WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday boldly staked out a
vision of American engagement in the world and defended the importance of
international aid as part of that engagement, in his first major address since
“America’s national interest in leading strongly still
endures in this world,” Kerry declared in an address at the University of
Virginia, in which he sought to push back against critics who have argued that
the Obama administration wants to step back from its international leadership
“This is a time to continue to engage,” Kerry said, arguing
that America’s fiscal health would be greatly strengthened by the improved
opportunities for trade and cooperation that a strong international position
Much of Kerry’s address was devoted to making the economic case
for robust foreign involvement. One of his biggest applause lines came when he
told the audience: “Deploying diplomats today is much cheaper than deploying
His remarks come as the US government faces massive
deficits and steep mandatory budget cuts that are set to take place should
Congress not make a deal by the end of the month to avert them. He noted that
popular support for foreign aid – which he warned could be affected by the
impending cuts, including to military assistance to Israel – is not strong, and
seemed to be appealing to voters as well as congressmen in making his
Kerry spoke of the benefits of aid, including in stronger global
“This includes working with our partners around the world in
making sure Iran never obtains a weapon that would endanger our allies and our
interests,” he said.
In a more pointed comment, however, he suggested
America’s biggest obstacles could come from within.
“In many ways, the
greatest challenge to America’s foreign policy today is in the hands not of
diplomats, but of policymakers in Congress,” he said, referring to the gridlock
that could make the drastic cuts a reality.
That Kerry would choose to
devote his first major address to defending the State Department’s budget and
its role in the promoting America’s interest gives an indication of the rough
road ahead for the nation’s top diplomat.