Washington—Representative Gregory W. Meeks, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on navigating U.S. foreign policy through tumultuous times and addressing systemic challenges:
"Today marks the first House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing under the 117th Congress - It is also my first hearing as Chair of this committee, and it is an incredible honor to serve alongside all of you, one of the most talented committees in the United States Congress. I look forward to working constructively with Ranking Member McCaul. We have some work to do. The title of today’s hearing, America Forward - Restoring Diplomacy and Development in a Fracturing World - encapsulates a principle mission of this body.
"America is back at the table, but this cannot simply be a return to normal. The world did not freeze in place under the absence of American leadership. We do not find the world as we left it. A cascade of global challenges has disproven any notion that America can go it alone; or that any nation can hide behind its borders. The world is more interconnected than it has ever been. It is no longer a question of if we should engage with the world, but how we should engage.
"If the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated anything, it is that some of the most pressing of today’s challenges are global, and our response to those challenges must also be global. Once in a generation storms are becoming regular, resources will become more scarce, supply chains will be disrupted, populations displaced, and, in turn, conflicts will erupt.
"Multilateral engagement is critical - and the United States must lead in galvanizing coalitions wherever needed. However, we cannot assume that our return will be universally welcomed. In the absence of United States leadership, we’ve witnessed a rush to fill the void we had left behind - exhibit A: China. Conversely, we have witnessed strongmen exploit that vacuum, taking this opportunity to dismantle democratic institutions and commit human rights abuses. Think of Belarus.
"Those who’ve stood to gain from the fracturing of global institutions and alliances will not willingly cede ground. They will point to our own failings, our systemic racial injustices and inequalities, and the insurrection of January 6th that was watched around the world.
"Those who try to hold up our imperfections though, fail to recognize our true strength. Sitting here today as the first African American Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I am mindful of that checkered history. Jim Crow is in my living memory. I have seen, with my own eyes, “whites only” signs. America’s story though is powerful, because it is not a story of a perfect nation, but of a nation that strives to be more perfect. That is the symbolism of our nation. That is where we can earn our moral credibility.
"As we re-engage with the world, we must do so with humility, understanding that the values we aim to promote abroad must be modeled here at home. We must also be humble to the limits of American intervention and hard power and put an end to waging forever wars.
"Diplomacy must be first. We must reengage where we’ve reneged, restore alliances we’ve neglected, and rebuild a depleted State Department. As part of that effort, through my capacity as Chair, one of my priorities will be to address the lack of diversity within the department, not only building a better pipeline, but also at mid and senior levels. Whether in diplomacy or development, our workforce should look like the America it represents abroad, reflective of the diversity of our great nation, and benefitting from the value that diverse perspectives offer.
"We must engage with parts of the world that our foreign policy has historically overlooked, including with our Central and South American neighbors in the Western Hemisphere, and the continent of Africa. We must modernize our approach, not only working with governments and regional organizations, but also more directly with citizens and the many diaspora groups here in the United States of America. We must do this collaboratively, recognizing the agency and impact of all nations through honest dialogue that advances our mutual interests.
"America, yes, it is returning to a world that is fractured but not shattered. My good friend, our late colleague, the late, great John Lewis was known as a fierce advocate for civil rights here in America, but also as a fighter for civil rights around the world. He understood what the Reverend meant when he said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
"We are all individuals in a global community, and as fortunate Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, it is our solemn obligation, in good faith, to help shape our collective future.
"So now, my colleagues, let's get into some good trouble."
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