WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday lamented the damage done to America's image abroad during the government shutdown fight, saying at one point that the country's financial uncertainty had become a subject of jokes within diplomatic circles.
"They are all sizing us up, every day they are taking our measure," Kerry said of foreign governments. "And what we do in Washington matters deeply to them and that is why a self-inflicted wound like a shutdown we just endured can never happen again.
"As President Obama said, the shutdown encouraged our enemies, emboldened our competitors and it depressed our friends who look to us for steady leadership," he continued. "I will tell you that apart from the jokes at some of the summits that I went to about whether because we weren't being paid, whether one country or another could buy our meals, there were real consequences."
Speaking at the Center for American Progress' 10th anniversary policy conference, Kerry prompted groans from the audience when he mentioned that diplomats had offered to cover his meals.
The rest of his comments were less lighthearted and more critical of the damage Congress had done to U.S. foreign policy. He noted that the shutdown had hampered or delayed aid to Israel, the scientific research being done by government-employed Nobel laureates and the execution of trade agreements.
"The shutdown didn't just shutter the WWII memorial, as unfortunate as that was," he said of the most politicized consequence of the government funding impasse. "It stunted our ability to promote the principles and values that our veterans sacrificed for."
Despite having just come back from what he called a "marathon session" of diplomacy in the Middle East, Kerry devoted most of his speech to domestic politics, rather than foreign affairs. The choice seemed strategic. The government needs to come up with a new funding bill by Jan. 15, 2014. And Kerry was already making the argument that Congress couldn't fumble the ball a second time.
"While this chapter is temporarily over, we have got another date looming," Kerry said. "And the experience has to serve as a stern warning to all. It should force us to consider in the weeks and months ahead, what the world would look like if America is less present and less credible. Make no mistake that the greatest danger to America doesn't come from a rising rival. It comes from the damage that we are capable of doing by our own dysfunction."