Ambassador Crocker Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

Photo from The White House

There was a big do at the State Department yesterday. Secretary Rice led the ceremony to commemorate the outgoing administration’s Foreign Policy Achievements (2001-2009) in the Benjamin Franklin Room and gave a nice speech. I find it interesting that Secretary Powell was not invited to participate in the ceremony considering that he “owned” the first half of what was commemorated at the event.

Mrs. Bush got a State Department’s Certificate of Recognition and President Bush got a couple of commemorative plaques with shiny things on them. Click here to view a 35-minute video of the ceremony. But I must warn you — the video clip contains explicit articulation from members of a mutual appreciation club. We don’t want to give anyone a heart attack. Also, if you want to know what nickname President Bush has assigned to Secretary Negroponte, this is a “must-see” video.

At the later part of the same event, Ambassador Ryan Crocker received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award. President Bush gave a brief speech prior to bestowing the award (starts at 26:00 in the video). Brief excerpt below:

As President, I have entrusted the Foreign Service with our nation’s most critical diplomatic missions. I have relied on your expertise, your advice, and your good judgment. I will always be grateful for your valor and your professionalism.

Members of the Foreign Service bring this valor and professionalism to their work every single day. And there is one man who embodies these qualities above all: Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Over the years, Ryan has earned many honors, including the Presidential Meritorious Service Award and the rank of Career Ambassador. Today I have the privilege of honoring Ambassador Crocker with the highest civil award I can bestow — the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Applause.) It has not been bestowed yet. (Laughter.)

The son of an Air Force officer, Ryan Crocker has never been your typical diplomat. For social engagements, he likes to tell guests, “no socks required.” (Laughter.) For language training, he once spent time herding sheep with a desert tribe in Jordan. For sport, he has jogged through war zones, and run marathons on four continents. And for assignments, his preference has always been anywhere but Washington. (Laughter.)

During his nearly four decades in the Foreign Service, Ryan Crocker has become known as America’s Lawrence of Arabia. His career has taken him to every corner of the Middle East. His understanding of the region is unmatched. His exploits are legendary. He has served as ambassador to five countries. He has repeatedly taken on the most challenging assignments.

The man has never run from danger. As a young officer during the late 1970s, Ryan catalogued Saddam Hussein’s murderous rise to power. In 1983, he survived the terrorist attack on the American embassy in Lebanon. In 1998, as the Ambassador to Syria, he witnessed an angry mob plunder his residence.

After any one of these brushes with danger, most people would have lost their appetite for adventure — not Ryan Crocker. In the years since September the 11th, 2001, I have asked Ryan to hold numerous posts on the front lines of the war on terror, and he has stepped forward enthusiastically every time.

When the American embassy in Kabul reopened in the beginning of 2002, Ryan Crocker was our first envoy. When we liberated Iraq and removed the thug Saddam Hussein from power in 2003, I sent Ryan to help lead the reconstruction efforts. When the American embassy in Pakistan needed new leadership, Ryan Crocker was put in charge. In 2007, I asked Ryan to return for a final mission to Iraq as America’s ambassador.

Two years later, Iraq is becoming a rising democracy, an ally in the war on terror, an inspiring model of freedom for people across the Middle East. When the story of this transformation is written, historians will note the extraordinary partnership between two exceptional men: General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. As the General carried out a surge of military forces to improve security, the Ambassador led a civilian surge to improve everyday life. In December, after months of intense negotiations, the world saw the culmination of Ambassador Crocker’s masterful diplomacy — two historic agreements for long-term cooperation between the United States and Iraq.

This is not the first time that Ambassador Crocker has executed a brilliant diplomatic maneuver in Baghdad. During a rotation at the American embassy nearly 30 years ago, he persuaded a young Foreign Service Officer named Christine Barnes to be his wife. (Laughter.) They have traveled the world together, and as Ryan prepares to retire from the Foreign Service, we wish the two of them many years of happiness. (Applause.)

General Petraeus recently said this about his retiring colleague: “It was a great honor for me to be his military wingman.” And today it is my great honor to present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to one of the finest Foreign Service Officers in American history — Ryan Clark Crocker. And now the military aide will read the citation. (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE: Ryan C. Crocker. For nearly four decades, Ryan Crocker has advanced our nation’s interests and ideals around the world. Embodying the highest principles of the United States Foreign Service, he has cultivated and enhanced our relations with pivotal nations. Following the attacks of September 11th, 2001, he worked to build a worldwide coalition to combat terrorism and help millions of oppressed people travel the path to liberty and democracy.

The United States honors Ryan C. Crocker for his courage, his integrity, and his unwavering commitment to strengthening our nation and building a freer and more peaceful world.

(The medal is presented.) (Applause.)

I think the speech writers forgot something here. Insert somewhere in paragraph #7: In 2002, Ryan Crocker co-wrote a secret memo examining the risks associated with a U.S. invasion of Iraq. The six-page memo, titled “The Perfect Storm”, stated that toppling Saddam Hussein could unleash long-repressed sectarian and ethnic tensions, that the Sunni minority would not easily relinquish power, and that powerful neighbors such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia would try to move in to influence events. It also cautioned that the United States would have to start from scratch building a political and economic system because Iraq’s infrastructure was in tatters. The secret memo was deep-sixed and he did the best he could in dealing with the aftermath.

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