FY 2016 State Department Budget Request

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Opening Remarks Before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations
Washington, DC
February 24, 2015

Well, Mr. Chairman, thank you very, very much. It’s really a pleasure to be here with you today and with all my former colleagues and several of my non-former. But I deeply appreciate the opportunity to testify. And I welcome your chairmanship, Mr. Chairman, and Ranking Member Leahy’s continued efforts on this committee. I have always found this committee has worked very hard to be bipartisan or apolitical and find the important middle ground for America, and I appreciate those efforts.

To respect your time, I’m going to summarize. The heart of my message, Mr. Chairman, is really pretty straightforward, and you spoke to it in your own opening. We do an awful lot on very little, and the simple reality is that America is leading all around the world. I’m not going to go through all the places where we are literally taking the lead and making things happen, whether it’s pushing back in parts of Asia against potentially aggressive behavior; or it’s Ebola, the coalition to deal with that; the ISIL coalition; Syria; Ukraine, Europe, sanctions; the effort to negotiate with Iran. I can run a long list.

The bottom line I want to make to all of you is we’re a great country, and we need to behave like a great country. And when it comes to the issue of sequestration, it’s kind of a public admission that the Congress is unwilling to or unable to make choices. Our job is to make choices, all of us. And the simple fact is we cannot lead, we cannot do what we need to do in the world, on the cheap. As this committee knows well, the funds that we devote to the entire range of foreign policy programming – everything from our counterterrorism to nonproliferation initiatives, to helping businesspeople and travelers be able to open doors, get their visas, move through rapidly, do business in various countries, all of which creates jobs here at home, may I add – all of that amounts to less than 1 percent of the federal budget.

And yet I make – it’s not an exaggeration to say that that 1 percent probably has an impact on 50 percent or more of the history that will be written about this era. So I invite members of this committee to work with me and my colleagues to shape that history in ways that will advance our nation’s interests and uphold the values that our citizens represent. And that is really what a budget is – it is a statement of your priorities and of your values.

Now, one place to begin is with our efforts to mobilize countries everywhere to counter violent terrorism. Last week here in Washington, but every day around the globe, literally, we are preparing and acting to confront this challenge, and it goes well beyond ISIL or Daesh, although Daesh obviously is a central part of it.

Since September, we’ve put together a coalition of more than 60 countries with 5 Arab nations joining us in the efforts in Syria today. We’ve launched some 2,500 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. And whenever we have combined our air support with able partners on the ground, the terrorists have literally been routed. We’ve helped the Iraqis to take back territory. Approximately 30 percent of the territory that had been gained by ISIL has now been restored to Iraqi hands, and we are training the Iraqis and preparing for the moment where they can do more. Thousands of ISIL-Daesh leaders have been taken off the battlefield. We’re undertaking a global effort to restrict their revenues, curb the recruitment of foreign fighters. And we’re engaged in a round-the-clock campaign to rebut the terrorist messaging on social media and on other outlets.

Now, we are in the early stages of what is going to be a multi-year effort, but the momentum that ISIL had built up last fall, last summer, has dissipated. A key supply line has been completely severed. ISIL militants can no longer maneuver out in the open the way they did before. Convoys can’t move and they can’t talk to each other the way they used to.

Throughout, the coalition has been working closely with Iraq. And obviously – we’ve said from day one: President Obama made the right choice in saying that he was going to calibrate the early bombing in order to try to make certain that we had a government transition in Iraq that gave us a government we could work with. And frankly, with pretty effective diplomacy on the ground – with our ambassador, our assistant secretary, the Vice President, others – we were able to help the Iraqis themselves to make that transition. And now we have an inclusive government backed by professional security forces that are enjoying the full support of its people.

So we’re looking to you for the resources to help us be able to continue to bring Sunni tribal leaders more fully into this process. It’s also important that Iraqis speak against Daesh with one voice. And it’s vital that Americans and the rest of our partners do so as well. The leaders of Daesh have to understand that they’re not going to divide us and they’re not going to beat us. Earlier this month, the President transmitted to Congress a draft Authorization for Use of Military Force. It reflects our views, but frankly, it profited greatly from the testimony that I gave the Foreign Relations Committee last December and the discussions we had on the Hill.

Mr. Chairman, bringing people together and finding answers to these tough challenges is what we do in our country, I think pretty darn well. And if we get caught trying to make a difference in many of these places, then we’re living up to what the world expects from us.

In Europe, we’ve been supporting Ukraine. We can go into that in some greater detail. I won’t tie it all up now except to say that we’re working also on the bilateral economic reforms necessary and through the IMF. And while the situation in the east obviously still remains very tricky, very tenuous, even grim, the ultimate outcome is undecided and Ukrainians are coming together to rebuild their own democracy. And Europe is standing firm, and Russia is paying a very significant price.

We are focused, obviously, on Iran. The President has made clear – I want to – I can’t state this more firmly: The policy is Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. And anybody running around right now jumping in to say, “Well, we don’t like the deal,” or this or that, doesn’t know what the deal is. There is no deal yet. And I caution people to wait and see what these negotiations produce. Since 2013, we have been testing whether or not we can achieve that goal diplomatically. I don’t know yet. But it’s the most effective way to solve a problem, and we will prove that over the course of these next weeks and months. The P5+1 talks have made inroads since the Joint Plan of Action. We’ve halted the progress of Tehran’s nuclear program, we’ve gained unprecedented insight into it, and we expect to know soon whether or not Iran is willing to put together an acceptable and verifiable plan.

As you know, in December, President Obama announced plans to normalize relations with Cuba. Last month, Assistant Secretary of State Jacobson went to the island for historic meetings with the government. The next meeting will take place here on Friday. We’ll exclusively be talking about the road to the diplomatic process.

But she conveyed the message echoed by many of you that America’s support for democratic reforms, human rights, internet freedom, and the release of political prisoners is unequivocal. And the change that we are making, we believe, actually assists the United States to be able to promote the democracy and the rights that we want for the people of Cuba. It will also make it harder for those who want to close the door to blame America for what is happening there, and we believe, in the end, can help create accountability for the hardships that those folks live under.

So Mr. Chairman, much has happened since my last budget testimony. For example, in the wake of a fractious election, we have helped Afghanistan’s new unity government to come together to build on the past economic and social progress and take full responsibility for the security of its citizens. I was intimately involved in both negotiating the BSA and this transition. And I can tell you there is a very different process of governance now taking hold in Kabul in Afghanistan.

In addition, we led a successful international effort that eliminated Syria’s declared stockpile of chemical weapons, placing those weapons beyond the reach of both government forces and terrorists. And I ask you just to stop and think: If we hadn’t done that – there were many people saying all you have to do is drop a bomb or two. Well, a bomb or two would not have gotten the weapons out. Diplomacy got the weapons out. And thank God they’re out, because if they weren’t, ISIS, which controls a significant portion of Syria, would have access to them.

So we’ve been modernizing our alliances in the Asia Pacific, maintaining our steadfast support for the denuclearized Korean Peninsula, we’re pursuing ambitious trade agreements in Europe and Asia, and last August, as you know, President Obama hosted an historic summit with African leaders. Especially we’re moving forward in the areas of food security, youth leadership, and the economic participation of women. We’ve supported peace operations by the UN and African Union to save civilian lives. And our former colleague Russ Feingold did an outstanding job of serving as a special envoy to the Great Lakes region and helping to negotiate an end to the violence with M23 and a process for the disarmament which we are now working on enforcing.

We have PEPFAR, which you mentioned, Mr. Chairman. With congressional support, we’ve been able to further reduce HIV infections, create an AIDS-free generation; that’s what we’re on the cusp of. And there are many other challenges, obviously, on that continent. We’ve also been leading on the environment, on the oceans and marine sanctuaries, promoting democracy and good governance, supporting human rights and religious liberty.

And I’d just close by saying to you, Mr. Chairman, Dean Acheson served as Secretary of State in 1949-1953 in the shadow of World War II. And he wrote that the problems that bedevil American foreign policy are not like headaches that can be cured by taking an aspirin and getting a good night’s sleep. He wrote, “All our lives, the danger, the uncertainty, the need for alertness, for effort, for discipline, will be upon us.”

It is true today, never more so in many ways. Those words remind us that we long ago entered an era of ever-present danger. And the test of our leadership has never been to completely be able to eliminate those risks because that’s just probably not possible. The test has been whether we can manage them decisively over time in ways that reduce the peril and strengthen the forces of democracy, humanity, justice, law, human rights. And that is precisely the task that confronts us today, and I believe that once again, the United States of America is answering that call.

And I want to express our gratitude to the young men and women in uniform around the world who bear an enormous amount of this burden of helping us to do that; also to the average Americans who contribute to civil society; the work of our development professionals who put themselves at risk; to journalists who have lost lives covering these challenges; and also to you, the members of Congress who travel, who learn about these countries, who set the international gold standard, frankly, for meeting with our partners overseas and thinking constantly about how we best harness our resources to address the world’s problem.

So like Secretary Acheson, we’ve had our share of headaches, and this is an explosive moment in the world. But the transition that’s taking place is really a emergence, really, of people from a kind of darkness, a recognition that we’re living in a new modern global world where everybody’s in touch with everybody all of the time, that raises the possibilities and also raises the stakes. And it obviously pushes back against culture, against learning, against people’s beliefs. So we’re in an era of uncertainty, but I’ll tell you this: One thing remains absolutely sure. This Administration, the United States, I’m convinced this Congress, are absolutely prepared to answer the call.

And with that, Mr. Chairman, I’d be delighted to answer any questions.