Earlier today, I had the privilege of being able to attend the first address by John Kerry as secretary of state at my own college, the University of Virginia. Through a lottery system, I won my ticket to get a free General Admission seat in historic Old Cabell Hall to hear the secretary of state’s thoughts on a variety of issues, from education to the environment, and to have the pleasure of hearing him correctly refer to the University of Virginia’s campus as "grounds."
However, there was one common theme that struck me the most throughout Kerry’s speech: the domestic nature of foreign policy.
"Why am I giving this speech in Old Cabell Hall [at UVa], and not Kabul, Afghanistan?" asked Secretary Kerry to the audience. His choice of the University of Virginia as the location for his debut address had many motivations. One, as he noted during his speech, was to highlight the importance of investment in education. In his words, "a wise investment in foreign policy does the same for a nation that an investment in education does for a student." Secondly, the choice of UVa is symbolic since it was founded by Thomas Jefferson, the first secretary of state. Finally, tying into the common theme throughout Kerry’s address was the fact that he wished to start his term as secretary of state at home, rather than abroad, because "there is nothing foreign about foreign policy anymore."
With this statement, Kerry astutely notes the most definitive element of U.S. foreign policy, one that many politicians fail to recognize: foreign policy is now domestic policy. In our increasingly interconnected world, Kerry recognizes the critical fact that in order to have a strong America at home, we need to have strong diplomacy abroad. As Kerry noted in his speech, it is common sense for us to say that when America fails in its foreign assistance abroad, we feel the negative impacts at home. The opposite must be taken into consideration as well: when America succeeds in foreign assistance abroad, we will feel the positive impacts back home as well - making for a stronger, more successful America.
Moreover, in a time where domestic jobs are becoming increasingly global in scope, and where world economies are becoming increasingly intertwined through international trade, it is imperative that our nation move towards a stronger foreign policy in order to maintain a strong domestic policy. Kerry shrewdly states that we can no longer split the two into a strict dichotomy: in a shrinking, flattening world, domestic and foreign policy have become inextricably intertwined due to globalization, and "no politician, no matter how powerful, can put this genie back in the bottle."
Some critics argue that in the time of our budget crisis, it is foolish to focus on foreign assistance. Foreign aid makes up only a little more than 1% of our total budget. When the investment in diplomacy abroad reaps such high benefits, it’s something we cannot afford to neglect. After all, "deploying diplomats today is cheaper than deploying troops tomorrow."