Our Effort to #EngageAmerica on Foreign Policy

John Kerry delivered a simple message in his first public speech as Secretary of State at the University of Virginia: “There is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy.” He has reiterated this theme time and time again underscoring that, “more than ever before, the decisions that we make from the safety of our shores don’t just ripple outward;they also create a current right here in America.”

That is the driving force behind Engage America, a State Department public outreach initiative that strives to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the American public about the important value of diplomacy and its tangible impact on their lives right here at home. Supporting the notion that the best foreign policy starts with making it less foreign, Secretary Kerry has called for U.S. diplomats and State Department leadership to actively engage Americans in communities throughout the country, and, more importantly to share the story of America and its diplomacy.

Secretary Kerry did just that when he met last week with Americans in communities on both coasts to discuss critical U.S. diplomatic initiatives and the value of diversity in international service. Following a long journey to the Middle East and Asia, the Secretary visited Los Angeles, California to speak about national security opportunities of the Trans-Pacific partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) with members of the Pacific Council for International Policy. Several days later, Secretary Kerry traveled to South Florida to meet with leaders of the Cuban-American community and to speak to students at Miami Dade Honors College.

State Department officials are following Secretary Kerry’s lead and hitting the road to meet with Americans in their communities to seek their collaboration as we grapple with climate change, nuclear policy, violent extremism, promoting human rights and democracy, the world refugee crisis, advancing the status of women and girls, and other global challenges. They are traveling to the “heartland” and speaking to Americans at town halls, high schools and universities, businesses and other forums to make the connection between how our work abroad benefits Americans and the communities in which they live. Our officials are striving to impart to Americans that while funding for the State Department only accounts for one percent of the federal budget, it earns Americans an enormous return on their investment in terms of jobs, education, entrepreneurship, travel, tourism,security and robust trade and investment right here in America.

In recent months, senior Department leadership has traveled widely throughout the nation. Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken traveled to California on several occasions to meet with technology industry leaders, global innovators and students, while Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel visited Cambridge, Massachusetts to engage with American students at the FDR Foundation and Harvard University. At the same time, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Sarah Sewall spent time in California and Colorado to engage citizens at the University of California-Berkeley, Stanford University and the University of Denver. Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller has traveled across the United States from Alaska to Utah, to Mississippi to New Hampshire, to meet with community groups and students. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell spoke to students at Brown University and traveled to California to meet with business leaders in San Francisco and women in Los Angeles, while Special Envoy for the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons Randy Berry engaged business leaders, policy makers and members of academia in New York City.

I am grateful to be able to talk regularly with the American public and state and local elected officials about how diplomacy has a direct impact on their lives. Just recently, I visited the University of Southern California and Morehouse College to highlight the global challenges of the 21st century and the importance of diversity in international service. 

These experiences confirm for me that diplomacy is a two-way dialogue. We are counting on Americans to be an integral part of Engage America because their ideas are critical to the success of our diplomats as they engage on the world stage to make life better here at home.

About the Author: Karen Richardson currently serves as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for  the Bureau of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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Posted by Karen Richardson
April 21, 2016


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