‘Recovering politician’ Kerry defends foreign aid from cuts

Olivier Knox

In his first formal policy speech as the top U.S. diplomat, Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday branded calls to cut foreign aid as politically easy but strategically dumb, and said his department helps create American jobs and advance American values.

“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,’” Kerry said in a speech at the University of Virginia. “If you’re looking for an applause line, that’s about as guaranteed an applause line as you can get.

"But guess what? It does nothing to guarantee our security. It doesn’t guarantee a stronger country. It doesn’t guarantee a sounder economy or a more stable job market,” the Democratic former Massachusetts senator continued. And “deploying diplomats today is much cheaper than deploying troops tomorrow.”

Kerry’s remarks came as he geared up to make his first overseas trip since taking over the State Department from Hillary Clinton. That 11-day voyage will take him to the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Kerry noted that the public grossly overestimates the State Department’s budget, sometimes putting foreign aid as high as 25 percent of Washington’s overall outlays. The real figure is about 1 percent, he said.

“Foreign assistance is not a giveaway. It’s not charity. It's an investment in a strong America and in a free world,” he said.

“Now, some may say, ‘Not now, not while we have our budget; it’s too expensive,’” he said. “Well, believe me, my friends, these challenges will not get easier with time."

He added, “There is no pause button on the future. We cannot choose when we would like to stop and restart our global responsibility or simply wait until the calendar says it’s more convenient."

And “in today’s global world, there is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy,” Kerry continued. "More than ever before, the decisions that we make from the safety of our shores don’t just ripple outward; they also create a current right here in America."

Kerry also highlighted the role of the State Department in creating American jobs. He said the embassy in Jakarta had helped Boeing win a vast contract with Indonesia’s largest privately run airliner, and the embassy in Bangkok had helped secure a $160 million contract to build Thailand’s latest broadcast satellite. (No word on whether the resulting celebration is what led American diplomats to produce their own “Harlem Shake” video.)