Secretary of State John Kerry gave his inaugural public address Wednesday morning in Old Cabell Hall, speaking on a wide range of foreign policy topics, but also a share of domestic issues, including the ongoing sequestration battle in Congress.
Kerry said he selected the University as the host of his first address in honor of the fact that its founder, Thomas Jefferson, served as the United States’ first Secretary of State. He was introduced by University President Teresa Sullivan, Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Albemarle, and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. Central to his speech from the onset was the principle that domestic strength increases America’s influence and security abroad.
“Why am I in Old Cabell Hall and not Kabul, Afghanistan?” he asked the full auditorium to open the address. “I came here purposefully to underscore in today’s global world there is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy.”
The Secretary was confirmed to his position Jan. 29, a role that was held for four years by Hillary Rodham Clinton, who prioritized the promotion of women’s rights and education on a global scale.
Kerry’s speech offered a glimpse at a foreign policy agenda guided by the promotion of domestic economic strength. In his new role, the former Democratic Senator from Massachusetts shied away from partisanship but obliquely criticized the ongoing sequestration battle in Congress, saying its effects would hurt America across the globe. His words were met with waves of applause from an audience of students who face the challenge of entering the job market in a weakened economy.
“It is often said that we cannot be strong at home if we’re not strong in the world, but in these days of a looming budget sequester that everyone actually wants to avoid — or most — we can’t be strong in the world unless we are strong at home,” Kerry said. “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.”
His speech surveyed platforms he plans to promote worldwide, including climate change. “If we waste this opportunity, it may be the only thing our generation — generations — are remembered for,” he said. “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.”
Kerry strove to continue American exceptionalism around the globe, saying that America was the only country expected to help all others in their moments of distress. He added that this approach should be fulfilled by proactive, rather than reactive, action.
“Deploying diplomats today is much cheaper than deploying troops tomorrow,” he said.
Kerry will make his first foreign tour next week, visiting North Africa, the Middle East and Europe.