Review of Resources, Priorities and Programs in the FY 2016 State Department Budget Request

John Kerry
Secretary of State
United States Capitol
Opening Remarks Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Washington, DC
February 24, 2015

Well, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Menendez and my good former colleagues, and I guess one folk – one person that I didn’t have a chance, Senator Perdue, welcome to this great committee, and I’m delighted to be able to have a chance to be here to share an important dialogue. And I appreciate the comments that both of you have made. I’m not going to pick up on all of them now because I’m confident that during the questions, we’ll have a chance to dig into most of the things that you raised. But – and I will summarize to try to maximize our time and respect yours.

But I want to just make it clear that since leaving the perch up there that you sit in, Senator Corker, as chair, and having spent, what, 29 years on this committee beginning way over here, even further than my friend Eddie Markey, I watched a lot of events unfold in the course of my service on this committee and in the Senate – a number of wars, major debates. It is interesting for me to see, from now serving as Secretary, the reality, the degree to which what we choose to do is really important. And how the Congress acts makes just a gigantic difference to the sense of unity and purpose about our country.

And this is about our country. It really shouldn’t be about party; the old saying that foreign policy concerns and national security interests should end at the water’s edge. And what has come home to me more than anything is the degree to which we, the United States, are privileged and sometimes burdened with the responsibility of leading – I mean leading, making things happen, stepping in where others don’t or can’t or won’t. And I will say to you that I believe we legitimately – I mean, you may disagree with how we’re doing in Libya at this particular moment or you may think something more should have been going on in Syria.

But I’ll tell you, I can’t think of a time – and I hear this from former colleagues, from former secretaries – when we have had to deal with as many explosive, transformational moments historically than now. And I just want to respectfully suggest to all of you, and I will say this at some point and I’ll talk about it at length – I hope I can get a chance to do so in classified session where I could say more about it – but we ask for 1 percent – 1 percent of the federal budget, 1 percent of the total budget of the United States of America goes into everything we do abroad, all of our efforts for our citizens, our visas, our embassies, our counterterrorism, our aid, our assistance – everything, 1 percent. But I absolutely guarantee you that well more than 50 percent of the history of this era will be written off that 1 percent and off the things we do or don’t choose to do in terms of foreign affairs.

And when you look today at the challenge of – at Daesh, ISIS – when you look at the clash of modernity with opportunity and culture and youth populations and bad governance, corruption, all the challenges that are out there, we got our work cut out for us. Now, we are leading in putting together this unprecedented coalition. I say “unprecedented” because this is the first time in anybody’s memory that anybody knows about five Arab countries, Sunni, engaging in proactive military operations in another country in the region, Syria, in order to go after a terrorist organization. And we have five major channels of effort on foreign fighters, on humanitarian, on counter-messaging, on counter-financing, on the kinetic, all of which are geared to try to win this. And we will win it – I’m confident of that – providing we all make the right choices. We certainly have the tools.

In Iraq, we worked diplomatically to implement the President’s policy to make certain that we didn’t take over that effort before there was a transitional government in place. And I’m telling you, we spent an amazing amount of time and hours and good diplomacy to help the Iraqis to make their own decisions about their leadership for the future to transition away from Maliki to Prime Minister Abadi and a new inclusive, proactive, capable governance.

We got, as you know last year, all the chemical weapons out of Syria – no small feat, particularly when you consider that if we hadn’t done that, they’d be in the hands of ISIL today.

We have been leading the effort to curb Ebola. We took the risk – President Obama took the risk of sending 4,000 young American troops to build the infrastructure so we could deal with that. It was risky at the time he did it, because nobody had all of the answers. But it worked, and America led an effort to bring people to the table to help keep this from providing the 1 million people dying that were predicted if we didn’t have the response that was provided.

In Ukraine, we have worked hard to hold together a complex array of partners in the sanctions, and the sanctions have had a profound effect. The ruble is down 50 percent. Russia’s economy is predicted to go into recession this year. There’s been a capital flight of $151 billion. They may be able to pursue this short-term goal of stirring the waters of Ukraine, but in the long term, Russia is writing itself out of the future as a consequence of the choices it’s making – falling behind in technology and production and a whole lot of other things.

The fact is that on Iran, sure, it’s controversial and may have some risks. But we are daring to believe that diplomacy may be able to provide a better alternative to ridding Iran of the possibility of a nuclear weapon than a war, or then going first to the threats that lead you to confrontation. So we are trying. I can’t make a prediction what the outcome will be, but we’re leading in that effort to try to help make that happen, together with our P5+1 partners.

In the Western Hemisphere, the senator from New Jersey mentioned what we’re trying to do. In Korea, we are working with respect – North Korea – we’re working with the Chinese. We’ve been able to make certain changes I’d rather talk about in a classified session. On Afghanistan, we rescued a very complicated election process, negotiated a BSA, got a unified government, and now we’re working on a transition with the potential even of some talks taking place with the Taliban.

On global trade, we’re pursuing two of the biggest trade agreements in memory – 40 percent of GDP in the TPP, and 40 percent of GDP in the TTIP. And the Asia rebalance. On Africa, we hosted the summit of African leaders. AIDS and PEPFAR we have continued. We’ve ramped up. President Obama made a deeper commitment, and the result is that we are on the cusp of perhaps, I think, the first AIDS-free generation in history in Africa.

And in China, we came through with a historic climate agreement by which both of us have agreed what we can try to do within our executive powers to lower emissions and to begin to prepare to get an agreement in Paris this December. And that’s leadership, because by getting the two of us together and leading in that effort, we have about 45 percent of the world’s emissions at the table agreed to reduce in a way that leads others to the table.

So I had a more prepared comment. These comments I’m giving you are not the prepared comments, and I’ll submit them all for the record, Mr. Chairman. But there are other policies we need to talk about, and I’m prepared to do so.

But I want to just make the point to all of you, sequestration – I was here when it happened, and I don’t like it. And I didn’t like it then; I don’t like it now. Sequestration is depriving the United States of America, the world’s most powerful nation on the face of the planet and the world’s richest nation. It is institutionalizing the notion that Congress is either unwilling or incapable of making a decision and choices. And it is arbitrarily winding up doing things to our budget that historically knocked our GDP down and lost a lot of jobs, not to mention that it deprives us of making the decisions about what we’re going to do to make that 1 percent or hopefully more have a greater impact in providing for the security and protecting the interests of our country.

So I plead with all of you to think about how we are going to meet this moment of challenge. We had a – and I’ll end on this: We had a counterterrorism summit this past week, last week, which really underscored how big a challenge this is. It’s a generational challenge. My parents’, our parents’ – many of you – generation rose to the challenge of World War II. We spent the then equivalent of about 3 point – whatever – 9 trillion dollars, today maybe about 30 trillion. But we rose to the occasion. We did what we had to do to beat back fascism. And I think it is a legitimate question to ask whether or not the rule of law, the norms of behavior that we fought for for all those years since World War II, that we’re going to do our part to uphold them and to make it possible for other countries to not be subjected to the fascism and dictatorship and tyranny of a group like ISIL that rapes young girls and imprisons people, women, and burns books, and destroys schools, and deprives people of their liberty, burns pilots, cuts off the heads of journalists, and basically declares a caliphate that challenges all of the nations in the Middle East and elsewhere and threatens all of us with violence.

So we face a challenge. And I hope everybody here will stop and think about all of the components of how we respond to that. It’s not just kinetic. The next Secretary of State will be back here with a new acronym. The next President will be asking you to deal with somebody somewhere, unless we start to think about how the world joins together to drain the pool of recruits that are readily accessible to people with such a warped and dangerous sense of what life ought to be like.

So that’s what this meeting – that’s what these discussions about the budget are about. And I hope we’re going to kind of pull ourselves together in a way that facilitates my visits with a lot of leaders around the world when I walk in and say, “How are you doing on your budget,” and they look at me, and I can tell what they’re thinking. Or we say to them, “Hey, we ought to be doing this or that,” and we advocate democracy, and we have to say, “Well, how’s yours working?” I’ve been asked that.

So it’s up to us, and that’s my message for my opening statement. And I look forward to the hearing.