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Sec. of State Kerry’s remarks to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Headquarters

John-KerryRemarks by John Kerry, Secretary of State
Ronald Reagan Building
Washington, DC
February 15, 2013


Thank you very much. Thank you. So I just said to Raj, you had to remind me of Red Sox travails. Eighty-six years, well, we got over that. Now, today I wake up and I’m mourning Kevin Youkilis, a Yankee? I don’t know. (Laughter.) Anyway, I don’t want to get him in trouble. He said some very nice things about the Red Sox, and I don’t want to go there. (Laughter.)

It is wonderful to visit with all of you. Thank you for taking a few minutes to join me here and allow me to say hello and to thank you for your extraordinary work and everything that you do. I’m really, really thrilled to be here, for a lot of reasons I’ll explain in a minute. But let me also say to you that it’s good to be here because I am now a recovering politician. (Laughter.) And I have to remember that I’m totally hatched, I’m not allowed to – it’s sort of walking a new line. But you have no idea what a relief it is. I’m really happy.

I – a few months, not too long ago – this happened, actually, a few times anyway. But I was walking through the airport – it was probably a couple of years ago now – and this guy recognized me and points at me. As you’re walking through sometimes, you try to sort of look straight ahead because you know somebody’s going to come up and they either like you or they don’t like you, one or the other. (Laughter.) And this guy points and he shouts, and he says, “Hey, you! You, hey! Anybody tell you you look like that Kerry guy we sent down to Washington?” And so I said, “Yeah, they tell me that all the time.” (Laughter.) And he says, “Kind of makes you mad, don’t it?” (Laughter.) So hopefully this new job will give me a break from that kind of encounter.

I really am excited, and I mean that. I don’t want to talk too long because I don’t want to get in the way of any of you who have plans to get an early jump on a long weekend here. But this is special. And you all are doing some of the most important work in the world and the most important work in our country to reach out to people, present the face of America, present the values of America, present the interests of America, and touch people all around the world and tell them the story of who we are and what we care about and what we fight for and what makes a difference in life. And I can’t tell you how great that – I mean, I’m confident I know what brought you here – I feel it, I believe it – that sense that we can make a difference in the lives of other people and make a difference in the course of events on this planet. And I have seen it. I’ve been blessed to see it.

I was in Pakistan right at the time after the earthquake. I went up into the mountains, up near K2, flying up in the helicopters, working with the Navy, watching all the supply lines that you all helped to create and deliver. And I met children who came out of the mountains at age 12 and 13 and 14. And for the first time in their lives, they were going to school, wearing a uniform, interested in the possibilities of a future. That’s what we brought them. It was amazing. (Applause.)

I was in the hills in mud-thatched huts, as many of you have been at one time or another, outside of Durban in South Africa. And I went and visited a tiny little school off in the hills, where they were working with children of parents or survivors, and in some cases, 13- and 14-year-old sisters or grandchildren who were caring for the family and caring for an aunt or grandmother who had HIV. And it was moving to see what PEPFAR, the President’s emergency program, is doing. In fact, I kind of reacted to it. I said, “President’s emergency program. I didn’t see on that thing something that said, ‘from the people of the United States of America,’” and I thought it should have, frankly. Because we’re telling the story of what the people of the United States are doing. (Applause.)

But the difference it made to the lives of those people and their sense of possibility – young girls who, for the first time, were being given an opportunity. President Obama could not have made it more clear in his State of the Union message when he challenged all of us here and said, “We have an opportunity to end extreme poverty in the next two decades.” And we do. And I’m confident that with your work and help, and if we get Congress to continue to understand this connection, we will end extreme poverty in the next two decades. (Applause.)

The President also talked about the possibility of our being now on the cusp of a generation free of AIDS. Think about that. That’s what we’ve been able to do in terms of ending mothers transmitting AIDS to children because of the interventions we’ve been able to make. That’s an extraordinary accomplishment. You, we, Americans – Americans who have put their dollars on the line to send those values overseas – have saved over 5 million lives in Africa of people who would have died from AIDS but for the United States being there in the way that we have been. That’s the difference we make.

In addition to that, the lives of women – the President challenged us in his State of the Union message to continue to be able to make a difference in opening up opportunities for the lives of women across the planet. And in Afghanistan, we can be proud that even as we’re engaging the government and working to build their capacity of governance, we are also building it around a set of principles that are our values about those opportunities women ought to have. And so women in Afghanistan – when we started there were about 4 or 5 million kids in school and all of them were boys. Today there are about 9 million people in school and almost half of them are girls. That’s a new opportunity. (Applause.)

So I am deeply, deeply committed to this mission. And I know – I think I wrote a couple of years ago as the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I said, “A senator who stands up in today’s world and tries to make the argument for foreign aid probably ought to have a mental evaluation.” (Laughter.) It’s tough. And the same may be true for cabinet secretaries. But I’ve got news for you: We’re going to do it. We’re going to continue to fight for this connection because it is such a paltry, tiny component of what we do overall compared to the military budget, compared to all of our budget.

One percent of the total of what we invest in – not spend but invest in – comes to AID. One percent. And what we do to change people’s opinions, to change lives, to open up opportunity as a consequence of that is really hard to define to people but totally in keeping with the best values not only of the country but of any and every philosophy of life or religion that I know. And that’s why so many evangelicals and others are committed to these kinds of efforts to try to make a difference, because it’s our obligation as human beings on the face of this planet.

Now, there are other reasons for doing this and they’re really important today. And our job is not just to do the job of going out and making a difference in lives, and I’ll tell you why it’s so critical, sort of underscore why it’s so critical, in a moment. But it’s also to connect the dots for people, to do a better job, if you will, of making sure that everybody in America understands this isn’t a giveaway, this isn’t some sort of – this is not a waste of effort. This makes a difference to people’s perception of us, to their connection to us, to their willingness to link arms with us and make a difference in other tricky endeavors, whether it’s fighting terrorism or narcotics or oppression or resistance to governance. All of those things we advance because we engage and show that we care about something more than just ourselves. What a difference that makes. (Applause.)

But in addition – and I will make this argument to my colleagues on the Hill anywhere and everywhere, and I’m going to enlist you and many other people in this effort – we need to point out to people that in this world we’re living in in the 21stcentury, a world in – undergoing mighty transformation, this is in the interests of our country and our future if you don’t want to send troops somewhere in the future to fight the conflict that comes about because we didn’t do this now. (Applause.) And we’ve seen that. Developing water capacity for people in some parts of the world keeps people from killing each other. It keeps tribes from going out and disintegrating and creating a failed state. I’ve seen that. I’ve been in Sudan, South Sudan, where today people are fighting over water.

So we need to understand the connection of all of these things to our security, to our business opportunities, to our economic future, to America’s leadership role in the world. That’s what’s connected here. You look at the Maghreb today, you take a country like Egypt or Jordan or many of the countries in the Middle East, you’ve got 60 percent of the population under the age of 30, 50 percent under the age of 21, 18 – it’s about 40 percent under the age of 18. If we don’t build health capacity or education capacity or governance capacity with those folks, then everybody here knows how ripe those people will be for someone to walk in with a religious extremist point of view and strap a suicide vest on them and send them out to do harm because they don’t have anything better to offer to the world.

We need to make sure people understand that. And you know that better than anybody, because a courageous AID worker, Ragaei Abdelfattah, lost his life in Afghanistan in Kunar province trying to build health clinics and schools and bring this opportunity to people, because there was a suicide kid who walked up and blew himself up. He understood what you’re doing. You understand what you’re doing. And we need to make sure that everybody in the country, as well as others in the world, understand why we are engaged in this enterprise.

Now, there’s another reason beyond the effort to prevent terrorism and to prevent conflict and prevent failed states, of which there are more, not less. This challenge deserves more focus and more attention, not less. This is not a time for the United States of America to retrench and to retreat. This is a time to be more engaged. (Applause.) And President Obama, I think, has laid out a vision not just in the State of the Union, in his Inaugural, throughout the first four years, the work that Hillary Clinton did – and I pay tribute. She did an extraordinary job of helping to lead the Department and to articulate these. And we need to build on that now.

And there’s another reason why, and she understood it and I think I understand it. If you don’t help people with rule of law, if you don’t help them and mentor them and introduce people to certain opportunities through the linkage of health to societal stability, and ultimately to economic opportunity, America is going to fall behind and lose the leadership role that we have in the world today. And we’re going to lose jobs for our fellow Americans. This is not just about over there; this is about here. This is about how you build the societies that offer us the market opportunities so that we can have the trade and investment and the options of creating the jobs here at home and the goods that Americans can buy and so forth.

Now, I’m telling you that linkage is real. In Egypt today, they are facing an extraordinary challenge of diminished reserves, instability, new governance, huge challenges of subsidies, how do they transition their economy. And it’s in our interest to try to help make that happen in the most stable way possible. Why? Because Egypt is a quarter of the Arab world, because Egypt is critical to peace with Israel and with the Middle East, the only Arab country that’s made peace with Israel, Jordan included.

You need to connect the dots here. You all have already done that because you’re here and you’re working and you’re committed to this. I need you and Raj needs you and the President needs you to be ambassadors of this message of how this matters to every single American, how small our investment is versus the return that we get for it. What a difference it makes to America’s security, to America’s business opportunities, to America’s leadership role and our future.

When President Obama selected Raj Shah to be the leader of this organization, I knew instantly he’d picked somebody who understood this mission, who understood we also need to change a little bit, that we need to understand that we have to account clearly to our citizens in a time of tough budgets for all of the dollars we’re spending in a very transparent and thorough way. We want to do that. But it also requires us to think creatively, sometimes out of the box, about how we may be able to deliver some of this in 21st century terms in ways that augment, multiply, when we don’t have the same amount of resources we’ve had previously, but multiply the efforts in their return on that investment by creating greater investment opportunities, more jobs, building the economies. I think there are a lot of things that we can think about creatively together to help make that happen, and I’m convinced Raj Shah understands that, and I’m looking forward to working with him over these next years to help make that happen. We’re going to get this job done. (Applause.)

So, you all are the cutting edge of American foreign policy. And I know that sometimes, not naïve, there’s been a debate about pure development – just develop this thing and whatever comes, comes – versus policy and leverage and the other components of this. I get it. What I want to do is work with you in the smartest way we can together to get the best return on this investment for the American taxpayer that we can get, the most accountable, the most transparent, the most efficient. And in doing so, we are going to advance America’s interests in a way that serves every citizen and all of our interests.

What we’re engaged in, my friends – Raj, in his introduction, mentioned – oh, I guess – excuse me, it was Denise, and thank you. Where is she? She’s gone off here. Thank you. Thank you for your career and for what you’re doing here. I think it’s wonderful. Thank you. Fabulous. (Applause.)

You mentioned 1961 and President Kennedy. One thing has always stood out to me from that period. I was in college then. And we were all engaged in the civil rights movement and breaking the back of Jim Crow and the Mississippi voter registration drive, environment, all those things that made a difference, and still do, obviously. Unfinished business. But President Kennedy challenged all of us, and I still believe in that challenge. And in his Inaugural Address, most importantly, he reminded us that here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own. I think for every single American, what we’re doing here at AID, what we’re trying to do to change the world, the unbelievable return we get for the very small amount we ask Americans to put into this, is really indeed God’s work, and I look forward to continuing it with you. Thank you, and Godspeed. Thank you. (Applause.)

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