Bill Burns Retires: Read His 10 Parting Thoughts for America’s Diplomats

— Domani Spero
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After 33 years in the Foreign Service, career diplomat, Bill Burns who served as Deputy Secretary of State since July, 2011 (only the second serving diplomat in history to become Deputy Secretary) is retiring from the Service. His retirement had been postponed twice previously but will finally happen this month.

His 10 parting thoughts for America’s diplomats piece was published by Foreign Policy. Excerpt below:

The ability of American diplomats to help interpret and navigate a bewildering world still matters. After more than a decade dominated by two costly conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the worst financial crisis of our lifetime, the United States needs a core of professional diplomats with the skills and experience to pursue American interests abroad — by measures short of war.

The real question is not whether the State Department is still relevant but how we can sustain, strengthen, and adapt the tradecraft for a new century unfolding before us. As I look back across nearly 33 years as a career diplomat — and ahead to the demands on American leadership — I offer 10 modest observations for my colleagues, and for all those who share a stake in effective American diplomacy.

  • Know where you come from.
  • It’s not always about us.
  • Master the fundamentals.
  • Stay ahead of the curve.
  • Promote economic renewal.
  • Connect leverage to strategy.
  • Don’t just admire the problem — offer a solution.
  • Speak truth to power.
  • Accept risk.
  • Remain optimistic.

Read it in full at FP (registration required)  here via

Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns visits St. Michael’s Cathedral, where he meets with Maidan medics, civil society representatives, and religious leaders in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 25, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns visits St. Michael’s Cathedral, where he meets with Maidan medics, civil society representatives, and religious leaders in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 25, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Excerpt from D/Secretary Burns’ letter to Secretary Kerry:

Over more than three decades, I have done my best to serve ten Secretaries of State. I have had the opportunities and experiences far beyond anything I would have imagined when I entered the Foreign Service. I owe a great deal to my friends and colleagues in the Department – to the mentors and role models who showed me over the years how to be a good diplomat; to the peers and subordinates who always made me look far better than I ever deserved; and to the men and women who serve our country with honor and distinction in hard places around the world as I write this letter. I also owe a debt of gratitude greater than I can ever express to Lisa and our two wonderful daughters, who shared fully in our Foreign Service life and made it whole. I look forward to the next chapter in my professional life, but nothing will ever make me prouder than to be a career American diplomat.”

More about the diplomat’s diplomat that made Secretary Kerry felt the need “to build a system that builds the next Bill Burns”:

Deputy Secretary Burns holds the highest rank in the Foreign Service—Career Ambassador—and became Deputy Secretary of State in July 2011. He is only the second serving career diplomat in history to become Deputy Secretary, and the longest serving. Ambassador Burns served from 2008 until 2011 as Under Secretary for Political Affairs. He was U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 2005 until 2008, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from 2001 until 2005, and Ambassador to Jordan from 1998 until 2001. Ambassador Burns has also served in a number of other posts since entering the Foreign Service in 1982, including: Executive Secretary of the State Department and Special Assistant to Secretaries Christopher and Albright; Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow; Acting Director and Principal Deputy Director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff; and Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council staff. He speaks Russian, Arabic, and French, and is the recipient of two Presidential Distinguished Service Awards and a number of Department of State awards, including the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award, two Distinguished Honor Awards, the 2006 Charles E. Cobb, Jr. Ambassadorial Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development, the 2005 Robert C. Frasure Memorial Award for conflict resolution and peacemaking, and the James Clement Dunn Award. In 1994, he was named to TIME Magazine’s list of the “50 Most Promising American Leaders Under Age 40”, and to TIME’s list of “100 Young Global Leaders.”

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