Farewell Ceremony for Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David WelchSecretary Condoleezza Rice
December 18, 2008
SECRETARY RICE: Good morning. Well, this is really a bittersweet moment for me. David, could you manage to come up where you can be seen? (Laughter.) There we are.
I think many of you now know that we are saying goodbye to David Welch as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. David is, simply put, one of the finest Foreign Service officers of his generation. He is an extraordinarily talented person. He is enormously committed. He is a fine diplomat. All that we’ve achieved, really, in the Middle East, from the work that we’ve done on the promotion of democracy and stimulating indigenous forces to really want their rights – as the President said, the non-negotiable demands of human dignity. What we’ve done in helping the people of Iraq to build a more decent future, what we’ve done with our friends, long-term friends like Egypt and Jordan, and of course, Israel. And perhaps most importantly, what we’ve done in bringing about the Annapolis process so that Palestinians and Israelis could end the long, cold interregnum between the effort to make peace at the beginning of this decade, and the now intensive efforts that they are making to make peace. David Welch has really been at the center of that, and is in many ways responsible.
I have never known a diplomat who has better contacts in the region, who is more well-regarded in his region, than David Welch. David is a great Arabist and a great diplomat. Now, David and I also go back a long way because, in fact, I first met David Welch when we were on the NSC staff of George H.W. Bush together during the end of the Cold War and at the Gulf War I when we worked together, me from my Soviet and East European perch and David from Near Eastern Affairs, to, I think, bring a quite successful campaign to end at least Saddam Hussein’s effort to dominate his neighbor, Kuwait. And I’ve been pleased that together we have worked to finally end the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.
There’s something else you should know about David, and that is that he’s got really great family. But he’s got Gretchen, a terrific wife – Gretchen, who is also one of the finest officers of her generation and has taken on the very important work of reforming and extending our language training at FSI. And, Gretchen, thank you for your service, which will continue, for the Department of State.
Now, there’s one other thing that I want you to know about David, which is that he does lose some. Gretchen is a Stanford alumna, and David has now sent two of his three daughters to Stanford. Emma, who is already at Stanford, and Molly, who will go to Stanford next year, I’m looking forward to seeing the Welch girls there, and we’ll work on Hannah, David. (Laughter.) Then it will be a clean sweep because you may all know that David is a huge fan of Georgetown basketball. In fact, I have had the pleasure of sitting with David during a Georgetown basketball game. It’s an experience that you should all have. (Laughter.) But we’re going to transfer him over to the PAC-10 pretty quickly here.
So, David, when you are out doing new things and new adventures, I hope that you will know that you have made a real difference. You’ve made a consequential, historical difference to the security of our country, to the promotion of its values, to peace and security and prosperity in a region that is sorely lacking in it. You have been extraordinary in your work, and I have been honored to be your colleague and even more joyous to be your friend. Do you want to say a few words? (Applause.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, thank you, Madame Secretary. Gretchen told me I had to say something, so I shall. (Laughter.) I want to thank, first of all, the press folks who are here today. You guys have been very good friends to me, and I appreciate that. You’ve been very professional in your work, too, covering my issues.
Madame Secretary, you know, Foreign Service officers are sworn in and then we’re usually sworn at – (laughter) – so this is a welcome surprise. I’m exiting in grander fashion than I entered. I thought I’d share a few personal thoughts – nothing heavy, don’t get your anticipation up over there. (Laughter.)
First, I want to express my pride in the NEA Bureau. These are the best of America’s diplomatic service, and they’ve done very, very well for me as Assistant Secretary, but historically very well. There’s a great Front Office team, most of whom I hope are at their desks and not here. (Laughter.) I know Jeff’s at the White House. But he – David Hale, Rich Schmierer and Kent Patton are terrific people, and they’ll be around and helping for the remainder of the transition and afterwards.
It’s been a good career to be an American diplomat. I was fortunate to work on the most exciting and challenging of issues, and I’m privileged to be a representative of our nation. I like this work also because I got to know quite a number of people outside the United States. I like that, and it’s good to work with people of different nationalities, backgrounds, histories, from Morocco to Israel to Iraq. I have a lot of good friends out there, and even some folks with whom we’ve had some difficulties, there’s still some estrangement and we have yet to bridge that. But that, too, can change, as we’ve recently seen.
It’s also a time of transition in this building; of course, everybody knows that. And I think it’s appropriate for those of us in the career service to think a little bit about that. I’ve been lucky; I’ve served for Democrat presidents and Republican presidents, and I’ve had presidential appointments for both parties. And I’ve worked closely with secretaries of states since Jim Baker. So some words of advice for my colleagues: Pay attention, folks. (Laughter.) My bureau typically ignores my advice. (Laughter.) If we work hard, if we invest in learning, and if we acquire experience, if we go beyond understanding our world to trying to change it, if we produce results, if we’re honest, and if we’re purposeful, we’re not only going to get the attention of the new administration, we’re going to get their respect.
Madame Secretary, a word for you: You’ve been a terrific boss. I think I speak for many of us in this building in saying that you have shown unparalleled respect for the career service, and that will be hard to match. Even in tough moments – 2006 comes to mind – you were positive. You have strength and confidence that are inspiring.
There will be a day when you and I and others can reflect a little more clearly on the blizzard of trips and meetings and phone calls, but for me at least, it constitutes the most rewarding part of my professional experience. Thank you, by the way, for waiting till 5 a.m. for some of those calls. (Laughter.)
A couple of personal thank you’s, if you’ll permit. To Sandy Grigola, who kept me sane, organized me and everybody else, knows everything about the mother bureau and is a source of great gossip. (Laughter.) To Liz Lineberry, who for 20 years or more has helped me navigate the 7th floor. There is – I hope Gamal Helal is here. I don’t know.
SECRETARY RICE: He’s back there.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Hi, Gamal. To Gamal and Jonathan Schwartz, who’s already on vacation, Madame Secretary – (laughter) – these two guys, somehow we intersected on the toughest of problems and they have helped a lot.
I’d like to thank the Ops Center, too. I know that might sound a little curious, but some 30 years ago they connected me to my mom and dad after the Embassy was burned in Islamabad so I could report that I was okay. Last weekend, they connected me to a number of people who had – to whom I had to speak to get a vote in the Security Council on an issue of importance to the United States. And to Diplomatic Security Service, who protect us in NEA very ably.
Thanks to Gretchen and to Emma, Molly and Hannah. Their judgment needs to improve on their selection of universities (laughter). I was pushing for an ACC school; that way, we could cover at least two of the outstanding basketball conferences in the nation. (Laughter.) Madame Secretary, I’d point out that the PAC-10 is, what, 0 and 25 against ranked teams. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: That’s not going to last, David. (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: But thank you, Gretchen. And anybody who knows my spouse knows that she’s more than one half of this tandem couple.
Everybody, thanks for being here. I’m going to Rome for a holiday, and after that I’ll be at work elsewhere. We’ll eventually go overseas to a nice place, and Gretchen and I hope to see you there. Happy holidays. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Released on December 18, 2008