Capital News Service

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is requesting $50.1 billion in next year’s budget to fund a foreign policy that Secretary of State John Kerry has characterized as U.S. global engagement “in arena after arena.”

The State Department’s budget request aims to protect Americans at home and abroad, as well as promote prosperity, better health and economic development in other countries, according to the agency’s blueprint covering the last months of President Barack Obama’s presidency and about three-quarters of his successor’s first year in the White House.

“The success of our leadership on terrorism and other security threats is linked to whether or not America is leading the fight to protect what we care about,” Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a Feb. 23 hearing. “And the truth is, we are in arena after arena. In all the years I sat on this committee, I never saw us having to deal with quite as many fronts, quite as many challenges as we are today.”

One of those challenges and the most widely discussed issue at the hearing was the war in Syria and what steps the United States was taking to bring an end to the conflict.

Kerry stated that the United States, Russia, and Iran all agreed on the Syrian people’s right to choose their leadership and their future. The three nations also agree that an internationally monitored election should take place. The issue is that there are disagreements on how to get to that point, mainly if President Bashar-al Assad should be involved.

“There seems to be a fundamental disagreement between the United States and Russia as to the future of President Assad,” said Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the senior Democrat on the panel. “It’s been silence as to the accountability of the Assad regime for its war crimes and a lot of us are determined that, when leaders commit war crimes, they must be held accountable for their actions.”

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. and chairman of the committee, accused Russia of fueling the refugee crisis to create instability in Europe.

“I don’t think I’ve seen Europe so unsettled ever in my lifetime. I think their confidence is at an all-time low,” Corker said. “I think they are concerned about what Russia is doing to destabilize the area using refugees as a weapon of war.”

Russia and Iran believe that the people should decide whether Assad should be allowed to run in the elections, according to Kerry. He stated that there was absolutely no way the opposition would ever accept Assad running for office.

“People don’t see how someone who has gassed his own people, driven so many into refugee status and displaced, tortured them, starved them, barrel bombed them…how he somehow is going to be the glue that brings the place back together is beyond everybody’s understanding,” Kerry said.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said that the opposition is in a situation where it doesn’t have the upper hand and that it is going to have to accept that Assad is not going anywhere as long as he has Russia’s backing.

“I think if you were to think about it, the whole disaster of this war and the mass migration and the killing and all that is going on, if you could accept the end to the war with an election in a year, and Assad might or might not run in a year, that to me is a victory to end the war,” said Paul, who until recently was a presidential candidate.

Kerry asked whether it was worth “destroying an entire country and a region over one man who simply thinks his being there is more important than anything else.”

“The question is whether or not in the course of this process, people will come to their senses and understand,” Kerry said. “I mean four words could end this war: ‘I will not run.’”

Paul expressed concern about the massive debt the United States is accumulating and said borrowing money “from China to send to Pakistan” defies common sense. He made reference to a media report about the theft of U.S. foreign aid by other countries.

“I don’t think I’ll convince you, but the American people are convinced that we don’t have the money to be sending money all around the world when our infrastructure here is falling down. Our country is struggling,” Paul said. “We just simply don’t have the money; it makes no sense to borrow it.”

Kerry agreed that money has been stolen and that it is the State Department’s responsibility to identify the problems and ensure that it never happens again. He also insisted that the United State’s involvement with the development of other countries makes a huge difference.

In his State of the Union address, Obama emphasized the need for a smarter approach to the U.S. position in the world. Obama stated the assistance lent to countries in need should not be seen as just charity, but as part of this country’s national security.

“Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right,” he said.

Kerry said that many developing countries have populations that are on average about 60 percent under the ages of 30 to 35.

“If they don’t get educated and if they don’t get job opportunities in this world in which everybody is connected and knows what everybody has and doesn’t have, then I fear the evil that will fill their heads and the way in which they could get co-opted into enterprises and efforts that are very very dangerous for all of us,” Kerry said.

He said that it is the United States’ responsibility to eliminate this national security threat both for its own sake and that of U.S. allies.

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Alexandra Pamias is a beat reporter in the Capital News Service Washington, D.C., bureau covering foreign policy and politics. She previously interned at Street Sense. Email her at