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US foreign policy should put America first

Secretary of State John Kerry walked to the dais during Northeastern University's commencement on Friday. Michael Dwyer/AP

John Kerry’s commencement speech at Northeastern University last week is getting a lot of attention for its jabs at presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“We will never come out on top if we accept advice from soundbite salesmen and carnival barkers who pretend the most powerful country on Earth can remain great by looking inward and hiding behind walls,” Kerry told the graduating seniors, as he warned about the dangers of what he called “isolationism.”

But in his attempt to take a shot at the Republican candidate for president, Kerry instead exposed the very foreign policy views of the current administration that Trump is using to successfully pull voters over to his side with his slogan, “Make America Great Again.”


For the past eight years, the Obama administration — first with Hillary Clinton and now with Kerry at its foreign policy helm — has tried to convince people that the only alternative to isolationism is globalism. But that is a false choice. There is a third alternative: a foreign policy that focuses on building our strength as a nation first so that we can be a better leader for the rest of the world.

To the Obama administration, globalism means that the United States should not stand out among other nations, but should blend seamlessly with the rest of the world. American power and authority is viewed with skepticism and a sense of embarrassment. Obama himself spent much of his early administration apologizing for America’s self-serving role in world affairs, and has spent much of the latter part of his presidency applying American influence to push objectives that are primarily global in nature, like climate change.

Saving the world is a noble endeavor, but it should not come at our own expense. The primary objective of American foreign policy traditionally has been, and always should be, the promotion of American self-interest first. America’s leaders should always seek ways to bring the interests of our nation and the world together. But, they also must show the courage to act independently and for America’s sake if, as and when trouble arises. Obama, Clinton and Kerry collectively lack this courage and this passion.


The Obama administration has sat by idly and watched as Vladimir Putin rattles his saber, invading foreign lands and buzzing American warplanes. China has built man-made island outposts for its military in the middle of the ocean with impunity. North Korea is test-firing missiles with little response from the United States. Obama and Kerry heralded the signing of a nuclear deal with Iran, despite the kidnapping of American sailors by the Iranians just before the agreement went into effect. Kerry tried to frame the relatively quick release of the captive sailors as a sign of improved relations with Iran, as if it were a foreign policy achievement instead of an embarrassment.

The most recent US jobs report shows the biggest slowdown in hiring in three years here at home, yet Kerry wants Northeastern graduates to focus on the “millions of young people across the globe with no jobs [and] no opportunity.” He says even unemployment must be thought of globally: “Our mission – your mission – is to create jobs not just in a few places but in many places.”

This is not an American foreign policy to be proud of.


Kerry, Obama, and Clinton frame Trump’s “Make America Great Again” platform as the basis for a battle between liberals and conservatives. But putting America first so that it can be a stronger leader for the world should be a bipartisan goal.

Meredith Warren is a Republican political analyst and consultant.