Foreign Aid

Kerry slams critics of foreign aid in first major speech as secretary

John Kerry on Wednesday ripped his former colleagues in Congress for contributing to public opposition to foreign aid during his first major address as secretary of State.

Kerry said many Americans believe that the United States spends 25 percent of its budget on foreign affairs, instead of the real figure of just over 1 percent. He said politicians looking for an applause line have contributed to that misperception.

“Where do you think this idea comes from?” Kerry asked. “Well I’ll tell you, it’s pretty simple. As a recovering politician, I can tell you that nothing gets a crowd clapping faster in a lot of places than saying: ‘I’m going to Washington to get them to stop spending all that money over there.’ ”

{mosads}“If you’re looking for an applause line, it’s about as guaranteed an applause line as you can get. But guess what: It does nothing to guarantee our security. It does nothing to guarantee a stronger country. It doesn’t guarantee a sounder economy or a more stable job market.”

Kerry said people should “say no to the politics of the lowest-common denominator and of simplistic slogans and start making real choices that protect the interests of our country.”

The former senator delivered the remarks at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, which was founded by America’s first secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. The speech came nine days before sequestration cuts are set to begin — spending reductions that the State Department says would curtail programs such as humanitarian aid, AIDS relief efforts, foreign military financing and security for U.S. overseas diplomats and facilities.

Kerry urged the students to help make the case for foreign affairs funding as the federal government struggles to get its debt under control. He said the State Department doesn’t have a powerful public advocate like Grover Norquist, who rallies opposition to tax increases on Capitol Hill. 

“Unfortunately,” he said, “the State Department doesn’t have our own Grover Norquist pushing a pledge to protect it. We don’t have millions of AARP seniors who send in their dues and rally to protect American investments overseas.”

“The kids whose lives we’re helping save from AIDS, the women we’re helping to free from the horrors of sex trafficking, the students who for the first time can choose to walk into a school instead of into a short life of terrorism — their strongest lobbyists are the rare, committed Americans who stand up for them and for the resources that we need to help them. And I hope that includes all of you here and many listening.”

Kerry defended foreign aid funding as crucial to American interests and American values. The price of retreating from the global stage would be “exorbitant,” he said, and the “vacuum we would leave by retreating within ourselves would quickly be filled by those whose interests differ dramatically from ours.” 

“Bad things happening over there threaten us right here,” he said. “Knowing that, the question is this: How do we make clear that the opposite is just as true?”

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