February 20, 2013
In his first speech acting as secretary of state Wednesday morning, John Kerry focused on the domestic side of foreign policy at the University of Virginia's Old Cabell Hall.
"Our engagement with the rest of the world begins by making some important choices together," Kerry said.
A running theme throughout Kerry's speech was America's investments in other countries, even when the foreign policy budget is just a little more than 1 percent of the overall national budget.
"Deploying diplomats today is much cheaper than deploying troops tomorrow," Kerry said. "We need to remember that."
Much of the secretary's speech was warmly accepted by the auditorium filled with students, faculty, and servicemen and women.
"It was a fabulous speech," said Anita Thompson Heisterman, a faculty member of the nursing department. "I think it was a renewed call to service for what we do."
Kerry stressed the need to continue aiding foreign countries in order to create stronger relationships and allies.
"Our goal isn't to keep a nation dependent on us forever," he said. "It's precisely to create these markets, to open these opportunities."
"It's just very exciting to have this experience in just my first year here," first-year student Ana Mendelson said. "Participating in the political process is very exciting."
Kerry, a U.S. senator for nearly three decades, called himself a "recovering politician" in his remarks. Still, there were hints of politics in what he had to say.
"In these days of a looming budget sequester, we can't be strong in the world unless we are strong at home," Kerry said.
Kerry said his role as a diplomat can only be strong when America handles its own financial issues. He called on Congress to act now on the sequestration debate.
"My credibility as a diplomat working to help other countries create order is strongest when America at last puts its own fiscal house in order, and that has to be now," Kerry said.
"I think he really brought the message home why our relations abroad are very important to us here at home," fourth-year student Kamila Benzina said.
Kerry said in times of tragedy and devastation, any country can help another. But, he said, only one is expected to help.
"Foreign assistance is not a giveaway," Kerry said. "It's not charity. It is an investment in a strong America."
Fourth-year student Lucie Hidley appreciated Kerry's focus on "the importance of foreign aid abroad, not just in terms of economic value and our economic interests, but in terms of kind of a moral element."
"America's national interests in leading strongly still endures in this world," Kerry said, wrapping up his remarks. "I ask you to stand with our president and our country to continue to conduct ourselves with the understanding that what happens over there matters right here. And it matters that we get this right."
Kerry plans to take his goals on his first trip as top diplomat this upcoming weekend, when he plans to visit nine countries in Western Europe and the Middle East.