Budget Hearing for the Department of State

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Opening Remarks Before the House Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations
Washington, DC
February 25, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you. Thank you very much, Madam Chairwoman. Madam Ranking Member, my friend, Nita Lowey, Mr. Chairman of the full committee, I want to just thank you very much. I appreciate the enormously generous welcome from all of you, and I particularly appreciate the opportunity to be able to be here.

I think we have some of the best dialogue on the Hill in this committee, and I always appreciate the chance to share thoughts with you, and that’s what I want to do. This is not a combat. This is really a way to find mutual understanding about the nation’s priorities. Historically, we have always said that politics should end at the water’s edge when it comes to American foreign policy, and why we’re here is to find the common ground with respect to our interests and our values as we project them in the context of foreign policy, and that’s what foreign policy is. It is the best enhancement of those, that combination: our values, our interests. There’s always a balance. Sometimes one takes a little more precedence than the other and people are uncomfortable one way or the other, but that’s the objective. And in the end it is to keep the American people safe and keep our country strong.

You have all laid out a broad array of issues which I couldn’t begin, obviously, in just an opening comment to address, so I’m going to leave them aside for a minute and honor the notion that you do have a few votes coming quickly and we want to really have the dialogue I talked about. So I’m going to give a very, very short summary.

We’re here to talk about 1 percent of the budget, 1 percent of the entire federal budget. That’s what we put into foreign policy. Between USAID and the State Department in our general operations you’re talking about $50.3 billion, and that 1 percent, my friends, I promise you will account for more than 50 percent of the history of this era when it’s written. So I personally believe it ought to be much bigger than 1 percent, and I think we have very justifiable reasons for making it so. That’s not the budget we have in front of us and that we’re arguing about here today, but I ask you to keep that in the forefront of your minds as you think about all of these priorities, because we are robbing Peter to pay Paul right now. We are cannibalizing some programs – you’ve mentioned it yourself – to do other things that we need to do that are priorities. And I don’t think in the end that serves America as well as we should be. I don’t think – excuse me – I don’t – I think that the richest country on the face of the planet, which has significantly reduced its deficit, can examine its priorities without a sort of rote, automatic process of sequestration or otherwise by which we limit real choices. And I just want to start with that.

Secondly, I will say to you very quickly that this is as complicated a time as in many ways we’ve ever faced, because the world has changed so dramatically in the last 20 years. Everybody is connected to everybody all the time. The numbers of cell phones in even poor countries is staggering. And the degree to which people know what other people have affects what they want. Aspirations are burgeoning in all kinds of places that it was never allowed to even be thought of, historically. So in the Middle East, in the Sahel, in the Maghreb, in the Arabian Peninsula, in South Central Asia, in Asia – I mean countless places. There are pressures being released that are changing the dynamics of foreign policy. In many ways, we’re looking at a world where states are behaving in the ways – and within the states all kinds of different entities behaving independently with their own agenda, unlike the sort of clarity that seemed to define the differences in, of course, the Cold War – communism, freedom, democracy, et cetera. And we know that in many dictatorships, many of these kinds of aspirations were tampened down through tyranny and oppression, but tampened down so we didn’t have to cope with them. Now we do.

It is counterintuitive, but the truth is that notwithstanding the threat of ISIL, notwithstanding people being beheaded publicly and burned publicly and the atrocities that they are perpetrating – and it is a serious, serious challenge to us – notwithstanding that, there is actually less threat and less probability of people dying in some sort of violent conflict today than at any time in human history. And with advances of health and with advances of statehood and other kinds of things, we’re living in a very different world. I’m not going to go into all of that now.

I just want to end my quick opening by saying to you this: I am proud of the way President Obama and this Administration are, in fact, leading on issue after issue after issue. And while some may disagree with a choice that is made and some may feel that not enough was done in Libya or Syria or in some particular place, I’m telling you that never before in our history have so many crises and so many trouble spots and so many larger policy challenges been managed simultaneously and, I think, have been kept on a track as much as they are today.

And I’ll be specific. In ISIL, we built a global – the coalition that has Arab countries actually flying sorties against Arab countries in the Gulf. Sixty nations participating in an effort we’ll talk about a bit today. In Iraq, we helped to guide and implement a transition of a government with choices made by the Iraqis – their choices, their destiny – but we helped to create a framework within which they were transitioning from Prime Minister Maliki to Prime Minister Abadi, and a new government that we could work with in order to be able to go out and fight against ISIL.

In Afghanistan, we helped to shepherd a coalition government to emerge out of an extremely questionable election and close and negotiate a BSA and hopefully be in a position to transition Afghanistan.

In the Iran negotiations, we are not complete; I don’t know if we’ll get there. But I know that trying is the essence of United States leadership, to find out whether or not there is a way with diplomacy to succeed in preventing a country from getting a nuclear weapon. And that we owe it to our citizens and the world to prove our willingness to try to do it peacefully before we have to make other choices, if we did.

And Ebola, there were predictions of a million people dying by Christmas time. At the moment that President Obama made the decision to deploy 4,000 American troops to go over there and help build the capacity to be able to try to prevent that from happening. There were huge questions at the time about how fast it might spread, how dangerous that might be, what might happen. But because of American leadership pulling together countries all over the world, you can now look at Liberia and Guinea and Sierra Leone and see huge reductions in the infection and see that, indeed, Americans are not waking up every day to the news of some new infection and some new challenge.

On AIDS in Africa, we’re on the cusp because of our additional efforts which you’ve shared and you’ve helped lead – on the cusp of an AIDS-free generation of children.

In Ukraine, we have held together, cobbled together, pieced together, cajoled, and managed to effect a series of sanctions that have, while not stopping everything altogether, no, nevertheless has given Ukraine an opportunity to survive as an independent and sovereign Ukraine and has cost Russia a lot. Mr. Putin may be able to look at what’s happening today in Donetsk or Luhansk or Debaltseve and say, wow, I’m doing a great job on short-term tactical stuff. But I’ll tell you this: Russia is not doing great right now. Fifty percent reduction in the ruble’s value; $151 billion of capital flight; predictions that Russia will be in recession this next year; extraordinary restraint on growth, and that has happened because of the coordinated sanctions that we put in place.

Now there’s more that I could run through. I’m not going to do it all now, but I’ll just tell you: Between TPP and TTIP, we are pursuing two of the most ambitious and important trade agreements in recent history. Forty percent of global GDP is wrapped up in the TPP. If we can achieve that, we will have a definition of the new standards of doing business in the region, and even China has said to us: If this works and it comes together, could we join it? We are far better, ultimately, seeing a China join an upgraded set of standards for doing business and rules of the economy and trade, than to not do that and have others write those rules or have no rules at all.

So I could run through – finally on climate, we can talk about climate, Mr. Chairman. I hope we will in the course of this. China up until last year was an opponent to doing anything about climate change. But because we reached out and worked with them starting literally a month and a half after I became Secretary, President Obama was able to go over there and China joined in a deal to announce its targets for the reduction of emissions and fossil fuel dependency, and a commitment of a goal to achieve alternative, renewable, and efficient energy. It’s a huge impact. And because of that in Lima, Peru, other countries came together and joined in to say we have to make Paris negotiations a success this year.

So I would say to you that whether it’s in the Arctic on the Arctic Council, which we will assume the chairmanship of in about a month and a half, or whether it is on any of these things I’ve listed – and there are many things I haven’t listed – cyber security; health, health structure – around the planet the United States of America is proving that when we lead we can make a difference and the world needs that leadership.

And I hope that in this budget we can reflect the fact, ultimately, that the 1 percent we put into this – these endeavors which result in so much benefit in the long term, so much security to Americans – will not be nickeled and dimed at a critical moment where we need to bolster yet more those things that we’re able to do like BBG, Broadcasting – the Broadcasting – the counter-messaging of ISIL, the counterterrorism initiatives we need to employ, the depravation of the pool of recruits for ISIL – these are intensive efforts and they will require a financial commitment, and we need to understand the connection.

Mr. Chairman, I think you said something about the importance here of taking the budget role seriously; I know you do. But we need to connect the dots for everybody in America. The money spent out of this committee and the United States Congress on the security of our nation that comes to us through the work of diplomacy and the work of development on a daily basis. And frankly, we’ve been hurting ourselves in the past years where there’s been a reduction from the population growth rate and the need and demand for that kind of investment.

Madam Chair, thank you.