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Kerry Exit Memo: 'American Greatness Is a Fact But Not an Entitlement'

Image via Shutterstock, the Hanukkah menorah.

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry said in his “exit memo” to President Obama that the American people are challenged to maintain American greatness, including investments in diplomacy and global development.

Obama requested the memos from all department heads in the final days of his presidency to offer “a detailed report on the progress we’ve made across the board these past eight years, and the work that remains to make this country we love even stronger.”

“I hope you’ll share them with others, and do your part to build on the progress we’ve made across the board,” Obama said today in a letter to the American people.

Kerry began his memo by asserting 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,” he said. “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.”

Kerry added that the United States has an “awesome responsibility” and “opportunity” 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,” he said.

American leadership, the secretary stressed, “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,” he said. “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.”

Kerry added that “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,” he continued. “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.”