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Armitage Remarks to the U.S. Senate Youth Program

Remarks to the U.S. Senate Youth Program

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
March 4, 2003

Well thank you, Mr. Rordam and Mr. Willis [Albert Rordam and Larry Willis, participants in the Senate Youth Program] and thank you all. That s as nice an introduction as I ve ever had, and I m very grateful.

Now let me welcome all of you to this beautiful Ben Franklin room at the Department of State. Let me give you the advertisement first. The advertisement is it s paid for entirely by private funds, no public money We have to tell our Members of Congress that when they come here and see such a splendid place, because they immediately think about cutting our budget. [laughter] These are all your fellow citizens donations. And they make us quite proud, and it very much represents the history of our country.

This is quite fitting, I think, that a room such as this should be known as the Ben or Benjamin Franklin room. Not just because it is the site of many festive occasions, and good food and an occasional glass of wine. But also because this is where some of the most serious affairs of statecraft are concluded and conducted. And as you have no doubt already been reminded, Ben Franklin was this nation s first diplomat.

Some 226 years ago, Ben Franklin traveled to France to secure assistance in our struggle to establish an independent state. Now, I believe we all were taught about Lafayette and about the Statue of Liberty, about the longtime connection and affection between France and America. But I don t recall ever learning in school how hard it was to actually forge that link. Indeed, Franklin s primary mission in France was to persuade a very reluctant King and his court to abandon the policy of neutrality they had held at the time and to actively support the American cause against the British. It was slow going. At one dinner, a condescending nobleman turned to Mr. Franklin and said; It is a grand game you are playing in the colonies with the British what a fine spectacle you are offering us. A frustrated Franklin shot back Yes, but the spectators unfortunately are not paying up. [Laughter.] I believe the French have a saying, what is it, the more things change, the more they stay the same? [Laughter.]

Certainly, the work of diplomats hasn t gotten any easier in the centuries since. Nor, apparently, has our relationship with France. But in most other aspects and respects, I think it is safe to say that the world is seeing a great deal of change right now. And indeed, your visit to this city comes at a particularly eventful time. This week started in Pakistan with the capture of Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, whom we believe to be the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, and it will end on Friday with the report of UN weapons inspectors, Mr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei, on Iraq s disarmament. Now I m sure all of us are watching with some interest the destruction of a few al-Samoud missiles in Iraq, but those missiles are simply a drop in the bucket. According to the United Nations, Iraq still has thousands of chemical and biological munitions and warheads, as well as tons tons of chemical and biological weapons and precursors. And we haven t said a thing about the 25,000 liters of anthrax. But of course, Iraq is hardly our only concern at the moment. We were speaking at the table about the developments on the Korean Peninsula, where 37,000 American men and women continue to serve, and on any given day, about 140,000 of our citizens are present in Seoul or the immediate environs. The tough talk coming out of Pyongyang would, for that reason and more, be of direct concern to us in any case, but it is especially troubling given that we now know that government is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Actively pursuing that program while six million North Koreans are at risk of starving to death. The situation is grim, but I do believe, as our President said, that we will be able to grope and crawl and fight our way through to a diplomatic solution. And, of course, this Department is going to be working closely with our allies and our partners in the region, in northeast Asia, toward that very end.

And just last week, you may have seen in the papers, Afghan President Hamid Karzai came to Washington to discuss the future of that country. While there is no question that the 23 million people of Afghanistan are far better off today than they were under the rule of the Taliban and al-Qaida, there is still plenty of work to be done. Both in terms of ongoing military operations against terrorists and the international humanitarian effort to stabilize the situation.

While I would say that Iraq and North Korea and Afghanistan are certainly some of the main focal points for State Department activity now, they are not our only priorities. We have Americans today being held hostage by drug-running thugs in Colombia and violent unrest cropping up in Cote D Ivoire and in Venezuela. This morning, some of my colleagues testified on Capitol Hill about the Millennium Challenge Account, our new foreign aid program, which will deliver billions of dollars to countries most in need and most able to put the money to good use, for the benefit of their citizens. And tomorrow, Congress will look at our HIV/AIDS programs and prevention around the world. I should note that this terrible pandemic has the potential to be one of the most destabilizing and disastrous international tragedies in my or your lifetimes.

Moreover, these priorities don t even begin to account for the day to day work that goes into forming this nation s foreign policy. In fact, the people sitting at your tables, hosting your visits here today, in many cases, my colleagues, are a good representative sample of our work. They do everything from negotiating the finer points of treaties and agreements to sharing our nation s best values and best visions with the rest of the world. Many of your hosts basically keep this building running, including by making sure the thousands of visitors who come here are treated right and, along with our own employees, are kept safe. Basically, the bottom line is that what the people in this room do every day, in fact, everything we do in this Department, it all matters, in an immediate and sometimes in an urgent way. And it often has a lasting effect.

Now, as the Deputy Secretary of State, it s my job to keep track of all of this work, both as the Chief Operating Officer to Secretary Powell, who s the Chief Executive Officer, and also as an adviser to the President. I can tell you that I ve fought battles in my time for this country in war. I built my own business in a time of peace. I ve traveled around the world. I ve tried to cherish my family here at home. But the fact is that nothing, nothing, has been quite like working here.

Working in government, especially in this place at this time, is really in a way like being in the center of a maelstrom. It s exciting. It s terribly addictive. And, I must admit, it can be exhausting. But I have to tell you that this is the life, the life of public service, that no matter what I do and where I go, keeps calling me back to Washington.

I m going to make an assumption that all of you are at least seriously considering a career in public service. You d not have been selected for this program, indeed, for this prestigious program, if you weren t. And I d like to say that this is an important time for you to make that choice. Indeed, I think it s an important time for all of our brothers and sisters to make a choice.

September 11th taught us all that we can no longer afford to look at the safety and security of our lives as somebody else s responsibility. It s no longer a matter of someone else s son or daughter, or for some of you in this room, maybe your father or mother, defending our interests halfway around the world. Because the front line of this fight is not only in the caves of Tora Bora. On September 11th, it ran through the 104th Floor of the North Tower. And the 4th Corridor of the Pentagon E-ring. In October of last year, 2002, it ran through a nightclub in Bali. And last weekend, it ran through an apartment in Pakistan. The stark truth is that our way of life is under attack. And in that sense, all Americans are on the front line. And so we all need to know what it is we stand for and we all need to take a stand.

We need to know that we stand for liberty of belief and for freedom of action. Fairness. Justice. Full protection of the rule of law. The right to opportunity for all. The energy and optimism of the American spirit. But we also need to know that we are hardly alone in holding these values. No one in this world wants to be denied the right to worship God, or to speak or to think freely. No one wants to hear the midnight knock of the secret police, come to take away a loved one in the dead of night. No one wants to be denied the ability to put food on the table or children in school.

And that is why today, we are taking a stand in Afghanistan and in Iraq. I know there is a tremendous amount of concern around the world and in our own country and in this room, I m sure, about both situations. And in particular, how to handle Saddam Hussein. I think it s quite understandable. I ll tell you that one of the more difficult challenges of governance is learning to ask the right questions. But finding the right solutions is, without a doubt, and order of magnitude more difficult. There is rarely an obvious way to address even the simplest foreign policy matter. War is, without question, never going to be this nation s preferred solution. Never. War is horrible. And as Vietnam veterans, I think both Secretary Powell and I believe we have a special responsibility to do everything in our power to see that the mistakes our government made then are not repeated today.

At the same time, we as a nation can t allow a sensible reluctance to fight prevent us from using force if force is necessary to protect and defend this nation. And the fact is that this nation, and, indeed, the United Nations, cannot afford to stand idly by while Saddam Hussein, a ruthless, ambitious dictator with no regard for international law and the will of the community of nations or even for the welfare of his own people, keeps and continues to amass chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

And I think all Americans, regardless of whether we are marching in formation or in protest, we all share a fundamental belief that this is a nation worth defending. So today, we must all be prepared to take a stand not just in Afghanistan and not just in Iraq, but also here at home.

There is a scene toward the end of Shakespeare s Macbeth where, after amortizing his soul and nearly every shred of his humanity to ambition, Macbeth has a moment of clarity, when he realizes what he has done and he speaks with devastating insight about the futility of life. It is a tale told by an idiot, he says, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. And while Macbeth s circumstances were extraordinary, to say the least, far too many people in our country will reach the end of their lives to find themselves haunted by that same sentiment. But all of you in this room today have a chance to see something different when you stop and you take stock of your lives and yourselves, because you have a chance to live a life of significance.

At a remembrance ceremony this past September 11th, our President said; There is a line in our time and in every time, between the defenders of human liberty and those who seek to master the minds and souls of others. Our generation has heard history s call and we will answer it. So, in these coming years as you define your futures, I challenge each of you to find your own way to answer that call, to rediscover for your generation what it truly means to be an American in this world. And to redefine the concept of citizenship as a personal test of commitment, as well as an affirmation of the dynamic values and durable ideals that make us all American.

Indeed, I hope this week in Washington helps you in that endeavor and I certainly appreciate the opportunity to talk with all of you, the next Greatest Generation. [End]

Released on March 13, 2003

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