnerships effort. And she’s reaching out, working with business, working with NGOs to create opportunities for people to contribute to America’s diplomacy.

And there’s a lot that we can do and we can do better, and it’s an area where I think that we can enlist the help of those of you who are interested in trying to be part of reaching out to the rest of the world. It is important that we look to the pillars of the American foreign policy that I have laid out in numerous speeches, pretty simple – defense, diplomacy, and development. We know defense because it gets a lot of the funding and a lot of the attention, rightfully so. But we can’t have a strong and positive and successful foreign policy without also building up diplomacy and development. So I’ve been working very hard to make the case to the Congress for more Foreign Service officers, for more civil servants, for more development experts, because we’ve got to do a better job.

So we’re doing a complete review. We’re having the first-ever what’s called Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which mirrors something the Defense Department has done forever, the Quadrennial Defense Review. Because what we’re trying to figure out is what works and what doesn’t work. Let’s quit doing what doesn’t work and let’s start doing more of what we think will work around the world. (Applause.) Because if we truly believe, as I know all of you do, that there should be no limits to opportunity, then we have to forge partnerships that provide people with the tools they need to solve their own problems.

I like to say that talent is universal, but opportunity is not. And I think all the time when I’m in places that don’t educate women or do not respect the dignity of work for both men and women, that have systems that are engrained in their society, that really keep a large group of people subordinate to a small group of people, just think of what that society is missing. It is missing future doctors and academics and researchers and businessmen and women. What a loss that they really cannot afford to have.

So we are also investing in a new approach toward food and hunger. It’s a terrible problem in the year 2009 that so many people are dying of hunger or who are malnourished. And in discussing the priorities that I brought to the job, I asked if we could have a big focus on food security, and people said, well, sure, we do a program over here and we do a program over there and we do – I said, well, how about if we bring them all together and we actually have an organized whole-of-government approach? So President Obama asked me and the State Department to take the lead on that, and we’ve really had a remarkable process.

And it’s the first time where people from all over our own government are actually in the same room trying to decide what it is we can do that will deliver not only food aid, as important as that is, especially with drought and the effects of climate change, but better agricultural productivity. Let’s start helping people grow their own food, bring it to harvest, bring it to market, support themselves so that they can become more self-sufficient. (Applause.)

So every day, we wake up and we think about all of these great ideas, and then we work hard to implement them. But there is nothing that has been more important to me over the course of my lifetime than advancing the rights of women and girls. It’s been a cause of my public life. (Applause.) And it is now a cornerstone of American foreign policy.

We have appointed the first-ever Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. Some of you know Melanne Verveer, who – (applause) – was my chief of staff at the White House, went on to run Vital Voice, which some of you have become involved in, which I am delighted about because everywhere I go in the world, the Vital Voices women come to meet me. And they wear their little pins, the kind of Vs that look like wings taking flight that give them a better future. And we want to do more in partnerships like that, so we’re opening up on the State Department website that we will notify everybody about, a way for you to be part of supporting some of these projects and supporting individual women; individual women and their own needs, whether it’s a small microloan or a program to help rape survivors or victims.

Melanne, as you know, has been one of the most consistent voices turning up the volume on the problem of gender and sexual-based violence, especially in conflict areas. And on my trip to Africa this summer, Melanne was with me in the Eastern Congo when we visited a refugee camp, when we went to HEAL Africa, an extraordinary hospital that helps the women who have been attacked and so brutally raped, and met with the doctors and the advocates and some of the victims themselves.

And it was, as I’m sure you can imagine, the most poignant and personally painful experience, because this has become a tactic of war, not just in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but in other places around the world as well. But just to take the Congo as an example, about 1,100 rapes are reported each month. That’s an average of 36 women and girls raped every day. The camp that Melanne and I visited was home to about 18,000 people seeking refuge from a cycle of violence that has left 5.4 million people dead since 1998.

And when you see that, the depth of suffering and the brutality, it just tears at your heart. But what lifts your spirits is the courage and the resolve of the people themselves, the victims who go on every day, who show a resilience that I find awe-inspiring, and those who are there on the front lines helping them. The United States condemns these attacks. They are crimes against humanity. I announced more than $17 million in new funding to prevent and respond to gender and sexual violence and to help survivors rebuild their lives.

Then I was privileged to chair a special United Nations Security Council session that passed a resolution to strengthen international efforts to curb these atrocities and hold those who commit them accountable. We have to do more, and I think this is an area where a number of you have told me you’re interested in working, and Anne will give you a menu of options that you can choose from as to how you can personally try to strike back at this atrocity that happens all too frequently.

But there are good news stories as well. In fact, as I travel around and see the developments in many countries that I hadn’t been to for about 10 years, I see the change. Recently in Indonesia, I was able to celebrate 10 years of democracy and to really hold up what a democratic Islamic secular society looks like. And we have to keep holding up those examples.

And when we go and see the courage of people who are willing to risk it all against the forces that are arrayed against them, it just encourages me and gives me even more of a push to go out and do what I need to do.

But what’s important about No Limits is your message. That is such an American message, but it shouldn’t be only an American message. And what I’ve been trying to do is to help people separate their historical sense of limits from what is possible going forward, that it is hard in traditional societies, it is hard when the odds seem stacked against you, but it is part of the American message at core that we believe not just in a better life for our own people, but we think helping those around the world to a better life is good for America, that it gives us a chance to see our values in action.

So I hope that you believe, as I do, that foreign policy matters, that public diplomacy matters, that standing up for the rights of people we will never meet very far away matters. And who does it matter to? It doesn't just matter to someone else. It matters to us as Americans. I say to my staff all the time, “I want to make sure that our foreign policy, our diplomacy, and our development are delivering for the laid off auto worker in Michigan or the laborer in Ohio. I want to make sure that what we’re doing can be explained and understood by the small business owner in Colorado or the homemaker in California who says, ‘Look, we’re having a hard time here at home. Why are we taking our money and educating somebody else’s children or providing healthcare to other people, or why do we involve ourselves in these conflicts far away that are so insoluble and hard to follow half the time?’” Because it is important to our security and it’s important to who we are as a nation, what we stand for in pursuit of our interests and in accordance with our values.

I think it’s imperative that in today’s world we keep our eyes on where we want to lead the rest of the world. Sometimes they claim they don’t want to listen. Sometimes they reject our advice. But that doesn't mean we quit. It just means we get smarter about how we’re trying to work with everyone else.

I said when I got to the State Department on the very first day that I wanted to see smart power in action. And smart power requires smart people, and we have just a wonderful group of really smart, dedicated people here in the State Department, at USAID, and around the world.

But ultimately, it rests on you. It rests on our fellow Americans as to whether you think that the United States has to keep getting up every day and going out and trying to solve problems and manage situations and create space for good things to happen. I believe that. That’s what motivates me. But we have to make the case to the rest of our country as well.

I’ll be leaving again tomorrow for another trip. (Laughter.) I know. Hard to believe. One that will take me first to Berlin, where I will be representing the United States at the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. (Applause.) And since I grew up in the Cold War, as some of you did, and I well remember the duck and cover drills in the hallway and under our desks, it was an extraordinary moment in history when the wall came down and the Soviet Union dissolved and people in Central and Eastern Europe finally had a chance to chart their own futures without the heavy hand of communism.

But I think that event 20 years ago was to some extent the end of an era where, perhaps as dangerous as the times were, it was easier to explain. It was us and it was them. Everything we did, everything that they did, was aimed at gaining advantage versus the other. We supported terrible countries and terrible rulers because they said they’d be against us – or against them, and then they did the same to us. So there was a very clear moral clarity about it. There was a very clear almost black and white sense of it. And I think people, when that wall came down, thought oh, great, the world will be so much better now, democracy is going to absolutely thrive. And people were saying history is over, we can go on with the dreams that America was founded on and export them everywhere.

That’s not the way the world works, and that’s not the way history has ever worked. So we find ourselves now in a much more complex world, and we just have to be up for it. And we have to be smarter about it, and we have to demand more from ourselves and our partners.

And from Berlin I’ll be going to Singapore for a meeting with my counterparts from Asia and the Pacific. And we want to have a very positive relationship with them, particularly with China, but we don’t get that by just sitting back. We have to be engaged and involved and working to create conditions that we think will foster democracy and development and human dignity and results for people.

And then I will be paying a visit to China with President Obama on a very important trip to further the dialogue between our two countries. And somewhere along that schedule – I’ve lost track of when – I’ll be going to the Philippines to show solidarity with our friends in the Philippines who have been battered by typhoons and have just suffered so much over the last weeks.

And everywhere I go, I will be thinking about how we translate the slogan “No Limits” into opportunities, how we give people the sense that they too, if they will be committed to democracy, if they will care about their neighbor, if they will make investments in their people and their children, they too can have a better life.

This, for me, is an extraordinary experience in a very blessed life that I really relish sharing with you. I’ve known some of you my entire life. My best friend from sixth grade is here. And I’ve known many of you in a very personal and intense way over a number of years, and some our relationship was created in the cauldron of 2008 politics. But every single one of you is here today because you want to stay involved and you want to give back and you want to be part of something bigger than yourself. And there is no limit to what we can do together.

So let me thank you for being part of this new organization that holds out such promise. Let me encourage those of you who want to personally develop an ability to speak out and participate to stay for this afternoon’s sessions about acquiring the skills of being able to speak. Public speaking – it ranks up as the biggest fear that most people have. It’s more than dying in a fire. (Laughter.) I mean, it’s just really scary to a lot of people. And so we want to help you and we want to give you that chance. That’s what Ann is setting up so that people can feel empowered. So it’s not just what you want to do. It’s how you get the tools to do it. Because we don’t think there are any limits to what any of you can do if you’re willing to invest the time and the effort.

So finally, let me just end by saying that we share a lot of history and we share friendships and we share all kinds of experiences together. But fundamentally, we share an optimism about what can be done if people are given the opportunities to break through glass ceilings, to break the chains of history that sometimes hold them down. And we believe strongly that our country has both the opportunity and the responsibility to take that message around the world. There must be no limits on human potential, and it is up to us to continue to make that a core value of who we are as Americans and what we hope for others around the world.

Thank you all so much. (Applause.)

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PRN: 2009/1114

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