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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Deputy Secretary of State > Former Deputy Secretaries of State > Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage > Remarks > 2003

Remarks to the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State
Marc Susser, Historian of the State Department
Washington, DC
June 5, 2003

MR. SUSSER: For those of you I have not yet met, my name is Marc Susser. I am the Historian of the State Department. And on behalf of Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Boucher, I would like to welcome you to the Department and to this reception in honor of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.

Ambassador Boucher sends his regrets, but he has been traveling with the Secretary, most recently in the Middle East, but his absence provides me with the opportunity and the pleasure of introducing Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who has kindly agreed to say a few words to us today.

Deputy Secretary Armitage has a long and distinguished record of public service, in the military, on Capitol Hill, and at both the Department of State and the Department of Defense. For example, from 1981 to 1983, Mr. Armitage served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, and then from 1983 to 1989 he was Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. From 1989 through 1992, Mr. Armitage filled key diplomatic positions as Presidential Special Negotiator for the Philippines Military Bases Agreement and Special Mediator for Water in the Middle East.

The first President Bush sent Mr. Armitage as a Special Emissary to Jordan's King Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War. From March 1992 until his departure from public service in May 1993, Mr. Armitage, with the personal rank of ambassador, directed U.S. assistance to the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union.

After several years in the private sector as president of Armitage Associates, he was sworn in as Deputy Secretary of State on March 26th, 2001.

And to inject a personal note, I would add that the Deputy Secretary has been a strong supporter of the Office of the Historian and of the Department's official documentary series, Foreign Relations of the United States. (Applause.)

Actually, this is probably the one audience to which I don't have to explain what the Foreign Relations series is. (Laughter.)

The Deputy Secretary also periodically calls on the Historian's Office to do research in support of current policy. However, when he does so, it is usually not something that can be done at a leisurely academic pace. (Laughter.) Just a few months ago, for example, in connection with operations in Iraq, he summoned me to his office one day at 8:00 a.m., sat me down, looked me in the eye, and said, "I want you to do three years of doctoral research by 5:00 p.m.." (Laughter.)

And so there's only one thing you say to Mr. Armitage in such a situation, and that's, "Yes, sir." (Laughter.) And so I went back to the office, assembled 20 staff historians, and worked furiously for the next eight hours, and we turned out a paper which I think perhaps he and the Secretary found a little bit useful.

Actually, speaking as a historian and as someone who has been with the Department for almost 20 years in both the Foreign Service and the Civil Service, I think I can confirm to you what the press has widely reported, that morale in the State Department has not been as high as it is now for many, many years. And there are two reasons for this: the first is Secretary Powell and the second is Deputy Secretary Armitage. (Applause.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Great, thanks a lot. Well, thank you very much, Marc, for your kind introduction. I'm in the position of being kind of home alone. What Marc didn't tell you about Assistant Secretary Boucher is yes, he's traveling with the Secretary, who's traveling with the President. We have to get things in order around here. And my boss is gone and the number three is gone, so I'm trying to fill all three positions, but I'm delighted to be with you tonight.

Marc, I might point out that the research project which you just mentioned to our friends here represents only one of the many honorary degrees that you've surely earned by now. Indeed, now that I know just how much you appreciate conducting research in what I would say amounts to combat conditions for scholars (laughter), I'll waste no time coming up with some new projects. And I'm sure you'll welcome every opportunity to relive your dissertation experience. (Laughter.)

That particular effort that you talk about, that particular effort that you talked about, had to do -- I remember it very well because it had to do with governance after conflict, and we had to quickly be able to present to the President several models of governance so we could form initial opinions on what to do with Iraq after conflict ceased. And it was a fantastic effort by you and your colleagues.

Allow me to repeat the welcome that Marc gave to all of you here to our Department of State -- I should say your Department of State -- and particularly this lovely room, which I always must hasten to add is paid for by private funds, not public monies. This is all donated by your fellow citizens. Now, I make that advertisement quickly after inviting someone to this room, because I don't want our friends from the National Security Archive to file a new FOIA request even before we finish the reception. (Laughter.)

But this gracious room, this lovely room, has played host to some of the world's most important leaders -- ministers and kings and councilors and presidents. But I think in a very real way you may be quite possibly the most powerful group of individuals ever to assemble here because, after all, presidents and kings who have passed through these halls will only really be as important as you say they are. (Laughter.) Indeed, it is truly through your work that our work here in the Department takes on meaning and takes on memory.

It is my pleasure, then, to salute all of you this very afternoon. It is my hope that you will, in turn, treat me kindly someday. (Laughter.) I'll try to do my very best to be a colorful subject for some future study.

Of course, it's also a fitting site for a gathering of experts on American foreign relations. This room is named, after all, for our first diplomat, Benjamin Franklin, who served as Minister to France from 1779 to 1785. And as all of you surely know better than I do, he had legendary diplomatic success in dealing with the French leadership. Although from what I've heard, I suspect his success in dealing with the French ladies was somewhat more legendary. (Laughter.) Indeed, it's reassuring to look back on the lessons of 1778 when Franklin convinced the French to recognize American independence, and to realize that in spite of current events we still have a longstanding friendship based on common ideals and common values. And as our Secretary, Secretary Powell, said at Evian earlier this week, "That which holds us together as an alliance is far, far stronger than any disagreements that come along from time to time." And that's true. Our shared past with France certainly puts the current contretemps, if you will excuse the expression, into context.

And that is certainly what we, the practitioners, look to you, the professional historians, for -- a sense of perspective. Because whether we are knowingly using it or being used by it, the past, without question, informs the policies of the present. And so the historical record for us can take on a sense of urgency and of necessity.

Now, in that sense, I believe everyone here has the opportunity to influence the current course of American foreign policy, and no one more so than the men and women of our own Historian's Office. It may seem strange that the State Department would have a small cabal of its own professional historians tucked away within the Bureau of Public Affairs, and these individuals do, indeed, occupy a unique niche. They are writing history and they are directly helping to make it. They produce each of the volumes in the Foreign Relations series at a relatively stately pace, measured in years. (Laughter.) But as Marc has indicated, we also ask them to produce work of more immediate relevance and at a far more staccato pace, measured sometimes in hours.

In the days after the 9/11 attacks, for example, Secretary Powell asked our historians for a battery of papers, on everything from coalition building in the Persian Gulf to war crimes to prisoners of war and transitional governments. And as I have mentioned, the study that Marc mentioned was about occupation and postwar governance over the last 50 years. Not that I had any practical application in mind for that, of course, at the time. So the historical record, both that which our historians provide at their own pace and at the pace that we sometimes demand of them, is very much an integral part of our policymaking process.

At the same time, all of us who work in the Department are intimately aware that we serve the public interest and that the American public has a right to know what we are doing and how we are doing it. So our Foreign Relations series is an important fulfillment of our basic mission. For 140 years and 400 volumes, we have provided to the public the key documents that detail the decisions, the deliberations, and, indeed, the diplomacy that have gone into the conduct of American foreign relations. Our intent has always been to present these papers in an objective way, without the good offices of our public affairs colleagues who may be tempted to put some spin on history. And, indeed, we will honor this principle to the extent that we will correct our own historical record, if necessary. And I think that the recently released volume supplying new documentation of our nation's role in the 1954 coup in Guatemala adds important clarity to the series.

So we look to the professional historians in our midst and to all of you to keep us honest about the context of our actions. But I believe we have a sense of perspective to offer as well. You might call it the perspective of the present.

As you are all aware, our main job at the Department of State is to translate the President's priorities and the interests of the American people into policy and diplomacy. But for this country, given our size and influence, it takes a massive and complex organization to do just that. Secretary Powell came to this Department with a vision of his role not only as the nation's top diplomat or chief diplomat, but also as the chief executive officer of a large corporation, one that today has a $25 billion budget and a workforce of some 53,000 people spread across 255 diplomatic missions in 162 countries.

Now, the majority of our staff are in supporting roles. They're office managers and diplomatic couriers and logistics specialists and computer technicians, medical personnel, security officers. And while these positions are absolutely necessary to the conduct of foreign relations, most of you probably focus on the work of a relatively small group, a group that comprises roughly 11 percent of our workforce. The ones who write the memos and conduct the negotiations, those who make and who implement foreign policy -- sort of a thin blue pinstripe, if you will. (Laughter.)

The amount of information that passes through this building and the priorities we deal with each and every day are simply staggering in scale and in scope. In addition to the day-to-day work of meetings and negotiations and maintaining bilateral relations, which you can imagine, just this week alone, you've seen everything from: the Middle East peace process to the troubling conflict in the Congo; from preparations for the visit of Brazil's new president to our new initiative for dealing with global deforestation by fighting illegal logging; and we're always watching the latest ebb and flow of SARS. And like a steady drumbeat in the background, of course, there is Iraq and there is Afghanistan, where we have American lives and vital interests directly at stake. And there are the troubling nuclear developments in North Korea and in Iran. And, of course, we are also working to repair the strained relations with our friends across the waters. And I'm referring here to transatlantic waters, not the Potomac. (Laughter.)

The fact is that when we are in the middle of all this activity, we can't always see the outcomes of our actions and the outcome of our decisions. When we look ahead, there rarely seem to be right questions, let alone right answers. And so we look to all of you to provide the threads of meaning that tie together not just the past, but also the present, in order for us to shape the future.

I suppose you, in turn, can look to us for new material. You could say that we have a somewhat symbiotic relationship. Indeed, I wonder someday what narrative you'll find in our current challenges. Will you find that terrorism is the new "ism" that defines this age of ours, the cause that gives some coherence, or perhaps in some cases distortion, to our approach to the rest of the world? Will you find in our policies and practices today the seeds of a new American century or the signs of a passing American moment?

I want to wish you well in the coming years as some of you set about the task of making sense of all of that. It's certainly my hope that you will be able to discern coherent narratives in the events of the day, as well, I fervently pray, as a few happy endings. I also want to wish you well in the coming days. You have an ambitious schedule, as Marc has explained it to me, 41 panel discussions in three days -- and I was just trying to tell you how busy we were.

Thank you all for dignifying the world of diplomacy with your scholarship, for giving all of us who work in this Department our sense of perspective, and for teaching the next generation of Americans the context for their future. Good luck to you, and God bless.


Released on June 17, 2003

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