Good morning. I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you to mark Foreign Affairs Day in person.
Let me start by thanking Hans Klemm for hosting, as well as Bob Silverman of the AFSA and Marty Hurwitz of DACOR.
I also want to congratulate a few award winners – the recipient of the DACOR Foreign Service Cup, Ambassador Rich Kauzlarich; the recipient of the DG Civil Service Cup, Ruth Whiteside; and the recipient of the DG Foreign Service Cup, Maura Harty. Congratulations on these very well-deserved honors, and thank you so much for all you do for the State Department and the American people.
Every year, Foreign Affairs Day is about celebrating the work the State Department has been doing for decades, and especially about taking stock of the past year. But it’s also about looking forward and setting goals for the next one. And the past year obviously couldn’t have been a much busier year for diplomats.
In the Middle East, we are working intensely on Syria and Iran, and on supporting the Israelis and the Palestinians while they make the difficult decisions only they can make for peace.
In Africa, where I’ll be when you watch this video, we’re grappling with ways to stop the violence in the Central African Republic, and to support the long process of reconciliation in Mali. At the same time taking advantage of the great opportunities for us to work with a number of African countries – and especially the young people in those countries – as partners for prosperity.
In the Asia Pacific, we’re doing all we can to ease regional tension and help resolve maritime and territory disputes.
Here in the Americas, in places like Venezuela, we see leaders who seem to be more interested in rehashing the politics of the past than addressing the legitimate concerns their citizens have today.
Now where is this truer today than in Ukraine, where we are working closely with our NATO allies to protect the values upon which our very alliance was founded.
And then there are all of the challenges that know no borders – that affect every generation on every continent: the climate change that threatens the future of our planet, the deeply troubling state of our ocean, gender equality, human trafficking – the list goes on.
Diplomats have a critical role to play in addressing all of these global challenges. Here at the State Department, we’re the personnel department of Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution. Our work isn’t just about executing foreign policy. It’s about setting foreign policy. It’s about diplomacy – active, aggressive, diplomacy. And that goes for every single State Department employee, at posts all over the world, on the frontlines of so many struggles for freedom, prosperity, and opportunity.
I’m not only talking about what you read in the headlines – though I couldn’t be prouder of our team in places like Ukraine and the Middle East. But as you know better than anyone, so much of the State Department’s successful diplomacy happens under the radar. When we’re giving civil society a voice in a nation that tries to keep it quiet – that’s American diplomacy at its best. When we’re helping countries make the transformation from aid to trade – that’s diplomacy. When we’re putting in the daily effort to build relationships, address concerns, and maintain our strongest alliances – that’s diplomacy. And every day, diplomacy is helping us address the enormous challenges we face all over the world.
But one of our biggest challenges is right here at home.
The auditorium you’re sitting in is named for one of our country’s greatest Secretaries of State, Dean Acheson. And he once told his fellow State Department employees, “You are dealing matters which, though they affect the life of every citizen of this country intimately, do it in ways which it is not easy for every citizen to understand.”
Those words could easily describe the work we do today. Between our vastly polarized political system and a new isolationism that seems to be brewing, it’s clear that we need to do a better job of explaining to the American people why there is no greater return on investment than the one you get from diplomacy and development. Yes, it’s difficult work, and yes, it can be dangerous work. In a few minutes, you’ll head down to the Memorial Plaque, where Antoinette Beaumont Tomasek’s name will be added to a list that’s far too long of brave and dedicated public servants who remind us every day of the risks and the sacrifices involved in diplomacy and development. But the fact is that the work that State Department and USAID employees do – the sacrifices they make day in and day out – ultimately make the world a safer place.
You know that better than anyone. So I ask all of you: Please help us carry that message. I know a lot of you thought your career in diplomacy was behind you, but we need you to serve as diplomats where you live, where you travel – wherever you are. We need you to help us talk to Americans about what’s at stake and why our engagement has never been more important. And we need you to help us recruit the diplomats of the future, because our work’s not going to get any less relevant or less important anytime soon.
We’re all a part of a great enterprise – and as the son of a Foreign Service officer, I’ll tell you, it’s an enterprise I’ve admired all my life. Now that I’ve spent some time here myself, I know that the State Department is not only a workplace – it is a team and it is a family. And once you’re a part of that family, you’re in it for life. Thank you for honoring that role, for taking the time to return to Foggy Bottom and attend Foreign Affairs Day, and for all that you continue to do for our nation.