Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken at the 2023 USGLC Tribute Celebration

December 5, 2023 By USGLC

Full Transcript

LIZ SCHRAYER:   Well, what an honor this is, and congratulations for an extremely well-deserved recognition. I was crying when I saw all of those pictures and all the exhaustion of all your travel, but congratulations.


LIZ SCHRAYER: So there are a lot of global crises we can talk about, but, Secretary Blinken, we don’t get enough time to just talk about you, Tony Blinken the diplomat. So I’m going to start on that topic, and I want to present it this way.

A few years ago, USGLC celebrated our 25th anniversary, and I had the privilege of talking to many of your predecessors. I talked to Secretary—I interviewed Secretary Shultz and Secretary Powell, Secretary Albright, who I miss very much—I know you do as well—Secretary Rice, Secretary Clinton. And I was struck by in those interviews that we talked about the passing of the baton, the moment that they hold your seat. And so I want to think about your moment, and I want you to answer it this way.

I just saw 30 years ago—he whispered to me, “Where did we get that photo?”

LIZ SCHRAYER: You walked into Foggy Bottom. You have this amazing family history as diplomats, but here you are as our 71st Secretary of State. What is it like being the American chief diplomat at this moment of time, given all of its complexities? Give us a little window into how that feels.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: Well, first, just let me say this. It’s so wonderful to be with you but to be with all of you, to be with this remarkable coalition.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: We’ve worked together since you were in grade school about 30 years ago.

LIZ SCHRAYER: Oh, this is why I love him. He’s such a diplomat.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: And what USGLC has done for years and is doing in this moment is so critical to our country, to our engagement, to our leadership around the world. So first, thanks to you and thanks to your extraordinary leadership.

Look, this makes me deeply uncomfortable, but I’ll go with it, and I’ll go with it for one reason. The real reason I’m here tonight, besides wanting to celebrate USGLC, is also just to celebrate my colleagues, because I’m here as their representative on this stage. You saw a number of them around the room this evening, and each and every day, they are out there working for our country and working to make this world just a little bit safer, a little bit healthier, a little bit more prosperous. And the thing that gives me the greatest comfort in everything that I’m doing is I know when I’m out there every day, wherever it is, I’m not out there alone. I’m not speaking for myself or by myself. I have the immense privilege of speaking either literally or figuratively with that flag that’s on the screen behind my back every single day, knowing I’m speaking on behalf of the President of the United States, his administration, and ultimately our country and our people. And that’s an incredible source of strength. So that gives me great comfort.

But, you know, you see something like the wonderful piece that you just put together, and it’s easy to think about 30 years of doing this. And for me, I started out at the State Department, 30 years ago. I started out in an office, in the front office of what was then the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs.


SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: A couple things have changed.

LIZ SCHRAYER: I’m trying to picture that map.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: We made a few changes, and the office that I worked in then, the previous occupant of that office had been a very large safe. So that gives you some idea of the size of the office. And as I’d like to say—

LIZ SCHRAYER: Your office is a little bigger now.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: A little bit. Sixth floor. I moved up one flight to the seventh floor, and I’ve got windows, so—

LIZ SCHRAYER: You’re doing great. All right.

Well, let’s talk now about some of these global issues. You do not need to go into a SCIF to know that there are some serious threats going on? So let’s talk about this. Putin, Khomeini, Xi Jinping, climate, migration, food insecurity, the list goes on. So, Mr. Secretary, I want to know what keeps you up at night, guessing you don’t get a whole lot of sleep.

I read your—I remember seeing your speech that you gave just before UNGA, and this is what you said. You said, “What we’re experiencing now is more than a test of the post-Cold War order. It’s the end of it.” So just between us, how bad is it? And you don’t have to sugarcoat it. I mean, really, how bad is it?

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: Well, first, if you really want to know what keeps me up at night, I’ve got a four-year-old and a three-year-old.

LIZ SCHRAYER: I think there’s a lot of people who can relate.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: Having said that, Liz, you asked, how bad is it? I think of John McCain who said that it’s always darkest before it goes completely black.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: To put a more positive spin on it—you asked.

LIZ SCHRAYER: Okay. Now I’m not going to sleep tonight.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: To put a more positive spin on it, we’re in a growth industry, for better or worse. But in all seriousness—and I think you made the most important point—I think the President sees this—and I see this—as an inflection point, and by that, he means and I mean this. The changes that we’re going through right now are so profound, with such potential impact, the kind of changes that you see not every few years or every decade but maybe every six, seven, or eight decades, that the decisions we make now about how to deal with those changes are probably going to have an impact and shape the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years. So that’s the import of the moment, and what we’ve seen is, of course, a rise again of great power competition in ways that I think many hoped were behind us after the end of the Cold War and, at the same time, a multiplicity of global challenges, two of which were alluded to before, global health, a food insecurity crisis, and so many others that we don’t have the luxury of ignoring because they have a direct impact on the lives of the American people. And, of course, we’re dealing with this at a time where the technology that shapes virtually everything we do is changing at a more rapid pace than ever before and also having profound impacts.

But I’d say this, and this is what gives me confidence, two things. First, we’ve managed to make, over the last few years, extraordinary investments in ourselves to make sure that the United States would be and would remain the most competitive country on Earth. The investments we’ve made in renewing our infrastructure, the investments we’ve made in renewing our technology through the CHIPS and Science Act, the investments we’ve made through the so-called “IRA,” which means that when it comes to technology that’s likely to drive economies far into the future, climate technology, the United States will be at the forefront.

Now, that’s not my piece of business. My piece of business is the flip side of the coin, and that’s the other source of strength. The unique comparative advantage that we have around the world and that USGLC has been advocating for, for as long as it’s been around, is an extraordinary series of partnerships through our alliances, through individual partnerships, and we have been in the business of renewing, reengaging, rejuvenating them, and even reimagining them. And you’ve seen that through the traditional alliances and partnerships that we have reenergized these past few years.

You see it in new collections of countries that we put together, fit for purpose. We were talking about just a little bit, a while ago, PEPFAR, but we put together new collections of countries to deal with global health. And you see it in the way that we’re stitching all of these things together. I call it “variable geometry,” different shapes, different groups, all together in ways that are trying to advance a specific purpose. And when I’m going around the world, the thing that I find most powerful and also most comforting is that country after country wants to work with us, wants to be with us. And we know that, more than any time that I’ve been doing this, there is a premium, a premium on finding new ways to cooperate, to coordinate, as well as to communicate, and that’s what we’re doing. And as I see that unfolding, it really does give me confidence because there really is strength in numbers, and the more we can align, the more we can converge with others in an approach to a given problem, the more effective we’re going to be.

LIZ SCHRAYER: So let me—thank you for that. Let me ask you one item on Capitol Hill that I think both of us are paying very close attention to. I had an op-ed in The Hill today, and it’s the national—I mentioned it in my opening—the National Security Emergency Supplemental, Ukraine, Israel, Indo-Pacific, humanitarian issues, particularly around Gaza. Obviously, there’s the border security negotiations going on, but here’s my question. This is a pretty influential audience sitting out here. You’ve got a floor, not for—you can’t go on and on, but real quickly—

LIZ SCHRAYER: You’ve got to get back. I know the call you have later tonight. But here’s my question. Why? Why do you think it’s so important to our interests, and what’s at risk if it doesn’t get passed by the end of the year, Mr. Secretary?

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: Very simply, very quickly. First of all, thank you for asking, and thanks to all of you who are working and advocating to make sure that we have the resources, the funding we need to do the critical work that we’re trying to do around the world. Ukraine, Russia. We need to ensure that Ukraine continues to succeed. We need to ensure that Russia continues to fail in its aggression against Ukraine.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: If we don’t— if we don’t, we know that Putin is allowed to proceed with impunity. That is going to open a Pandora’s Box of aggression around the world. Other would-be aggressors will look. They’ll learn, they’ll listen, they’ll take lessons from this. And so we have a profound stake.

And as Jim Mattis always liked to say, as Lloyd Austin likes to say now, in this business, an ounce of prevention really is much better than 10 pounds of cure later on. So we have a real incentive to get this right, and this has been a remarkable story so far. Ukraine, against all odds, has succeeded and more than survived. This has been a strategic debacle for Russia. It’s weaker militarily. It’s weaker economically. It’s weaker diplomatically. Ukraine is united. Europe has gotten itself off of dependence on Russian energy. The NATO alliance is stronger and bigger and getting even bigger. We need to be able to keep that going at a critical moment.

Israel, Gaza. We’re determined to make sure that Israel can do what is necessary to make sure that October 7th never happens again.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: We have to back that up with resources, but also, critically, we need to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to help those who desperately need help, including the many innocent men, women, and children in Gaza who so desperately need our assistance.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: This supplemental will help provide for that.
You mentioned the Indo-Pacific. We’re in a competition, which we don’t shy away from, with China, in part, to shape what comes next. If this is an inflection point, if this is the end of the post-Cold War era, which we believe it is, there’s a competition on to shape what comes next. There are resources in the supplemental to help make sure we’re the ones doing that.

And then there are people in need around the world, throughout the world, whether it is ethnic Armenians, whether it’s Rohingya, whether it’s Sudanese. You name it; we want to make sure that America is there to help them.

And let me say one last thing. I can tell you where people are who do not want to see the supplemental pass. They’re sitting in offices in Beijing, in Moscow, and Tehran.

LIZ SCHRAYER: Yep. Okay. So a quick question on this. One of the things that everybody who’s part of USGLC knows is we don’t spend all of our time in Washington. We spend a lot of our time out around the country. We host over a hundred town hall meetings around the country. I was with Senator Ernst in Sioux City, Iowa. This is not too long ago. You travel not just around the world. I have learned that you traveled just this year in Pittsburgh, in Denver, in Atlanta, in Texas.


LIZ SCHRAYER: Your first major speech as Secretary of State talked about an American—a foreign policy for the American people, and that you’re going to hold yourself accountable to make sure you deliver for the American people. Question: When you go out on the road, what do you hear? What are you saying? And are you delivering an American foreign policy to the American people?

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: So the bottom line is that’s why we’re here, for our fellow citizens. That’s our number one responsibility, and we have to connect what we’re doing around the world to the lives that they’re living, the needs that they have, the aspirations that they have, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.

So for example, you mentioned I was in Denver not so long ago. We had a City Summit of the America; that is, Summit of America that brings together all the countries in the hemisphere. We brought together, at a municipal level, mayors from around the hemisphere, about 250 mayors as well as private sector, civil society, and others to look at the shared challenges, the shared problems that we have to confront in all of our cities, whether it’s in the United States or anywhere else in the hemisphere.

One of those is fentanyl, synthetic opioids.


SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: And we brought together mayors who are confronting this problem, and we came together with folks in Denver, with the authorities in Denver who have been dealing with this themselves. And it was a very powerful moment of connection to try to learn from each other, and one of the things that grew out of that was a determination to make sure that the State Department was leading around the world. This summer, we put together a coalition of more than 100 countries, all focused on dealing with the scourge of synthetic opioids. For the United States, this is the number one killer of Americans aged 18 to 49, not automobile accidents, not cancer, not guns. Synthetic opioids. And so many of you know this from the effect it’s had in your own communities. We put together this coalition.


SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: We’ve connected what’s happening here in our country to countries around the world that are now all rowing together to deal with it.

One last thing on this. Recently, when President Biden was with President Xi Jinping of China, we got an agreement from China to take concrete action to crack down on the companies in China that are manufacturing these precursors, the ingredients to fentanyl, that gets shipped halfway around the world to our hemisphere and wind up being synthesized into fentanyl that comes into our country. That’s how you connect what’s happening.

LIZ SCHRAYER: It makes a real difference.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: And we’ve been doing that. Atlanta with the CDC. We’ve all lived through the COVID epidemic. Very important to show that what we’re doing around the world, to make sure that we’re prepared for the next pandemic. Ideally, we prevent it, but if we can’t, we deal with it more effectively. That’s usually important too. I could go down the list, but virtually every issue we’re dealing with has a profound impact on the lives of our fellow citizens. We want to make sure that they see that we’re there for them.

LIZ SCHRAYER: Great. Well, I’ll invite you right now to any town hall meeting we’re having.


LIZ SCHRAYER: You have an open invitation.

All right. Here’s what I want to do in our ending part, a few minutes, together. Some of you have been with me when I’ve done interviews, and I end with a Liz’s lightning round. But I’m going to add a little piece to it with some photos, because I learned from your staff that you have traveled about 260,000 miles, and have lived for 1,400 hours on a plane. Do you get frequent flyer miles?


LIZ SCHRAYER: On only one plane.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: It’s a trap. You get the miles, but you can only use them on one plane.

LIZ SCHRAYER: All right. So here’s how this game is going to work. I’m going to put a picture up. We’re going to go quick.


LIZ SCHRAYER: And you get to say a word or two. But I’m going set it up, if it’s okay.


LIZ SCHRAYER: All right? You ready?


LIZ SCHRAYER: All right. Would you put picture number one. Okay. So this is a pretty iconic picture. You all have seen it many of times, but I’m going to tell you what I want you to comment about it, because the comment—it’s obviously the Bedlam operation. But the comment I want you to make is that it was shown about six weeks later on David Letterman.


LIZ SCHRAYER: And your dear friend, then the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, goes on David Letterman, and David Letterman says this. He says, “Who is this guy?” We’ll put a little circle around who he’s talking to.

LIZ SCHRAYER: And he says, “Who is this guy? Was he on a White House tour? Got lost? Got lost around up in your room?” And the chairman, Mullen, doesn’t say anything. So my question, Mr. Secretary, did you ever get Mullen back?

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: So first, I think Mike didn’t know who I was either.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: And all I can tell you is, to the extent you ever get a big head in Washington, Mike and Letterman deflated it in about 15 seconds.

LIZ SCHRAYER: All right. Next picture. So this is a great one. I’m just jealous of you, but here is Secretary Blinken. He gets to meet the entire cast, including Keri Russell, of the hit TV show, which I love, “The Diplomat.” It’s a great show. But my question is, is there any reality and actual part that is true of this show?

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: Oh, it’s every single scene.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: And let me say about this photograph—

LIZ SCHRAYER: Including confirmation was as easy for her as it was for you?



SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: Let me say one other thing about this. This photo is called “Revenge.” Here’s why. When the President was Vice President, I was working for him, and so was my wife. She continues to work—Evan Ryan—as Cabinet Secretary at the White House. Back then, she was working directly for the Vice President, and he happened to have Bradley Cooper visiting him in his office. And he made it a point to invite my wife to the meeting with Bradley Cooper and sit her next to Bradley Cooper on the couch. So that’s the best I could do.

LIZ SCHRAYER: I’m jealous of both of you. All right. Let’s put up the next picture. All right. So here’s a power meeting. This is what the Secretary gets to do. He meets the Ukrainian Foreign Minister in September, and you’re at a reopened McDonald’s in Kyiv.


LIZ SCHRAYER: And if you can’t see it from the picture, they are eating French fries and a cherry pie, and Secretary Blinken calls it “hangover food.” So—

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: No, no. No, no. Let’s be clear. Dmytro called it “hangover food.”

LIZ SCHRAYER: Oh, okay. I have the story wrong.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: I said, “I’ve never—I wouldn’t know.”

LIZ SCHRAYER: So my real question is, other than this food, what is your favorite food on the road? This is going to make news. I would like it to be the supplemental, but I think this is it. Your favorite food, Mr. Secretary?

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: You do a lot of nervous eating on these trips. So I think favorite food, hard to say. I think my team that I cherish every single day, probably, they’d say just keeping me reasonably well caffeinated is what does it.

LIZ SCHRAYER: Okay. All right. There, we have it. All right. Next picture. This one went viral. Ten million people have looked at this picture. This is obviously you playing “Hoochie Coochie Man” at the at the Department’s Global Music Diplomacy Initiative, and anybody want me to get the Secretary’s guitar?


LIZ SCHRAYER: I don’t have it.


LIZ SCHRAYER: But okay. Here’s my question. My question is—be honest—how long did you practice?

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: So we had two things going on. I did practice. We rehearsed once in the afternoon, and I made sure that my colleagues were there, Ned Price, who’s here with us, a couple of others, just to give me a reality check, hearing the rehearsal. Do I really want to do this?

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: Now, for whatever reason, they always are very affirmative, even when it’s not merited. So I believed them. And then we had this wonderful event, cultural diplomacy. We’re trying to bring it into the 21st century. Make sure that the State Department is using the greatest strength of our country, our culture, around the world. We had a wonderful event, extraordinary artists, but the event was running late, and we needed to clear the room. And I figured, what better way to do it?

LIZ SCHRAYER: What is your favorite band?



SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: Oh, that’s like, who’s your favorite child? What can you say?

LIZ SCHRAYER: You don’t have to answer. That’s a state secret. Okay.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: It all starts with the Beatles, but that’s where it goes.

LIZ SCHRAYER: Oh, I like that. That’s a good one. Okay. All right. Our last picture. One of my favorite things about the Secretary is that I learned that—well, I’ve known this because I follow him on social media. He goes and always visits the embassies, and he always makes time to see the families of the embassy. So this is one of many, many pictures of you with children. But what we all want to know is, what state secret is this little girl telling you?

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: Liz, these are among my favorite moments, because for me, it’s always a reminder of my own children. And I also have a special affinity, a special bond with kids who are serving overseas with their parents. I started out leaving the United States when I was nine to move abroad. So I know a little bit about what they’re going through. I know the extraordinary experiences that they’re likely to have, but I also know how challenging it can be when you get uprooted, when you get taken away from your friends, the rest of your family, the place you know, the language you know. And so for me, part of it is making sure I’m connecting with them, and also it’s just a constant reminder, when I’m on the road, of my own children. So it’s wonderful.

As to state secrets, I can’t say.

LIZ SCHRAYER: All right. So maybe you have to end this way. So maybe you’ll tell me.
Here we are as a community that truly believes in America’s global leadership. In our last couple of seconds, one story, one person that you have met along your way as Secretary of State that kind of embodies American global leadership that has touched you that you can share with us that unites us all.

SECRETARY ANTONY J. BLINKEN: You know, there’s so many people that you that you meet along the way, and it gets back to your first question about how bad a time is this. Actually, it’s an extraordinary time, because I continue to come across people of every walk of life, every place I go. But I guess I’d say what really sticks with me is we have some extraordinary programs that we’ve put together over the years, young African leaders, young Southeast African leaders. We have similar programs in other parts of the world. And one of the things that I try to do, that we try to do, is to connect with them, the alumni of these programs, as well as people who are just coming into them. And the extraordinary thing is this. Over the 75 or 80 years that we’ve been doing these exchange programs, one of the things that the State Department does so well, we’ve had an incredible knack at identifying people who are going to go on to play leadership roles in their countries and who get connected to the United States at a young age and also get connected to one another. And I think if you look at the numbers over these years, people who’ve taken part in our exchange programs and, again, identified at a very young age, before they’ve actually made their way in life, something like 80 went on to win Nobel Prizes, 6- or 700 went on to become presidents or prime ministers of their countries, thousands went on to become leaders in industry, in academia, in science, in culture. And what I keep finding is when I’m going around the world and having a chance to reconnect with them, is because of that formative experience they had with us through these programs, almost all of them feel a powerful connection and a powerful positive connection to the United States.

And they’ve also managed, in part, through our assistance to network with each other, to get connected with each other. So there’s this incredible network of good that is out there, in part, because we helped create it, and one that in ways, big and small, that people can’t even see every day is also advancing the interests of our country and everything we stand for.

LIZ SCHRAYER: Well, I would close our conversation, two things. One is, Secretary Blinken and to all those that work with you, I hope you know and feel the energy and the respect and the support that you have from the entire USGLC community, that when you go country to country, continent to continent in your travels, and as hard as it is, that we are so appreciative of your leading and your work to represent America at its very best.

And to close out the first half of the program, in honor of you, I want to bring on a special performance. The special performance is—some of you may remember that two days after Russia invaded Ukraine, almost two years now, this coming February, there was a special performance on “Saturday Night Live.” And we are bringing those performers back tonight. They are the Ukrainian Choir Dumka of New York, and it’s a reminder of not only we have work to continue to do to ensure a free and independent Ukraine but also in our prayers of a peaceful world. Please join me in thanking Secretary and congratulating Secretary Blinken and welcoming the choir.