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Secretary Kerry's Remarks at the University of Virginia, February 2013

Author: John F. Kerry
Published February 20, 2013

Secretary John Kerry gave these remarks at the University of Virgina on February 20, 2013. His speech focused on the importance of foreign aid and a strong U.S. economy in addressing foreign policy challenges.

Excerpt from the speech:

"Some might ask why I'm standing here at the University of Virginia, why am I starting here? A Secretary of State making his first speech in the United States? You might ask, "Doesn't diplomacy happen over there, overseas, far beyond the boundaries of our own backyards?"

So why is it that I am at the foot of the Blue Ridge instead of on the shores of the Black Sea? Why am I in Old Cabell Hall and not Kabul, Afghanistan? (Laughter.)

The reason is very simple. I came here purposefully to underscore that in today's global world, there is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy. More than ever before, the decisions that we make from the safety of our shores don't just ripple outward; they also create a current right here in America. How we conduct our foreign policy matters more than ever before to our everyday lives, to the opportunities of all those students I met standing outside, whatever year they are here, thinking about the future. It's important not just in terms of the threats that we face, but the products that we buy, the goods that we sell, and the opportunity that we provide for economic growth and vitality. It's not just about whether we'll be compelled to send our troops to another battle, but whether we'll be able to send our graduates into a thriving workforce. That's why I'm here today.

I'm here because our lives as Americans are more intertwined than ever before with the lives of people in parts of the world that we may have never visited. In the global challenges of diplomacy, development, economic security, environmental security, you will feel our success or failure just as strongly as those people in those other countries that you'll never meet. For all that we have gained in the 21st century, we have lost the luxury of just looking inward. Instead, we look out and we see a new field of competitors. I think it gives us much reason to hope. But it also gives us many more rivals determined to create jobs and opportunities for their own people, a voracious marketplace that sometimes forgets morality and values.

I know that some of you and many across the country wish that globalization would just go away, or you wistfully remember easier times. But, my friends, no politician, no matter how powerful, can put this genie back in the bottle. So our challenge is to tame the worst impulses of globalization even as we harness its ability to spread information and possibility, to offer even the most remote place on Earth the same choices that have made us strong and free.

So before I leave this weekend to listen to our allies and partners next week throughout Europe and the Middle East, and in the coming months across Asia, Africa, and the Americas, I wanted to first talk with you about the challenge that we face here at home, because our engagement with the rest of the world begins by making some important choices together, and particularly about our nation's budget. Our sense of shared responsibility, that we care about something bigger than ourselves, is absolutely central to the spirit of this school. It's also central to the spirit of our nation.

As you well know, and Dr. Sullivan reminded you a moment ago, our first Secretary of State founded this great university. Students of his day, when he did, could basically only study law or medicine or religion. That was about it. But Thomas Jefferson had a vision, and he believed that the American people needed a public place to learn a diversity of disciplines – studies of science and space, of flora, fauna, and philosophy. He built this university in the image of what he called "the illimitable freedom of the human mind."

Today, those of you who study here and who teach here, along with the taxpayers, contributors, and parents who believe in your potential, you are all investing in Mr. Jefferson's vision. Now think for a moment about what that means. Why do you spend the many days and the borrowed dollars it takes to earn an education here, or anywhere? Why did Jefferson want this institution to remain public and accessible, not just to Virginians but as a destination from everywhere? I know that he wasn't thinking just about your getting a degree and a job. It was about something more. Jefferson believed we couldn't be a strong country without investing in the kind of education that empowers us to be good citizens. That's why founding this university is among the few accomplishments that Jefferson listed on his epitaph that he wrote for himself. To him, this place and its goal was a bigger part of his legacy than serving as Secretary of State or even as President, neither of which made the cut.

Just as Jefferson understood that we need to invest in education in order to produce good citizens, I join President Obama today in asserting with urgency that our citizenry deserves a strong foreign policy to protect our interests in the world. A wise investment in foreign policy can yield for a nation the same return that education does for a student. And no investment that we make that is as small as this investment puts forward such a sizeable benefit for ourselves and for our fellow citizens of the world. That's why I wanted to have this conversation with you today, which I hope is a conversation that extends well beyond the borders of Charlottesville, well beyond this university, to all Americans.

When I talk about a small investment in foreign policy in the United States, I mean it. Not so long ago, someone polled the American people and asked, "How big is our international affairs budget?" Most pegged it at 25 percent of our national budget, and they thought it ought to be pared way back to ten percent of our national budget. Let me tell you, would that that were true. I'd take ten percent in a heartbeat, folks – (laughter) – because ten percent is exactly ten times greater than what we do invest in our efforts to protect America around the world.

In fact, our whole foreign policy budget is just over one percent of our national budget. Think about it a little bit. Over one percent, a little bit more, funds all of our civilian and foreign affairs efforts – every embassy, every program that saves a child from dirty drinking water, or from AIDS, or reaches out to build a village, and bring America's values, every person. We're not talking about pennies on the dollar; we're talking about one penny plus a bit, on a single dollar.

So where you think this idea comes from, that we spend 25 percent of our budget? Well, I'll tell you. It's pretty simple. As a recovering politician – (laughter) – I can tell you that nothing gets a crowd clapping faster in a lot of places than saying, "I'm going to Washington to get them to stop spending all that money over there." And sometimes they get a lot more specific.

If you're looking for an applause line, that's about as guaranteed an applause line as you can get. But guess what? It does nothing to guarantee our security. It doesn't guarantee a stronger country. It doesn't guarantee a sounder economy or a more stable job market. It doesn't guarantee that the best interests of our nation are being served. It doesn't guarantee that another young American man or woman won't go and lose their life because we weren't willing to make the right investments here in the first place.

We need to say no to the politics of the lowest common denominator and of simplistic slogans, and start making real choices that protect the interests of our country. That's imperative. (Applause.)

Unfortunately, the State Department doesn't have our own Grover Norquist pushing a pledge to protect it. We don't have millions of AARP seniors who send in their dues and rally to protect America's investments overseas. The kids whose lives we're helping save from AIDS, the women we're helping to free from the horrors of sex trafficking, the students who, for the first time, can choose to walk into a school instead of into a short life of terrorism – their strongest lobbyists are the rare, committed Americans who stand up for them and for the resources that we need to help them. And I hope that includes all of you here and many listening.

You understand why. Every time that a tough fiscal choice looms, the easiest place to point fingers – foreign aid. As Ronald Reagan said, foreign aid suffers from a lack of domestic constituency, and that's part of the reason that everyone thinks it costs a lot more than it really does. So we need to change that. I reject the excuse that Americans just aren't interested in what's happening outside of their immediate field of vision. I don't believe that about any one of you sitting here, and I don't believe that about Americans.

In fact, the real domestic constituency for what we do, if people can see the dots connected and understand what we're doing in its full measure, is really large. It's the 314 million Americans whose lives are better every day because of what we do, and who, deep down, when they have time to stop and think about it, know that our investment abroad actually makes them and our nation safer.

Now, my friends, in this age, when a shrinking world clashes with calls for shrinking budgets – and we're not alone – it's our job to connect those dots, to connect them for the American people between what we do over there and the size of the difference that it makes over here at home, why the price of abandoning our global efforts would be exorbitant, and why the vacuum we would leave by retreating within ourselves will quickly be filled by those whose interests differ dramatically from ours.

We learned that lesson in the deserts of Mali recently, in the mountains of Afghanistan in 2001, and in the tribal areas of Pakistan even today. Just think: Today's first-years here at UVA were starting the second grade when a small cabal of terrorists halfway around the world shattered our sense of security and our stability, our skylines. So I know that you certainly have always understood that bad things happening over there threaten us right here.

Knowing that, the question is this: How do we, together, make clear that the opposite is just as true; that if we do the right things, the good things, the smart things over there, it will strengthen us here at home?

Let me tell you my answer: I believe we do this in two ways. First, it's about telling the story of how we stand up for American jobs and businesses – pretty practical, pretty straightforward, and pretty real on a day-to-day basis. And second, it's about how we stand up for our American values, something that has always distinguished America.

I agree with President Obama that there is nothing in this current budget fight that requires us to make bad decisions, that forces us to retrench or to retreat. This is a time to continue to engage for the sake of the safety and the economic health of our country. This is not optional. It is a necessity. The American people understand this, I believe. Our businesses understand this. It's simple. The more they sell abroad, the more they're going to hire here at home. And since 95 percent of the world's customers live outside of our country, we can't hamstring our own ability to compete in those increasingly growing markets."

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