Jan. 22, 2009 -- Newly-minted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was warmly greeted by more than 1,000 employees at a State Department ceremony Thursday morning.
On her first day as top diplomat, Clinton promised a "new era for America."
"I will do all that I can, working with you, to make it abundantly clear that robust diplomacy and effective development are the best long-term tools for securing America's defense," she said.
Employees packed the building's lobby and overflowed into adjacent corridors, all craning their necks for a glimpse of America's new top diplomat as she entered for the first time. Those late to arrive were out of luck as it was soon impossible to move. The building's security team attempted to clear people out of certain spaces for fear of a security risk, but in many cases, there was simply nowhere for them to go.
The event was similar to now-former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's warm departure last Friday, though Clinton's reception was more enthusiastic (lots of cheering and applause) and much more crowded.
While celebrations were in order, the new secretary has an incredible amount of work ahead of her. Clinton said the new Obama administration will place diplomacy and development at the forefront of its foreign policy. To demonstrate the renewed emphasis on diplomacy and the power of the new secretary, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden paid a visit to the State Department.
"My appearance today, as has been noted, underscores my commitment to the importance of diplomacy and renewing American leadership," Obama said. "And it gives me an opportunity to thank you for the services that you perform every single day."
Obama also praised his choice for secretary of state, saying, "I've given you an early gift: Hillary Clinton."
Obama and Clinton's joint presentation also aimed to dispel the notion of any lingering tension between the two from last year's heated primary.
Both Obama and Clinton stressed there will be "difficult days ahead," but said there was no time to lose.
Clinton's Foreign Policy Challenges
With a renewed emphasis on diplomacy, the foreign policy challenges Clinton faces are some of the most daunting in history.
With North Korea's obstinacy over its nuclear program, the growing violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran's nuclear ambitions and the war in Iraq, Clinton's plate is full.
Obama's visit affirmed their united focus on restoring the role of diplomacy on critical issues, like the shaky cease-fire between Israel and Gaza, from day one.
"The outline for a durable cease-fire is clear: Hamas must end its rocket fire; Israel will complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza; the United States and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime so that Hamas cannot rearm," Obama said.
To pursue a lasting Mideast peace, former Sen. George Mitchell was named special Mideast envoy, and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke was tapped as special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"The American people and the international community must understand that the situation is perilous and progress will take time," Obama said. "Violence is up dramatically in Afghanistan. A deadly insurgency has taken deep root. ... Al Qaeda and the Taliban strike from bases embedded in rugged tribal terrain along the Pakistani border."
Both Mitchell and Holbrooke are experienced negotiators; Mitchell crafted peace agreements in Northern Ireland and Holbrooke mediated the Dayton Accords, bringing peace to Bosnia.
Biden called the envoys the administration's "two new powerful weapons."
The administration did not make any announcements about an envoy for Iran, another critical area for foreign policy.
Clinton to Revamp State Department
As Clinton called for a new era in America's foreign relations, she said the Obama administration would not tolerate the divisiveness which she suggested had characterized the Bush years.
Clinton said she and the president want to send an "unequivocal message" that "this is a team, and you are the members of that team. There isn't anything that I can get done from the seventh floor or the president can get done from the Oval Office unless we make it clear we are all on the American team. We are not any longer going to tolerate the kind of divisiveness that has paralyzed and undermined our ability to get things done for America."
On Friday, Clinton will visit the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to thank and greet employees there.
"They will be our partners," she said today.
Clinton also gave a nod to what has been known (both endearingly and perhaps not so) as "the building" -- diplomats who have been disgruntled in recent years for feeling they had been marginalized.
"I want you to think outside the proverbial box," she said. "I want you to give me the best advice you can. I want you to understand there is nothing that I welcome more than a good debate and the kind of dialogue that will make us better."
Those remarks brought big cheers from the assembled crowd.