Welcome everybody, and thank you for having me here. It is wonderful to be, in this room, with so many people, so many friends. I really wouldn’t be here but for a lot of you. I think without Pat Kennedy, I may still be stuck in India right now.
You mentioned this incredible room. I’ll just say, this carpet is also brand new…They tell me that it had to come in on a crane that was bigger than this building, through those center doors, so just be careful with your drinks.
Thank you, Ambassador Shannon. Thank you, Ambassador Neumann and the American Academy of Diplomacy. You really are such a vital advocate for the people who drive our global leadership. And again it is an honor to stand before all of you.
It really is a tremendous privilege to congratulate this year’s honorees:
Leaders like Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and the Afghan Foreign Service Nationals who personify the meaning of courage and conviction in foreign affairs.
A dedicated development professional like Dr. Peter McPherson whose journey took him from the Peace Corps to USAID and ultimately to the highest reaches of business and academia.
A brilliant author like Steve Kemper who illuminated a story of a dedicated diplomat, a man in the arena, doing his utmost to prevent a slide to war.
Legendary journalists like Tom Friedman and Michele Kelemen who help explain the ins and outs of international policy to the American people – and who understand the power of a free press to inform, enlighten, and tell stories that need to be heard.
Everyone here understands the stakes of the present moment, because you’ve all faced them yourselves – questions about war and peace, development and dignity, security and sustainability.
All of you appreciate what President Biden means when he says that this is an inflection point – a time when our choices will determine not only the kind of world we inhabit, but the type of planet our children and grandchildren will inherit.
All of you see the magnitude of what we’re up against – what another former ambassador, Bill Burns, calls “problems without passports”: issues like climate change and cybersecurity and pandemics like COVID. Challenges like terror and tyranny and the promise and peril of new technologies – all of which demand international cooperation.
The fact is, there’s a fierce competition for what comes next in this post-Cold War era. Our allies – and our adversaries – are watching closely the decisions we make.
But if times of crisis and conflict teach us anything, it’s the reminder that what we do matters: that American diplomacy is imperative. American engagement is invaluable. American leadership is often indispensable.
So it becomes our duty to rally the world to Ukraine’s defense.
So it becomes our responsibility to confront the aftermath of Hamas’ vile terrorist attack, the ongoing conflict, and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza – all as we never lose sight of our vision for a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.
So it becomes our role to build coalitions to defeat ISIS; to tackle irregular migration, or counter the insidious trafficking of fentanyl, or combat climate change, and more.
And even with so much on our immediate plates, there’s something else you know better than anyone: the world keeps spinning, and the State Department keeps pushing ahead on our wide array of priorities.
Just consider this: in the last month, as our attention has been pointed primarily toward Israel and Gaza, we also saw key leaders travel from Europe to South America to the Pacific to engage on matters of public diplomacy, economic policy, and trade.
We saw State Department officials hold climate talks in the run-up to COP28; helm discussions on arms control with Chinese counterparts; and host a conference on ransomware.
A few days ago, I went to Mexico to discuss migration, and every day, I stay focused on implementing the Secretary’s Modernization Agenda – an ambitious package of reforms and innovations that have been informed by the experience of so many in this room.
All the while, Secretary Blinken moved from the Middle East to the G7 in Tokyo, to Seoul yesterday and New Delhi today – engaging on Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, the Indo-Pacific, human rights, maritime security, inclusive growth, and our vision of a planet that is open, prosperous, secure, and free.
The point is: there’s so much at this Department that doesn’t make headlines. Our daily work isn’t always the stuff of breaking news, and to some Departments, our budget looks like a rounding error.
But no matter what, our diplomats remain vital to our national security. And we need them there, on the front lines.
Because they’re the ones who understand culture, history, politics, economics, and foreign languages. They’re the ones helping U.S. students and citizens abroad, opening markets for U.S. businesses, and defending our values. They’re the ones ensuring that our network of allies and partners is always a source of strength.
They’re the ones forging bonds of trust worldwide, so that when crises do happen – and when we do need to galvanize the globe for Ukraine or prevent the spread of war in the Middle East or tackle whatever comes our way – we have the relationships and the lines of communication ready to get the job done.
That’s the spirit represented by our honorees.
That’s the tradition embodied by the American Academy of Diplomacy and each of you.
That’s what makes our diplomacy strong and what will keep American leading long into the future.
Congratulations again to all the awardees. I appreciate your great leadership. Thank you all for being here.