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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2003 > May

The Foreign Service: Taking America's Case to the World

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Keynote Address on Foreign Affairs Day
Washington, DC
May 9, 2003

Well, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. And forgive me for being a little late. We were having meetings over at the White House with the President and we were getting a briefing from General Franks on how things are going in Iraq. And Ambassador Bremer, who is known to so many of you here, was also there as he got his briefing in, and he'll be heading out to Iraq this weekend. So it was an important meeting, but nevertheless, as the clock turned toward 10-ish, and then 10:02, 10:05, I picked up my papers and had them under my arm, and the President kept glancing out of the left corner of his eye, wondering what's going on. And he kept asking questions and I kept fidgeting, and then he said finally, "Do you have something you have to do?" I said, "Yes, Mr. President, I do." And I told him what it was, and he said, "Then go, go, go." And so I am very pleased to be here, but sorry I'm a little late.

I am pleased, however, that we kind of reversed the order this morning and did the plaque service before coming in here and gave everybody a chance to witness that by closed circuit television. And as always, it was moving. And this year, we wanted to do it out front where more people can see it, the television could get a shot at it, so that it could get perhaps a little bit of coverage, more so than would normally be the case, and show the world the kind of sacrifices and the kind of risks that our people take for the service of the nation.

If there's one thing I say everywhere I go, whether it's testifying before Congress or speaking to audiences here at the Department and around the world, is that our Foreign Service family serve on America’s front line of offense. We are taking our values to the world. We are moving out. We are trying to put more imagination in our work, more energy in our work, more determination in our work, because never has our work been as important as it is now in these challenging days that we are entering and the challenging months that are ahead.

I also love coming to this event every year -- this is my third year -- because it gives me a chance to report briefly on my stewardship responsibilities as Secretary of State, and how are we doing with respect to taking care of our people and managing our resources, working with the Congress and things of that nature.

I made some promises on the very first Foreign Affairs Day that we had, and I'm feeling pretty good that we have been able, as a team, to make good on some of those promises. We told you we were going to be hiring more people into the Service to make up for the deficiencies of the 90s, when years went by and nobody was being hired. We have done that. We have done that, and it wasn't that hard a sell because the Congress believes in what we're doing and the President believes in what we’re doing.

And so it was one of the easiest pitches I've ever had to make to Congress. And even though there was a little bit of, "Well, the budget's too tight this year, Powell," or, "You can't do that, Powell," usually all it took was a couple of late-night phone calls. And we got 1,200 additional people over attrition, over the last 3 years.

And you can start to see it have an impact out in the field -- positions that hadn't been filled, a nurse's position in an embassy somewhere that hadn't been filled, suddenly is now being filled. And when people see that coming out to the missions, they said, "Somebody up there cares." And it isn't Colin Powell; it's the whole staff. But more importantly, it's the Congress, the Congress cares, the President cares, and that means the American people care about what our people are doing out across the world.

One statistic that I never tire of talking about is just how we're doing in our Foreign Service exams. I talk about this a lot because it reflects what people think about us out in the countryside. We gave the last Foreign Service Exam 4 weeks ago tomorrow; 36,000 people had applied to take that one exam, and I think something like 20,000-plus actually showed up to take the Foreign Service exam. Now, that's remarkable. It is a multifold increase from where we were a few years ago.

And as part of our effort to make sure that the service looks like America -- and, by the way, looks like the rest of the world -- we have been focusing on minority participation and representation. And among those who are successful passers of the earlier exam, over 35% of them are what one would call minority. It's a terrible word because I don't know what the devil a minority is anymore, either in this country or in the world. It's an irrelevant term. What we have to do is reflect the beauty of the diversity of our society because it's the diversity of the world, because we are the world. As you've heard me say more than once, we are a nation of nations and we touch every nation on the face of the earth, and therefore we should look like, we are, and we should look like those that we are going out to take our values to.

And we are achieving success by our ability to draw young minorities into the Foreign Service exam process, mentoring them all the way through, and using programs that we have put in place -- the Rangel program at Howard University and other minority programs that Congress has generously funded for us.

We're doing something else that I think is very, very important. We are reviewing all of the training that we give to our officers going through the system, beginning with the junior officer course all the way up to the top. It will not surprise you that it has a certain military look to it. (Laughter.) That's the way I learned leadership and management. But I want junior officers coming in to understand their responsibilities as leaders-to-be. They're not leaders right away stamping visa applications. They're going to be leaders if they stay within the Foreign Service.

And I want even the most senior people in the Service and the Civil Service who are going out to take positions of responsibility to receive leadership and management training again as part of their professional development program. And this afternoon at 4:30, I'll be giving a leadership lecture to the second class of senior leaders passing through our new leadership training program. And the message I give them, and the message they receive during the time that they are in the program, is very, very simple: You are a leader; accomplish the mission, take care of your people. That's it. No more. Accomplish the mission, take care of your people. Recognize your people. Reward them. Punish them when necessary. Make sure that everybody is pulling their weight. Do everything you can to turn people on to the mission at hand. Don't lean back. As leaders, take risks, make mistakes. Try something, see if it works. If it doesn't work and you fail, so be it; come back and tell us about it, we'll chew you out, and then let's move on. It's part of the risk of being a leader. Sometimes you get in trouble. But if you don't take a risk, you'll never get in trouble. And if you don't take a risk, we'll never get ahead, we'll never be the kind of organization that we want to be, even better than we are now.

We're doing a lot with respect to information technology. I reported to you previously that I'm a big Internet cyberspace guy, and I live on the Internet. My computers are on, two of them in my office, all day long, and the only time they're off is in the 20 minutes it takes me to get home, and then I turn on the home computers. And it's becoming the principal means, other than talking to people every day, by which I stay in touch with the senior staff at the Department.

And I am determined that every office, every desk throughout the Department, at every mission, is going to have Internet-accessible technology that will allow them to talk with the speed of light, communicate with the speed of light, get information with the speed of light, because the rest of the world is working at the speed of light, and if we don't work at that speed, we're going to get left behind. When you're in a 24/7 news cycle, you can't have old systems of communications. Grant Green and members of his staff are working on the "Smart Program." This it the next generation of how to use computers and the Internet and the speed of light so that cables, memos, all the old ways that some of you, in the old days, might have used -- (laughter) -- there are a few gray hairs out here, I can see that. (Laughter.) And there are a few no-hairs out here. I can see that, too. (Laughter.)

But all of that -- it was great, it was wonderful -- it's got to go. We've got to be at the speed of light. I can't remember if I told you this story last year, but, you know, I'll go out here in front of the building with a foreign visitor. I've gotten in the habit of walking them out front, saying goodbye, and we'll stand up and do a press conference. Not with every visitor, but several times a week I'll do it.

And as soon as the press knows we're coming out, it stops the presses, and we get essentially worldwide coverage instantaneously. Two or three networks will cut away from soap operas or some gong show between two correspondents screaming at one another -- (laughter) -- and they will cut to the front of the State Department building. And they will listen to what I have to say for a minute, they'll listen to my guest. My guest is getting immediate attention in his or her own country in a way that he or she wouldn't have gotten otherwise. So it means a lot not only to me, but to my guests.

And then we'll take a couple of questions, which is my way of trying to put our perspective -- notice we don't use the word "spin" in the State Department -- (laughter) -- to put our perspective on the issues of the day. Because they will ask me about my guest, but instantly they'll want to go to the issue of the day. And so it's using television in that way.

And I don't know how many times I have finished such a five-minute presentation out front, gone back up to my office, and in the one and a half minutes it takes me to get back up to my office, the phone is already ringing from someplace in the world where I'm either being criticized or complimented for what I just said downstairs. It's that fast.

At ten o’clock last night at home, I spoke to the Foreign Minister of China. Foreign Minister Li and I had a terrific discussion on a variety of issues with respect to our bilateral relations. We have good relations with China. And he has gotten in the habit, as did his predecessor in China, that within minutes after our conversation they put out a press release documenting what the two of us talked about -- instantaneously. So by the time I got up this morning, I already had a press release from China of what I had said last night, long before my staff even knew what I had said last night.

This is the nature of the modern world. You've got to be able to communicate in this world, and the way you do it is through information technology. And so we are trying to stay in the forefront of information technology.

We are also working hard to make sure that our people have the best facilities. General Williams is doing a marvelous job with embassy construction and construction of other facilities around the world. We can't go back to the reading rooms quite the way they were many years ago for security and other reasons, but we're trying to recreate that concept of reading rooms, virtual rooms, places in our far-flung facilities where people in those countries can come and access through the Internet information about the United States.

We are working hard to make sure we have the best website within the United States Government, and I follow it every day. I go on it every day, and if I don't like what I see, Ambassador Boucher hears about it, our Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. I think I may have told you this story last year about I got tired of going on the website every day, and always finding either a picture of me or Boucher on the opening web page. And it didn't bother me that much until I realized Boucher was there more often than I was there.

And so I called on Richard and I said, "Neither one of us are going to be on the opening page of the website any more. Go get human beings, not you and me. Go get real ambassadors and people in the Department. Go get all kinds of funny things we can put on the website. Let's make it more interesting and usable, and not just my official photo staring out or your official photo staring out." So now we have kids on the website, we have ambassadors in one of our posts doing something with the community. We'll put anything on the website -- (laughter) -- as long -- well, no, not everything. (Laughter.)

But we want to be seen as fascinating, interested, creative, whimsical, funny, human. Put a human dimension into everything we do. Because we are dealing with humans. And it’s that kind of attitude we are trying to convey throughout the Department.

We're putting in a new library that's going to be the best thing you've ever seen. Everybody knows where the library is now. It's got two entrances, and you sneak in, get what you want, and you sneak out. We're going to blow that all out into three floors, and it will be open, I believe, on all three floors with glass so you can see in. It's going to be a state-of-the-art information center that will match anything else in government.

We have just redone the Diplomats Lounge out here, that I hope you all will notice on your way out. It was a mess two weeks ago and they got it done real fast because you guys were coming, even though I've been pounding on them forever. But no, you guys were coming and that's what did it.

I like it. That wrought iron thing has gone away. It looked like a jail. It looked like Lorton Prison where you had to go through the wrought iron. (Laughter.) And now it's comfortable, modern.

We're redoing the hallways. I don't know if anyone has told you about this. I never did understand the hallway system with the different colored stripes that seemed not to mean anything, and I was forever getting lost. And so we're putting in place thematic murals and photos and other things so that the building does not look like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" -- you know, the white hallways and all that stuff. (Laughter.)

And so all of this is part of our effort to humanize everything and make people working in this place every day delighted that they're coming here, happy to be a part of this family. And they don't want to be anywhere else. They want to be here. They want to be part of this operation.

Now, that's the stewardship part of my responsibility, but my job here is not just to be a steward; it's to be the senior foreign policy advisor to the President, and we work hard at that as well.

This morning, I came in and I said let me call some of the Assistant Secretaries and Under Secretaries, see what they're doing and what I might say to you today about their activities. So I called the Deputy Secretary. Well, he’s not here. He's in India, Pakistan -- he'll be back next weekend.

Okay, well, let me call the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs. Well, Kansteiner's not here. He's somewhere in Africa, in South Africa or Rwanda or somewhere, trying to get things going with respect to Zimbabwe and also the Sudan peace process.

Fine, let me call the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs. He's busy. He's working on the Friends of Venezuela to help Hugo Chavez and the people of Venezuela get through the current problem they're having with respect to representation.

Well, go get me the European Bureau. That's it. Beth Jones. She's got this huge empire. Well, Beth can't talk to you right now, she's packing to go away with me tonight. She was at the staff meeting for five minutes. She went home to pack.

Well, how about Bill Burns, Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs? He's packing to leave tonight. We're all leaving tonight -- me, I don't know if Beth is leaving with me or is going to try to catch up and get ahead of me, but we're leaving tonight for Jerusalem and the occupied territories and Jordan and Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and then I'm going to go up to Russia and come out to Bulgaria and Berlin, and then come back home -- (laughter) -- so that I can get home in time to go back the following week to France.

And so I kept looking for everyone. John Bolton, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, where is he? He's tired, he just got back from Russia. Well, get me the Assistant Secretary for International Organizations, he's hanging around somewhere, I know. Turned out no, he was not in his office, he's overseas too. In this instance, he was in Paris or somewhere like that, talking about the new UN resolution for Iraq.

The point of this little sermonette is to let you know that the leaders of this Department and the people in this Department and the ambassadors of this Department and all the people who work for this Department are doing just that, they are hard at work, taking America's case to the world.

And I want you to know that the President is so proud of what each and every one of them is doing, and the American people recognize increasingly the value of the service performed by the men and women of this Department.

Now, do we get criticized from time to time? Hey, when you were here, was the State Department occasionally criticized? The answer is yes. In fact, I was -- you know, I looked up at the portrait of Thomas Jefferson and I said, "Hey, Tom, did this stuff used to happen to you, too?" He said, "Yeah, uh-huh." (Laughter.)

In fact, every time I worry about somebody criticizing me or the Department, I always gain inspiration from Jefferson's two inaugural addresses, his first and second as President, after he was Secretary of State. But it just reminds me of the nature of this wonderful system that we have.

In his first inaugural address, Jefferson spoke about the beauty of democracy. It's one of the great pieces of writing in all of American history. It is just the most perfect exposition of what this nation is all about and how proud he was to go forth to be the President of these United States.

He even has a wonderful line at the end of the first inaugural address where he is addressing the crowd, or whoever was there, and he said, "I go forth now to the task that you have put before me, until you realize it is in your wisdom to make a better choice." Total selfless service. You know, I'm stuck with it, I'm going to go do the best I can, you could do better, but you picked me, and so I'm going to do the best I can. That was Jefferson at his finest.

And then 4 years later, he was mad. In the second inaugural address, he had had a rough time in the first term, even though he had done some magnificent things, but he really had been picked on by the press a lot and he had been criticized something fiercely. I mean, they really knew how to do it then. It's still not bad now, but it isn’t like it was in those days.

And so he spends so much of the second inaugural address complaining about all the criticism that he received during his first term, and as he is bemoaning his fate and complaining about the press, in typical Jeffersonian fashion he finally stops and he summarizes the situation, and he says: I have a choice, we have a choice. We can either have a free press that criticizes or not have a press that criticizes, but also not have freedom. The choice is therefore clear.

And so criticism is part of our American system. We wouldn't be the system we are, we wouldn't be the country we are, we wouldn't be the people we are, if we weren't forever chomping at one another and criticizing, and in that criticism trying to find ways to do things better. And the State Department gets its share of it and I get my share of it. That's fine. Bring it on.

We also know how to fight back when we think we haven't been dealt with fairly. And I can assure you that this Department and this Secretary and the leaders in this Department will take constructive criticism and we will use it to make this a better place. But if it isn't constructive criticism or it's destructive and it's not fair, we will fight back to protect this Department and to protect the wonderful men and women who serve in this Department. (Applause.)

These are exciting times to be in the foreign policy business. We have challenges. We've just come through a difficult challenge in Iraq. We worked hard to find a diplomatic solution. We were successful in getting a resolution passed, 1441, at the Security Council that laid out clearly the crimes of the Iraqi regime, gave them a way to get out of the problem they had, but also said there would be serious consequences if they failed to do that. They failed to do that and the serious consequences turned out to be Operation Iraqi Freedom. Our wonderful young men and women were successful. We are now in the difficult period of reconstruction and helping the Iraqi people find a better life for themselves. It's going to be a team effort. We're all involved. Obviously, in the beginning, it has to be a military occupation, a military command. And General Franks is responsible for it. Over time, it will take on more and more of a civilian coloration as ambassadors go in, as Treasury Department people go in to start the currency system back up, and as we ultimately form a representative government for the people of Iraq so that they can govern themselves and we can go home again.

But we'll stay the course, as the President said to us at our meeting this morning. We will not be impatient. We will stay the course. We will do it right, however long it takes. We don't want it to take forever, but we are not going to be rushed and we are not going to be forced out of doing that which we know is right.

We are building on that success by impressing other countries in the region, such as Syria and Iran, that in light of the demise of the Iraqi regime and a new strategic element in that part of the world, and in light of the President's commitment now to work on Middle East peace, and with the new Palestinian Prime Minister, this is the time for those other nations in the region to reevaluate their policies. So it's a time of challenge, it's a time of crisis, but a time of opportunity and promise in the Gulf-Middle East region.

As part of my upcoming trip I will leave on tonight, I'll be going to Russia, where I will continue to build on the good relationship that we have with Russia, that President Bush has with President Putin. From the days of the Cold War when we had missiles pointed at each other 30 minutes apart, to the days of today and tomorrow, when we are looking for ways to help them build their economy and help them become part of the Euro-Atlantic community in some way or another, a remarkable change has taken place over these 10 to 12 years.

My conversation last night with my Foreign Minister colleague in China is just one of many such conversations I have with Chinese officials as they try to work with us in building the closest possible relationship. Ten years ago, they, too, might have been considered an enemy. Now, they are a powerful, proud nation that we are working with to try to find the right way forward.

As I go around the world every day and I see these problems and I see the Iraqs of the world, I see the Middle East crises that we have to deal with, I still see so much hope and opportunity when I see what we have been able to do with Russia and China; when I know that notwithstanding the disagreements we've had with some of our friends in Europe, nothing is going to split the Euro-Atlantic partnership, whether it's the NATO part of it or the United States-European part of it, we'll get through these disagreements. We've seen disagreements come before. The best thing about having a disagreement is you can get over it, and we will get over it, because we need each other and we have common values. We believe in democracy within which one can have disagreements.

The President is committed to work in other parts of the world with important programs, whether it's doing something about HIV/AIDS, the greatest weapon of mass destruction on the face of the earth now, or whether it has to do with the Millennium Challenge Account, providing lots more assistance to those nations that are committed to the right kinds of values -- democracy, the free enterprise system.

He is interested in free trade. We signed a free trade agreement the other day with Singapore as part of our work with our Asian friends. We are hard at work with friends in our hemisphere on counternarcotics efforts and on free trade agreements and allowing all of the nations of our hemisphere in Central and South America to join fully the community of democracies, and not just say, "I now am a democracy, but what does that do for me? How does that allow me to attract not only aid, but trade, so that I can provide a better life for my people?"

So, my friends, these are challenging times in the Department. We're going to work hard to meet these foreign policy challenges and to seize these foreign policy opportunities to make this a safer world and to make this a better world, to make sure that we give hope to every child on the face of the earth and every family that looks to America for inspiration and for assistance.

And I promise you that I will continue as long as I am the Secretary of State to do everything I can to take care of this Department and its most precious resources, the people who work in this Department who have been entrusted to my care.

I will continue to need your help. As I said in the past, you're part of this family. You may only come together like this once a year, but I hope every day of the year you're thinking about this Department that you love so much, and I hope you’ll serve as a speaker out in the countryside from time to time when asked to do so, you'll encourage young people to apply for the Foreign Service, you'll defend us when we are attacked by somebody or other, and that you’ll continue to carry out the values system of this Department.

I thank you for your sacrifices of the past and I thank you for the service you continue to provide to us here at State, at the various missions around the world. It's good to know that you guys are still out there rooting for us and believing in us. Thank you very much.

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