Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived for work at the State Department just after 9 am and spoke to an enthusiastic gathering of about a thousand of her new employees including foreign service officers, members of the civil service and others who work at the Harry S Truman building, known fondly as "the building." Clinton, America's 67th Secretary of State, was greeted with real enthusiasm, saying "I want you to think outside the proverbial box," something most bureaucrats never hear their bosses say. Then she took a not so veiled shot at the Bush administration, saying "We are not any longer going to tolerate the kind of divisiveness that has paralyzed and undermined our ability to get things done for America."
As if to underscore the importance the new administration places on its foreign policy goals, by 3 pm the Secretary of State hosted her boss, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at a ceremony in the department's ornate Benjamin Franklin room. Some 300 employees representing every bureau in the department---from senior members of the foreign service to the newest class of incoming diplomats--- heard Clinton and Mr. Obama speak of the need to work together to solve the problems America faces abroad.
"We did not ask for the burden history asked us to bear," the President said, "but we will bear it."
To get started on two of the most pressing problems the administration has to deal with, Clinton announced the appointment of two seasoned negotiators. Amb. Richard Holbrooke, who brokered a deal to end the crisis in the Balkans in the mid 1990s, was assigned the task of developing a regional policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the understatement of the day Holbrooke called it a "daunting assignment." As if to underscore the hard work ahead, Holbrooke, with a nod to his family sitting in the first row, cracked "I hope to see you sometime in the next few years."
Former Senator George Mitchell was given the task of handling Middle East peace efforts under the new administration. The man who is credited with working out a positive end to the so-called "troubles" in Northern Ireland now will seek to bring about a two state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. "The situation in the Middle East is volatile, complex and dangerous, " Mitchell said, "but danger and difficulty cannot cause the U.S. to turn away." From his experience in Northern Ireland, Mitchell said he had learned "there is no such thing as a conflict that cannot be ended."
By day's end we saw as high a profile start as any administration could give to its diplomatic intentions. We 'll see in the coming days and weeks if this effort can be sustained.