Newly appointed Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s first major speech was delivered Wednesday at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville yesterday. He outlined the Obama Administration’s approach to foreign policy by stating “that if we do the right things, the good things, the smart things over there, it will strengthen us here at home.”
Kerry spoke at length about a number of issues, including the environment, trade, human rights abuses, gender inequality, and corruption. His most passionate remarks were reserved for America’s foreign assistance programs, noting that:
“Foreign assistance is not a giveaway. It’s not charity. It is an investment in a strong America and in a free world. Foreign assistance lifts other people up and then reinforces their willingness to link arms with us in common endeavors. And when we help others crack down on corruption, that makes it easier for our own compliance against corruption, and it makes it easier for our companies to do business as well.”
The Secretary repeatedly noted that helping other nations develop strong economies will eventually benefit American businesses.
Kerry complained that his Department’s allocation “was just over one percent of our national budget.”
His sole mention of threats facing the United States came towards the end of his speech, when he noted that “When we join with other nations to reduce the nuclear threats, we build partnerships that mean we don’t have to fight those battles alone.”
Surprisingly, Kerry completely omitted any mention of the major international conflicts, threats and incidents that in the past would have headlined the start of a new Secretary of State’s tenure. These include recent Russian bombers engaging in aggressive flybys of U.S. coastlines and military bases; China and Japan standing at the brink of armed conflict; Beijing’s recent aggression against a resource-rich area belonging to the Philippines, North Korea’s development of nuclear ICBM technology which it openly states is directed against America; Iran’s atomic program, and its continuous abuses in the Middle East; Syrian President Assad’s attacks on his own populace; the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in Egypt; the growing threat from leftist dictatorships in Latin America; or of the increased international attempts to extend censorship over the Internet.
Perhaps most notable by its absence was any mention of the ongoing cyber attacks by China’s People’s Liberation Army on American government, military, corporate and infrastructure computer systems.
The Secretary’s first weeks as America’s top diplomat were also marked by consternation over his travel plans. According to the State Department, Kerry’s planned trip to the Middle East includes visits to Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. Notably excluded from the list is Israel, which had long been considered America’s chief ally in the region.
The snub to that nation is more keenly felt as a consequence of the President’s nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. Hagel has a long and controversial history of anti-Israeli comments. It has been reported that up to fifteen Republican senators have requested that the White House withdraw his name. Similar to Kerry’s concentration on foreign aid as opposed to foreign conflicts and threats, Hagel is seen as opposed to the use of American force abroad.
The lack of any mention of immediate threats to U.S. safety from the exceptional arms buildups by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, even as the U.S. cuts its own military, was surprising.
The Secretary’s reign at the State Department began with a humiliating refusal by Moscow to return his phone call for six days, perhaps a reflection of America’s shrunken international status in the eyes of powerful nations.
The embarrassing start to Kerry’s tenure highlights the Obama Administration’s apparent inattention to the massive, dangerous, and growing foreign policy problems facing the United States.