SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon. Welcome. Welcome back to the State Department for so many of you. Welcome to the Ben Franklin Room, newly refurbished. A lot went into this. And I think maybe a word about Ben Franklin before we get to today’s event.
As you all know, he was America’s first diplomat, ambassador to France, negotiated our first treaty, charted the Gulf Stream, pioneered electricity, gave us our ethos of self-governance – and virtually none of that did he do while sober. (Laughter.) So I leave it to you to draw any conclusions.
Mr. President, all of our distinguished guests, welcome to the State Department. And to our guest of honor, Secretary Clinton, welcome home. (Applause.)
If you’ll allow me one quick word of personal privilege, one of the great honors of my life was working for President Clinton. And quite simply put – (applause) – I would not be standing here were it not for the man standing right there. Thank you, Mr. President. (Applause.)
But to our guest of honor today, it is a joy to have you back at the State Department. And I’d say from looking around this modestly filled room – (laughter) – from listening to folks in my office, in the hallways of the department throughout this entire building, I know that feeling is shared by members of your very big State Department family.
I’d also like to welcome back members of your staff. This is a homecoming for each and every one of you, too. And thank you for being here today. (Applause.)
Now, truth be told, I’ve also borrowed liberally from your staff, because we have so many people who continue to lead this enterprise who were working side by side with Secretary Clinton.
Now, I’ve been involved in foreign policy for more than 30 years. I’ve known, worked with, and learned from and admired Secretary Clinton for each and every one of them. I first met the secretary in the White House, where I worked for the president on the NSC staff. Now, for someone who had an office on one end of the Old Executive Office Building, I spent an inordinate amount of time in the first lady’s office on the other end – (laughter) – of the Old Executive Office Building and also in the East Wing. And that was, in fairness, all because a certain member of her staff – (laughter) – I – maybe of all the things I have gratitude to the Clintons for, number one is bringing my wife, Evan, into my life. That’s (inaudible). (Applause.)
Now, as the secretary knows very well, the walk to the secretary’s office on the seventh floor is a little bit awe-inspiring; it’s a little bit humbling. You pass through the stately diplomatic reception rooms and then down that wood-paneled mahogany row, surrounded by portraits of our predecessors, most of them looking a little bit severe, many with some pretty imaginative facial hair, and all but three of them white men.
Of course, it’s what these secretaries did that is most humbling to those of us who followed in their footsteps. Some of them won our young republic its first friends and allies, helped our nation navigate world wars, negotiated treaties and peace agreements, charted the future of the international system and America’s role in it.
And now, beginning today, another secretary will join this esteemed group – a secretary who helped transform American diplomacy for the 21st century: Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Applause.)
In the Cold War period, Secretary George Marshall urged the folks working with him, and especially his policy planners, as he put it, to look ahead – not into the distant future, but beyond – beyond the smoke and crisis of the current battle, far enough ahead to see what the emerging form of things to come will look like, and outline what should be done to meet and anticipate them.
Secretary Clinton had this vision. From the outset, she pledged, and I quote, to deal with “the urgent, the important and the long-term” all at the same time. That means managing day-in, day-out crises, which she did incredibly deftly, including by brokering a landmark ceasefire in the Middle East that saved lives and restored desperately needed stability. But it also meant pursuing an affirmative and principled vision for America’s role in the world.
Secretary Clinton led the push to strategically rethink where, with whom, and how America engages, especially in the Indo-Pacific, where she rightly recognizes the region that would determine the trajectory of the 21st century. In her very first trip as secretary, she set off for Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and China. She launched new strategic dialogues, including with the Philippines and India; opened our mission to ASEAN; elevated our focus on the extraordinarily complex relationship with China.
And this was just one region. Secretary Clinton was able to see over the horizon in every single one of them.
Beyond any part of the world, the secretary saw that to be more effective, diplomacy needed to widen its aperture. She recognized that the days of engaging primarily with governments were over, that shaping our diplomacy in a way that meets people where they are depends on our ability to listen, to learn, to hear them. Students, youth leaders, business owners, women and girls, journalists, human rights defenders, democracy activists – these, too – these, too – were America’s essential partners.
She held townhalls and townterviews wherever she went, from Tokyo to Bishkek, to Nairobi, to Islamabad. She got out of government ministries and into communities, and by doing so, she encouraged people across this department to do the same thing. And that, in turn, enhanced our standing and our influence around the world.
The secretary also elevated new diplomatic priorities, like economic statecraft, public health, energy security, and, critically, empowering women and girls. For as long as she was a public servant – that is virtually her entire adult life – Secretary Clinton led with and helped shape for the better our values, American values, not just by declaring that women’s rights are human rights, but fighting – fighting to make sure that the rest of the world actually recognized this and respected these rights as well.
She was the first secretary of state to declare and uphold an inalienable truth: gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights. A lot of what’s now recognized as universal, what’s commonly accepted, Secretary Clinton helped make it that way.
And she led with both America’s values and our interests in calling out Putin for who he really is – from the start. (Applause.)
To make sure that America could more effectively lead and drive global good in the world, Secretary Clinton modernized and updated how we actually do diplomacy, and she also invested in our single greatest asset, and that’s our people.
Secretary Colin Powell used to tell a story about a letter that he received on his very first day from the great strategist George Kennan. Kennan wrote that every secretary of state has two jobs: one, to lead the government’s foreign policy; and two, to lead the department. Secretary Clinton understood this innately and knew that both roles were essential and also mutually reinforcing.
As she advanced our diplomacy around the world, she also worked tirelessly to support those who were conducting and aiding our diplomacy on the ground. She led by example, with good humor and also with, I think, what’s become a truly legendary work ethic. (Laughter.)
Now, some of you have seen the photographic evidence of this: Secretary Clinton rocking shades in the back of a C-17. (Laughter.) Globetrotting to a modest 112 countries, at least by the official count. Brokering peace deals. Negotiating sanctions. Standing up to autocrats. All, for days on end, running on little more than a breakfast burrito. (Laughter.)
Then, there was Secretary Clinton regularly stopping by offices and bureaus throughout this building, taking extra time to visit our embassies and consulates on every trip, meeting with our direct hires, their families, locally employed staff – who are in every mission in the world the lifeblood of our embassies – and, of course, the Marines who protect them every single day.
Supporting our people also means championing their work and ensuring that diplomacy plays its rightful role in our foreign policy and our engagement with the world. So the secretary made sure that the State Department had a seat at the table in any major decision that was being made in the administration. She stood up for this building and the people in it, whether in a meeting with fellow cabinet members or during those occasional high-pressure briefings with the president in the Situation Room. She worked to boost morale and reinvigorate a sense of pride in our diplomacy. All of this made possible America’s work to, as she always put it, help more people in more places live up to their God-given potential.
Now, it’s not always an easy job. There are risks that people can’t see coming around the corner – a bee swarm in Malawi, a volcano eruption in Eritrea, an earthquake that shook everyone and everything, save for a sound-asleep secretary of state. (Laughter.) Tom Nides once gifted the secretary an NFL helmet at a staff meeting, and I’ve got to say, if you still have it, I’d love to borrow it. (Laughter.)
But the secretary managed all of this in incredibly high style. As she’s fond of saying, like Ginger Rogers did: in heels, dancing backward. Or in Secretary Clinton’s case, dancing a little salsa at Café Havana in Cartagena. (Laughter.)
Secretary Clinton has often said that America’s leadership in the world is like a relay race. Presidents, secretaries, entire generations are handed the baton and asked to run a leg of the race and then hand it off as best we can, pass on the torch, pass on the relay to the next generation.
Secretary Clinton, your leg of the race helped revitalize the power and the purpose of American diplomacy. It reminded the world of who America is, what we stand for, and helped us achieve our mission, what we’re all here ultimately to do – to make our people and people around the world a little bit safer, a little bit more secure, a little bit more prosperous, a little healthier, a little bit more filled with opportunity.
Her time here inspired so many people, so many people in this room and so many others well beyond this room, in this country and around the entire planet. It inspired them to try to do the same thing. And for that, I could not be more grateful, both as one of your successors and simply as an American.
And now, it is my distinct pleasure and distinct honor to turn the microphone over to my friend, to my colleague, the 67th Secretary of State of the United States Hillary Clinton. (Applause and cheering.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Tony, that was so, so beautiful. Wow. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Wow. Thank you. (Applause and cheering.) Thank you. (Laughter.) Oh my. Thank you.
Oh, it is such a joy to be here with all of you and to be in this newly refurbished, incredible Ben Franklin Room. We are the first people seeing it, and I am so excited to see how this will continue creating opportunities for people to come together, to work together, in such a beautiful setting.
Let me start by thanking Secretary Blinken. I am incredibly grateful to you for your leadership, the tremendous job you’re doing on behalf of President Biden’s foreign policy, the successes that you and your colleagues have obtained. It’s truly remarkable.
I think if we had been in this room in its former, much gloomier kind of look – (laughter) – a couple years ago and talked about an invasion of Ukraine that instead of driving a stake between us and our allies brought us closer together in order to support the right of the Ukrainian people to defend their liberty and freedom and democracy, people might have doubted that, because we had burned so many bridges with our allies and our friends. So reinstating a foreign policy that plays to the best of American values, that puts our interests and security front and center, but does it in a way that actually brings people to us, not pushes them away, would have been thought to be extremely difficult. And indeed, it was. But it was accomplished. And that plus so much else you’ve done around the world in your time, helping to restore America’s standing, keeping us safe, strong, and respected, is truly remarkable. Thank you, Secretary Blinken. (Applause.)
I also want to acknowledge Secretary John Kerry, who I see over there, my successor. (Applause.) And thank you, John, for your indefatigable leadership on behalf of climate and everything you’re doing to try to help us outrun the rise in temperature and all that comes with it. I know I and many other Americans are very grateful.
And I want to acknowledge Evan Ryan. It is absolutely true that, really, the reason I as first lady got to meet this young, very eager foreign policy staff member is because he was always in our office. (Laughter.) Now, some people – as Melanne Verveer, my wonderful friend and chief of staff in the second term of the Clinton administration will remember – some people were there because they had business they wanted to talk to us about. (Laughter.) Some people were there because Melanne had a giant drawer of candy, which was a way of enticing people to come and talk about business. But you were there for another purpose. (Laughter.) And I could not be prouder to have Evan here. She’s working at the White House once again. Her service is extraordinary as well. And I love the fact that they met during the Clinton administration. So thank you. (Applause.)
I’m also delighted that 42nd, as I call him around the house, is here. (Laughter.) It always gets his attention. Sometimes saying “Bill,” he’s watching basketball or football or something, but if I say, “Oh, how do I hum ‘Hail to the Chief?’” (Laughter.) But thank you so much for being here as well.
I want to thank Steve Polson for the portrait, which you’ll see in just a few minutes. He has extraordinary talent that has been called on by other secretaries of state whose portraits you will see around the building.
Now, this is an incredibly emotional moment looking out and seeing so many of you with whom I was privileged to serve over my four years, some of the challenges and the adventures and opportunities that we pursued together through the State Department and USAID. And I want to thank all of the current and former Foreign Service officers and civil servants here today, because although much of their daily work goes unsung on the front pages of newspapers or barely mentioned on cable news, it is vital to our nation’s security. And so I want to give a round of applause to those who are the heart of our diplomacy and development. (Applause.)
When I came into this building now 14 years ago – hard to believe – I knew there was something very special about this place, and that having the singular honor of leading the State Department and USAID would be an incredible both personal and professional experience. I had no idea the level of talent and expertise that resides here in the building and across all of our embassies, consuls, and other outposts throughout the world. People who serve this country with 100 percent of their commitment, their intelligence, who bring every experience to bear on whatever the challenges might be, I am so grateful that I got to spend those four years criss-crossing the globe with many of you – endless miles travelled, oceans crossed – in pursuit of peace, prosperity, and security.
I do think that it was important to restore America’s commitment to diplomacy and development. That’s why, from the very beginning, I started talking about the three Ds – those, plus defense – because we needed to make it clear, coming out of two wars that had been extremely expensive in blood and treasure, that we had also a strong case to make around the world to draw people toward us to pursue common interests and values.
And I think, as the Secretary just said, we try to do that by dealing with individual crises, of course, but also taking a longer-term view about where we wanted to be, what kind of world we wanted to create for our children and our grandchildren. So we built global coalitions to curb nuclear proliferation, to tackle climate change, to promote democracy. We continued to build on our human rights commitments – women’s rights, gay rights, the rights of all people to have a chance to live up to their own God-given potential.
And we have seen the continuation of a lot of the values and priorities that we worked on into the Biden administration. And in looking across the globe, defending democracy in Ukraine, expanding NATO – just an as aside; too bad, Vladimir. (Laughter.) You brought it on yourself. And that was such a point of contention – (applause). And we always said: People are not forced to join NATO; people choose and want to join NATO. And so indeed, expanding NATO, facing down Russian aggression, managing the challenges from China using creative diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific – from the Quad to AUKUS to the historic Camp David meeting between the Japanese and South Korean leaders – and strengthening our alliances and partnerships.
Now, of those three Ds, we know defense gets the most attention, gets the most money. But the people in this room understand very well the enduring power of diplomacy and development not only to keep us safe, but to promote our interests around the globe.
I am privileged right now to be teaching at Columbia University at the School of International Policy and Affairs, and co-teaching with the dean, who is an expert in international relations, particularly the theories that help explain why leaders make the decisions that they do. Our course is called Inside the Situation Room, and of course I use a lot of examples from American diplomacy and development in order to convey to students in this very large class what’s possible besides aggression or responding to aggression.
Now, everyone here is part of the tradition of diplomacy, which is as old as our country – as Ben Franklin is watching over us. I continue to call what we should be doing smart power, because it’s better than the opposite. (Laughter.) And I remember very well how the increase in applications to the Foreign Service started going up once President Obama took office. People want to serve our country. They even are willing to put themselves in harm’s way without wearing a full military uniform and carrying an assault rifle. They want to be part of building a better world that the United States can help to shape. So there are no finer public servants than those who I was privileged to live with.
When I think about the myriad of challenges our country and the world face – and people have this phrase “polycrises,” which sadly is kind of descriptive – what makes me sleep a little better at night is knowing that there are people in our government getting up every day trying to make the right decisions – sometimes when that’s not so obvious, sometimes when it carries consequences and costs that can be difficult to explain away but which are part of charting the course we need to take us forward.
So thank you, Secretary Blinken, for your work continuing the tradition that secretaries of state certainly aim to fulfill of being a good steward, during the time that you’re here, of our country’s values, interests, and security. And it is such a joy to be back here, and I haven’t seen this portrait in a really long time. (Laughter.) I – Steve Paulson is amazing, but between COVID, between not wanting to finish it during the prior administration – (laughter) – (applause) – it’s – (applause) it’s been a while. It’s been a while, and I am going to be probably as surprised as all of you. (Laughter.) But this could not be a happier occasion, and thank you so much for hosting us. (Applause.)
(The portrait was unveiled.)