I have so many great memories from Africa, but one of my very favorites was the July 4th, 2008. The Fourth of July is the most important day in the life of any American embassy. Most of the proceedings are very ceremonial and protocol-oriented….all the members of the diplomatic community arriving in their black sedans with the little flags, my senior team to greet each dignitary as they arrive, and our Marine contingent formally posting the colors. I tried to add a little bit of Americana – hot dogs & cheeseburgers; red, white & blue everywhere, some fireworks, and even a cheesehead coaster or two. The highlight of the evening was to be the ceremonial speeches – mine as ambassador plus a formal response from a representative of the Tanzanian government. I spent hours researching and preparing my remarks. And when the moment came, I spoke of King George & Thomas Jefferson; I spoke of the Stamp Act, the Sons of Liberty & the Boston Tea Party. I quoted passages from the Declaration of Independence – from “We hold these truths to be self evident” to “pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” I delivered my speech well – even if I do say so myself. When I was done, I received encouraging applause and could see important heads nodding in the audience.
But then came our Tanzanian speaker. He was a young minister in the government who had gotten his graduate degree right here in the U.S. He was the very personification of Tanzania’s hopeful future. Very smart, very sophisticated & very smooth. When he reached the podium, he pulled out his formally-prepared script from the pocket of his tailored suit. He began unfolding it, but then he paused for a moment, and folded it back up, saying softly that he didn’t need it. He looked at the Americans in the crowd, relaxed and said: “What I would say to you simply is this: we want to have what you have. We want to be who you are.” And he basically stopped right there. I remember that the crowd was silent . . . he had just said it all. And he said it much better than I. What that young African understood is what too many Americans seem to forget: when America struggles, it’s not because our challenges are so great…. but because we forget who we are and what we stand for! Now let’s be very clear: When that young minister spoke so movingly of America, he wasn’t talking about the size of government. He wasn’t talking about any agency or bailout, he wasn’t gushing about our regulations or permitting or entitlements. He was talking about the American Dream. About freedom and free enterprise. About the American can-do attitude. He was talking about the sense of opportunity that is built into our very DNA. We believe in the unlimited potential of free men and free women.
We want to unleash the strength of entrepreneurship both here and in countries seeking to rise up and create their own American Dreams. When we give American entrepreneurs the chance to compete; when we oppose state-run enterprises and socialism, anywhere and everywhere; when we use our leadership to encourage & promote market-based reforms both here and around the world; we create new economic opportunities for our companies, new jobs for our workers, and we help launch a new generation of entrepreneurs, and allies who see the world as we do. America is not just a place, it’s an idea. And (we) must never shy away from celebrating it.
Ronald Reagan liked to remind people that “none of the four wars in [his] lifetime came about because we were too strong. It is weakness . . . that invites adventurous adversaries to make mistaken judgments.” His words ring just as true today. America must be strong, and must be unmistakably so. But it’s also true that the nature of our threats has changed. At my organization, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, we have an initiative called our National Security Advisory Council, a group of over 100 retired 3 & 4-star generals & admirals. They recently sent a letter to Congress that put it well: “When we entered the military, the world was a very different place. The threats and the world we faced were defined by the Cold War… today’s interconnected world knows no borders, & the US must use all of its tools of national power and influence.”
Some years ago, Margaret Thatcher famously warned Pres. Bush 41 not to, in her words, “go wobbly” in leading the free world. Today, we can’t go wobbly in the face of threats like violent extremism narco-terrorism, and those who would crush human liberty. We need to use every tool, military and non-military alike. We need to use diplomacy and humanitarian initiatives to fight the kind of despair and hopelessness that extremists too often exploit. Again, my experience as Ambassador bears this out. Not so far from where that Tanzanian minister gave his remarks on July 4 was a memorial to those who lost their lives when terrorists bombed our embassy in 1998 . . . I drove by it every day. Al Qaeda sought to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Africa, and to shatter the cause of stability, tolerance and freedom in that part of the world. In 2008, not so long after that bombing, not so long after we had partnered on programs to fight extremism and to take on extreme poverty, an American president, a Republican president, made the first ever official state visit to Tanzania – he was welcomed with open arms & cheering crowds. As I watched in amazement, I realized that the terrorists failed utterly.
One of the greatest moments in my career was when I had the honor of escorting President George W. Bush to an AIDS clinic in Dar es Salaam. Now, presidential visits, especially overseas, are carefully scripted…and this one was no different. As President Bush went from room to room in the facility, a young health care worker would give a well-rehearsed description of what she did. All was going according to plan, until… When President Bush got two-thirds of the way around the main floor, he saw a few young families waiting to see a doctor or nurse. He put his hand on a young mother with a babe on her shoulder and then hugged her. As he did, President Kikwete leaned over and said, “Mr. President, she is not alive but for you, but for PEPFAR.” We finished the last part of the tour, and then proceeded to our waiting cars. President Bush and I were alone in his car when I looked over and saw tears in his eyes. He shook his head. “Welcome to my world, Mr. President. What President Kikwete said to you is literally true.” I was never prouder to be the American ambassador. Some things we do just because we’re Americans. We are a great country filled with good people . . . and we should never be shy about saying it.