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Exit Memo From Secretary Kerry to President Obama
January 5, 2017

Secretary’s Remarks: Exit Memo From Secretary Kerry to President Obama


John Kerry
Secretary of State
Cabinet Exit Memo
Washington, DC
January 5, 2017

Exit Memo From Secretary Kerry to President Obama

The United States is more secure, more respected, and more engaged in the world than we were when President Obama took office eight years ago. We have brought the international community together to confront the most serious challenges we face and to seize the most significant opportunities that will shape our future. There is much more work to be done, but I am confident if the United States wisely invests our time, talent, and resources in global affairs, we will remain the indispensable nation that we are today.

After serving in public life for nearly four decades, I am aware that there are few more reliable – or damaging – applause lines than promising to slash the budgets of the State Department and USAID and “spend the money at home.” Good applause lines don’t always make good policy. We need to do a better job of making the case for recognizing how the relatively modest investments we make in diplomacy and development now can improve the world and enhance our own security for generations to come. The richest economy in the world cannot be content on putting only one penny on the dollar into this effort.

It is equally true that the United States cannot be strong abroad if we are not strong at home. I would put our democratic system, our vibrant economy, our respect for human rights, our system of justice, and our freedom of the press up against anyone else’s in the world. I am often reminded during my travels overseas how lucky we are here in the United States, but I am also reminded of the awesome responsibility – and the opportunity – we have to improve people’s lives in our own country as well. We cannot forget that everything we do to perfect our own union, and to live those values here at home, promotes those ideals overseas.

Despite the problems we face in the world, I firmly believe that we should look to the future with every ounce of the optimism that has always inspired and energized our nation. I’m not going to say that we’ve solved every problem. But I do know that American leadership has a lot to do with the fact that – worldwide – a child born today is more likely than ever before to be born healthy, more likely to be adequately fed, more likely to get the necessary vaccinations, more likely to attend school, and more likely to live a long and prosperous life. Compared to just 20 years ago, we have cut in half the number of mothers who die during childbirth and the number of infants who perish because of malnutrition. We’ve vastly expanded access to education for boys and girls. We’ve driven extreme poverty below 10 percent for the first time in history. There are still wars to end, diseases to cure, children to educate, and freedoms to promote and protect. But I remain an optimist and a believer in persistent American leadership and diplomacy – active, assertive, astute diplomacy.

American greatness is a fact but not an entitlement. It cannot be taken for granted. It must be demonstrated and earned by every generation. It demands the best from us, and the best within us. The world will be watching to see whether we – the American people – remain up to that challenge. There is not a scintilla of doubt in my mind that the answer is yes, but we will have to work at it, together, and make the investments that leaders have a responsibility to make.

Today’s State Department is a rewarding place to work because we have a unique country to represent, great things to accomplish, and a matchless set of colleagues by our side. I will always be grateful for the incredible opportunity I have been given to serve – it’s been the honor of my life. I send President Obama’s successor, and mine, all the best wishes as they embark on what will be a truly extraordinary journey representing the greatest country on earth.