Speaking at the University of Virginia
February 20, 2013
In the last decade, thanks in large part to the work of USAID, our exports to Vietnam increased by more than 700 percent. Every one of those percentage points are jobs here in America. And in the last two decades, a thousand Vietnamese students and scholars have studied and taught in America through the Fulbright program, including the Foreign Minister of Vietnam, who I just talked to the other day and who, believe me, has feelings about America because of that engagement.
The list goes on. As the emerging middle class in India, the world’s largest democracy, buys our products, that means jobs and income for our own middle class. As our traditional assistance to Brazil decreases, trade there is increasing. Brazil is one of the new tigers growing at a double-digit pace, and it supports additional jobs here at home, many in the U.S. travel and tourism industry.
When Jefferson expanded our consular posts precisely to promote trade, he never could have imagined the importance today. Nor could he have predicted the number of Americans abroad that we help with their passports, with visas, with other problems that arise. Or that we help offer, to those who want to grow their families through adoption, or who find themselves in legal trouble or distress far from home. Or the role our diplomats play, screening potential security threats and taking them off the radar screen before they ever reach your consciousness, potentially in the worst ways. Or that we create a new American job for every 65 visitors that we help to bring to our shores.
So, my friends, we have to keep going. We can’t afford the kind of delay and disruption that stands on the horizon in Washington. The exciting new trade negotiation that President Obama announced last week between the United States and the European Union will create the world’s biggest bilateral deal when it comes to fruition, a transatlantic partnership that will match the scope and ambition of our Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.
But our work is far from over. Seven of the ten fastest growing countries are on the African continent. And China, understanding that, is already investing more than we do there. Four of the five biggest oil and natural gas discoveries happened off the coast of Mozambique last year alone. Developing economies are the epicenters of growth, and they are open for business, and the United States needs to be at that table.
If we want a new list of assistance graduates, countries that used to take our aid but now buy our exports, we can’t afford to pull back. And if we’re going to seize this budget crisis as the great opportunity that it can be, we can’t shy away from telling this story to the American people, to your members of Congress, and to the world.
But let me emphasize: Jobs and trade are not the whole story, and nor should they be. The good work of the State Department, of USAID, is measured not only in the value of the dollar, but it’s also measured in our deepest values. We value security and stability in other parts of the world, knowing that failed states are among our greatest security threats, and new partners are our greatest assets.
The investments that we make support our efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism wherever it flourishes. And we will continue to help countries provide their own security, use diplomacy where possible, and support those allies who take the fight to terrorists.
And remember – boy, I can’t emphasize this enough; I’m looking at a soldier here in front of me with a ribbon on his chest – deploying diplomats today is much cheaper than deploying troops tomorrow. We need to remember that. (Applause.) As Senator Lindsey Graham said, “It’s national security insurance that we’re buying.”
Now, it sounds expensive, my friends, but simple bottom line, it’s not. The State Department’s conflict stabilization budget is about $60 million a year now. That’s how much the movie “The Avengers” took in on a single Sunday last May. (Laughter.) The difference is the folks that we have on the ground doing this job are actually real superheroes.
We value human rights, and we need to tell the story of America’s good work there, too. We know that the most effective way to promote the universal rights of all people, rights and religious freedom, is not from the podium, not from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s from the front lines – wherever freedom and basic human dignity are denied. And that’s what Tim Kaine understood when he went to Honduras.