Thank you, thank you. It’s great to be with you. Thank you all for settling. It’s a tough act to follow, Ambassador Tai. Craft beer tour and bison. I did not make it rain eight inches anywhere. She’s a great public servant and a great representative of the government. I see a number of familiar faces here in the room and it’s really wonderful to be here with you. I appreciate all the leadership this organization has done to elevate diplomacy and to really remind people the role that we play in U.S. national security.
I’ve been in my job as Deputy Secretary for about 10 weeks now. At some point I will stop counting the number of weeks and days. In ten weeks, I’ve been to ten countries. I’ve seen our teams hard at work in Ukraine and Poland, Moldova and Romania. I’ve traveled to Africa and the Western Indian Ocean. I’ve traveled to New York to meet our team at the UN. Let’s just say the re-orientation program at the State Department still needs a little bit of work. The pace can be a bit dizzying. The slow ramp-up and study periods that I’d been promised never really materialized. And that’s ok, because it is an incredible honor to be back at the Department, and to be able to help lead our critical missions around the world.
As was mentioned, this is my third tour at the State Department. I was previously the U.S. Ambassador to India and Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, which is a really hard job when your boss is a former Senator. But each time, and especially this time, I’ve realized how lucky I am, and how fortunate the country is, to have such an amazing group of civil and foreign service professionals, along with our locally employed staff, advancing our interests around the world.
For this summit and for this organization, “American Foreign Policy Starts at Home” – this is a powerful theme and a critically important mission.
You probably know this theme has been at the heart of the President’s approach to foreign policy from the start of the administration. Frankly, it’s been his approach since I first met him 22 years ago when he was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The basic idea is to eliminate the dividing line between our domestic and foreign policy, and to ensure that our approach to each is integrated, and complimentary. So, it’s no surprise that the President’s National Security Strategy released last October spends considerable time focused on the need to build, to compete, and to invest here at home in our people and in our societies, in order to shape and to continue to help lead the international system. The Strategy rightfully asserts: “The United States is strong abroad….because we are strong here at home.” And every day, our work is motivated by a simple principle: to make the lives of the American people, at home and around the world, safer, more secure, healthier, and more prosperous.
Now for some of us, this focus on foreign policy starting at home is quite personal and literal—a message that echoes through stories of where we came from…of what makes this nation so extraordinary and exceptional…of what binds us together as professionals and policymakers, as activists and advocates, as students and citizens.
Now my own family’s story started on foreign soil, in a home thousands of miles away. My parents fought for Indian independence and helped build a post-colonial India, before deciding to bravely set out for the United States 60 years ago, in pursuit of a better life for their children. My dad tells a great immigrant story of landing in New York City with nothing but $14 dollars and a bus ticket. He’s told that story so many times; sometimes he’s got $22, sometimes he’s got $14 — the point is, they had virtually nothing to their name.
But they held a sincere hope in their hearts: that they would be coming to a place that lived up to its billing overseas —a place renowned for a sense of possibility; a deep faith in freedom; the ideals of democracy; by the powerful vision of today being better than yesterday, and tomorrow being even better than today.
That I stand before you right now, in midst of Immigrant Heritage Month, as one of the highest-ranking officials at the State Department is a reminder that my parents were right. It’s a testament to the profound promise of the American dream. And for these enormous opportunities, I will be forever grateful.
My family and I would go on to settle in Western Pennsylvania in 1971, and that’s where I would grow up, graduating from high school in 1986. You can all do the math now on how old I am. I will say, the Western Pennsylvania of 1971, with full employment and booming industries, was quite different than the Western PA of the mid- to late-‘80s. So many of those industrial jobs disappeared and the core pillars of the manufacturing economy were crumbling around us. The tech jobs that were promised? Those never arrived. For a region that had built the great buildings and infrastructure of America, that had fought for it on the battlefield and given so much….for a region that had given its all….it was now left behind. Globalization accentuated the divide. And the promised benefits of trickle-down economics … well, those never trickled-down anywhere near our community.
So, for me, this is a very powerful and vivid life lesson. If we want our foreign policy to be embraced, supported, and advanced by the American people, we have to demonstrate that it works for them. That we’ve heard their concerns. That we have done our part to engage the international system in a way that advances their interests – my friends from Johnstown – and for people across the country. And I believe we are now doing that.
So let me mention three specific ways that our foreign policy is serving those ideals.
First, we are investing here at home like never before with unprecedented commitments – because, again, we know that our domestic renewal and strength empowers us on the world stage. The $1 trillion infrastructure bill of 2021 will create 1.5 million jobs annually for the next 10 years. Last year’s CHIPS and Science Act provides some $280 billion to greatly expand our research and development of semiconductors here at home – and provides hundreds of millions for the Department I now help lead. And the Inflation Reduction Act guarantees the single largest investment into climate and clean energy in U.S. history. These programs are in addition to the new investments in health, education, veteran’s programs, and so much more.
We’ve also invested in our State Department after years of budget cuts and losses of personnel. For the past two fiscal years, the State Department has grown with both budget and personnel. And this year, we were pleased to welcome the largest incoming class of new foreign service officers – more than we’ve ever had. And we continued to set out on an aggressive modernization agenda to ensure we are fit for purpose, and aligned to tackle the challenges of today, not yesterday. That’s why we have a new Cyber Bureau, a new China House focused on a comprehensive approach to competing with China, we have significant new commitments to climate, and we’ve recently set up a new Global Health Bureau.
We are grateful to our close partnership with Congress and our other partners across the executive branch for making this happen, but we have more work to do. But these investments do matter – and they will allow us to approach our foreign policy challenges from a position of strength; with a predilection for engagement, not withdrawal; and for shaping the international order—not simply reacting to the world’s events.
And we’ve done just that – reinvigorating our alliances and partnerships; building new constructs for new powers, such as AUKUS, our new partnership with Australia and the UK focused on the Indo-Pacific; the QUAD, which brings us together with Japan, India, and Australia; and I2U2, an important new partnership with a funny name that stitches together our important relationships with Israel, the UAE, and India.
We held the first ever Africa Leader’s Summit; two summits for democracy; a gathering and commitment in Los Angeles to tackle the challenges of this hemisphere; and of course, we’ve doubled down on our commitments to treaty allies, including our NATO Allies. And we’ve reinvigorated our approach to foreign assistance and economic development, mobilizing the international financial institutions, our aid agencies and the private sector to work together on strategic priorities like never before.
We have more to do….but if this is truly an inflection point in international system as the President says it is….then the work we do over the next two years can and will shape the next two decades and beyond. So there is no time to lose, and that’s why we are all working so aggressively to make real and demonstrable progress for the American people.
That was the first point. Second, we are squarely focused on the geopolitical and transnational threats that challenge the safety, security, and prosperity of the American people and our partners.
Oftentimes, it’s tough to wrap our heads around how much is happening worldwide on any given day.
From war, to climate, civil conflicts, terrorism and rising threats, cyberattacks, irregular migration, economic pitfalls, and so much more—the litany of issues before us is too lengthy to list here, and that’s why you’re all going to meet for the next three days to discuss all of these issues, and that will only scratch the surface.
These matters on the international scene impact Americans on the domestic stage. Whether it’s the cost of gas at the pump, the price of food at the store, the quality of the air that we breathe or the water that we drink: all of it is connected to challenges beyond our borders. All of it requires us to invest in a course of diplomacy, cooperation, collaboration, and coordination with partners and allies everywhere.
The clearest example of what this looks like began on February 24, 2022, when Russia launched its brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
In the face of this unnecessary and unmitigated terror, we rallied NATO and the world around the cause of Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and freedom to choose its own destiny.
In the time since, we have dedicated immense resources to supporting the extraordinary people and leaders of Ukraine—true definitions of courage and sacrifice—bravery that I saw firsthand when I traveled there this spring for my first international trip as Deputy Secretary.
Putin made a decision that’s brought too much loss to too many families. His horrific war has been a strategic failure, as Secretary Blinken laid out in some detail earlier this month in Helsinki. And it remains a moral challenge for us and for the world.
But we will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. And we must, because we all have a stake in the outcome.
The same goes for so many questions and challenges before us, including with regard to China.
The PRC remains the only country on the planet with the means and, increasingly, the intent to reshape the rules-based international order.
It is, as some have said, the pacing geopolitical challenge of the 21st century…a challenge that spans the realms of economic and national security. And our approach is clear:
We are investing in our own infrastructure, industrial base, and our most precious commodity: our human capital, the American people.
We are aligning our resources and policies with our allies and partners to ensure a united front against any threats to global norms.
We are using that foundation to compete with the PRC across the board.
Yet we are also finding ways to work together on issues that none of us can tackle alone – whether that’s the climate crisis or narcotics trafficking or food security or public health.
Meanwhile, and closer to home, we are seeing a nearly unprecedented moment of human migration, especially in the Western Hemisphere, with some 20 million people on the move. If we needed any reminders, we can probably turn on cable news or fire up our Twitter feeds to find images and stories of the complexities at our own borders any day of the week.
Down the line, plenty of books will be written about what factors are fueling this trend of irregular migration, but across our Administration, we are focused in real-time on reasonable solutions.
We are trying to address the root causes of unlawful migration while opening humane pathways to legal immigration.
We are working closely with countries throughout the Americas—and civil society within those countries—to improve economic opportunities on the ground, to root out corruption, to strengthen public safety, to give individuals a reason to avoid a treacherous journey.
And we are providing humanitarian aid to support the children, the families, the most vulnerable who, like my own family six decades ago, are simply searching for a better life.
From migration to climate change, to global health pandemics, to food insecurity; yes, the challenges are immense, but we should also not forget the opportunities are unprecedented as well. More people are being lifted from poverty than ever before; more are being educated than ever before; and more development and modernization continues across regions that were once left behind. But we have to be out aggressively working with allies and partners, and with like-minded nations to find solutions to today’s challenges; to shape the rules of the road in a way that is fair and transparent; and to create new opportunities and discoveries and innovations for generations to come. That is the promise of today which I so strongly believe in, and which keeps me even more energized about the role America and Americans can play in the role today.
And that leads me to my third and final point, and that is about your State Department and the role that it is playing.
Indeed, these extraordinary public servants, at our headquarters in D.C. or at our posts across the globe, give meaning to the idea that foreign policy starts at home.
It’s not the stuff of headlines or breaking news or a new Netflix series, no matter how entertaining or fictional. But I see these notions play out in the often quiet, rarely riveting, but always vital efforts of America’s real-life diplomats each day.
Understanding, defining, and helping shape who we are is a central part of my portfolio as Deputy Secretary.
We are diplomats, foreign and civil service officers, locally employed staff, who learn and speak different languages, who study and understand and engage with different cultures, who develop relationships, invest in faraway markets, and promote human dignity and human rights wherever we go.
We are a workforce that’s dynamic and diverse—a team that’s focused year-round on the dictates of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, not as a catchphrase, but as a living, breathing priority.
That means building and supporting a workforce that reflects the people we serve and represent.
That means placing the rights of marginalized communities – religious minorities, women and girls, and LGBTQI+ persons – at the heart of our agenda, even and especially in places where those voices have often been shut out.
We are a Department that’s determined to modernize how we do our jobs.
That’s who we are: a collection of leaders stepping forward to tackle the biggest problems we face today. And for those young people in the audience, or for those that maybe aren’t so young, we hope you will think about joining our ranks.
A few weeks ago, I traveled to three nations that a lot of us probably could not find on a map: Mauritius, Seychelles, and Comoros.
I was the highest-ranking U.S. official to land in these destinations in more than two decades, and in one case, ever.
I got to open a new embassy in Seychelles and broke ground on another in Mauritius. I had the opportunity to hear from leaders on what’s happening both on the African continent and across the Indian Ocean region. I had the chance to talk to people in the public who deeply appreciated us for just for showing up.
It was a remarkable experience, but not because I got to be there on that historic journey. It was important because of what it meant:
That America cares.
That America is present.
That America is engaged.
That American investment pays dividends in the form of stronger markets and stronger communities.
That American diplomacy counts.
That American leadership makes a difference.
That American values—ideals we share with nations and people worldwide…the principles of democracy, freedom, justice, and the rule of law…values too often under threat today—that they are still the building blocks of a better future for all.
That our foreign policy—how America leads, projects, and engages worldwide—matters to people in both villages abroad and communities in our own backyard.
That while imperfect and incomplete, America, at its best, can improve lives and strengthen the forces of democracy and justice the world over, as long as people of conscience, commitment, compassion, and courage are willing to do the hard work of diplomacy and leadership.
Those are the values that my parents and so many others believed in when they decided to come here, settle here, and make their lives here. And for my friends in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, I can commit to you that I will not forget the important lessons that were imparted to me about the backbone of America, and how we can all help support it through our work. A foreign policy that begins at home.
So thank you for doing your part, and thank you for inviting me to join you today.