December 7, 2022

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the Unveiling of a Bronze Bust in Honor of Former Secretary of State James Baker

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Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

National Museum of American Diplomacy

MODERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Secretary of State accompanied by the 61st Secretary of State, James Baker, and Ms. Susan Cleary.  (Applause.)

MS CLEARY:  Mr. Secretary, former Secretary of State Baker, Special Envoy Kerry, ambassadors, distinguished guests, colleagues, and friends, we’re so delighted to have you here today and we thank you for your support for the National Museum of American Diplomacy.  I’m Susan Cleary, the acting director.

We are the first and we are the only museum dedicated to the story of American diplomacy, its history, its practice, its challenges, its lessons, and the fascinating people who make it happen.  And we – it is a story we believe is not well-known and not well enough appreciated.

So today we’re here to unveil a specially commissioned bust of former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III, that will be part of our permanent collection.  Secretary Baker, you’ve been a steadfast supporter of the museum, a major donor.  We thank you for being here today; we thank your family and friends for being with us as well.  It’s very meaningful.  Thank you.

Now, our ambition is to complete the long-planned 40,000-square-foot public museum exhibition space here in our nation’s capital, and it’s right here around this wall that our main entry to our exhibitions will be our exhibit halls.  And so, every visitor to the future museum and visitor to the State Department who comes through this door entrance will pass this beautiful work of art that commemorates the historic contributions of Secretary Baker.

Now, we’re delighted to have with us today the talented Swedish artist Johan Falkman, who created this work.  Johan is a renowned portrait painter and sculptor.  Secretary Baker has not yet seen the bust, but I have and I have to say, Johan, it’s beautiful.  Congratulations.  It’s such an accomplishment.

I’d especially like to acknowledge Secretary Baker’s friends, the philanthropists Dan and Christine Olafsson, and it’s through your generosity that this work was commissioned and is donated to our permanent collection.  Thank you so much, Dan and Christine.

And I want to thank, of course, the Diplomacy Center Foundation.  We have the chairman and the president here, and we have so many of the distinguished members who have been with us along the way building this museum.  Thank you all for what you do for our joint project.

And Mr. Secretary, we especially appreciate having you here today with us.  At this moment of heightened awareness of the central importance of U.S. diplomacy to international stability and security, it’s so meaningful that you are able to take time to participate.

Secretary Blinken and former Secretary Baker come from different backgrounds, different generations, and, yes, different political parties.  And yet, in their tenures, they’ve been asked to confront momentous challenges that demanded the most of Americans statecraft and diplomatic leadership.

And so, with that, I would like to invite you both up, to come and to unveil the bust of Secretary Baker.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  All right.  (Applause.)

Susan, thank you so much.  And to everyone here today, this is a special moment.  Jim, welcome home.  To the leaders of the Diplomacy Center Foundation, including my longtime colleague and friend Tom Pickering, Ambassador Popadiuk, thank you.  It’s wonderful to have you back in this building as well.  And it is simply an honor to have an opportunity, Mr. Secretary, to hail you in this moment.  To all the Baker family who are here with us today, thank you so much for joining us.  I know your most trusted diplomatic advisor is your wife, Susan.  Grateful for her.  Three of your eight children are with us today: Colter, Doug, and Jamie, and their partners as well.  We so welcome having you back.

I know that the Secretary’s years of public service, not just here but in other institutions in Washington, demanded a lot from all of you.  The sacrifices that you made were major contributions to the success that he had and that our country has had as a result.  So, on behalf of the American people, thank you, each and every one of you, to the Baker family.

S, growing up, as I’ve read it, Jim’s grandfather, Captain Baker, gave him this advice:  Work hard, study hard, and stay out of politics.  (Laughter.)  For four decades he managed to do that, but Jim, by your telling, it was the tragic loss of your first wife, Mary Stuart, and the advice of a dear friend, George H.W. Bush, that led you to break the family maxim and putting you on the path, as my dear friend Tom Donilon once said so aptly, to becoming, simply put, the most important unelected official in America since World War II.

The Secretary is the only person to have served as chief of staff to two presidents.  He directed five presidential campaigns.  He was Secretary of the Treasury in that other building down the street.  (Laughter.)  But, as I’ve seen written, and as I think I know from hearing you speak, there was no job that he loved more than being Secretary of State.  And he showed exceptional leadership in guiding the foreign policy of our country with a lasting impact on this country and on the world.

James Baker served as Secretary of State for 43 months.  I think it’s safe to say that there are few times in history when the world has changed so profoundly – what you called, Jim, a whirlwind of history – or, as you said late one night in April 1991 to a young staffer by the name of Bill Burns, sitting in a rundown hotel in the Caucasus, “Have you ever seen so many things changing so damn fast?”  During that period, the Soviet Union disintegrated without conflict.  The Berlin Wall fell.  The U.S. and the USSR undertook the most significant reduction ever in nuclear arms.  Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait was swiftly routed.  The Madrid Conference made visible for the first time a horizon of Middle East peace.

We were talking about this just a short while ago:  It’s easy looking back at hinge moments in history to view these seismic shifts as somehow inevitable, particularly when the world moves from conflict and toward peace, away from autocracy and toward democracy.  But to study those 43 months is to learn that these outcomes were anything but certain.  The arc of history bent the way it did because people bent it, and no one more so than Secretary Baker.

Like on November 9th, 1989, when Secretary Baker was hosting a luncheon upstairs in the Ben Franklin Room for President Aquino of the Philippines, he was handed a folded note informing him that the Berlin Wall was coming down.  As he rushed over to the White House, he scribbled notes that read: “Something we wanted for 40 years – Europe that’s whole and free, reunification on the basis of Western values.”

Now, that last part was very uncertain.  Secretary Baker not only immediately saw where he wanted to end up – a democratic, reunited Germany – he cleared the path to get there.  He staked out the principles that Germans, not outside powers, should get to determine their own future, and that Germany should be reunited within NATO, and then methodically brought our allies and the Soviets around to these positions.

President George H.W. Bush, your doubles partner on the Houston tennis courts and professional partner in so much of life, summed up your leadership best.  The President said: “He acted while others were still struggling to comprehend, and he got things done.”

As I’ve tried to look at those who have held this job before me, the thing that struck me so much about you, Jim, is this ability to have a vision for where you wanted to go, and then figuring out a way to get there.  It’s an extraordinary and rare combination, and one that inspires me every single day.

How you got things done is something I try to learn from every day and diplomats will continue to study for generations.  And if I can, I just want to take a moment to suggest at least three lessons that I take from reading and learning about you.

First of all, diplomacy ultimately comes down to relationships.  And building the trust at the core of those relationships takes time.  It takes effort.  It takes empathy.  As you later wrote, “To persuade , it is often helpful to put in their shoes.”

Now, I had some opportunity also to see that in practice when I served as John Kerry’s deputy.  I saw the kinds of relationships that he built, the effort that, John, you put into this day in and day out.  And it’s a very, very powerful lesson, and I’ve been inspired by both of you in trying to follow in those footsteps.

Jim, you understood that to advance our interests and values, you had to get to know your counterparts beyond the negotiating table, to understand what drove them and what they were up against.

And I think there’s no better example – we had a chance to talk about this a little – than the friendship that you built with the then-Soviet foreign minister, Eduard Shevernadze.

In the summer of 1989, you took the unprecedented step then of inviting him to your ranch in Wyoming.  You met in Washington that fall.  You broke protocol by flying together to Jackson Hole rather than taking separate planes.  And on board, you shared a meal and talked for the hours of that flight.

Over the coming days, the Secretary took Shevardnadze fishing on the Snake River.  I got an account of who caught what, or who didn’t catch what.  (Laughter.)  And as I understand it, gave him a pair of custom black cowboy boots made in Houston.  Shevy, as you took to calling him, later invited you to come fishing with him in Siberia.

That relationship was at the foundation for so many of the historic steps that were taken by our two nations.  And I suggest that if not for the trust that you were able to build, the Soviet foreign minister may not have been willing to stand side by side with you at Moscow airport to jointly denounce Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait – the first time the great powers spoke together on a seminal foreign policy issue, an act that was seen as a bookend to the Cold War.

Second, Secretary Baker understood that while American leadership was indispensable to tackling global challenges, we need allies, we need partners, to get the job done.  And those relationships have to be built.  They have to be nurtured.

That was how Secretary Baker assembled the coalition to stand up to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.  Ahead of the November 1990 vote at the UN Security Council authorizing the use of force against Iraq, the Secretary recognized the importance of rallying the broadest possible coalition.  So, he wanted to meet with every head of state or foreign minister from every country on the Security Council, 15 of them including us.  He had three weeks to do it.

In that time, he traveled to 12 countries on three continents.  And he didn’t just show up; he practiced the five P’s that his father had taught him: “Prior preparation prevents poor performance.”  So that’s another I’m inscribing on my own desk.  That preparation allowed him to meet each country where it was, bringing to bear the right combination of persuasion, charm, and maybe just a little bit of pressure too.

Ultimately, 12 Security Council members voted for the resolution.

Third, while the Secretary was a master at getting things done, he never lost sight of the principles guiding his actions.  He wrote, and I quote, “an American political diplomat should always remember that power divorced from the purposes valued by our democracy will ultimately prove empty.”  Jim, I suspect that’s one of the reasons you loved being Secretary.

You could use that gift for getting things done to advance the values that you believed in most and that represented everything that’s good about this country.  Yes, we all know the secretary could whip votes and run a campaign better than anyone.  I can attest to that.  I worked for Michael Dukakis in 1988.  (Laughter.)  But the greatest campaign he ever waged was for a more secure, a more peaceful world.

So once again we find ourselves in a whirlwind of history.  A more assertive China is challenging the rules-based international order that has long been the foundation of security and prosperity for Americans and people around the world.  The post-Cold War era has ended.  Russia has invaded a neighbor.  It’s reverted to almost totalitarian repression at home.  It’s threatening even to use nuclear weapons.

As we navigate this time, few models are more fitting to follow than the model set by Jim Baker.  In the office that I now have the privilege of occupying, Secretary Baker kept a small plaque on his desk given to him by President Reagan, and it said, “It CAN be done,” with the word “can” in capital letters.  Secretary Baker is, has always been a realist, but he’s never lost faith in America, in our values, and in our capacity when we’re at our best to make the world a little bit better as long as we remember the purpose behind our power.

Mr. Secretary, today, on behalf of this department, on behalf of our country, thank you.  Thank you for showing us how it can be done.  Thank you for inspiring us across the years and across generations.  Thank you for being such a great leader for this country and for this department.  Mr. Secretary.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BAKER:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for an extraordinarily generous – those extraordinarily generous remarks.  They are – they may very well be over the top.  You were kind to say that I could get some things done.  I didn’t get much done.  I had a really good crew that got things done for me and with me, and some of them are here today and I’m delighted to see them.  I appreciate the fact that all of you are here.  This is a signal honor for me to have my bust in the lobby of the department, and particularly here in the Museum of Diplomacy.

I’m really honored, if I may say so, Tony, that you would take time out of your busy schedule to be here, and I want to thank you for those extraordinarily generous words.  Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t think there’s been a moment in recent history when effective diplomacy has not – has been needed any more than it’s needed right now.  And we were talking about this in the Secretary’s office.  We all know the winds of war are blowing hard in Ukraine, where citizens there are making some quite heroic efforts to maintain their independence.  Protecting their freedoms while also making sure that the violence doesn’t spread – that we don’t trigger something else, is a really daunting task for the West – the West led, as usual, by the United States.

I think this crisis once again proves the critical importance of American leadership, and I told the Secretary that I really support and agree with the steps that have been taken in facing up to this problem.  I think they’ve done a masterful job.  I think it’s too soon to declare victory.  Some people are inclined to declare victory right now, some commentators.  I think it’s too soon for that.  But the fact remains that the United States is and still will remain for some time a force for international peace and stability.

And so, Mr. Secretary, I want you to know that you and our country have my full support as you and the dedicated officers of this wonderful department continue to lead our country’s diplomatic efforts during this challenging time.  And it is a challenging time, and you’re doing a splendid job.

I also want to express my deep appreciation to Dan Olofsson for finally bringing this event to fruition after the COVID pandemic put planning for it on hold for over two years.  I first met Dan when he invited me to Malmö, Sweden in 2017 for a public conversation with Carl Bildt, the former prime minister of that country.  Now, I may be a bit biased, because Dan has commissioned this bust of me, but I want you all to know how much I admire him.  He is a very successful entrepreneur who is interested in building a better world, not just making money.  His philanthropic commitment is best evidenced, I think, by the organization Star for Life, which he and his wife Christin launched in 2005 to prevent AIDS among young people in Africa.  We are also honored, Christin, to have you here today.

Their foundation works to strengthen young people’s self-esteem and belief in the future.  So, congratulations, Dan and Christin, and congratulations as well, Johan Falkman, to you – a sculptor, a talented sculptor.  You have a wonderful gift, Johan: the ability to bring joy and understanding through your art.  So, thank you also for honoring me as one of your subjects.

Now, this event would not be possible without the National Museum of American Diplomacy.  The history, the practice, and the challenges of American diplomacy tell a real success story, I think, of the American experiment.  This museum is going to keep that story alive.

Our nation has long been overdue, I think, for a museum that highlights the important role that diplomacy plays in our foreign and security policy.  I’ve been told that there are 18 large museums dedicated to our armed forces and wars that we have fought, and perhaps as many as 400 smaller ones.  And now I am very, very proud to be associated with this one that recognizes the importance and the success of diplomacy.

And since we’re talking about the importance of diplomacy, I want to recognize my late friend whom the Secretary mentioned and former boss, and yes, former tennis doubles partner, George H.W. Bush.  I told people I had an easy job.  The secretary of state can’t find himself separated from his president, and there was never any chance of that with me, because I had a president who was a friend, close friend, for 40 years.  He was my daughter’s godfather, and I carried him on the tennis courts.  (Laughter.)  So, there was never going to be – not only that, I ran all of his campaigns.  So, he and I were never going to see any space between us.

But I want to say nobody – in my view, nobody understood foreign policy, nor practiced it, as well as President Bush.  He was a star at that.  He knew it, he understood it, and he knew what to do and when to do it.  And were it not for George Bush, this bust of me would not be here today.

I’d like to end my remarks today, sadly, by saying a few words about another friend and great American, one of my successors as secretary of state: the incomparable Madeleine Albright.

Madeleine was intelligent, she was savvy, she was charming, and I can tell you – because she did some politics, too – she could be brutally frank when the moment demanded it.  But above all, she understood the important place that American diplomacy has in global affairs.  We are going to greatly miss Madeleine and her wit and candor.  Most of all, I think we will miss her contribution to our nation and to the practice of diplomacy.

Thank you all for being here.  Thank you for supporting this museum of diplomacy.  Mr. Secretary, thank you again for those extraordinarily generous remarks.  Dan, Christin, and Johan, thank you for being here and making today such a memorable one for me.

Thank you all.  (Applause.)

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