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I’m glad to be here with Under Secretary Pat Kennedy, who does such an extraordinary job at implementing all of our efforts with respect to our embassies, consulates, and facilities around the world, and who has been much on top of this agenda, and our chief of security for the entire State Department and AID, Greg Starr. Thank you very much for being here with us. We appreciate it enormously.
One of things that I have learned – not just in the few months I’ve been Secretary, but in the years that I was on the Foreign Relations committee – is that you can train men and women for the assignments that you’re going to take on when you leave here – and FSI does that exceedingly well, and some of you have been through that before; I know we have some senior officers here, and we have people not just FSO but from other agencies here who have been out in the field previously – but the fact is that – and I think you know this – no training here, none of us who stand up here and talk to you, can teach the special instinct that brings you all here to a life of public service and particularly to carrying America’s message and efforts, our values abroad. That really comes from you. It comes from your sense of yourself as Americans; it comes from your understanding of who we are as a country, and from the direction that we need to move in and from the challenges that face us on this globe. Your dedication to our country and your determination to make the world better – these are the singular traits of very special people who are America’s face to the world in ways that so many of our fellow citizens will never know or understand.
A little more than 100 days ago now, I was privileged, honored to become your colleague and join the State Department, and join the State Department family – which is what it is – when I took the oath of office and began my service as Secretary of State. The oath that I swore is the exact same one that you swear. It is also the same one that our Ambassadors take, and it is the same one that people in the military and others take, people who wear uniform but are on the frontlines, just as you are on the frontlines.
We all of us solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. But with that oath, I assure you – and I think you understand this – we also pledge to defend and support each other. I want you to know that every day that I am privileged to be in this position, I have no greater priority and no greater responsibility than ensuring that we do all that we can within reason and capacity to protect you.
On my very first day as Secretary, the same day that I took that oath, a suicide bomber in Ankara, Turkey, killed a local guard named Mustafa Akarsu. I’ve met his family. I spoke at a memorial service for him in which we dedicated a beautiful fountain because his name means “flowing waters.” And now there are flowing waters at our Embassy forever in memory of him. Mustafa had guarded the gates of that embassy for 20 years, and on February 1st, he moved in to challenge an intruder who was just walking in the door, and that is where he gave his life. He did so bravely, acting quickly to save the lives of others.
In Kabul, not too long after that, I met Anne Smedinghoff, a brilliant, brave, confident young woman from outside of Chicago. She would have come right here to be part of this training this summer, preparing for her next difficult post. But a week and a half after she helped to organize my visit to Kabul, she was gone, taken in yet another heinous terrorist attack as she was killed while delivering books to schoolchildren.
So I am acutely aware of the very real challenge that we face and the very real risks that we take around the world. I think of them every single day. I know all of you are deeply aware of these challenges too. You can’t help but be as you think about where you may be going and what you may be asked to do. And I am enormously appreciative, and President Obama shares a deep and abiding respect for and understanding of what you undergo and the challenges you undertake. We are enormously appreciative of the fearlessness that you somehow muster as you confront these challenges.
In the shadows of the attack in Afghanistan and Ankara, and of course last year’s terrorist attack in Benghazi which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, we all understand, it is indelibly imprinted on us, how important it is to protect our people in our facilities. And that is why as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I held both classified and unclassified briefings to make sure that we understood what went wrong and to do all we could to ensure it would never happen again.
That is why as Secretary of State, I am committed to implementing every single one of the recommendations in the report of the Accountability Review Board and doing more. That report makes it clear that our work will never be done, and we can never eliminate every last risk, but we can never stop working to mitigate those risks as much as possible.
So right now, even as we sit here, Pat Kennedy and I and Greg are working to upgrade our capacities. We’re bringing on more security personnel, we’re enhancing our training. We’re putting more Marines at our high-threat diplomatic posts, and we’re making sure that their first responsibility is protecting our people, not just classified materials. We’re working more closely with the Defense Department, with our partners, linking our embassies with various military commands to make emergency extradition1 more central to our military mission. We’re upgrading our facilities, and we’re building new embassies and consulates. And we’re making sure that the concern about safety and security always gets the attention that it needs and deserves.
But in addition to doing what we’re doing in order to be safe abroad, we as a nation need to engage in a larger conversation about the inherent dangers of diplomacy, ever mindful that we undertake them clear-eyed and we undertake them for a reason. And we must remember this conversation that we need to engage our country in is not a new one. The dangers of diplomacy are not unique to this moment in time. Serving in our diplomatic missions didn’t become dangerous that night in Benghazi. This is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, the reason that we continue to do this work is embedded in our DNA as Americans. It is part of our patriotic, pioneering character.
The memorial wall in the lobby of the State Department – which Vice President Biden and I stood at just a few days ago as we unveiled the additional names that have been added to it – that wall in the State Department bears 244 names, including Anne’s, and Chris Stevens’s, and Sean Smith’s, Glen Doherty’s and Ty Woods’s. But I ask you to remember today, and I ask Americans to remember today, that most of those 244 gave their lives long before September 11th of 2012, or even September 11th of 2001. The first plaque on the wall in Foggy Bottom is dedicated to a man named William Palfrey, the Consul General to France, who was lost at sea when the Constitution that we swear to defend was still a decade away from even being written.
The wall honors those that we lost in Beirut and Bosnia and Baghdad, in attacks like that on our embassy in Nairobi in 1998 and on our officers in far capital cities, those we lost as they served in perilous regions even in peaceful times. And though we can’t count all of their names, the wall also honors the families and the loved ones of those who serve and sacrifice in faraway places.
As some of you may know, my father was in the Foreign Service when I was a young man. We were stationed in Berlin when I was 11 years old, in the aftermath of World War II. The streets were still piled with rubble. Troops stood on either side of the line that divided East from West. I remember seeing Hitler’s bunker protruding up from where it had been exploded. And everyone, all the soldiers, were anxiously gripping their weapons wondering whether some hostility might break out. The crossings were dangerous. And the families were often trying to escape from East to West, to a more promising life – the life that you, we, represent. It was dangerous time, and it became even more dangerous when the wall went up and people tried to get across that wall to find freedom and liberty.
So this conversation is not new. But I believe it is more important than ever today. When we think about and grieve about and honor the bravery that we see in your predecessors and in your peers, we cannot at the same time wonder why or be surprised that there is danger. If we are going to bring light to the world, we have to go where it is dark. That is the meaning of service, and that is what American diplomacy has always been about.
Which is why I want to underscore a very important part of this ongoing conversation: how to keep our people safe overseas, and how to minimize our foreign policy – maximize our foreign policy in order to strengthen America.
If you are going to represent the United States in countries to which you’re about to travel, you just need to be accessible to the people on the ground. And every time you do reach out, every time you touch a citizen in another country, every time you carry the face of American values – the values of America – whatever kind of communication you have, you are making our country stronger. You are building the future.
We need to remind our fellow Americans – we are engaged with the rest of the world because that is in our vital interest. We have to be there. Because when we’re there we get things done. We protect the future. And we’re not – as we have too often learned of late – the vacuum will be filled by those whose goals are vastly different from ours.
We put ourselves on the line because it’s in our interest to do so. Because that’s the way we protect others from attacking us, because that’s the way we make sure we that we don’t have to send our kids to war, and that’s the way we build connections with other countries so that we can work together to solve problems that can only be solved across borders, transnationally, by reaching out and joining the global community.
We have to show up in places that no one else wants to go. And when we succeed there – building a safer city, forging a stronger trade partnership, helping a child to grow up understanding what America truly stands for rather than learning from a hateful propaganda package or false ideology – when we do that, our interests are advanced, our values are upheld, and the risks that we take are worth it.
Now, skeptics might try to suggest to you that it’s not worth it. They’ll tell us, “Stay inside the embassy,” or even “Stay in the cities and stay out of countries where you’re not safe.” My friends, that’s no way to advance our interests. That is not what America stands for. We cannot do the work we need to do to make the world safer, to build rule of law, to build the future, by hiding. We can’t do this work by staying away. We will never overcome threats by shrinking away from them. In countries with weak rule of law and dysfunctional governments, we have an interest in helping people to build a stronger democratic institution, to take advantage of opportunity and create the futures that they choose for themselves. Indeed, those are the very places where we have the most to gain.
Every day I get reports – from Greg or from Pat or from the intelligence community – about various threats that we’re facing. And there will be times when I decide that the threat in a certain place is great enough that we need to adjust our approach and take extra precautions, at least for a while. And we do, and we have. That’s the reality. But those will be the exceptional cases. Retreating behind the wire cannot be the way that we do business.
So I’ve got news for you today and I have news to share with America: We will not pull back. We’re going to keep practicing what my father called “foreign policy outdoors,” working directly with men and women around the world, from government officials and local leaders to civil society groups and ordinary people on the street. We’re going to build the people-to-people relationships that help foster trust and understanding between cultures. And we’re going to make that sort of engagement even stronger.
Chris Stevens understood that. He enjoyed and respected the people that he met, whether it was in this country or abroad. When he was just 17 years old, he went to Spain with the American Field Service, and he then lived in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco as a volunteer English teacher with the Peace Corps. In fact, one young student of his became a teacher because of English – because Chris Stevens touched that young man at a point in his life. Wherever he went, he made lasting friendships that were built on mutual respect. When Chris Stevens strolled down streets and greeted strangers with a friendly American smile, Libyans got a glimpse of the best of the United States – a decency and a respect for others regardless of race, religion, or cultural belief.
Chris was fortunate for the chance to live around the world, as I consider myself to have been, and as you are. Most people don’t have the opportunity to do what you do – spend time abroad, meeting people of another language and culture and history and sharing it with them, deeply immersed in their lives.
But today we also have digital bridges to connect different cultures – and I don’t just mean Facebook and Twitter. The State Department’s Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau runs a virtual exchange program that connects teachers and students in the United States with their counterparts in the Middle East and North Africa. These students are working together online, learning from each other about their cultures and history, and they’re forging lasting relationships.
So I’m excited to tell you that we are right now working closely with Chris Stevens’s family on a public-private virtual exchange that we’re going to call the Chris Stevens Youth Network. And we believe this can lead to the largest ever increase in people-to-people exchanges between the United States and the Middle East and North Africa. And we believe it will also dramatically increase the number and diversity of young people who have a meaningful cross-cultural experience – the same experience that Chris, and I think all of you understand is so important.
These are the kind of connections that actually led Libyans to go out into the streets of Benghazi after the attack spontaneously. Tens of thousands carrying signs, thanking the United States – they went out there not to shout terrible things about America, they went out there to mourn Chris’ death and celebrate democracy, to say “thank you” to Chris and America.
After World War II, during that time that I was growing up as a young person in Berlin and elsewhere, I watched our country invest in other people and in the future. In the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, NATO, the Fulbright Program, we watched Germany, Japan turn into powerhouse allies of the United States today. We watched countries like South Korea, which was under siege, which for years received aid from the United States, now become a donor country, giving aid to other people to follow in the example that we set. All of this has been geared towards understanding, and that’s what we have to continue to do today.
America’s interests demand that we not shrink from the world stage. We cannot retrench or retreat. We cannot do our work only from behind bricks and barbed wire. We have to be out there where people are.
In fact, we have to think creatively about expanding our tools and our capabilities so that we can address the issues that drive young people to despair and ultimately terrorism. What happened in Tahrir Square and what happened in Tunisia when a fruit vendor self-immolated himself, and when those young kids Tweeted each other and communicated via text messages – when they did that in Tahrir Square, they weren’t the result of some ideology. They weren’t the result of a religious extremist enterprise. They were young people trying to reach the future that they’ve seen here and in other parts of the world. That was a generational revolution, expressing the aspirations of people for a better future.
Diplomacy and security need do not have to be tradeoffs. President Obama has worked to strike a balance that ensures the outreach and engagement necessary to advance our policies and our interests in accordance with security measures necessitated by the threats to U.S. interests. Later this week, President Obama will discuss our counter-terrorism strategy, and he will discuss this balance which the Administration has sought to strike.
But friends, the challenges of the 21st century are just plain more complex than they were in the latter part of the last century. And the fact is that the opportunities that we face are greater than any that we have encountered in our history. I am convinced of that. You’re here at FSI because you believe the United States must continue to play a leading role. So we need to make the case for what we must do.
We need to show the American people that diplomacy and development efforts are worth investing in, because they pay such huge returns to us in jobs, in our economy, in safety, in protection of the environment, in relationships with people, and in the security of our nation. We need to hold all of our elected officials accountable for making these efforts a priority, and that includes the Congress.
This is a Congress that reminds us all the time that they’re a coequal branch of the federal government, and they should because they are. But that means Congress needs to play a role on the world stage as well, not just investigating, but leading – leading on the Stevens Exchange Program, leading on the Middle East, providing the resources, and the support, and the investments to make the risks we take today worthwhile, that help us build that safer and brighter future, a more prosperous future.
Overseas, we need to keep deepening the relationships, the friendships, and forging the relationships that will benefit the American people around the world. I think there isn’t one of you sitting here who doesn’t understand these principles because that’s why you’re sitting here.
You live them abroad and you will. And here at home, we have an obligation to share them with our fellow citizens, because they need to be part of this journey, even though they may never leave their hometown to do so.
So that’s why I came here this morning, to emphasize and underscore that we are determined to stand up for our values, our interests, and our futures. Because those values and interests – justice and freedom, opportunity for all people – they have always been a beacon for people who aspire to a better life. This is what history has shown us – after World War II, during the depths of the Cold War, and that remains true today.
So we’re going to continue to be out there, not just because that defines us as Americans, but because we know that’s how you build a world that respects human rights, dignity, promotes rule of law, and ultimately fosters opportunity for those burgeoning populations of young people – more and more of them under the age of 30 – the dominant majority components of populations across the Middle East and elsewhere, all of whom need jobs and need a future. Our democracy will be strengthened when our allies are strong, and when we engage with their governments as well as with men and women in all walks of life.
So my friends, when you leave here, proud as you are to be part of this great enterprise, join us. Let’s tell this story. Let’s do so proudly. And as you never forget why you take the risks that we do, I want you to know that none of us – not Pat, not Greg, not myself – nobody charged with the responsibility will ever stop fighting for you and for the resources that you need to be able to undertake this great enterprise.
Thank you for being part of it, and thank you for being willing to share some thoughts with me this morning. Appreciate it. Thank you. (Applause.)