A few readers have asked me to send them the remarks I made at our Independence Day receptions this year, so I thought I’d just go ahead and reprint the short speech here. I tend to speak from bullet-point notes rather than full drafts, so what follows is my best recollection of what I said in Wellington, which was thereafter slightly customized for Auckland and Christchurch. Please pardon any spelling errors in my Te Reo Māori and Hawaiian. I tend not to write out my mihi, so the spelling below is my best phonetic approximation.

* * *

Speaking at the Independence Day event in Wellington.

Beginning my Independence Day remarks …

E nga mana, e nga reo, rau rangatira ma, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou, katoa. E nga tini mate, haere, haere, moe mai ra. Kia ora, huihui tatou katoa.

In the languages of two of the hundreds of first nations of the territory of the United States of America:  Aloha, aloha, aloha pumehana kako’o and talofa lava.

Honorable Ministers, Leader of the Opposition, other Members of Parliament, former Prime Minister Bolger, their Worships Mayors Wade-Brown and Rowan, colleagues in the Diplomatic Corps, Commander Admiral Swift of the U.S. 7th Fleet, other distinguished guests, friends all:

Welcome to our 4th of July celebration, again scheduled in June so that you are not out of town on your winter vacations when we pour the whiskey and toast the Revolution. Thank you for taking time to join us to commemorate the 237th anniversary of American Independence.

It was on July 4, 1776 that 56 farmers, merchants, brewers, lawyers, and educators representing the 13 American colonies ratified a Declaration of Independence from the British Empire, boldly asserting,  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Founders prepare to sign the Declaration in Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

The Founders prepare to sign the Declaration in Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Those words launched a great experiment, a turbulent, fascinating, complex, messy, uplifting work-in-perpetual-progress. It is the American impulse to wrestle continuously and publicly with the failings and imperfections in our own society and our own government, to work continuously to forge a more perfect union.

That impulse makes the United States an easy target because we Americans tend to air our disagreements and dirty laundry in public for all to see, for all to critique, and for all to exploit. That poses challenges and emboldens scoundrels, but it was the clear intention of our Founders and remains one of the greatest strengths of our society and our national character, which we celebrate on this, our national day.

One of the reasons we celebrate.

One of the reasons we celebrate.

Now, because this will likely be my final Independence Day as Ambassador, I considered finally delivering traditional national day remarks laced with trade statistics and lists of official visits. But, as you will see over the next 7 minutes, I veered off the road again.

Why? Because the power of the American narrative is not based on the quantity of product we produce or the amount of money we make. It’s much deeper than that. And the strength and promise of the relationship between New Zealand and the United States is not based on how many widgets we sell each other or how many times our senior officials meet and greet each other. It’s much deeper and more durable than that.

Our bonds, our strengths, and indeed our characters are best reflected not in statistics but in the common values we demonstrate, the aspirations we share, and the heroes we embrace. At times, I think it all boils down to five special strands of societal DNA that we Americans and Kiwis largely share, often reflected most clearly and honestly in the marketplace of popular culture.

There is the SPIDER-MAN gene … the ordinary everyman or everywoman, focused on the work and drama of daily life … conflicted, often misunderstood … seeking to be left alone … but stepping forward reluctantly when events so require … exemplified by American icons such as Paul Revere, Rosa Parks, and the great Billie Jean King, who was a reluctant but powerful feminist and lesbian symbol when all she really wanted to do was play tennis.

Image source:

There is IRON MAN … alter ego of entrepreneur-scientist-technologist Tony Stark … brash, individualistic, iconoclastic … challenging convention and his own evolving moral compass … a futurist who believes that science and technology can and will save the world … exemplified by American icons such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk, who is a direct-action force of nature for clean energy, greener transport, and citizen space exploration.

Image source:

And WONDER WOMAN … advocate for equality, inclusiveness, and fairness … fearless outsider competing successfully against established elites … pushing boundaries and changing the terms of societal discourse … exemplified by great Americans such as Sacagawea, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Oprah Winfrey, and Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a tireless advocate for human rights in the United States and around the world.

This year we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of Mrs. Roosevelt’s courageous island-hopping mission through the Pacific at the height of World War II, which brought her here to New Zealand for a week in September 1943.

Image source:

There is the BATMAN … the Dark Knight … clear-eyed about the nature of evil in the world … iron-willed, unflinching agent of justice … fighter for order and union amidst chaos … often operating in shadows… reviled self-righteously by many who in fact rely on him to preserve their safety and comfort … exemplified by many whose names we’ll never know, as well as by great icons such as Abraham Lincoln, who created modern America by pulling a collapsing nation out of civil war and moral decay by using the tools within his grasp.

Image source:

And of course, SUPERMAN … the undocumented immigrant child who grew to personify better than anyone the values of his adopted country … inspirational symbol of hope, light, and the potential for greatness in all of us … the Man of Steel in the face of adversity or injustice … able eventually to overcome great obstacles and put things right … exemplified by larger-than-life Americans such as George Washington, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller, Neil Armstrong, and of course Martin Luther King, Jr., the defining icon of the civil rights movement who moved a nation through the force of his words.

Image source:

None of these superheroes – real or fictional – is or was perfect. They are flawed, very human characters who made mistakes – sometimes quite serious ones – but who maintained a values-based internal compass, eventually self-corrected when they strayed, and through their actions accomplished immense good in the world.

That, in my view, is a fair summation of the American character and the American Nation that we celebrate on this, our Independence Day.

In conclusion, I would like to deliver a lightning-fast synopsis of the more traditional remarks that I first attempted to write. Here goes, in 30 seconds:

Again this year, I am delighted to assert – without fear of overstatement or contradiction – that the U.S.-N.Z. relationship is as deep, broad, and strong as at any time since the mid 1940s. Bedrock people-to-people contacts are extensive and continue to expand. Our economic engagement is prodigious and accelerating, especially when measured in 21st (not 19th) Century terms. Our governments are working closely together on a wide range of strategic and scientific issues of utmost importance to planet Earth. And, yes, our senior officials meet with great frequency, and with genuine warmth and enthusiasm.

President Obama and Prime Minister Key in the Oval Office.

President Obama and Prime Minister Key in the Oval Office.

Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton with Prime Minister John Key during a media conference after the signing of the Wellington Declaration.

Former Secretary Clinton with Prime Minister Key in the Beehive.

Minister of Justice Judith Collins with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano during a successful visit to Wellington.

Minister of Justice Judith Collins greets Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on the tarmac in Wellington.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta being welcomed at Government House in Auckland.

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is welcomed at Government House in Auckland.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaking to students at Auckland University.

Attorney General Eric Holder engages with future Kiwi leaders in Auckland.

In fact, as we celebrate this October the 175th anniversary of American diplomatic engagement in the territory now known as New Zealand, I would suggest, based on ample evidence, that bilateral relations have indeed entered a second – and more mature – golden era. Please see my blog – www.DavidHuebner.com – for dozens of examples of what I mean, including stories of every-day heroes making a difference in the relationship between our two societies.

Which brings me back to where I started.

Perhaps the wisest summation of heroism, literal or figurative, that I have heard was offered by George R. Martin, New Jersey-born creator of the popular Game of Thrones. He stated (and I’m paraphrasing):

“My own heroes are the dreamers, those men and women who tried to make the world a better place than when they found it, whether in small ways or great ones. Some succeeded, some failed, most had mixed results. But it is the effort that’s heroic. Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.”

So, I would like to offer a toast from one nation of dreamers and fighters of the good fight, to another nation of dreamers and fighters of the good fight:  “To the People of New Zealand, to the representatives whom the People of New Zealand in their wisdom anoint from time to time as their humble servants, and to Her Majesty, the Queen of New Zealand.” Cheers.

Kati ake i konei, mata atua kotou e manaaki.

dh sig

Welcome to the 5th installment in my series on American educational institutions. Thus far I’ve talked mostly about large universities, but the United States also contains hundreds of superb liberal arts colleges which can be excellent choices for international students. We call those tertiary schools “colleges” because they primarily offer undergraduate degrees in arts and sciences and don’t have post-graduate professional schools (such as medicine and law).

Today I’ll be featuring one of those intimate liberal arts powerhouses, Swarthmore College, located in my birth state of Pennsylvania.

To me, the defining characteristics of Swarthmore are small size, huge reputation, academic excellence, and intense community spirit.

Turning to size first, the school has fewer than 1,550 students total. Just over 93% of the students choose to live on campus, which creates a vibrant, warm community atmosphere that enhances the educational experience.

Engaging with students is a faculty of approximately 165 professors teaching more than 600 separate courses per year, with an average student-to-faculty class size of just under 8:1. The extraordinarily small average class size is coupled with a deep tradition of open discussion which encourages student entrepreneurship, creativity, and discovery. You can’t get lost at Swarthmore. In fact, you can engage directly and in a meaningful fashion with the entire faculty over your time as a student.

continue reading…

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I’m back in Washington this week to attend a global Chiefs of Mission conference called by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The key agenda items are advancing our comprehensive economic statecraft initiatives, expanding the scope and pace of diplomatic innovation under our 21st Century Statecraft program, and sharing best practices on a wide array of challenges faced in our Missions around the world.

The conference started yesterday evening with a welcome reception for the Ambassadors and senior Department officials in the historic Benjamin Franklin Room, hosted by Secretary Clinton. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting  with a few dozen of my colleagues about current events and new projects in our respective Embassies. I also had the opportunity to talk with the Secretary about developments in New Zealand and Samoa, including the status of reconstruction in Christchurch.

To launch the formal proceedings, this morning the Secretary delivered a forceful keynote address reporting on the status of restructuring and innovations under our first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), and highlighting certain priority policy areas for the year ahead.

The priorities discussed by the Secretary include pursuing robust values-based diplomacy in Afghanistan and Iraq as our soldiers depart, expanding our already extensive engagement in and around the Pacific, assisting societies transitioning to democracy, positioning economic engagement at the top of our agenda, continuing to elevate Development as a critical partner of Diplomacy and Defense in America’s security strategy, and maintaining our focus on the status of women and girls.

Following the Secretary’s remarks, Deputy Secretaries William Burns and Thomas Nides drilled down into matters within their respective portfolios. We then spent a couple hours discussing economic statecraft policies and projects with a panel of experts, after which we adjourned to the Ben Franklin Room for lunch with a special guest, Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

The afternoon was devoted to a dozen small-group break-out sessions covering topics ranging from crisis management to cyber policy to human rights. At the end of the day we reconvened in the Acheson Auditorium, named in honor of august Secretary of State Dean Acheson, for a lengthy town hall session with Secretary Clinton. The Secretary’s leadership style is highly interactive and consultative, and she fielded dozens of questions, critiques, and suggestions from our assembled Ambassadors.

The Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room.

Stock photo of the Benjamin Franklin Room, with my personal American hero Ben Franklin looking on from the far wall. (There were, of course, no flowers at lunch.)

Tonight I’ll be attending separate receptions hosted by our Global Partnership Initiative and the Business Council for International Understanding. Led by my friend Kris Balderston, our Global Partnership Initiative forges strategic partnerships with private businesses, philanthropies, foundations, universities, faith communities, Diaspora groups, and individuals to pursue innovative projects to improve people’s lives around the world. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is just one example of the exciting and impactful work that Kris’ team is doing.

Wednesday and Thursday will be devoted to separate regional conferences. Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell will run a packed agenda for our Ambassadors from the Pacific and East Asia to discuss issues and projects of particular importance in our part of the world. Kurt has asked me to help lead two of the sessions. With my colleagues from Japan and Thailand, I’ll be talking about lessons learned in disaster response and crisis management over the past year. With colleagues from the Philippines and Indonesia, I’ll be talking about how to develop and implement innovative approaches to public diplomacy.

The formal agenda for the overall conference concludes Thursday evening. I plan to stay for an additional day so that I can devote Friday to a series of individual meetings at the White House, State Department, and other agencies, wrapping up the consultations that I started upon my arrival yesterday.

As usual, my time in DC is inspirational, invigorating, and highly productive. A couple of internal log-jams have already been cleared on projects of importance to Embassies Wellington and Apia. I’ve been proselytizing about Embassy Wellington’s youth, social media, and other idealab activities, some of which are being replicated elsewhere. And, although it’s only Tuesday, I’ve already filled a small notebook with new information and ideas gleaned from my colleagues. Thanks and kudos to the Secretary for convening the full team in such a smart, efficient, and powerful manner.

Last week Secretary Clinton convened our first-ever Global Chiefs of Mission Conference at the Department of State in Washington.  The Conference brought together in one place all of our U.S. Ambassadors from around the world in order to discuss current events, diplomatic best practices, and a variety of other topics.  Everyone traveled in, except for a couple of colleagues who were attending to kinetic situations at their posts.

As an appointee from outside the diplomatic corps, I had assumed that all the Ambassadors got together each year as a matter of course, just as my couple hundred partners always did in the large law firms at which I worked.  Thus, I was surprised to learn that there had never before been such a conclave … not in the 235 years since the Continental Congress dispatched the first American Ambassador, Benjamin Franklin, to Paris in 1776.

Our prime agenda item was discussing the recently completed Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). Last year Secretary Clinton launched a sweeping analysis of how America engages in diplomacy and development work abroad. The result – the first-ever QDDR – is a blueprint for elevating, refining, and better leveraging what the Secretary calls American “civilian power” as a leading force for good in the world. The QDDR is all about being smarter, more effective, and more efficient in how we execute our duties.

The Secretary introduces the Vice President at our conference.

The Secretary introduces the Vice President at our conference.

At the core of the QDDR is a critical objective, with potentially powerful outcomes.  As the Secretary says, “Leading through civilian power means directing and coordinating the resources of all America’s civilian agencies to prevent and resolve conflicts; help countries lift themselves out of poverty into prosperous, stable, and democratic states; and build global collations to address global problems.”

The concept is patterned after the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) which is compiled and released every four years by the Department of Defense.  The QDR defines America’s strategic security interests and lays out a public blueprint for addressing them.

Secretary Clinton sees America’s overseas engagement as composed of three D’s – Defense, Diplomacy, and Development. The first-ever QDDR subjects Diplomacy and Development to a regular, strategic evaluation and planning process at State … similar and complementary to what the Pentagon does with Defense.

Chairman Mullen addresses our assembled Ambassadors in the ornate Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department.

Chairman Mullen addresses our assembled Ambassadors.

Crafted by a team led by my good friend and fellow Princetonian Anne-Marie Slaughter, the QDDR starts by analyzing the changing nature of diplomatic engagement in today’s world. It then sets forth recommendations on a wide array of organizational, operational, and substantive issues. A brief summary cannot do the document justice, so I would suggest that you take a direct look at the executive summary and full text at state.gov.

In addition to discussing the QDDR, we Ambassadors held break-out sessions organized around topics such as public diplomacy, commercial diplomacy, public-private partnerships, social media engagement, civil society development, and regional challenges.

We met with officials and experts from a large number of other US Government departments and agencies, including Energy, Interior, Justice, Commerce, and FBI.  We also met among ourselves and shared information about projects developed in certain of our Embassies. There was significant interest, for example, in the youth outreach programs launched here at US Mission New Zealand.

U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Susan Rice talks about current challenges.

U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Susan Rice talks about current challenges.

Secretary Clinton spent a good bit of the week with us, including personally running a lengthy question-and-answer session at the end of the conference.  A variety of other senior officials came to the Department for discussions including Vice President Joe Biden, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, and Permanent Representative to the UN Susan Rice.

Perhaps the highlight of the week was a reception hosted for the Ambassadors by President Barack Obama at the White House. It was a wonderful, and powerful, way to end the conference. I am always energized by the tangible change in atmosphere I feel when I step into a place of such historical significance as the White House.

And of course I very much enjoyed my brief personal chat with the President in the Blue Room, during which I had the opportunity to update him on a couple of matters and invite him to visit New Zealand. In my private capacity as citizen and taxpayer, I also took the liberty of thanking him for his effective work on a couple of civil liberties and science issues of great importance to me.

Checking in with my supervisor.

During the reception the assembled Ambassadors had the run of the State Floor and East Wing of the White House. Drinks were set up in the East Room and the State Dining Room, where I enjoyed conversations with many of my fellow Chiefs of Mission from posts around the world including Paris, Islamabad, Majuro, Nassau, Canberra, and Ulan Bator.

I took advantage of the opportunity to meditate quietly in a few favorite spots. I like visiting the portrait of Benjamin Franklin, one of my American heroes, in the Green Room. I also like paying my respects – and reflecting on the challenges of revolution and governance – in the East Room at the foot of the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington that was spirited to safety by fearless First Lady Dolley Madison as the British sacked Washington and torched the White House during the War of 1812.

A snapshot with my Blackberry as I left the White House grounds.

A look back (captured with my Blackberry) as I walked out of the White House after the reception.

My time in Washington was one of the most productive weeks I’ve had as Ambassador. I took on board a large volume of useful information and new ideas. Just as important, though, I was reminded constantly of the value of what we do here at US Mission New Zealand.

There’s nothing like time with the President, Vice President, Secretary, and Chairman to remind you of how all the pieces fit together and why your own particular piece is of critical importance.