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Ceremony to Commemorate Foreign Policy Achievements (2001-2009)

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
January 15, 2009

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SECRETARY RICE: Good morning. Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the State Department. A special welcome, of course, to the President and to our First Lady.

Today is a very special day. We are going to commemorate many of the achievements of our nation over the last eight years in furthering the Freedom Agenda.

Mr. President, we’ve been through a lot together in the last eight years. But of course, you’ve also been through it with a great partner, our First Lady. And I want to begin our ceremony by acknowledging with deep gratitude this generous woman who has been not just your partner, Mr. President, for the entire time that you’ve been married, which is now a really long time – (laughter) – but also in the last eight years, and particularly, I’m very pleased to say, in my four years as Secretary, a great partner for the Secretary of State.

I have watched – we have watched with great pleasure and admiration as Mrs. Bush has stepped onto the world stage with all of the grace and compassion and dedication to human dignity for which I’ve always cherished her as my friend.

So, Mrs. Bush, on behalf of the men and women of the Department of State, it is my honor to present to you a certificate of recognition for all that you have done to champion the cause of liberty, opportunity, and the equal rights of all human beings. The award is right here, and you can pick it up later, but you can go and look at it if you’d like. (Laughter and Applause.)

Now, just so you know what’s on the award, I am going to read the citation. It says: Mrs. Laura Bush, as a passionate and tireless champion of freedom and a leading figure in the international fight against disease and political oppression, you have symbolized the diplomacy of deeds to millions of people around the world. Whether working to advance the interests of women in Afghanistan, helping children in Iraq, supporting the righteous struggle of dissidents in Burma, promoting global literacy, or mobilizing efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, breast cancer, and other global scourges, you have embodied the highest ideals of the values of the American people, and spread a message of hope and compassion throughout the world. Thank you. (Applause.)

Mr. President, almost four years ago in this very room and on this very stage, I was humbled and honored to stand beside you, and with the many dedicated men and women of America’s diplomatic corps to take the Oath of Office. In your remarks that day, you echoed the ringing themes of your second inaugural address, and you gave America’s diplomats the charge we have sought to keep and carry forward over these last years. You said, and I quote, “Widespread hatred and radicalism cannot survive the advent of freedom and self-government. Our nation will be more secure, the world will be more peaceful, as freedom advances.”

Mr. President, the Office of the Presidency may change hands next week. But this mission, the support of human dignity and human liberty, will endure, for it is as old as America itself.

Over the past eight years, these principles have guided our diplomacy through the fog of events that were often without precedent, and for which there was no reliable compass – except, of course, the North Star of commitment to an unwavering belief in the power of freedom.

Mr. President, we have undertaken endeavors that some thought impossible, fostering new patterns of cooperation among countries that never knew them, expanding and transforming old alliances to meet new challenges, and supporting people who never knew freedom, never practiced democracy, and never tasted justice under laws of their own making.

History, Mr. President, has a way of playing a little trick on human memory. As the din of debate and argument fades, things that were once thought to be impossible are remembered years later as, well, inevitable. That is why, Mr. President, history’s judgment is rarely the same as today’s headlines.

It will seem, one day, inevitable, Mr. President, that NATO would grow from 19 members in 2001 to 26 today, with two more soon to join. It will seem inevitable that the Czech Republic and Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, Lithuania and Estonia would sit side-by-side with the older members of an alliance which vanquished Soviet imperialism, and that a summit would be held in 2006 in the former captive nation of Latvia.

And it will seem inevitable that a group of democracies that first banded together to defend peace and freedom in Europe would transform their alliance to support peace and freedom far from Europe, in Afghanistan, and beyond.

And so today, Mr. President, it is my pleasure, on behalf of the men and women of the Department of State, to present you with a commemoration of the NATO enlargement that you led.

(Commemorative plaque is presented.)


Mr. President, it’s also going to seem inevitable that peoples with long histories of oppression would gain the opportunity to liberate their countries, and that they would seize these opportunities, with America’s support, to make a new life for themselves in freedom. And we will remember that 60 years ago or so this also seemed quite farfetched for Japan or South Korea or Germany.

And on that day, we will remember, but it will seem inevitable, that an American president would stand before the flags with democratically elected leaders in Kosovo, Lebanon, Liberia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. One of the questions that ask myself, Mr. President, is could
you have imagined those pictures in 2001? Probably not. Mr. President, these countries have experienced a new birth of freedom, in Abraham Lincoln’s words. Because when impatient patriots looked for support in their struggle for liberation, America and you, Mr. President, stood with them.

America did not give these people their freedom, for it is not ours to give. What America gave was opportunity, not a guarantee of success, but a chance to make their nations anew with their own talent and industry, to secure their dignity in their own democratic institutions, and to know that their horizons are unlimited.

We Americans know from our own experience that it is not easy to live up to high ideals, that the road to democracy is long, but worth the journey. And so we have insisted that the struggle for democracy is right, not out of arrogance, but out of the humility of believing that every man, woman, and child, whatever their color or religious beliefs, deserves the same blessings of liberty that we enjoy.

In all of these countries and others like them, progress toward a freer future is real, but fragile, and it has come at tremendous cost. Most of that sacrifice has been borne quietly, courageously, and anonymously by citizens of conviction in these countries. Much of that sacrifice has also been borne by us, by America’s diplomats, development professionals, and, of course, our men and women in uniform. These Americans, both living and departed, are heroes for all time and words do not do justice to the debt that we owe them.

The sacrifices Americans have made for the liberty of others have moved our world toward greater justice but also toward greater security. A world of fear and want and hatred, where the strong tyrannize the weak, and hope is extinguished is not a world in which Americans will ever be safe. No, we have seen that the most lasting guarantee of peace and stability between nations is liberty and justice within nations. And on your watch, Mr. President, America has become safer, because more men and women around the world are coming to know the blessings of liberty.

And so, Mr. President, I would like to present you with another commemorative plaque. This one shows what you have done to expand the circle of human freedom in the world over the last eight years. We are joined by ambassadors from the countries of Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, Liberia, and Lebanon. And Mr. President, the flags of those countries are displayed.

We are also going to present you, Mr. President -- and I’ll ask the Color Guard to bring them forward – with flag boxes that contains each nation’s flag. These flags have flown over the capitals of Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, and Kosovo.

(Commemorative plaque and flag boxes are presented.)


SECRETARY RICE: Mr. President, Mrs. Bush, you are joined here by many of the people who took the charge to try and expand the circle of freedom. There are people here who have served on the desks as officers for the various countries. There are people who have served in the field. There are, of course, A-100 class members with whom you have met several times from USAID and State and the Civil – the State – Foreign Service and Civil Service, who are the future of the Foreign Service and our development professionals. And, Mr. President, they wanted to join you to commemorate what America under your leadership has done.

But if I may, I’d like to conclude on a personal note. Like you, I’ve traveled the world these past eight years, especially in my past four as Secretary, something like a million miles, I think. And I’ve seen things that I really never thought possible: Kuwaiti women gaining the right to vote; a democratic provincial council meeting in Kirkuk; the King of Saudi Arabia at an interfaith dialogue at the United Nations listening attentively to the Israeli president; men, women, and children across Africa who no longer die from AIDS, but rather live with newfound health and happiness and hope. These small glimpses of things that once seemed impossible will, in fact, one day be a full canvas of what will have been viewed to be inevitable. And that will be, in no small part, because of the dedicated people in this room with whom I have had the honor of serving.

Mr. President, I’ve been humbled by the devotion to duty that I’ve seen in the men and women of America’s diplomacy. They’ve answered your call to become agents of change and champions of liberty. And they have made you, our beloved America, and their grateful Secretary of State very, very proud, indeed.

Thank you. (Applause.)

(President Bush comments.)

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for joining us for this wonderful commemoration, not just of the deeds of those honored today, but for the great legacy and inheritance that we have as Americans, our own liberty and freedom, which America has never been shy in wanting to see be the legacy and inheritance of men and women worldwide. Thank you for being with us. Thank you especially, Mr. President, Mrs. Bush. And now we are dismissed. Thank you. (Applause.)

Released on January 15, 2009

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