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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at the Portrait Unveiling Ceremony and Reception for Former Secretary Condoleezza Rice


Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
June 18, 2014

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SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very, very much. I want to begin by begging your forgiveness. I’m later than I have been, I think, at any moment, and it is simply because today the world could care less about the Secretary of State’s schedule, and I apologize profusely to everybody.

This is a very, very special occasion for a lot of different reasons, but it’s special, and whether it’s Nick Burns or Brent Scowcroft, Andy Card – not so much welcoming you back, but them and John Negroponte and especially Secretary Rice herself, this is welcome home, and we’re delighted to have all of you here sharing this special event with us.

Before I start, I just – I want to go – I want to get something out of the way here that I think is important to clarify for people. It’s no secret that Dr. Rice and I came to Foggy Bottom with some different views and some different experiences. I played bass guitar in my high school garage band and she’s a classically trained concert pianist who performed for Queen Elizabeth. In other words, folks, we are both musicians who have brought people to tears for different reasons. (Laughter.) So yes, we are different. But what I have really come to appreciate since I’ve been in Foggy Bottom is not the differences, but the kinship, the camaraderie, and most important of all, the commonality of purpose among all of the former Secretaries of State and the current Secretary of State.

As we have wrestled with a very complicated world at this moment, every single one of my predecessors has been there immediately to offer the value of their experience, their insight, their gut instincts, and that began literally almost immediately as soon as I was nominated by President Obama. Before I could reach for my phone to reach out for them, I started receiving calls from the former secretaries, from New York, from Texas, from California, and right here in Washington.

Condi, I want to particularly thank you for being so gracious these 17 months. Your generous counsel has been a profound reminder that even in today’s Washington, there are some issues, there are some jobs, there are some responsibilities, that are bigger than any party or any ideology. And I think that’s something that is really truly special about this Department. And it’s one reason why it’s such a privilege to honor Dr. Rice’s service as Secretary of State here today, is that sense that we serve here in a job at the pleasure of a president, but all of us working for our country and without connection to party ideology or to politics.

All of us in this room are regrettably much too aware of how toxic Washington has become. Turn on the TV or the radio, you pick up the newspaper, and sometimes it’s very difficult to see where or when or even if the politics even stop. And while it’s never ever been true that the politics quite stop at the water’s edge, I think – and Condi and I have obviously both given speeches at our national conventions – I will still share with you that whatever their politics, every single Secretary of State alive today is committed to the same thing: that America project its strength effectively and always lead in a complicated world. That is part of what makes this day and this institution so very, very special.

The State Department really is a place where bipartisanship can work and where the connection between the Secretaries of State is just one small piece of that rather remarkable tradition. Every one of us believes in the power of America to make a difference in the world. Now, I first saw that as a kid when my father was serving in the Foreign Service overseas and I saw the United States help rebuild a broken Europe. But Condoleezza Rice didn’t have to leave home to have a searing lesson in the struggles that can lead to great transformation. I was a kid in high school when I first saw those images of growling dogs and water cannons turned on peaceful protestors in Birmingham. For Condoleezza Rice, this wasn’t something that she watched on television. This was her hometown.

My generation remembers the 16th Street Baptist Church, the bombing, as a wakeup call for the Civil Rights Movement. For Condoleezza Rice, it was something else entirely. It was the murder of an 11-year-old neighbor and friend Denise McNair. That an African American woman, a girl from the segregated South, would grow up to become the nation’s top diplomat, to be America’s face and voice in the world, speaks volumes about the power of America’s example and the incredible transformation, the transformative power really of America itself that we have witnessed these 50 years.

And what a statement about America it is that the portrait that we will unveil here today, the portrait of a woman who was the granddaughter of a sharecropper, will forever be displayed not far from the portraits of American Secretaries of State from Jefferson to Calhoun, who were slave owners. That is an incredible American story and a journey that defines our country. But it’s only one part of Secretary Rice’s story, just one part of her remarkable journey. It’s not the barriers that she has overcome that define her. She is defined by her commitment to break down barriers to freedom, obstacles to opportunity, for people all across the world.

The story of where Condi first found that inspiration is also one of the more serendipitous parts of the State Department’s history. It was Secretary Albright’s father, Professor Joseph Korbel, who first excited Condi’s imagination deep – and her deep interest in foreign policy. He captivated his classes in Denver by sharing his own stories about the indignities that he faced when he fled communism and came to America. Really understanding what made the Soviet Union tick was more than a career for Dr. Rice; it was a calling. She learned Russian and she studied and taught about the Soviet Union for 16 years before she came to Washington.

And when she arrived at the White House to work for Brent Scowcroft at the NSC, her business card said she was just a staffer. But President George Herbert Walker Bush knew she was a lot more than that. When he met with Mikhail Gorbachev in Malta, he described Dr. Rice as the woman who tells me everything I need to know about Russia. And at the moment of greatest reckoning as the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, Condoleezza Rice was there to help President Bush see Russia’s interests as Russians sensed a great loss and even a grievance with the need to save face. For those of us who were Cold War kids, it was a moment many had long thought was impossible. As Dr. Rice has said, America has a way of looking – making the impossible look inevitable.

But there was another lesson from that moment. It was a time when many argued that with the Cold War won, America should just take its peace dividend, pull back from the world. Fortunately, Condoleezza Rice was one of those who pushed back. When you think about the moment that Dr. Rice, Secretary Baker, and President Bush faced, in some ways it’s not altogether different. It’s different in its scope and size because of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, but in terms of some of the underlying components, not that different from some of the things that we face today. Then as now we saw the collapse of an aging, autocratic order, and we saw it unleash political aspirations and old divides that had been pent up for generations. It was a moment that demanded America’s leadership in order to help shape the future. Then as now we saw countries that were struggling to take painful but necessary steps to make ossified markets more free and more fair. Then as now we saw people across the world who wanted to be part of a free marketplace of ideas, people who wanted to be more connected to one another.

In both the pivotal period when Condoleezza Rice first worked in the White House when the Berlin Wall fell, and again today after so many old orders have fallen in the wake of the Arab Spring, we see clearly the unique responsibilities of America in the world that Condoleezza Rice understood so well. After she became Secretary of State herself she not only understood the responsibilities, she knew how to define them and she knew how we had to execute on that responsibility to lead, and she said clearly with diplomacy. She made clear from the very moment she walked into this building and pronounced, “The time for diplomacy is now.”

And for four years, for more than a million miles of travel, every single day she was here and anywhere in the world, she put those words into action to make sure that diplomacy was always America’s first resort, and to make the State Department the center of America’s foreign policy. That’s how she brought together the world’s oldest democracy, the United States, with the world’s largest democracy, India, and ended years of acrimony and reached a civilian nuclear agreement. That’s how she brought the United States together with the five permanent members of the Security Council in Germany to say for the first time with a united voice that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. That’s how she helped contain a toxic mix of force that could’ve fueled a much bigger conflict, but to end the war in Lebanon. And that is how Secretary Rice and President George W. Bush brought the Israelis and Palestinians together face to face in Annapolis to talk about the potential for peace.

She didn’t do it because she was sure of success. She didn’t do it without going out on a limb. She did it because that is who we are, and that is what she understood we must do to make a difference. That’s in our DNA. It is doing the difficult work that makes America’s values real in the world and defines us ultimately as a country. And that is the best of American diplomacy, because American diplomacy, like our country itself, is not defined by where we are but by where we’re trying to go, by trying to reach an ideal. We are different from every other country on the planet because we are the one country that is not defined by bloodline or ethnicity. We are defined by the idea that all people are created equal and have a right to opportunity. We are defined as exceptional not because we say we are exceptional, but because we do exceptional things. And today we celebrate a Secretary of State of exceptional talent, of exceptional ability, who did do exceptional things.

Secretary Rice, Condi, it is an honor for the State Department to welcome you back, an honor for me to be able to say thank you on behalf of your country. Thank you for bringing justice, dignity, and opportunity to people across the world. We thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY RICE: Well thank you very much, Secretary Kerry, John, for that wonderful tribute. It is so touching, and I am so grateful. I want to start by acknowledging a couple of people. I can’t acknowledge all of the wonderful friends and family here, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my Aunt Gee McPhatter who is here from Birmingham. (Applause.)

Gee is my mother’s youngest sister, and evidence that the Rices and Rays always were very special people indeed, as I said about them in the book Extraordinary, Ordinary People. So thank you for representing the Rices and Rays, including my dear parents who have gone to the Lord, Angelena and John Rice.

I also want to acknowledge my stepbrother, Greg Bailey, who is sitting here. I want very much to thank Senator Rob Portman for being here. My great team, including my exceptional deputy, John Negroponte, who I think stands as one of the finest Foreign Service officers not just of a generation, but of our country’s history. John, thank you. (Applause.)

There’s one other person I want to acknowledge, and that’s General Brent Scowcroft. I very often say to my students we have this conceit that you have to find a role model and mentors who look like you. And I always say if I had been looking and waiting for a black female Soviet studies role model, I’d still be waiting. (Laughter.) Indeed, I found one of my lifelong role models and mentors in Brent Scowcroft. And Brent, we don’t look like each other, but you have been a joy in my life for so long. Thank you for being here.

SECRETARY KERRY: Here, here. (Applause.)

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’s an honor, Secretary Kerry, John, to be here to unveil this portrait. I’m a little nervous to see what it looks like, so we’ll get to that rather soon. (Laughter.) When I became Secretary of State, my good friend George Shultz said, “Secretary of State is the best job in government.” Now, George should have known. He was Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Treasury, head of the OMB; he had some experience. And I reflected on that very often after President Bush offered me the opportunity to become Secretary of State. And I think there are several reasons that it is indeed an incredible opportunity.

First of all, there’s all that extraordinary history of the Secretary of State. I know, John, that you pass by those portraits every day on the way to the office, and you realize that there were secretaries of State who helped the young republic find its footing – secretaries of State like Jefferson and Monroe and Madison. There were secretaries of State who helped the country survive the Civil War, like Seward; world wars, like Hull; the Cold War and really the dawn of American power as a permanent factor in the international system, like Marshall and Acheson. And of course, there are four of us – Secretary Powell, Secretary Clinton, myself and you, Secretary Kerry – who have come to office after the terrible events of September 11th, having to chart a new course for our country, which had not experienced an attack on its homeland since the War of 1812.

It is an extraordinary fraternity, and now sorority, that we have. (Laughter.) And it is an honor to be a part of it.

But of course, it’s not just the history of this great job – the first cabinet position created by the founders – but the extraordinary people with whom you have an opportunity to work. People who are in this room who made my daily life really one of joy and of satisfaction, even in the hardest of times. Foreign Service officers – we have the most extraordinary Foreign Service in the world, people who give of themselves in the most dangerous and the most difficult of circumstances, and often pay the ultimate price for it. Because we were at war, I also got to know and understand the extraordinary commitment of men and women in uniform who volunteer – they volunteer to defend us at the frontlines of freedom. And we owe them our eternal gratitude, because they stand for what is best for America. And of course, there is the opportunity to serve this exceptional country, to represent it abroad, to stand for what it stands for, and to look to a world not as it is, but a world as it ought to be – a world in which no one lives in tyranny.

America is, after all, an idea. It is a universal idea that we the people ought to be an inclusive concept, not one that is bound by religion or nationality or ethnicity, but by a belief that one can come from humble circumstances and do great things; that aspiration is the mother’s milk of success. We the people have been able, once we consolidated ourselves here, to take that idea into an international system that can often be callous and harsh, chaotic and violent, but that is always looking for a guiding light to help it find a better day. And the United States of America has been that guiding light.

I know that these are very difficult times. They’re times when, as people of particularly the Middle East test the proposition that no one should live in tyranny, they’re times that seem chaotic and they seem dangerous, and sometimes there are those who say that maybe there are just those who don’t have the DNA for democracy, maybe they’re just not ready for democracy.

Well, standing here in the Franklin Room, I think we Americans, more than any peoples, should perhaps be a little bit more patient with those who have thrown the yoke of tyranny and are trying to find their way to stable democracy. After all, our Constitution initially in a compromise that would allow the United States of America to come into being counted my ancestors as three fifths of a man. It would be that same Constitution to which Martin Luther King would appeal when he would say that segregation was wrong in my hometown of Birmingham, and when he would say that the United States had to be what it said it was, not something else. It would be that same Constitution to which I would take allegiance as the 66th Secretary of State of the United States of America.

When I was Secretary in my last couple of weeks, I went to the National Archives. I wanted to see our foundational documents. And I went while I was still Secretary, because, John, they’ll give you a private tour while you’re Secretary and later on you might have to stand in line. (Laughter.) Well, there I saw the Emancipation Proclamation. For this descendant of slaves, that was overwhelming. But I also read the Declaration of Independence. We all know “when in the course of human events,” but about a third of the way down it gets pretty angry and pretty petulant and fist-shaking and talking about seizing rights if they’re not given. And you think: Who are those people? Well, they were people who had had enough, and around the world people have had enough. They’ve had enough of corruption. They’ve had enough of authoritarianism. They’ve had enough of dynastic rule. They want the simple freedoms and dignity that we enjoy.

It’s not going to happen tomorrow, and indeed if you read today’s headlines you wonder if it’s ever going to happen. But let me just assure you that today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same. And one of the reasons that these portraits are so important is that they remind us of that. As I would walk past, sometimes, Thomas Jefferson – well, everybody had Thomas Jefferson in their office, and so that wasn’t so special. And then I had George Marshall. Well, George Marshall was probably the greatest Secretary of State, so maybe that wasn’t so special.

But I chose two others. I chose Dean Acheson, because when Dean Acheson left these rooms, the question was: Who lost China? And today Dean Acheson is remembered as the founding father of the foundational institutions that led to victory in the Cold War, like NATO.

And I kept William Seward. Well, why would anyone keep William Seward? Well, you see, he bought Alaska. (Laughter.) And at the time, it was Seward’s folly, and if you think our congressional hearings are rough, you should have heard his. How can you have paid the czar of Russia $7 million for that icebox? Well, a few years later I was talking to the then secretary – the then minister of defense of Russia, and he had just gone to Alaska. And he said, “Alaska is so beautiful.” He said, “It reminds me of Russia.” (Laughter.) I said, “Sergey, it used to be Russia.” (Laughter.) We’re awfully glad that Seward bought Alaska. Today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same.

And that’s why Secretaries of State and now our Secretary of State today, John Kerry, will continue to pursue peace in the Middle East, will continue to find a way to bring Palestinians and Israelis to that happy day when there are two states living side by side in peace and security – and thank you, John, for continuing that struggle. It is also why Secretaries of State will continue to use American power and American principle and American prosperity to try to end global poverty to give people a chance. It’s why Secretaries of State will continue to care that women are fully empowered, so that they will not be bought into slavery, captured by terrorists, and held down. And it’s why American secretaries of State will continue to insist that our work is not done until nowhere on the globe do people live in tyranny and every human being has the dignity that comes with the right to say what you think, to worship as you please, to be free from the knock of the secret police at night, and to be able to insist that those who would govern you have to ask for your consent.

There are no shortcuts and there’s no substitute for the United States of America, and that is why I’m so grateful to be here with each and every one of you once again to proclaim that American power and principle are the center of a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Thank you. (Applause.)

STAFF: Yeah, that’s perfect, and these gentlemen will pull – the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Honor Guard, please unveil the portrait.

(Portrait is unveiled.) (Applause.)

SECRETARY RICE: I did not have a chance to thank Steven. Is he here? Steven Polson? Yes. Yeah, there he is. Steven, I wanted to see it first. (Laughter.) It’s spectacular. Thank you. (Applause.)

 

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