Remarks at Swearing In Ceremony

As prepared for delivery by Daniel Brooks Baer
September 10, 2013, Washington D.C.

Thank you very much, Acting Assistant Secretary Zeya—the very best part about the last four years here at State has been the people I have come to know, adore, and be wowed by—and it has been a special joy to get to work side by side with you this past year.  I am grateful for your kind words today—especially since I sprung this on you yesterday afternoon with a call out of the blue “hey, so you’re coming to my swearing in tomorrow—would you, you know, do it?”  You are a good friend and a good sport for saying yes.  Thank you.

Looking out at all of you, I am so happy right now.  They say I get three to five minutes up here, those of you who know me know that I will clearly flout that.  But I want to take 5 precious seconds just to stop and be grateful.

My grandfather used to say that gratitude was what prepared us to appreciate the next good thing to come along.  And today is a great day for me to be grateful.  I have been so fortunate for the last four years to be part of the State department team, and to have been supported by family and friends who forgave the many times when I was less present or responsive than I should have been.

And I have been so fortunate to work not for just any government, but for the United States of America.  There’s a lot of talk in this town about whether one is or isn’t an American exceptionalist—and this is, predictably, mostly unhelpful talk because those who characterize themselves as such—or not—often define the other camp as having some manifestly crazy world view.   So without getting caught up in definition, let me just say that the last few years have of course affected my view of the world—they have deepened my appreciation for people in places I never thought I might have the opportunity to visit.  There are decent people working in most governments—even the ones that fail to live up to their responsibilities toward their citizens.  There are wonderful, impossibly courageous and inspiring, people working as advocates and citizen changemakers in some of the darkest places on earth.

Similarly the last few years of traveling elsewhere have affected my view of my own country, and have deepened my awe for how lucky I am to be an American.  Many was the time that my old boss Mike Posner would lean over to me in the midst of some meeting with a less than democratic counterpart and say “I’d rather have my talking points than his.”  You can be in awe of America and not be polyanna-ish—it’s not that we don’t encounter enormous challenges in our unique role in the world, many that we haven’t yet been able to solve; it’s not because we don’t suffer setbacks, and not because our leaders never err, but because our democracy—its institutions and guiding principles—is so resilient.  Working on advancing human rights and democracy around the world is, among other things, supporting the efforts of people elsewhere to leverage the fundamental building blocks of our nation’s success.   And working to uphold those principles here at home is an ongoing project that demands constant hard work and reinforces the source of our strength and comparative advantage in the world.

I remain deeply honored by the faith that President, Secretary, and the Senate have placed in me.  I will endeavor every day to demonstrate through action how grateful I am for this opportunity to serve my country.

Now let’s face it, the professional adventure I’m about to embark on seems– at least at first– obscure to most Americans.  Most Americans don’t immediately know what the OSCE is.  And most of the people who do know what it is– who, like viewers of C-SPAN, are disproportionately represented in this room– could give you several challenges that have arisen in the last decade or so that have made accomplishing the OSCE’s important work more difficult.

I want to say a few quick words about three Ps–Past, Principle, and Promise–with respect to the OSCE.

First the past: The OSCE was born out of the great struggle of the second half of the last century– a bargain struck between East and West in the midst of the Cold War when both sides saw in the other an overriding threat.  Fifteen years later the Wall would fall and freedom’s reach expanded to many millions who had been denied it for so long, and in the years to follow the OSCE served as a crucial platform for bringing together the US and Canada along with the European and Eurasian region, helping to build institutions in new democracies and address the ravages of war in the Balkans and elsewhere.

So the OSCE was born out of a particular historical moment and its first chapters followed from that moment.   But the principles at the center of the OSCE, the principles that underlie the commitments of participating States, are timeless.  The OSCE was at its founding—and remains today— unique as a regional security organization built on the empirically demonstrable truth that security must be comprehensive—that security from violence and war, security from violations of human rights and denial of fundamental freedoms, and economic and environmental security may be distinct objectives but they are not separable.  And the OSCE has recognized from the outset that what happens in one country affects the security of all.  So, autocrats and authoritarians who offer economic payoffs but deny democratic aspirations are playing a devil’s game that may produce phony stability for a time, but limits their citizens’ freedoms and puts regional security at risk.

The OSCE has enduring promise and can advance US foreign policy—and the interests of citizens of our own country and every country in the OSCE region, in the years ahead.  If anything, the OSCE is more relevant than ever before—it is simply undeniable that many of our greatest challenges and opportunities exist not within states but among them–terrorism, narcotics, human trafficking to name a few—these can’t be tackled alone.  And today the participating States continue to represent two thirds of the world’s economic output—but creating opportunity for the next generation will require the kind of rights protections, governance, and institutions that take on corruption and create an environment favorable to investment and innovation.

Finally, the advance of democratic freedoms in the first decade after the Cold War has not continued apace, and in many places within the region democracy remains fragile and needs reinforcement.   Some participating States are manifestly failing to uphold their OSCE commitments with regard to human rights and fundamental freedoms.  It’s the job of all of us to support citizens of those states who are working to bend the arc of their own national history toward justice.  And to hold governments accountable.

There is unfinished business in every corner of the OSCE region—in empowering women economically and politically, in countering anti-Semitism, anti-Roma, anti-Muslim and other stains of discrimination and hatred, and much more.

Democracy and human rights work is hard work—and there’s no declaring victory and moving on—only the constant satisfaction of constant efforts to make policies and practice accord with universal principles.

In addressing each of these—contemporary security challenges, economic opportunity, and delivering on the universal rights to which citizens across the OSCE space are entitled, the OSCE is a platform for devising common approaches, leveraging shared resources, and marshaling cooperative efforts.   Many people think of diplomacy as the art of talking—but in the 21st century peace and prosperity cannot be brokered by princes, they have to arise out of the cooperative efforts of many people across borders and oceans.   A diplomacy of doing is what we need.  And that’s what I will try to bring to my work at the OSCE.

I would like to close where I began—with gratitude.

I’m grateful to my colleagues—to Mike Posner and Cheryl Mills for bringing me on in DRL 4 years ago, and to my DRL colleagues who have taught me so much and inspired me so well and who will continue to be partners in the years ahead.    And to all my other friends in the USG who have made the last four years so memorable—what a gift it has been to work with you.  To those of you who have already given me so much time and thought to help prepare me for this new mission—thank you. I wish I could say your work is done—but I will come back for advise and counsel.

Thank you to those of my friends from civil society who are here today.  One of the hardest things to explain to my counterparts in other countries is how grateful I am to have a steady chorus of voices from outside government who are always always pushing me to do better—some with more patience than others, but each with good intent.  “You like that?” they think.  I love it.  Thank you for pushing me and for being such a great source of ideas and energy.

Kim Shechtman has become all of your new pen pal—but has done so much more in these last few weeks, thank you.  Jen Wicks, Sharyn Magarian, and Rob Fallon have been such capable shepherds of a sometimes wayward sheep as I’ve gone through the nomination and confirmation process.  And thank you to everyone in RPM—old and new, here today and far away.  I look forward to working with you and the fantastic team at the mission in Vienna.

Finally my friends and family.  There are people who have come from San Francisco and from London and from many places in between.  I pretty much think you are crazy for doing that.  Really, the invite was just because I thought you might get a kick out of it.  Thank you for coming—I’m touched beyond words.

My fiancé, Brian’s, family has shown that they understand well a fundamental principle of American diplomacy: always show up with the largest delegation.   Thank you for being here to cheer us on as we head off.

Not many Ambassadors get to have a grandparent at their swearing in—thank you, Nana, for sharing this moment.

My father died 10 years ago, I think of him every day, but especially today.  Mom, I’m so glad you and Steve could be here.  Thank you for loving me and for holding our family together through good and bad.  Peter and Merritt, I love you very much and am so happy you’re here.  Lyle, don’t burn the house down while everyone’s away.

The process of becoming an ambassador is not particularly other-focused. It’s a lot about you.  Brian has been so gracious, so tolerant, so supportive.  He has taken on innumerable tasks for our household and asked almost nothing of me.  I am so very lucky to be on a team with him.  And Vienna has no idea what kind of six foot three brilliant and hilarious character is about to touch down.

Brian—I remember a very sad and lonely junior in high school in 1994 who wondered whether it was possible for him to ever be happy and wondered whether it was worth going on.  Certainly he would have been shocked to see today’s ceremony.  But it would have been even more startling and unbelievable to him—and is certainly more precious to me—to see the happiness that I have found with you.

Thank you all very much for coming.