ICAS Annual Liberty Award Reception & Dinner

December 4, 2009 6:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Kennedy Caucus Room
United States Senate
Capitol Hill, Washington, DC 20510

Congratulatory Remarks

Daniel Russel, The White House

Thank you very much for giving me this chance to join you in congratulating Jim Laney for a very well-deserved award. I can tell you that I'm someone who has been blessed with really superb bosses through my career, and I will also tell you frankly that Jim Laney ranks as No. 1 in that pantheon of great leaders. Jim, I will qualify that slightly to tell you that you are tied for first place. You don't hold that by yourself. I've had terrific bosses beginning with Mike Mansfield, former Senator of Montana, Senate Majority Leader and Ambassador to Japan - my first boss; Tom Pickering, the Under-Secretary of State; and my current boss, Barack Obama is not too bad either

. But since I mentioned Mike Mansfield and since we're at an award dinner, a testimonial dinner, I'll tell you a little anecdote from really the first month I was in Tokyo. I was a brand new Foreign Service Officer. I was Staff Assistant to Ambassador Mansfield and I was lucky enough to be included in a dinner that he hosted for a very distinguished U.S. Admiral who I think was just retiring. In the course of the dinner, guest after guest stood up and spoke to his sterling qualities, and in a fit of feigned modesty, the Admiral himself got up when it was his turn and said, "Well, my pastor in my hometown (wherever it was) was fond of saying that the only real difference between a testimonial dinner and a eulogy is that at the testimonial dinner, there's at least one person who believes all the great things that are being said." To which Mike Mansfield who was a famously laconic man of few words stood up and said, "Dearly beloved ..."

But Jim, tonight I will say to you that you are dearly beloved. You're dearly beloved to all of us and to all of the people who've had the privilege of working with you or working for you. My first real encounter with Ambassador Laney when he took on his assignment in Seoul came as I was a First Secretary or Second Secretary in the political section. We had met of course, but I got a terrible shock one day when his secretary phoned me and left a message saying that the Ambassador wanted to see me and to know if I was free for lunch. Well, I can tell you that the Foreign Service, the State Department and Embassies are very hierarchical institutions, and there was an abundance of layers in between me and the esteemed Ambassador, Ambassador Laney. So it was a little bit of a surprise to me and it was a big surprise to all of the intervening managers. Everyone assumed, reasonably, that I was in big trouble for something.

But it turned out that Ambassador had heard that I was a person who refused to go to the Embassy cafeteria, but instead would sneak out at lunchtime and hunt down little ...... restaurants in the back alleys in the neighborhood behind the Embassy and he wanted a guide. So we went out once, twice, on a fairly regular basis, and over a bowl of nengmyon or jige or bibimpap or whatever we found, we had some serious conversations because Ambassador Laney had a tremendous curiosity. He wanted to know what I knew. I was working the North Korea account. He was and is intellectually very rigorous. He challenged me to explain what I thought and to confirm and validate what I thought I knew. And he was completely indifferent to the fancy trappings of protocol and the apparent disparity in rank. If I could produce a good restaurant and a good conversation, well that was good enough for Ambassador Laney. And through his thoughtfulness, his unpretentiousness and his very powerful intellect and his intellectual challenge he won my deep and enduring loyalty as he has won the loyalty of everyone who has worked with him.

My relationship with Ambassador Laney began and remained what I would consider to be an extraordinary relationship, but he had also very extraordinary relationships that served the interests of the United States and the Republic of Korea. Your relationship with then-President Kim Young-sam was a triumph over very difficult circumstances. Your relationship with the National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and with the Secretary of State Warren Christopher ensured that they listened and they had to listen to reason and to the experience from the field. Your good relationship with the - ultimately the negotiator with the North Koreans of the Agreed Framework, Bob Gallucci was tremendously valuable and important, and in fact, you were responsible for sending me to join Bob Gallucci and the negotiating team. And as we heard from Marion Creekmore, your relationship with former President Jimmy Carter brought the United States along with its ally South Korea and North Korea back from the brink of war. Many people would have died had you not found a way to divert us from the course that we were on.

But the two relationships that stand out in my mind as truly extraordinary was your relationship first with then-Foreign Minister Han Sung-Joo where you achieved a level of cooperation and authentic partnership between a U.S. Ambassador and a Foreign Minister that had never been seen before, I would venture, and was of immense value. And secondly, the relationship that you created with the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Forces Korea, General Ed Luck against the historical backdrop of competition and insufficient coordination and dialogue between the civilian Embassy side and the uniformed military side. Those were triumphs that have been replicated by your successors and are a testament to your extraordinary interpersonal skills.

You, I remember vividly, were told early in your tenure by your staff that Washington at the level of the Cabinet had made a decision that we all recognized was a bad decision, a poorly formed decision, and we all told you that, "Well, that's just the way it is in Washington, and there's nothing that you can do about it." And I remember you saying, "No, there is something I can do about it. I'm going to fly back and get them to reverse the decision because they clearly weren't in possession of all the facts." And I remember my bosses explaining to you very patiently that, "No, sir. That's just not the way it's done. That can't be done. We don't do that in the State Department. It just doesn't happen. And no, you can't go back." And you said, "Well, as a matter of fact, I can. And I will." And you did, and you accomplished your mission deftly. You were successful and the world is a better place as a result.

So that was really a revelation for me as a bureaucrat to begin to grasp by virtue of your example that what ought to be done can be done, and what ought to be done must be done, and it must be done by you - by each one of us. And I applaud and seek to emulate your example every day in my career. You are a very special teacher and a mentor and a friend. To me you are an inspirational leader. I am grateful to have known you. I am very proud to be here, honored to share this evening with you and I warmly congratulate you.

Thank you very much.


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