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Menendez Opening Remarks at Hearing on State Fragility, Growth and Development

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s hearing titled “State Fragility, Growth and Development: Designing Policy Approaches That Work.” The Senator started his remarks by addressing President Trump’s firing via Twitter of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the subsequent dismissal of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein.

“Before I turn to my prepared remarks and hear from our distinguished witness. I would be remiss not to acknowledge the President’s unceremonious dismissal of his top diplomat this morning via twitter.

“This hearing focuses on fragile states and the importance of strong governing institutions that respect the rule of law. Well, perhaps we need to look inward.  The foreign policy of the current administration has been marked by chaos, by undermining the very idea of diplomacy, and turning away from those values that have made the United States a vibrant, prosperous democracy driven by the rule of law.

“While I have certainly had my differences with the Secretary, this is just the latest action by a Commander in Chief who fundamentally does not understand the importance of diplomacy, of development, of career public servants who dedicate their lives to promoting American interests abroad.

“I am also deeply troubled by the dismissal of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein, reportedly after he posted a statement indicating the Secretary was not aware of the reasons he had been fired. This leaves the Department with NO confirmed or empowered Under Secretaries. And at a time when the President is presenting a confusing and erratic foreign policy, this is no time to fire the person responsible for our public diplomacy efforts.

“Looking forward, I hope we find a Secretary of State who will be the empowered voice of the United States, committed to promoting core American values and interests. 

“Thank you, Prime Minister Cameron, it’s an honor to have you before the Committee today to share your perspective on fragile states and discuss how we can develop strategic policies to address fragile states and the failure of states to govern effectively.

“Broadly speaking, we define states as fragile when their governing institutions are weak; do not effectively or equally represent, protect, or advocate for all their people and experience high poverty and income inequality. They are less capable of responding effectively to conflict and shocks from natural disaster, and their citizens are often more susceptible to radicalization. Examining instability around the world indicates fragile states are increasingly responsible for the conflict and misery we see across the globe.

“If the United States does not advance smart policies and invest wisely in good governance, meaningful development, humanitarian, and appropriate security assistance, we will feel the impact here at home.  Fragility breeds instability which often spills over artificially constructed borders. Terrorism, infectious disease, mass migration and climate change – these do not respect national borders, even walls cannot keep them out.

“Fundamentally, the United States must use all of its tools –diplomacy, development and defense – in a selective, strategic and sustained effort to address those fragile states. This Administration’s incoherent approach to foreign policy threatens to make these problems even worse.  Instead of mobilizing resources to address fragile states and other challenges, President Trump is gutting America’s diplomatic and development institutions, as well as critical personnel.

“This Administration has proposed a cut of over thirty percent to the State Department and USAID budgets, failed to appoint critical personnel, and imposed illogical hiring and promotion freezes; devastating critical US national security tools,.

“We cannot effectively confront these challenges and promote our interests without the right tools. This Administration’s proposed budget would decimate our investments into programs and institutions that directly support efforts to support fragile states, and result in severe damage to any US effort to address fragile states.

“Today, an estimated 1.2 billion people live in countries plagued by conflict, poverty and increasingly violent extremism.  More than 70 million people have been driven from their homes by violence, living as refugees or internally displaced.

“Many Americans justifiably ask why they should care about war or famine in far-flung, hard to pronounce places when we have very real concerns here at home. But economic development into fragile states, support for refugees, contributions to peacekeeping missions all are not charity operations.

“We live in an interconnected world where instability and conflict anywhere directly affects the safety, security, and prosperity of the United States and the American people.

“The United States, working with the international community, can and must do better to take seriously the profound challenges fragile states pose. We must address the deeper drivers of fragility and instability, including a lack of credible, transparent, and accountable government institutions, failing economies, and weak educational systems which leave people susceptible to violent ideologies.

“Focusing on preventing conflict and building resiliency ultimately reduces the risk of instability creeping further, destabilizing more broadly, and the need for more costly – both in financial and most importantly human – responses.   

“To do that successfully, we must have programs and policies that facilitate more capacity for governments to enable their people to speak their mind and have a say in how they are governed. Governments that create confidence in the rule of law and equal administration of justice, governments that are transparent and don’t steal from their people, and governments that respect universally accepted human rights.

“We cannot do this alone. Bilateral support from the United States is critical, but we must also work alongside partner countries, the United Nations, and multilateral institutions like the World Bank if we are to have a sustainable impact.

“We need experienced, skilled, humane leadership to address the enormous challenges fragile states pose. Regrettably, this is not the kind of leadership we have from the White House nor the values reflected in its budget. 

“It is in our strategic interest – to say nothing of a moral imperative – to wisely support those people all over the world yearning for stable, prosperous lives for themselves, their children and their communities and to work with countries to build resilient, responsive governing capacities.

“Thank you, Prime Minster Cameron, for your continued focus on these critical issues and for being here today. I look forward to hearing your views.”