Remarks at the TIME 100 Gala
Secretary of State
Thank you very much. Thank you all. Thank you and welcome to my announcement to run for president of Malta. (Laughter.) I am so delighted to be here in New York in the United States of America at this event, and I want to thank Rick Stengel and everyone at TIME for bringing together this remarkable group of people and for including me as well. Truth be told, as Richard just mentioned, I did invite him to travel with me to all those countries, including Libya, just after the revolution, and it was, frankly, a transparent ploy to make the TIME 100 list. (Laughter.) So if you ever want to make the list again, or for the first time, just follow that example.
We’re here in the greatest city in the world, and I’m delighted that TIME has included two of the newest residents: Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow. And for both of them, I’m sure they will have already discovered what a welcoming, exciting place New York is. And if you want any advice, if you need a little help getting your bearings, I’ve put together some ideas for a Listening Tour – and if you just travel around, you’ll hear all kinds of things from New Yorkers. And for me it was a great experience representing this exciting state.
Now, there’s a lot to be done tonight, but there’s not really a lot of room for more than one internet meme sensation, so I’m afraid that Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin really take the cake here. Speaking of New York though, I was delighted to see that our wonderful Governor Andrew Cuomo is on the TIME 100 list, along with others like Marco Rubio. And the two of them and I have ended up on some other lists this past couple of months. (Laughter.) And I assume it’s their keen interest in foreign policy that brings us together. But for me, looking through this list and looking at that exciting video depiction of everyone, I just want to say how impressed and grateful I am.
TIME has honored so many national and global leaders; you couldn’t possibly acknowledge every one. There’s many I haven’t had a chance to meet yet – I was sort of hoping Kim Jong-un would show up. (Laughter.) I don’t think he’s here but if you catch sight of him, let me know. We’re still trying to figure out what he’s all about. (Laughter.)
But I do want to give a shout-out to Angela Merkel and Dilma Rousseff and Portia Miller, Christine Lagarde, who are also on this list and prove once again that you actually can run the world in heels and pantsuits. (Applause.) Because the day is over when women leaders could only aspire to a supporting role. And by the way, I think we may have just found Kristen Wiig’s next movie. She can call it: “Bridesmaids No Longer.” (Laughter.)
I am – just excited to have the chance to say a few semi-serious words. Because aside from the dictators – and I am not talking about my friend Harvey – (laughter) – this is a truly remarkable list with so many distinguished leaders, artists, and activists, people who are on the front lines across the globe, whether it’s fighting AIDS in India, corruption in Russia, gender-based violence in Pakistan. And I am personally pleased at how many courageous women are on the list this year.
Now what does this actually mean, besides a fabulous evening in one of the great spots of New York? You’ve been deemed as influential. And I think it means that, at least according to TIME and the process they went through, people are inspired by your grace and your grit, moved by your refusal to give up even when the challenges appear insurmountable, motivated by your focus on solving problems that actually matter in people’s lives, showing us all what it means to work hard, to innovate, to advance our common humanity, to lead.
And the challenges that so many of you and others who couldn’t be with us tonight take on every day – conflict and persecution, corruption and poverty, hunger and disease – go directly to the security and prosperity of this country and all countries.
Today a flu in Canton can become an epidemic in Chicago. Or a protest in Cairo can reverberate to Calcutta causing economic and political shockwaves. And we know too well the destruction that an extremist cell in Karachi or Kandahar can cause. The world has changed – technology and globalization have made nearly every country and community interdependent and interconnected; citizens and non-state actors like NGOs, corporations, cartels are increasingly influencing international affairs for good or for ill. And the challenges we face have become so complex, so fast-moving, so cross-cutting that no one nation can hope to solve them alone. So how we practice foreign policy needs to change as well.
And when President Obama asked me to be Secretary of State, people were asking, “Is America still up to the job of leading in this rapidly changing world?” And we faced two wars, an economy in free-fall, diplomacy had been deemphasized, our traditional alliances were fraying, the international system the United States had helped to build and defend looked increasingly obsolete.
So the President set a clear objective to secure and advance America’s global leadership in the 21st Century. And to achieve that goal, we could no longer rely primarily on military solutions or on a go-it-alone approach. We needed to expand our thinking and our horizons, to use every tool in the proverbial tool box, every asset, every partner, in an integrated approach. And that meant breaking out of old bureaucratic silos, engaging with emerging powers, and most importantly, as Rick said, with people themselves, not just governments. It also meant harnessing market forces to help solve strategic problems, finding new partners in the private sector. In short, we needed to change the way we did business from top to bottom. And we called this new approach: “Smart Power.”
And it’s been more than three years now. By the time I finish next January, I guess I’ll have traveled a million miles, visited more than 100 countries. And I know a couple of things. One, the world remains a dangerous place, but I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished. We have integrated the three pillars of American foreign policy: diplomacy, development, and defense. And we have worked hard to restore America’s standing, especially by repairing alliances and deepening relationships, and paying a lot of attention to the so-called rising powers. And also putting together coalitions to do things like protect civilians in Libya, or to try to, through pressure and sanctions, influence behavior in Iran. Putting people at the center of our foreign policy, especially those long pushed to the margins like women and young people, religious and ethnic minorities, the LGBT community, civil society. That was important because we want to make clear that America’s values of inclusivity and democracy, of fairness and equality of opportunity really were at the core of who we are and who we will be. So we determined to make innovation and partnerships the foundation of what we did.
And America’s global leadership is not a birthright. It has to be earned by each successive generation. So putting the common good ahead of narrow interests is what I think is not just a nice thing to do, but essential. And that’s as true at home as it is abroad. To be innovative, integrated, visionary, it’s all critical to the kind of future we want.
And there is no substitute for American leadership. I feel it everywhere I travel, every time that big blue and white plane with the words United States of America on the side touches down in another country. And yes, I appreciate greatly our military and material might. But at bottom it is our values and our commitment to fairness and justice, freedom and democracy that has set us apart and hopefully, God-willing, will always set us apart. It’s what makes American leadership so exceptional.
So let me leave you with just one final thought. Because as much as the world changes, this will always be true: Sometimes nations must be willing to do what is right no matter the odds or the costs. We must be prepared to act strongly and decisively, with every tool and, even occasionally, weapon at our disposal.
Some of you might have seen that photograph from the White House Situation Room on the day Usama bin Ladin was killed. And I’m often asked: What was going through my mind during that very long, tense day? And first, I remembered all the people here in New York who I had gotten to know, who I was privileged to represent in the Senate, and how much they, and we, deserved justice for our loved ones. And I thought about America and how important it was to protect our country from another attack. And I prayed for the safety of those brave men, those Navy SEALS risking their lives on that moonless Pakistani night.
So America will not only continue to lead, we will do so because we must. It’s who we are. It’s in our DNA. And I want to be sure that as I finish off my term as Secretary of State, and eventually get to a point where I can put my feet up and actually enjoy just being a citizen again, there’s a lot of work still to be done. There’s not a moment to lose.
And as I head off to another country and go on to all the meetings that I’ll be having, I will have the privilege to meet people like those we honor tonight. I will have the privilege to see firsthand what they are doing to advance freedom and opportunity to stand up to injustice, and I will know that America needs to be on their side. We need to continue doing what America does best: solving problems, standing for our values, and making it clear that the future will be just as exciting, filled with potential, as we have enjoyed a past that has given so many of us the opportunities that we sometimes take for granted, but which we are privileged to have as we gather here tonight.
So we need your help to continue this mission, this human mission. And next year when the editors of TIME begin putting together their list, I hope that they, and we, will find a world perhaps a little more peaceful, more prosperous, and more free.
And thanks to all of you for your contributions in making that so. Thank you all. Goodnight. (Applause.)