Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the final major speech of her tenure Thursday to a packed house at the Council of Foreign Relations' offices in Washington in advance of her successor John Kerry's official swearing-in ceremony Friday.
"Tomorrow is my last day as secretary of state, and though it is hard to predict what any day in this job will bring, I know that tomorrow my heart will be very full," she said. "Serving with the men and women at the State Department and USAID has been a singular honor, and Secretary Kerry will find there is no more extraordinary group of people working anywhere in the world. So these last days have been bittersweet for me."
More than 300 people attended the speech, including senior State Department officials such as Melanne Verveer, Maria Otero, and Jake Sullivan, as well as outside luminaries such as Bush-era intelligence director John Negroponte and former Sen. Evan Bayh. Clinton used the opportunity to lay out the by-now familiar argument that America's economic, diplomatic, and security strength is greatly improved compared to when she and Obama came to office four years ago.
"Under President Obama's leadership, we've ended the war in Iraq, begun a transition in Afghanistan and brought Osama bin Laden to justice. We have also revitalized American diplomacy and strengthened our alliances. And while our economic recovery is not yet complete, we are heading in the right direction," she said. "In short, America today is stronger at home and more respected in the world. And our global leadership is on firmer footing than many predicted."
She also defended what she called her style of "shoe-leather" diplomacy, which has included vsiting 112 countries, logging nearly 1 million miles of travel, and accumulating almost 87 days of total flight time.
"I have found it highly ironic that in today's world, when we can be anywhere, virtually, more than ever people want us to actually show up," Clinton said. "And people say to me all the time, I look at your travel schedule; why Togo? Well, no secretary of state had ever been to Togo, but Togo happens to hold a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council. Going there, making the personal investment, has a strategic purpose."
Clinton praised the State Department's outreach to non-governmental entities in foreign countries and touted the expansion of public diplomacy into new mediums, such as Twitter, during her tenure. She also railed against the Broadcasting Board of Governors, of which she is a board member, and said that organization was failing in its mission and losing ground to foreign competitors.
"We have basically abdicated, in my view, the broadcast media," she said. "I have tried and will continue from the outside to try to convince Congress and others, if we don't have an up-to-date, modern, effective broadcasting board of governors, we shouldn't have one at all."
The State Department would be hit hard by the budget cuts known as "sequestration" which would kick in as of March unless Congress intervenes, Clinton said. Civilian employees could be furloughed, security overseas could be cut, and citizen services like passports could be negatively impacted, she warned.
She also said the United States must get more involved in helping Central American countries shore up their ability to protect their borders if the United States is serious about addressing the issue of illegal immigration.
"At the same time that we do immigration reform, we need to do more on border security and internal security in Central America," she said, noting that illegal immigration from Mexico has tapered off. "I think we have to do more with the Central American countries in order to help them the way that we have helped others."
CFR President Richard Haas closed the event by commenting, "At the risk of leaving you all with an image that probably isn't good, I would simply say that John Kerry has some fairly large Manolo Blahniks to fill."
"That is very funny," Clinton replied. "Oh my goodness."