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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

                                                             PRESIDENT OBAMA

                                                       AT THE STATE DEPARTMENT

                                                    September 12,2012

Washington, D.C.

Obviously, the first thing that I want to say, and what we all feel, is deep sorrow over the loss of Chris and Sean.  Some of you knew them well.  Some of you worked with them closely and were inspired by them.  And there’s not much that I’m going to be able to say that quells the grief that all of you feel right now, thoughts and prayers are with their families. 

But what I can say is that had it not been for Chris’s courage and his vision, his recognition of the stakes that existed last year when Benghazi was on the brink of being overrun, it’s not clear that those of us who were a little higher up off the ground would have made the difficult political decisions that we made in order to save Benghazi and ultimately provide Libya with the opportunity to determine their own destiny.  And in some ways, that’s a microcosm of Chris’s courage, his vision, his willingness to engage on the ground in very difficult circumstances.  That’s a microcosm of what all of you guys do each and every day.

Some of you know that I spent a lot of years overseas when I was a kid.  And there’s no doubt that that’s shaped my perspective on the world and our place in it, and not always in the ways that some of my opponents describe, but it shaped it nevertheless.  And what I know has always been one of America’s greatest gifts to the world, one of our greatest traits as a people, is the fact that we’re not made up of a single tribe, a single religion or a single race, but we’re this collection of strivers and dreamers, people from all around the world who came here because we all agreed on a creed, on a set of principles – the idea that all men and women are created equal, that we’re all endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights – that these aren’t just American rights, they’re not just Western rights; they are aspirations that people in the smallest village in Libya or in the most prosperous cities in Europe all believe in and care about, and that part of our task is to make sure that the way we project power as the greatest nation on Earth is consistent with those values. 

We do so with humility, and we do so understanding that we can’t control the shape of events everywhere and that it’s not our job to dictate other people’s forms of government.  But it is this belief that those values that make us who we are have to be part and parcel of how we operate in the world. 

And Chris and Sean, I think, represent the very best of that tradition – people who were realistic but also idealistic; people who understood how hard it is to bring about change, but who weren’t daunted by the task and were willing to put their shoulder behind the wheel to move history in a better direction. 

So I could not be prouder of them.  But I also understand that all of you, with your own capacities and in your own ways, are carrying out that same tradition each and every day.  And as a consequence of what you do, America is safer, America is more respected, America is more secure.

Are there risks in that approach?  There are risks when somebody like Chris ventures out from the compound and takes the risk to his own security so that he can engage with people in circumstances that are still pretty volatile.  There are risks when our diplomats are going to volunteer for posts that they know pose a risk to their person.

The fact that Chris and Sean were willing to take those risks, the fact that many of you are willing to take those risks, is not only commendable, it’s absolutely vital to us continuing to be a leading light, and it’s vital for us to be safer.  Because the one thing that I’m absolutely confident about is that when we lead with our values, we lead with our ideas, and we don’t shy away from the world, and we’re not consumed by cynicism, but the belief that we can make things a little bit better.  But when we embrace that, then we’re securing a better future for our kids and our grandkids and all those Americans to come.

So I hope that alongside your sorrow today, all of you also take a moment to reflect on how important your work is and to remind yourselves that it’s not that often in life where you’re allowed to really make a difference, where you’re put in a position where what you do matters, that changes lives.  It may be the difference as to whether a child gets something to eat.  It may make the difference in terms of whether a political prisoner is freed.  It may make a difference in terms of whether or not a country shifts towards democracy.  It may make a difference in whether or not Americans are welcome as they travel to places around the world. 

What you guys do every day matters deeply.  And so on days like this, it’s a good moment for us to step back and say all the frustrations, the setbacks, the dealings with your own internal bureaucracies, the plans that go awry, that all that stuff somehow is worth it, and that the reason you got into this business in the first place is because although there are a lot of reasons to be cynical about the world, there are more reasons to be hopeful about it. 

I know everybody who knew Chris understood that that was who he was.  He loved what he did, and he was excited about it, and he knew that it was going to make a difference.  And he could see it.  And I know Sean felt the same way.  And I know most of you who got into this business did so because you feel that same way. 

So this is a setback today, and part of our family has been lost.  But don’t lose that sense of hopefulness.  Don’t lose that sense that somehow the world is not subject to our better selves.  If we work hard enough and smart enough, then over time we move the world in a better direction.  And it’s not going to happen unless you guys retain that sense – and it can’t come from anywhere else because there’s no other country on Earth that thinks quite in that same way.

We are still the one indispensable power, and the reason is because of the spirit of people like Chris and Sean and because of you.  Don’t lose that.  And I hope that if you can take away one single thing from this tragedy, that we’re going to redouble our efforts and strengthen our resolve.  I know that’s how your boss, the Secretary of State thinks about it because nobody’s been in the thick of things longer or seen greater reason to be cynical.  And nobody, behind the tough exterior, still possesses that sense of hopefulness and idealism as much as our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

So take something from her example.  Take heart that no matter how difficult this particular day is, what you guys are doing every single day is making the world better.  I thank you for it and the American people thank you for it as well.  

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