POLITICS
02/20/2013 01:22 pm ET Updated Feb 20, 2013

John Kerry Speech Brings Full-Throated Defense Of Foreign Aid

WASHINGTON -- John Kerry used his first public address as secretary of state to focus on the domestic side of foreign policy, delivering a full-throated defense of foreign aid spending as a boon to American interests.

"In today's global world, there is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy," Kerry said in a speech Wednesday at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "How we conduct our foreign policy matters more than ever before to our everyday lives."

It was a speech heavy on the domestic upside of foreign aid -- at one point, he segued into a discourse on a Virginia-based satellite company that had benefited from a deal negotiated by an American embassy abroad -- but Kerry also touted foreign aid as a means to advance America's most fundamental values, from marginalizing religious extremism to protecting the environment.

"Foreign assistance is not a giveaway. It is not charity," he said. "It is an investment in a strong America and a free world."

The U.S. spends less than 1 percent of the federal government's budget on foreign assistance programs -- a figure that is usually wildly overestimated by the public and often reviled by politicians looking to score points on budget restraint.

That approach is short-sighted, Kerry said, as he noted that the amount of money spent on conflict stabilization efforts -- about $60 million per year -- is comparable to the amount of money earned by a Hollywood film, "The Avengers," in a single day on opening weekend.

"The difference is the folks we have on the ground doing this job are actually real superheroes," Kerry said, of the U.S. diplomatic corps.

"Deploying diplomats today is much cheaper than deploying troops tomorrow. We need to remember that," he went on. "As Senator Lindsey Graham said, 'It's national security insurance.'"

In the coming days, Kerry will turn his attention to the diplomatic portion of his job as he embarks on his first international trip as a Cabinet official, with stops across Europe and much of the Middle East. There, he is expected to focus on Syria and other nations still undergoing revolutionary transformations, matters he only briefly touched on during his speech Wednesday.

"He's characterizing this first trip more broadly as a listening tour," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Tuesday. "But I think he'll look forward to hearing from the Syrian Opposition Coalition what more they think we can do and also to hear from counterparts who are deeply involved in supporting the opposition."

An early report that Kerry's trip would include a visit to Israel turned out to be incorrect. Nuland told reporters Tuesday that Kerry would go to Israel on a separate trip with President Barack Obama later in March.

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