Remarks at the Women's Foreign Policy Group Conference

John Kerry
Secretary of State
The Ritz Carlton
Washington, DC
November 29, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very, very much, Karen. “Under the weather” is a polite word for the crud. (Laughter.) Anyway, thank you, Karen, for a wonderful introduction. And it’s with great pride that I accept the nomination. (Laughter.) Shh. It’s a little dangerous right now. (Laughter.)

I am suffering from a bunch of grandchildren, all of whom are sniveling at the same time and sneezing and coughing, and you can’t love them less, right? So I got it, whatever it is. And literally a few hours ago I didn’t have much voice, but I wanted to come very, very much. And I’m genuinely honored to be able to be here. It’s great to be surrounded by so many familiar faces. And I’m happy to see that all of you survived Thanksgiving and family. (Laughter.) Best holiday of the year by far; I love it. No pressure, no presents – you just eat, sleep, and enjoy family, which is very, very special.

I am really pleased to have a chance to share my thoughts with all of you right now, because this is an extraordinary moment in history, and frankly I wish I could stay and answer a lot of questions, because it’s much more, I think, productive to do the give and take rather than just me giving and not being certain that I’m landing where all of you would like to spend the time. And there’s so much to talk about; there’s so much happening right now – not just in our country, but in the world.

It’s a time of extraordinary opportunity, and obviously there’s great uncertainty in the body politic of our nation as to whether or not everybody has the same sense of how to take advantage of those opportunities and the readiness and willingness to do so. So we’re going to have one hell of a debate over the course of the next few years, I assure you. And I can promise you this: After coming back in the 1960s and being involved in that period of time, I am not going to go quietly into the night. (Applause.)

Now, back in the year 2000, when Secretary Madeleine Albright was nearing the end of her tenure in office, she spoke at this same event. And she pointed out that she was the first secretary of state in history who was fully qualified to join this esteemed organization. (Laughter.) Now, in the years since then, you’ve heard from Dr. Albright’s successors – Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton. So by 2013, when I was sworn in, I could only hope that my appointment would kindle a dream across this nation – (laughter) – that even a little boy might grow up to be able to be secretary of state. (Laughter.)

And of course, you know that it wasn’t always this way. Let’s emphasize that.

If you walk down the hallway – it’s called Mahogany Row – outside my office – my office; the office I am privileged to borrow for these four years, and just an amazing job, one of the greatest jobs, I think, in public life. But if you went down that hall, you will see portrait after portrait of guys with whiskers. (Laughter.) And in 1953, when Secretary Acheson left office, he began his farewell address with the salutation “Gentlemen of the Department.” And until the early 1970s, a woman Foreign Service officer had to literally choose between keeping her job and getting married because she wasn’t allowed to do both.

So for a long time, my friends, we were blind, but now we can see. (Laughter.)

Today, the President’s national security advisor is a woman. So is our ambassador to the United Nations. Women fill one of the two deputy secretary jobs in the State Department. Two of the four – six under secretaries – four of the six under secretaries are women and two of the deputies are women. But you know as well as I do this is about a lot more than just counting. It’s not about counting. Equality and quality go hand in hand. And the numbers really improve automatically if you recruit, appoint, and promote the best without bigotry or the patronizing assumptions that stereotypes produce and have produced too often in our country.

I was introduced to that battle by my wonderful mother, who was a crusader. I remember speaking on the Mall in 1971 at the anti-war demonstration that drew a million people. And my mom actually climbed up a tree and – to listen, believe it or not. And I think there was so much pot in the air that when she arrived at dinner – shh, we can’t -- (laughter).

The bottom line is that thanks to many of you in this room, the State Department’s glass ceiling has been removed. Others have not, as we bitterly know. But it’s up to us still to ensure that it doesn’t come back, because nothing is certain. And that’s why I am so pleased to be here to join with you in celebrating the Women Foreign Policy Group’s 21st year. As an organization, you are now officially old enough to drink. (Laughter.) And at least some of you may be saying to yourself it couldn’t have happened at a better time. I don’t know. (Laughter and applause.) Now, I suspect that that is true whether your loyalties are with the party going into the White House or the one heading out.

In our era, leading effectively and opposing responsibly are both very complicated, sobering propositions, and that gives us a lot to talk about here today.

As a recovering politician, who has been in public life now for a long time, I have won elections and mostly – and lost a few. And believe me, winning is better. (Laughter.) But the health of a democracy is not measured by the outcome of particular balloting, believe it or not. It’s whether everyone concerned is actually willing to respect the rights and the freedoms of other people. It’s about whether we have the maturity to place the needs of the country above partisan concerns. Now, that sounds like pabulum, but believe me, in this day and age, that is at the center of the debate when we look at what the Congress does and doesn’t do over these last years. It is a very different Congress than the one that I was privileged to be part of in the 1980s and ’90s and the early 2000s. And you could watch that transition take place.

So it is a test of whether or not we have the wisdom to see clearly what the needs of our country are and not just push people aside because they have a different point of view or because they support somebody expressing a different point of view that comes out of the fact that they see their lives as mightily disrupted and as even filled with fear. And a lot of people on both sides of the aisle see their lives in America today as filled with fear, and not just in America, by the way. I see it all over the world and we’ll talk about that in a minute.

But by those standards, I am confident that the United States – with its checks and its balances, with a free and independent press, with a vigorous and a visionary civil society – is going to find a positive way forward. There may be lurches; it may be sort of a roller coaster ride. But we have this capacity to renew ourselves in America, and I have a great confidence in our ability to do that.

Now that is why, at the State Department, we are doing everything we can to help our incoming colleagues prepare for the future challenges. This is an imposing task for the simple reason that our world – our world is a lot more complicated than it used to be.

And during the Cold War, when a lot of us grew up – I certainly did during that period of time – the globe was divided between the “red, white and blue” and the “just plain red” on the other side. It was bipolar, very simple – them and us; East, West. I mean, it was really a time also when, because of economic development in the post-Marshall Plan, Cold War period, America was the only economic force, fundamentally. We could make decisions that were bad decisions and we could still win. That’s not true today. A lot of other people share that economic power. A lot of other people feel stifled by some of the post-Cold War structure that they think favors certain countries over others, and we have to be sensitive to that. Diplomacy and public life are about not having a tin ear, being able to hear what other people say and what they see. It’s seeing through their lens, not just ours.

Back in the Cold War period, there was no bigger event than a summit between the leaders – between Washington and Moscow. Today, power is far more dispersed. It’s less hierarchical, and change is as likely to be driven from the bottom as it is to be driven from the top. So for better and often for worse, non-state actors have assumed a very prominent role on the global stage. Most of the dying – and it took place in great numbers during the course of the last century – took place with state-on-state conflict. But today, that’s not true. One of the great accomplishments of the world order and the structure that we created is, in fact, that we don’t see nations declaring war on each other. We do see proxies; we see surrogate warfare. But that’s an advance, believe it or not. And it opens up the opportunity to be able to lead to greater stability, if we can break through this sectarian, religious extremism, tribal, and in some cases misled proxy-ism that is pulling people in the wrong direction.

In addition to that, my friends, technology is revolutionizing the workplace and widening the gap between people who are trained in 21st century skills and now those who are not. I just saw earlier today the statistic that 85 percent of job loss in the United States is due to technology, not trade. So we’re running around, hearing people battle a dragon called trade, when in fact it’s not the fundamental problem. It’s the structure that we have underneath the trade that doesn’t provide the social safety network to provide the education, the ongoing education, the job training, the skills, the Social Security, the wages that people deserve for the work that they’re doing that is delivering more and more to the top 1 percent. That inequity is at the bottom of this, not the fact that we trade. You tell me how the economy of the United States is going to grow if 95 percent of the world’s customers live in another country but we’re going to start knee-jerkingly just closing off some of that because we’re blaming other people for things that people are unwilling to address more directly and more honestly.

Here in the United States, we saw our nation attacked on 9/11 and our armed forces fight at great cost in Afghanistan and Iraq – $3 trillion worth. In recent years, we have witnessed the rise of Daesh and again experienced the tragedy of terrorist murders close to home. And we’re confronted as well by the specter of cyber warfare and by the unwelcome return of a vicious sectarian violence and a national – a rise of nationalism, a rise even of extreme nationalism.

So it’s little wonder that some Americans want to turn inward and search for ways to fence off our own safety and our prosperity from that of the international community. Read history – and all of you do – and you know that’s always been a natural instinct in our country going back to its founding – George Washington, Jefferson, the great debates of that period. But it is folly to think that we can build a brighter future by hiding from the real world or by severing our connections to it. No politician, no prime minister, no president, no monarch can by edict or by parliamentary decree or otherwise shut off globalization because people want it. I travel around the world and I see this when I go to Africa, when I go to South Asia, South Central Asia, Asia. You see people who are poor – the poorest – but they’ve got a smartphone. They can see what people are getting, which also means they can see what they’re not getting all over the world. So that changes aspirations. It changes governance itself.

So international challenges, my friends, have to be confronted with honesty, with determination and with confidence, not with slogans and with little pithy tweets or whatever that pretend to somehow deal with the complexity of this age. And if we don’t do that, we will fail to be able to lead because we will not be taken seriously. Now, that is the approach that – being taken seriously is the approach that our country has always taken when we are at our best.

Back when some of us were kids and our planet was emerging from the darkness of World War II, America switched on a light called the Marshall Plan. Between 1948 and 1951, the United States invested between $12 and $13 billion in the recovery of Europe – very unpopular at the time. Imagine the fight of trying to say, hey, we just got bombed in Pearl Harbor a few years ago, but we’re going to help Japan rebuild. We’re going to help Germany that declared war and engaged in those extraordinary acts during that war. But $12, $13 billion may not sound to – a lot to any of you today, but guess what? It’s the equivalent of about $120 billion in today’s dollars or, if you were to calculate it as a percentage of today’s economy, it would be roughly $720 billion.

Now, that is a lot of money. It’s also one of the smartest things we ever did. Germany, Japan are the strongest allies, best friends you could hope to have, and they are strong democracies and they are pillars of the global order and structure that we adhere to today. By enabling Europe to repair infrastructure, to resume manufacturing, to reconnect farms to markets, the Marshall Plan fostered the longest sustained period of economic growth in history. And with the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions, it created the foundation for the international system that has shaped our world for the past three-quarters of a century. It underlined and cemented America’s position as a global leader.

It is remarkable that when an emergency arises almost anywhere in the world, whether it’s because of the sins of man or an act of God, many countries think about responding but only one country is expected to. That expectation should be a source of pride to all Americans because it’s a – it’s not a burden. It’s really an opportunity. And it’s a mantle that we continue to justify by our actions. Let me be precise. The fact is that the United States today – you hear people complain and they say what’s our foreign policy and we haven’t done this or we haven’t done that – well, it’s easy to complain about Libya or Yemen or Syria, where things are pretty complicated, but the United States today, bottom line – and I’ll defend this anywhere because the facts underscore it – we are more deeply engaged on more important issues in more parts of the globe than ever before in our history and with very substantial consequences.

On this side of the Atlantic, we have helped Colombia move closer to end the world’s longest-running civil conflict. We supported it again and again in many different ways. We’re leading the demining project and we have supported the negotiations with a special envoy, Bernie Aronson, who worked hand in hand as we did in the State Department with President Santos to help bring about that peace. We have supported reforms in Central America to reduce pressure for illegal immigration with a $1 billion program to help Honduras and Guatemala, El Salvador. We’ve strengthened our standing in the hemisphere by resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba and making a commitment, underlined this past week in the wake of Fidel Castro’s death, to support greater openness and freedom for the people of Cuba.

Across the ocean, we’ve been steadfast in backing a democratic Ukraine, and those who complain should look at the reality that our sanctions, our engagement, our support for Ukraine actually prevented Russia from thinking it had an easy path just to march to Kyiv. And they have paid an enormous price over the course of this year as a result of those sanctions. We’ve strengthened the defense of our allies with a forward assurance program, $3.4 billion, to the frontline states of NATO, to our Baltics, to Central Europe. We’ve made clear that Great Britain’s anticipated departure from the EU does not in any way weaken our bonds to a strong Europe or our special relationship with the UK. We continue to work with Russia on issues where our interests can coincide, but we would also like Moscow to do more to earn relief from the economic sanctions that have contributed to the country’s longest recession in almost two decades. I might emphasize that we’ve heard a lot of self-congratulations coming out of Russia in recent times, but guess what? The ruble has declined precipitously, capital has fled, unemployment has climbed – all because of self-inflicted wounds. They’re in their X-whatever month of recession and continuing to recede.

In Asia, we’re standing with our allies in opposition to threats posed by a belligerent North Korea. We’ve determinedly moved forward with THAAD in order to defend the United States of America not because we want to put it out there – we have to put it out there. And we keep pushing China, asking China to join with us in putting greater pressure on North Korea. We’ve deepened our Strategic Dialogue with India. We’ve enhanced cooperation with Vietnam. We’ve seen democratic gains in Burma, where a freely elected parliament has been seated for the first time.

All the while, our vital relationship with China continues to feature breakthroughs in some areas – climate change. When I first came into office, within a month, I sat down with our climate team and I said when we go to China, we have to get China to change. Because we all remember the bitter outcome of Copenhagen where everything crashed and we were unable to move forward, China leading the G-22 against us. So we put together a plan, I called the state councilor, and I said, look, we got to create a working group, we’ve got to work at this, we’ve got to find common ground, we can lead the world in order to create a climate agreement. Went to China, they agreed, we worked for a year. At the end of the year, we not only had a working group; we were able to have our two presidents stand up, announce their intended emissions reductions, China and the United States in partnership on climate change, and that set the tone for us to be able to go to Paris and have 190 countries sign the most far-reaching climate agreement ever achieved. That’s what we were able to do. (Applause.)

In Africa, we have worked with friends and partners to combat hunger, to increase connectivity, to fight back against violent extremist groups who have kidnapped and enslaved young girls. We’ve managed to get some of those young girls returned. We’ve managed to put Boko Haram on the defensive, al-Shabaab on the defensive, and we are working diligently to bring new power to Africa, distributive power.

In the troubled region of the Middle East, we’ve allocated more funds than any other country in order to provide for the record number of refugees. And no one has expended as much time as I have to try to move the process forward, obviously, with respect to Syria, with respect to Israel, Palestine. But the old saying is real: You can lead a horse to water, you can’t make him drink. If they’re not prepared to take the risks – everybody knows what has to be done – but if they’re not ready, then there’s no way to force-feed it. There are, however, other things that we can do that may try to save the possibilities of a two-state solution, and we have to think about that.

We’ve worked with the UN and other partners on behalf of peace in Yemen and stability in Libya. And I predict that in the next days, we may be in a position to be able to move the process forward in both places. We also continue to explore every opportunity to halt the carnage in Syria and I assure you we’re not going to give up. I’m not going to give up until – I’m not even going to give up – the day I leave, I will continue to try to find ways to move forward, but we’re going to continue to press this. Why? Because the people of that country and especially Aleppo are in desperate need. This is the greatest humanitarian disaster since World War II, and every day, the violence just begets more violence. It is morally despicable to bomb hospitals, deny food to the starving, and we will continue because the path to peace and a peaceful transition is open only if the parties agree to walk down it, and we need to continue to push them in that direction.

Now, it’s perhaps the most thorny conundrum I have encountered in the course of a lifetime of dealing with foreign policy issues because it is really almost – I mean, there are maybe six wars going on in the same place, each with different demands, each with different objectives. I mean, you have Saudi Arabia and Iran at loggerheads together with members of the GCC in the region. You have Kurd on Kurd. You have Kurd on Turk. You have Turkish aspirations with respect to Syria. You have Hizballah from Lebanon engaged on behalf of sectarianism and is dangerous. You have Iran, obviously, with its influences in the region. So you have Iran and Assad versus the opposition. You have Shia versus Sunni. And you have different Arab countries like Egypt, Kuwait, UAE, Jordan, in slightly different positions from some of the other Arab countries that are more willing, and non-Arab, to support extremists in the region. And you have Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia with a different set of aspirations with respect to outcomes.

That’s a mishmash, believe me. And in the end, I’m very hopeful still that there is a commonality of interest in moving forward around peace that could let the Syrian people decide their future and provide for a unified state, which the Russians, Iranians, and United States and the Arab countries have all said we share as a common goal. So there is a common outcome that we’d like to see but different interests that need to protected – be protected as you try to move in that direction.

As horrific as the civil war has been, I want you to just imagine the danger and the toll that would exist had we not forged an agreement with the Russians and Lavrov and my conversations to agree to remove 1,300 tons of chemical weapons and precursors from the battlefield. If we hadn’t done that before Daesh came alive – the Daesh that we already know has used some precursor chemicals mixed with chlorine as a gas – would have available to them some very serious weapons of mass destruction. So that was providential.

And consider where we would be if Iran’s nuclear program was still going ahead full steam in the middle of all of this. Remember that before the negotiations began on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Iran had already developed enough – the ability to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear device in just two months, and they had enough highly enriched uranium to build 10 to 12 bombs. That’s where we were – two months away from a bomb.

But under our agreement, Iran agreed to actually reverse that direction altogether. It has shipped 98 percent of its enriched uranium out of the country, shut down two-thirds of its centrifuges, filled the core of a plutonium reactor with concrete so it can never be used again, and abided by a state-of-the-art verification regime. Now, I know that some people have said that Iran is such a huge threat that we shouldn’t have attempted to do that, that we should have passed up the best chance we had for the international community to come together and block each and every one of Iran’s pathway to a nuclear weapon. But I’ve got to tell you something, folks: That argument just doesn’t compute under any reasonable standard of common sense. The Iran agreement has made the world safer, including our allies and our friends in the Middle East.

And the world is also safer because we and our allies have been taking the fight to Daesh/ISIL. Think back to the summer of 2014. Daesh terrorists were rampaging across Syria and Iraq. You remember the television images of black flags and Toyotas and convoys just marching, driving down the road, and Baghdad was threatened, and they were plundering cities and murdering and torturing the innocent people. They were killing Yezidis because they are Yezidis. They killed women because they’re women. They killed young girls. They beheaded people in public. They killed Jews because they were Jews. They killed Christians because they were Christians. That’s genocide. That’s what they were doing.

And we sent our bombers in, without even yet having a coalition, in order to stop that onslaught, and we succeeded. And then we rebuilt the Iraqi Army and then we put 67 countries together in a coalition. And we heard the dire predictions that Baghdad was about to fall and the young people from every corner of the globe were going to flock to Daesh’s black flag. And indeed, we saw the internet put to use, as people came to be foreign fighters in that country. But this 68-member coalition that we put together has eliminated, is eliminating, Daesh’s leaders. It is choking their finances. It’s disrupting their supply lines. We’re hammering their oil facilities. We’re stifling their recruitment of new fighters. The numbers are down. They don’t hold as much territory. In fact, they haven’t held or found one new piece of territory since May of last year that they have been able to hold. We are going to defeat Daesh and we’ve put ourselves on the road to do this. (Applause.)

We have liberated partners on the ground in Kobani, Tikrit, Fallujah, Ramadi. We’re closing in on Mosul. We’re beginning to isolate al-Raqqa. And Mosul, as you know, is the so-called spiritual capital of their so-called caliphate. We are also beginning to tighten the noose around the head of its administrative network, which is in Raqqa, Syria.

And the struggle ahead, like the fighting we see today, is going to be hard. It’s going to be bloody. But I am absolutely confident about our ability to reduce Daesh as we did al-Qaida by the way in Afghanistan and as we have now in Libya and are elsewhere. This is a constant fight. It’s a challenge, and I’ll speak in a moment about that challenge. But I am confident that our success is going to make an enormous dent in Daesh’s credibility and in its effort to portray itself as a winner. And it’s partly the narrative that has helped to bring these recruits to it over the course of the last years. The loss of Mosul and al-Raqqa is not going to put an immediate end to them as an insurgency, but it’s going to change the whole dynamic of the region. And as you know, they’re pursuing an international presence and they have an identity that they’ve cultivated; a narrative, if you will. And now it’s much tarnished, but it will remain a threat for a period of time. But we can have confidence in our ability globally to change things. Now that depends on some other things, and I want to get to that in a moment.

It is the insurgency that makes it so important that we establish a long-term way of dealing with this. No one hears much about the attacks that don’t happen. But by sharing information as we are now as never before, our coalition is actually helping to deter and break up plots before anyone gets hurt. And there are many instances of this that historically will become evident as time goes on.

The bottom line is, as I said, this is a fight you can be confident – which people were not confident about six months, nine months, a year ago – but now you can be confident that we are going to fight back effectively and win this challenge.

We are also going to prevail – and this is very important – without altering the nature of our societies, without succumbing to bigotry, and without betraying the democratic values the terrorists have vowed to destroy. Now, there are aspect of promises made in the course of this campaign that may challenge some of that and we’re going to have to be very vigilant as a nation to make sure we don’t go backwards on any of those principles and values.

I also believe our diplomacy is making a profound difference on global issues, including climate change.

I mentioned that last December, 190 countries came together in Paris to set ambitious targets for the emission reductions of greenhouse gases. That was unthinkable a few years ago – just a very few years ago. That kind of agreement usually takes several years to bring into force after being agreed to. We did it in ten months, folks. But the Paris accord is only part of the strategy. We also reached an agreement on carbon-neutral growth in the international civil aviation industry. If you took civil aviation and looked at it as just a country all by itself, it’s one of the 12 biggest emitters in the world. But now we have a means of reducing it, because it wasn’t covered by Paris. We also won approval for the Montreal Protocol that will phase down the use of heat-trapping HFCs, which are used in refrigerants, so that we will be switching out of them because they are hundreds of times more damaging than CO2. This is a step that in itself could reduce global warming by a full half a degree Celsius between now and the end of the century.

So I’ve been at this climate debate challenge for many, many years now beginning when I was a lieutenant governor in Massachusetts and I dealt with acid rain in 1982. Climate change is growing as a threat in so many ways that are very hard to convey to people. I mean it’s very hard to talk about the nature of the threat, which is existential, and get people to relate to it because it is so enormous and so big. People look at the oceans and say, my god, how could I affect what’s going on in the oceans? But the truth is that the acidification of the oceans coming from CO2 is changing the ecosystem – perhaps irreparably.

We see fish stocks changing. Fish stocks, by the way, are subject to too much money chasing too few fish. And so almost every fishing – eight of the major fisheries of the world – there are about 18 of them – are overfished and the rest are at peak or nearly at peak. But with hundreds of millions of people coming in from poverty in China and India, all of whom now are part of the middle class, they’ll be looking for their share of fish and protein from it. And several billion people depend on that protein for jobs and for eating.

So these are huge challenges that we have to face, and we can only face them on a multilateral, global basis. That’s why diplomacy is so critical. And that is why it’s so imperative for us to approach that diplomacy not with a sense that we just walk into the room and tell everybody what to do, but that we nurture our relationships, that we respect other people’s point of view, that we bring them to the table in a forum of mutual respect, which is a very important component of global efforts.

I think – if you look, I just went to Antarctica to check this out, and I was stunned by the size and the power of the awesome wilderness that exists there, this ice sheet that in some places is three miles deep, and been there for millions of years. But it wasn’t always there. In fact, Antarctica wasn’t always there. I don’t know how many of you know – it floats. It’s now grounded because of the way that the ice which pushes the continent down, and then the water that’s warmer now flows in underneath the ice sheet, destabilizing the ice sheet even more.

So we had the Larsen ice sheet, an area the size of Rhode Island, broke off a summer or so ago. And scientists are extremely worried about the rate at which this change is surpassing what people even predicted. We just learned that in the Arctic, the North Pole was 36 degrees warmer than it has ever been recorded – now.

So we can’t afford public people who ignore science. We can’t afford to simply turn our backs on these realities. And climate change is literally a dire threat to our future security and to the prosperity of the planet. We’re already seeing Miami Beach, where they’re building pumps and raising the roads because the water’s coming into Miami and they need to pump it out. We’re already seeing in Boston where high tides regularly come over the balustrade down in the city where the park is. We’re already seeing in Norfolk, Virginia the Navy making contingency plans because their ships are moored at piers that may be difficult to get to in times of storms and so forth. It’s a security issue, folks, not a partisan issue.

Logic screams out to us that no country can plausibly claim to be a global leader if it fails to lead on climate change. And it’s not a question of what we can afford, believe me; green technology is the greatest economic opportunity we face in the world today. The solution to climate change is energy policy, and we have solutions staring us in the face. The question is: Are we going to make the decisions to use those solutions, or are we going to pretend that coal or some other fossil fuel is in fact cheaper when if you really take the costs of climate change, of dislocation, of refugees, of particulates in the air from dirty air, add it all up, kids who suffer from asthma during the summer and are hospitalized – that’s worth $55 billion a year in America. Just think of what the overall costs are of the real price of what we are dependent on today. We have to have honest cost accounting in this process going forward.

So the price tag of inaction is much, much more than the price tag of action. Lost food production, responses to floods and droughts – we spent $27 billion this year alone already in cleanup after storms. 11 billion of it was down in New Orleans after the – I mean, think about it. $27 billion, and we’re struggling to find $1 billion to help the global fund in order to help other countries deal with climate change.

Despite every lesson learned over the last decades, and despite what our science and our eyes have taught us, there are still some people who want to place yet another losing bet on fossil fuels. Now, that is a gamble that we have absolutely no chance of winning, and it’s going to harm our planet while striking a devastating blow against our capacity to lead. The right course is to accelerate our commitment to a true energy revolution and move ahead with giant steps on wind and solar, on fuel cell and storage energy – battery storage, for instance – on realistic pricing of carbon. If government won’t do it, then the private sector’s going to need to do it, the markets need to do it, and all of us need to be part of a movement to make sure that that happens.

So there is no clearer test of the duty that we owe to future generations. The current administration still has more than seven weeks to go, and believe me, we’re going to push as hard as possible between now and then. And we want our new leaders to take office with every possible opportunity to build on what we’ve accomplished in the fight against terrorism, to reduce the nuclear danger, to strengthen our alliances, to curb climate change, and in other areas.

And as we look ahead, I would dispel a damaging myth that still exists in our country. Ask any pollster and she will tell you that most Americans believe we spend about 25 percent of our national budget on international programs. The reality is 1 percent.

Why so little? Well, having served in the U.S. Senate for almost those 29 years, it’s fair to say that Capitol Hill is not exactly inundated with letters from constituents urging an increase in foreign aid. So it’s a responsibility for every one of us who understands the connections here, the connections of these dots, who cares about U.S. leadership, in order to help connect the dots between what our global investments accomplish and the interests of our citizens.

For example, we have to connect the dots between the safety of our citizens and the aid that we give to improve security at air and sea ports overseas. Pretty common-sense – if they leak like a sieve, we’re in trouble. We have to connect the dots between an Afghanistan where the 9/11 attacks were conceived and an Afghanistan where the number of girls attending school now has risen by a factor of 12. Since we went there in 2001 when there were about a million kids – just a little less – kids in school, all of them were boys, almost all of them. Today there are 9 million kids in school in Afghanistan and about 40 to 45 percent of them are girls. It’s an extraordinary transition. (Applause.)

And if you think of that transition over 14 years, people who were 10 years old are now 25, 24. They are participants in society. They have a different set of hopes and aspirations. Just two years ago, remember, we had this huge scare about Ebola virus. Connect the dots. President Obama and our partners mobilized a virtual army of civilian responders. We sent – the President sent courageously – over 3,000 American troops to West Africa to build treatment centers, to conduct public education, to prevent new infections. Experts had told us you’re going to lose more than a million people by Christmas. This was two years ago. Remember that? But the real toll was a tiny fraction of that. Why? Because we safeguarded our own citizens. We spelt the difference between death and life for hundreds of thousands of people in Africa.

Connect the dots between our own experience with AIDS and U.S. international leadership. We have now come to the first threshold. AIDS used to be a death sentence. Nobody wanted to talk about it when I began this effort in the United States Senate in the 1990s, when we got Jesse Helms to sign on and passed the first AIDS bill in the Senate unanimously. But now we’re on the threshold of the first born-free-from-AIDS generation in 30 years.

Eleven of our top 15 trading partners were, only 10, 15, 20 years ago, recipients of U.S. aid. They’re now our biggest trading partners. And guess what? Each of them is today contributing to global security and to the well-being of their region. They are donor countries now.

We live in a world where extreme poverty has been cut in half, where a child born almost anywhere can actually expect to live longer and a healthier life than ever before in history, where infant mortality is down, where women’s mortality in birth is down. That did not happen by accident. It happened because the United States of America has led consistently and steadily and on a bipartisan basis. Our country today is blessed with an $18 trillion economy – still the largest, most powerful, and most dynamic economy in the world. That is no grounds for complacency, but we need to be asking ourselves how much more we can accomplish.

The needs of our era differ sharply from those that prevailed 70 years ago when the Marshall Plan was conceived. Our goal then was to help industrialized economies recover from the damage of a devastating war. The urgent requirement now is to actually take non-industrialized economies, spur development, create jobs, generate sustainable growth, where industrialization is only just getting underway if at all. Why the urgency? Here again, all we have to do is connect the dots. Each year in the Middle East, Africa, parts of Asia, hundreds of millions of young men and women are coming of age with an acute knowledge of the rest of the world because of those smartphones I mentioned, but tragically, with no faith in their own governments, no access to a good education, little chance for a quality job. There are about a billion and a half kids who are under the age of 15. There are about 350 million of them who probably won’t go to school at all.

The opportunity gap is fueling illegal migration, crime, human trafficking, modern-day slavery, and the appeal of terrorist groups. My counterpart in one country in Africa – I won’t name him or the country, but he told me he has about a 40 percent Muslim population. I asked him, “How are you managing the integration of that population with the future?” And he said, “I’m really scared because,” he said, “we have extremists who grab these young kids in poverty areas and they pay them a little bit and they bring them in and proselytize to them. And then when their minds are fully polluted, they don’t have to pay them anymore, and then they go out and become the recruiters.” And he said to me, he said, “You know, John, they have a 35-year plan and we don’t even have a five-year plan.”

What I’m talking about is a race that we have to win between desperation and the rekindling of hope. Now, some say the task is too big. I don’t believe that. I really don’t believe that. Remember, the most expensive peace is still cheaper than the least expensive war. And we’ve spent more than 3 trillion fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, so when we really need the money, we can find the money. The question isn’t about resources. It’s about priorities. It’s about understanding the link between our own well-being and timely international investments in education, health care, clean energy, connectivity, and the infrastructure that we need of all kinds.

These are the kinds of expenditures that will actually save money by diminishing the potential for conflict, by lowering the number of refugees, reducing the pressure for illegal migration, giving young people a powerful incentive to build their communities up instead of to believe the only choice for them is to tear them down. Now, I’m not talking about investments by the United States Government alone; I envision a truly global and forward-looking development initiative, with sustained and multilateral funding sources, and a full buy-in from the private sector, foundations, and private voluntary organizations.

Unlike the Cold War, which was often a zero-sum competition for influence, we have a chance today to establish unprecedented levels of coordination among donors and investors. For example, this is a topic that I’ve already discussed with Chinese officials, and they have agreed to make cooperation on development one of the pillars of our bilateral ties. Imagine that: China and the United States cooperating on global development. That cooperation is something the world has never seen before, but it’s starting already to happen now, and I believe if we grow it, it can make a major difference in the generation to come.

Some years ago, as a senator, I proposed a domestic infrastructure bank that, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which supported it, would have used a modest additional initial investment of $10 billion to leverage up to $600 billion in private money to repair and modernize America’s ailing infrastructure. That principle was valid at home and it could work abroad as well, provided a slight discount at the discount window of the Fed Reserve, which created a arbitrage between that and the cost of regular borrowing, which made it possible for people to privately get a revenue stream from transportation projects, water projects, from energy projects – all revenue-producing projects which we pay over time. Sure, it’s not hedge fund 20 percent all the time, but it’s a solid rate of return on investment for a lot of money that’s looking for that.

A new international opportunity initiative would also build on the 146 billion already provided in annual overseas assistance by countries across the globe. And that would be in addition to the $60 billion or so invested each year by the World Bank. And that would be on top of the 4-5 billion in financing provided by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. And it could also benefit from an initial investment by our country of an extra $30 billion a year for at least the next four years. We’ll have to do more, but that’s a big important down payment on the future that would double our own contribution to this vital cause, and it would put us in a position to encourage others to do the same.

So last fall at the UN, the world came together to establish a set of 17 specific goals for sustainable development between now and 2030. I won’t go through them all here today. I’ve already spoken longer than I wanted to and that you probably wanted me to – (laughter) – but I want to urge you to go look at them. They’re really a worthy enterprise of a multilateral basis. We cannot allow these goals to be neglected or forgotten. We have a collective responsibility, my friends, and a powerful shared interest in transforming the objectives of those goals into real accomplishments. And make no mistake, we do have the ability and we do have the resources to get those jobs done, provided we make the right choices, provided we have strong leadership especially – though not solely – from the United States of America.

The good news is that success does not require a change in direction. It instead really requires bigger strides down the road that we’re already on towards the elimination of extreme poverty, towards the expansion of education at all levels, towards the development of clean and renewable sources of power, towards food security, towards better access to health care, towards the protection of our oceans, and towards the full economic and political participation of women and girls. (Applause.)

My friends, election outcomes matter, obviously. But the democratic process actually matters much, much more. And after the turmoil of the past few months, it is essential that we restore civility, honesty, and reasonableness, common sense, to the policy debates that we have in this country. We cannot survive if we are a fact-free nation. As Patrick Moynihan, my great colleague said many times, everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts. (Laughter and applause.)

It is also essential that we not turn our back on the alliances, friendships, and principles that have enabled the United States to lead the world so productively for so long. Seven decades ago, the American and other leaders who came together to forge the great post-war institutions, they were in many ways far more than skilled administrators and bureaucrats. They were people of a vision, people of ideas. And this was not because of any inherent inexplicable genius. It was because what they had experienced and witnessed left them with no other choice. They could not ignore the imperative of international economic cooperation because its absence had plunged the world into a devastating depression. They could not consent to runaway nationalism because they had seen it trigger global war. They could not deny the need to recognize basic human rights because the Holocaust had shown them what would happen when bigotry is allowed to go unchecked. The greatest generation did not exist or consist of people who were more capable, courageous, or altruistic than we are, I think. They were builders of necessity.

But still, they built and they built well, and it is our duty, whether we are inside or outside of government, to carry on that job. That’s why the Women’s Foreign Policy Group and comparable organizations are so absolutely vital to our democracy. You understand that the most basic interests we have and the most important principles that we cherish are not remotely partisan. America is defined and brought together – and this is unlike most other countries in the world – many, many countries are defined by ethnicity or defined by a certain tribalism or a course of history or some – but we are a nation brought together not by ideology but by a single enduring idea that we are all equal before the law.

That’s what unites us. That’s what makes us exceptional – not talking about how great we are. I sometimes grate at that when you hear everybody say how exceptional America is. We’re really fond of telling everybody how exceptional that we are. But what makes us exceptional is not talking about it. It’s doing exceptional things. It’s standing up for an exceptional principle. It’s supporting dignity and rights of every human being in an exceptional way with an exceptional outcome. It is on that firm platform that we have to continue to build.

So I thank you for your welcome here today as the holiday season continues. May God bless you all and continue to bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very much.