He started his remarks by cautioning that “our engagement with the rest of the world begins by making some important choices, together, about our national budget.” It is “imperative,” he said, that the US not cut back on what he characterized as an already minimal investment in diplomacy.
Kerry cited a recent poll that found most Americans assume the US spends about a quarter of the federal budget on international affairs – while they thought the right level of spending would be about 10 percent of the budget.
“Would that that were true! I’d take 10 percent in a heartbeat,” Kerry said, “because 10 percent is exactly 10 times greater than what we invest.”
Kerry said he chose the University of Virginia as the venue for this speech because it was founded by Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s first secretary of State and a leader who understood the role that education would play in securing a young nation’s place in the world.
“Let’s remember that the principles of Jefferson’s time – in a nation that was just getting used to its independence – still echo in our own time, in a world that’s still getting used to our interdependence,” he said. “America’s national interest in leading strongly still endures in this world.”
Kerry did not use his speech to offer a laundry list of the pressing crises he plans to address. He made no mention of Syria’s civil war, the Middle East peace process, or the challenge of a rising China, although he did speak of the importance of “making sure Iran never obtains a [nuclear] weapon that would endanger our allies and our interests.”