Everyone knew President Obama was coming yesterday. It was in the Washington Post and the New York Times (I'm sure security just LOVED that).
I was glad that he did not come in with Secretary Clinton when she first came into the building in the morning. That was HER moment to shine. And to tell us that diplomacy matters again. President Obama then came later to re-enforce this new truth with the appointment of Senator George Mitchell as a special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as an envoy for Afghanistan/Pakistan (and I love that we have a President who knows how to pronounce that!). Soft power, or as Secretary Clinton calls it, Smart Power, is back. And I'd have to say the Department is THRILLED!
I was disappointed not to be among the ones selected to hear him speak, but I did get to hear him, Vice President Biden, and Secretary Clinton via our Department broadcast on BNET.
Secretary Clinton, in her introduction, said, "Anything short of relentless diplomatic efforts will fail to achieve peace." Amen. Vice President Biden seconded that thought, saying: "We are going to invigorate our nation's committment to diplomacy....For too long, we have put the bulk of the burden on the military." Amen again!
President Obama's remarks were again inspiring (and I must add, some of the most balanced I have heard in a long time on the Israeli-Paelstinian conflict...I liked that he said: "Now, just as the terror of rocket fire aimed at innocent Israelis is intolerable, so, too, is a future without hope for the Palestinians"). Of diplomacy and those of us serving America's foreign policy objectives, President Obama said:
My appearance today, as has been noted, underscores my commitment to the importance of diplomacy and renewing American leadership. And it gives me an opportunity to thank you for the services that you perform every single day.
Sometimes I think the American public doesn't fully understand the sacrifices that you and your families make, the dedication that is involved in you carrying on your tasks day in, day out.
And I know I speak for Joe Biden, as well as everybody else on this stage, when we tell you that we are proud of you. You are carrying on a vital task in the safety and security of the American people.
And part of what we want to do is to make sure that everybody understands that the State Department is going to be absolutely critical to our success in the years to come, and you individually are going to be critical to our success in the years to come. And we want to send a signal to all kinds of young people who may be thinking about the Foreign Service that they are going to be critical in terms of projecting not just America's power, but also America's values and America's ideals.
You can read the entire text of his remarks at Dead Men Working.
There is also a nice piece in Time that explains a bit about why folks in the Department are so optimistic:
The euphoria that greeted Hillary Clinton's arrival at the State Department on Thursday was not unfamiliar. Every few years, the usually reserved diplomats at Foggy Bottom drop their world-weariness and get all googly-eyed over a new leader: When Colin Powell took charge in January 2001, he was mobbed by star-struck Foreign Service Officers hoping he'd reverse the department's diminishing stature under Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright. In early 2005, their adulation was even more desperate as they greeted Condoleezza Rice following Powell's four-year emasculation at the hands of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney.
What the downcast diplomats really seek is someone who will return the State Department to the central role it played in the days when American diplomacy shaped the most important world events. And they embraced Secretary Clinton with fervor, as she arrived promising a new era of robust diplomacy. With President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at her side, she underscored that promise by announcing two high powered envoys to take charge of diplomatic efforts in two key hot spots: Richard Holbrooke was named Special Adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan, while Senator George Mitchell was named special envoy for the Middle East.
There are reasons to be optimistic that Holbrooke and Mitchell, and Clinton herself for that matter, are part of a new beginning for American diplomacy. Obama had made rejuvenating diplomacy a centerpiece of his campaign, and he has named a serious and strong-willed team whose members, as much as anything, hate to fail. Both envoys are known to be energetic in the field and to have records of peace-making achievement, Holbrooke in brokering the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the Bosnia conflict, and Mitchell in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement that marked the beginning of the end of the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.
If the weary diplomats at the State department want nothing more than action on the diplomatic front, they're certainly going to get it from Holbrooke and Mitchell. Whether the two men will actually succeed may depend on the policies that guide their efforts and on Hillary Clinton's skills in managing them. She had a simple message for everyone at Foggy Bottom on her first day at work. "This is a team," she told the gathered diplomats, and "We are not any longer going to tolerate the kind of divisiveness that has paralyzed and undermined our ability to get things done for America." Says Levy of the New America Foundation: "I think you can make it work."
As my A-100 coordinator Charlie used to say to us each morning when we came in, It is a Great Day to be serving this Great Nation!