Mr. Secretary, welcome. I know you just got back from overseas. Thanks very much for being with us.
SECRETARY KERRY: Very happy to be with you. Thank you for doing this.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, our pleasure. Now, Secretary Kerry, in a speech at the University of Virginia, you explained why our engagement abroad is so important to Americans here at home. So today, we want to take a deep dive on the impact of U.S. foreign policy on all Americans, and joining us for this conversation are people from around the country, all with a strong point of view. So let’s meet them.
We’ve got, first of all, Lieutenant Colonel Adolfo Garcia. He is a decorated U.S. Marine with 20 years of service. He’s been deployed to Afghanistan twice, in 2010 and 2011. He currently lives in Burke, Virginia with his wife and four children.
Colonel Garcia, do you want to say hi?
LTC GARCIA: Hello, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY KERRY: Colonel, how are you doing? Thanks for being here.
LTC GARCIA: I’m doing well. Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks for your service.
LTC GARCIA: Thank you. You’re welcome.
MS. MITCHELL: And next up we have Corrie Frasier. Corrie leads Plus Social Good. It’s a new community inspired by the Social Goods Summit, connecting innovators around a shared vision, the power of technology, and new media to make the world a better place.
Corrie, do you want to say hi?
MS. FRASIER: Hello, Secretary Kerry. So nice to be here.
SECRETARY KERRY: Hi, Corrie. Nice to be with you. Thank you.
MS. MITCHELL: And next up we have Emily McKhann. She’s the co-founder of the popular, award-winning web community, The Motherhood. She’s been a blogger since 2004 and was recently named one of Parents Magazine’s Most Powerful Moms on the Web.
MS. MCKHANN: Hi, it’s such a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having us, Secretary Kerry.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Emily. I’m awed to be in the power of – this blogger power. (Laughter.)
MS. MITCHELL: You have no idea, Mr. Secretary. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Trust me, I do. (Laughter.)
MS. MITCHELL: Yeah, I know you do. Next up is Andrew White. He is the president of Comptus, Inc., a leading producer of atmospheric and weather instruments and controls in Thornton, New Hampshire, and his products are sold domestically and overseas.
MR. WHITE: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY KERRY: Andrew, good to see you.
MS. MITCHELL: And finally we have Sarah Hill from Columbia, Missouri, a host and digital storyteller for the Veterans United Network, which is the broadcast channel for Veterans United, a mortgage company dedicated to helping veterans. And Sarah is also a Google+ expert with more than 2.6 million followers.
Wow, Sarah. Hi there.
MS. HILL: Hi, there. Pleased to meet you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Hey Sarah, good to be with you.
MS. MITCHELL: Now, Mr. Secretary, before we open it up to all of our participants, I want to ask you a question about Benghazi. At a time when you were trying to explain to the American people the importance of foreign policy, the State Department is under attack again today, being charged with a cover-up involving the rewriting of those Benghazi talking points. This didn’t happen on your watch, and I know you’ve appointed your chief of staff to investigate, and we don’t have the results of that yet, but can you reassure the American people today that there was not a politically motivated cover-up?
SECRETARY KERRY: Andrea, I obviously was on the road all of last week and so I didn’t see the hearings, but I followed them and I’m getting a summary report of everything that’s taken place.
What I’ve seen thus far, I have to tell you, after all of the hearings that I took part in as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, all of the briefings that I took part in, many of which were classified, I really haven’t learned anything new. What we know is that four very courageous Americans, all of whom were out there on the front lines trying to affect our relationship with another country and help people to be free and enjoy what we enjoy, they lost their lives. It was a terrible event. It was a terrorist attack. We all understand that. And we know that people behaved courageously.
I respect the people who spoke up in the course of these hearings. They were there. They felt the horror of that terrorist attack, and obviously it’s emotional. But so is losing our ambassador. So is losing two members of our former armed forces who were providing security. And so is losing our employee who was there doing an extraordinary job on communications.
We run risks everywhere in the world. We have our friend here who served in – a colonel who served in Afghanistan who knows through the years the risks we take abroad. But America can never cower. America can never hide and run away from our responsibility to try to advance human rights, build relationships with other countries, try to provide people a vision of what life can be like in a strong democracy, in a place where women are participants in society, not hidden and pushed away. There’s so many values that we are struggling to try to carry out to the world in many different ways, and to bring it to a more prosaic place, we are living in a very new global marketplace where relationships with countries also mean jobs – jobs for our people, jobs for other people in the world – and it means building strength through economic growth and development, which brings with it a lot of the values that Americans stand up and promote and fight for.
So that’s really what Benghazi was about. It’s a tragedy, but I hate to see it turned into a pure, prolonged, political process that really doesn’t tell us anything new about the facts.
MS. MITCHELL: Secretary Kerry, thank you very much. You’ve raised and answered a lot of questions, but for our first question let’s go to Corrie.
MS. FRASIER: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, in the past year, you’ve talked about the fact that even small investments in foreign policy can pay real dividends to the American people. And I’m curious; what single investment do you see being most critical for the U.S. to make in the year ahead?
SECRETARY KERRY: What single investment? You mean on a global basis?
MS. FRASIER: Correct. In foreign policy.
SECRETARY KERRY: Oh my gosh, there really are so many. I mean, I’ll give you an example. I was in Afghanistan a few weeks ago – I think Andrea was there with me – and this young Foreign Service officer named Anne Smedinghoff, who lost her life only about a week later, was there helping to put together and promote an even with 10 women, 10 women each of whom have started multiple businesses, one of whom was owner and CEO and running a trucking company that is doing trucking business in all the surrounding countries around Afghanistan. And she started this, she owns it, she’s running it. And she stood up and told me, along with each of the other nine women, how much they depended on the United States as an example for what women can do and for what women can be in a society. They were doing this courageously, some of them at risk because we all know that women are not given the same kinds of opportunities in some parts of the world. But they believed that they were fighting – as a result of our efforts and initiative, they were fighting for the future Afghanistan, for women who will have opportunities as a result.
And I’ll give you an example. When we first came into Afghanistan, there were about a million kids, maybe slightly less than a million kids who were going to school; 98 percent of them were boys. Today, there are about 7 million children going to school in Afghanistan, and over 40 percent of them are women. That’s an extraordinary story, and America should be very, very proud of what it does in country after country to open the door of opportunity, to protect somebody’s human rights, to open up the reunion of a family by granting visas, by reaching out to people and giving them political asylum if they need it, by standing up and fighting for human rights for some lone dissenter who’s thrown into jail or perhaps tortured, and but for the attention of a Foreign Service officer from our embassy, no one would know they were there and might be killed with impunity.
So I think there are so many ways in which, for less than – for about 1 percent of our entire budget, a penny on the American dollar spent, we invest in everything that we do in foreign policy. I think it’s the best investment the United States gets, frankly.
MS. FRASIER: Thank you.
MS. MITCHELL: And now we want to go to Colonel Garcia, who, Mr. Secretary, you recall had two tours in Afghanistan, so he knows exactly what you’re talking about.
LTC GARCIA: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. My question is: During this period of fiscal austerity, how do you convince the American people that the interests – or correction, that the threats caused by foreign policy retrenchment are real and worth the current foreign policy investment to prevent these threats?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I hope, Colonel – and you understand this as well as anybody. I hope that everybody in America will simply take notice of what happens when you don’t pay attention to these challenges of terrorists growing and taking over countries and/or ungoverned spaces. The reason Usama bin Ladin was able to attack the United States is that he had free license that he bought in the country in which you went to fight and to represent America. He had the ability to work with impunity to plot against the United States of America. And we – that’s the reason we went to Afghanistan. And as a result of that, not only did we get Usama bin Ladin eventually in his hiding place in Pakistan, but we have really almost ended al-Qaida in Pakistan as a threat to the United States.
Now, there are al-Qaida in other places. There are terrorists in other places. And every society that is a civil society that has institutions of law and opportunity for people has found itself threatened by these extremists who know no boundaries. We’ve seen sarin gas used in the subways of Tokyo. We’ve seen bombs go off in the trains in London in the station or in Madrid. We’ve seen people who were killed recently by Hezbollah in Bulgaria riding a tourist bus, trying to just travel, to enjoy. And most recently, we saw what happens through radicalization in Boston, where a young man chose to bomb people in the marathon, or two young men did, but one certainly; there is evidence of some radicalization.
So if we simply ignore all of these signs of threat to the United States, we’re actually endangering the people of our country. It’s hard work; it’s expensive work. I tip my hat to you and those in the armed forces, but also to a lot of hidden people, a lot of FBI agents, a lot of customs personnel, a lot of border personnel, a lot of airport, homeland security people. Every day they are standing watch to protect Americans. And I happen to believe very deeply – I think President Obama shares this thought – that our efforts to try to prevent this from happening overseas and to try to reach these plots before they reach the shores of America will actually protect more Americans than choosing to ignore it.
And so that is what motivates us. And frankly, I think our law enforcement community, our homeland security people, all of our people on the front lines of American protection, have done an extraordinary job of allowing life to go on in America as unaltered as possible, obviously altered but as minimally invasive on our rights and privileges as Americans as is humanly possible.
MS. MITCHELL: Sarah Hill, I think you’ve got the next question. Thanks.
MS. HILL: Yeah, this also relates to a veteran’s issue, a little bit about what Lieutenant. Colonel Garcia said. And this question comes from a veteran. He asks, “Global health, education, and economic prosperity for foreign countries are certainly noble efforts, but what about the need for economic prosperity here at home? If we’re enabling foreign citizens to get jobs, why not focus that money instead on putting our veterans to work here at home?”
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m a veteran, and I’ll tell you, sir, I am very sensitive to the question. The first priority – and I emphasize this – the first priority is to take care of our veterans. The first priority is to put Americans to work. The first priority is obviously to bring our economy back to health as rapidly as we can.
But here’s the – it’s not a secret – here’s the reality of doing that. Every time we issue visas to people that travel to America through our people who are abroad, stationed in another country, issuing the visa, for every several thousand visas that are issued we create jobs in America. The truth is that we are in an interdependent global market nowadays. So it’s important for the United States to invest in some of these countries because it actually grows jobs at home.
Nobody is operating in an island today. You can’t just trade with yourself or work with yourself. And the more we develop the ability of some of these countries to avoid being a failed state, the less costly it is for the next generation of veterans. I guarantee you, if we ignore some of the places where we are investing today to prevent violence, to have people grow up with jobs, to be able to choose a different path – if we don’t do that, we’ll be sending another generation of Americans somewhere to clean it out when they attack us because of their developed hatred or taught ideology or religious extremism that comes home to attack the United States.
We didn’t do anything to Usama bin Ladin, but he attacked us. And there are many jihadists out there who view our way of life, our standard of living, our culture, our mores, our beliefs, as somehow an assault on them or a threat to them. And so they decide to simply take us on. And I believe that for the tiny percentage that we invest in these other places, we are actually investing in American jobs, we are investing in American security, and we are investing in future generations not having to go off and fight a war like Colonel Garcia did and so many others. And that will save us money in the long run.
MS. MITCHELL: Mr. Secretary, we’ve got Andrew White, who is a small businessman and business owner in New Hampshire. Andrew.
MR. WHITE: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. As a small business –
SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon.
MR. WHITE: Hi there. As a small business exporter, I am concerned about the relative cost of our goods in the global marketplace. Are there ways to incentivize small businesses for exporting goods and services that have been produced exclusively in the United States?
SECRETARY KERRY: Absolutely. We have something called the Ex-Im Bank. We have programs within the State Department. The Small Business Administration – actually, I used to be Chairman of the Small Business Committee in the Senate – will help small companies to be able to get online and be able to market their services or their products in other parts of the world.
A lot of people are intimidated by the idea, and they think that the only people who could go out and do trading with another country are big companies. But they’re wrong. There are loads of small, medium-sized businesses, homegrown businesses, where people deal with other countries and send their products overseas by using the internet. I mean, the internet is, as you know, an enormous equalizer, if you will, and it reduces costs. It reduces a lot of the costs of marketing, reduces a lot of the costs of sales, sales team, and so forth.
So there are lots of things that we can do. But we do have specific programs. People can go onto state.gov and come on and look at our website, or they can go just Google any particular export interest that they have, and you’ll find a whole slew of avenues by which you can engage with people who are doing this. And we have lots of ways of helping people. So you can either go to the Export-Import Bank, you can go to the Small Business Administration, you can come to the State Department. And we’d love to help people learn how they can actually engage in sales and transactions abroad right out of their house.
MR. WHITE: Excellent, thank you.
MS. MITCHELL: Thanks, Andrew. Thanks, Mr. Secretary. Emily McKhann, you’ve got a question for the Secretary.
MS. MCKHANN: Mr. Secretary, we have a question from our community of mothers. Here’s the question: We all know that people lead incredibly busy lives and have plenty to worry about here at home. What are the three most pressing global issues that impact average American families, and why should moms and their families care about them?
SECRETARY KERRY: Wow, that’s a biggie. That’s a great question. Well, moms, as we know, predominantly are the great caretakers in families, not exclusively anymore because life is changing, but I think overwhelmingly there is this profound concern about children, about how those kids are going to be raised and what their opportunities are going to be, and most of all, they’re going to be safe.
And I think an issue like environment/global climate change just leaps out at me as a profoundly important issue for future generations. If they’re breathing bad air, if there isn’t enough water, if the water’s bad, disease, all of these things become major threats, not to mention the fact that if we don’t respond adequately to the challenge of global climate change over the course of these next years, there will be people fighting wars over water and over land and agricultural land and other kinds of things. So I think that that is a major challenge of the future.
A second one obviously would be health and education, as they go sort of hand in hand, opening up opportunities to parents to be able to have all the knowledge they need to make the best decisions for their children with respect to health, healthcare, all of the family services issues that are so important, pediatrics, everything all the way up the line. I think we’ve done a great job of trying to export healthcare around the world, frankly. The State Department is deeply involved in the PEPFAR program that tries to prevent AIDS from being transmitted from mother to child in other parts of the world. And I think that if the United States can continue to be a leader with respect to that, we will be exporting our values in the best way possible and helping families to be able to make good choices.
And the final thing is really security. No mother, no parent, no father, no grandparent ever wants to bury their children. That’s just not the way it’s supposed to work. And I think that making sure that we don’t fight wars that aren’t necessary or that we prevent wars that might have been prevented or that we take actions to try to make sure that our children can grow up in a world which is not threatened by violence by running in a marathon and losing your life to a bomb – I think every family in America cares about our security. And that is a frontline concern of the State Department, and obviously, the Defense Department and of the President of the United States.
So I think those are three pretty big consequential choices that we get to make every single day.
MS. MITCHELL: Mr. Secretary, we only have about two and a half minutes left, but I want to give you a chance to report back on whether you think – in terms of preventing wars, whether you think after your meetings in Moscow that you can come up with a diplomatic solution with the Russians and prevent some kind of military engagement or us getting more involved militarily with Syria?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, if the political willpower is there and shared, and if people are prepared to compromise reasonably, there is a path forward to be able to have a peaceful solution in Syria. That requires a lot of different parties to sign up to those two principles I just enunciated. Whether they will or not, Andrea, is very, very difficult. I can’t tell you that. I can tell you that we all owe the world the best effort possible to try to get there and to explore, in good faith, whether or not we can end the violence, end the bloodshed, avoid a complete disintegration. And my judgment is that if we get to this meeting in Geneva, the arguments will be very clear to everybody as to who is prepared to be reasonable and who is not prepared to be reasonable.
There is no question in my mind that this fight is about the terrible choices that the Assad regime has made with its willingness to kill anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 of its own people now; to use gas, which we believe there is strong evidence of use of; to massacre people with Scud missiles and with artillery; and to really try to pretend this is somehow an outside affair, when really, it’s people in Syria fighting for a different future.
If people come to this table prepared to recognize that you could have a transitional government – which will not include President Assad, because the terms of the agreement of the first Geneva conference are that the transitional government has to be chosen by mutual consent, and obviously, the opposition will never consent to Assad – but if you’re willing to compromise in the choosing of the people who will run that transitional government and you choose in good faith people who are prepared to put in front of the people of Syria a fair choice about who their leader ought to be, then I believe you could avoid war and you could have a settlement. But it’s not an easy path, but it is a path that we are, I think, obligated as a matter of conscience to try to go down.
MS. MITCHELL: Secretary Kerry, I know we’re out of time. I want to thank you for all the work you’re doing on this and for taking the time to talk to all of us and to be on Google+ on this hangout. Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you so much, Andrea. Thanks for doing – thanks, everybody, for being here. It was good fun. I wish we had more time.
PARTICIPANT: Thank you very much.
PARTICIPANT: Thank you.
PARTICIPANT: Thank you.
PARTICIPANT: Have a good day.
SECRETARY KERRY: Take care of yourselves. Thank you all. Take care.
PARTICIPANT: Thank you.
PARTICIPANT: You too.
MS. MITCHELL: Thank you, guys.
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