The Foreign Service Journal, May 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MAY 2023 15 TALKING POINTS SFRC and HFAC Budget Hearings: Blinken Testifies O n March 22, Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), and on March 23, he testified before the House Foreign Affairs Com- mittee (HFAC). Both hearings were to review the State Department Fiscal Year 2024 budget request to Congress. The President’s FY24 budget request includes $63.1 billion for the State Department and USAID. Some congres- sional Republicans are calling for a return to FY22 funding levels, negating the significant increases of FY23. The Secretary also testified in the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Subcommit- tees in both chambers. In his opening remarks before HFAC and SFRC, the Secretary said the new budget would help the department meet two separate but overlapping challenges: facing off with strategic competitors like Russia and China; and overcoming global tests such as climate crisis, migration, food and energy insecurity, and pandemics. The Secretary talked in detail about the ongoing competition for global influence between the United States and China, pointing to a need for enhanced presence in Asia, where, unlike Beijing, the U.S. can offer support with maritime security, dis- ease surveillance, clean energy infrastruc- ture, and digital technology. He said the new budget will “help us push back on advancing authoritarian- ism and democratic backsliding.” The full text of the Secretary’s open- ing remarks for the HFAC hearing can be found online at HFAC-FY24-budget-hearing. Many of the Republican members of the HFAC used their time to criticize the Secretary and Biden administra- tion’s handling of the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan in August 2021. Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) threatened to issue a subpoena to the Secretary if he did not share with the committee a confi- dential Dissent Channel message related to Afghanistan and signed by some two dozen diplomats in July 2021. Rep. McCaul issued the subpoena on March 27. A March 28 Foreign Policy article by Robbie Gramer reports that the congressional grilling of the Biden administration over Afghanistan “is just getting started.” Human Rights Reports Released S ecretary of State Antony Blinken released the “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2022, ” known as the Human Rights Reports, at a press conference at the State Department on March 20. In his opening remarks, he described the purpose of these reports: “This report makes a factual, objective, and rigorous accounting of human rights conditions around the world, looking at nearly 200 countries and territories. And, impor- tantly, it applies the same standards to everyone: our allies and partners, and countries with which we have differences. “The goal of this report is not to lecture or to shame. Rather, it is to provide a resource for those individuals working around the world to safeguard and uphold human dignity when it’s under threat in so many ways. And while this report looks outward to countries around the world, we know the United States faces its own set of challenges on human rights. “Our willingness to confront our chal- lenges openly, to acknowledge our own shortcomings—not to sweep them under the rug or pretend they don’t exist— that is what distinguishes us and other democracies. “The report makes clear that, in 2022, in countries across every region, we continued to see a backsliding in human rights conditions—the closing of civic space, disrespect for fundamental human dignity.” The Secretary called out governments in Iran, Afghanistan, Burma, the People’s Republic of China, and Cuba for ongoing abuses of women, girls, protesters, and minority ethnic groups living within their borders. Not everyone agreed with the State Department’s assessments, with the president of Mexico calling the section on Mexico “lies. ” That section reported on arbitrary killings by police, military, and other Mexican officials and criticized vio- lence against journalists in the country. The Secretary also took the opportunity to address the Xi Jinping–Vladimir Putin meetings taking place in Moscow that day. China’s government is working to capture huge swathes of economic activity within its closed, authoritarian but fast-growing internet infrastructure. At the same time, much of the rest of the world is adopting open blockchain networks. … Whether official Washington recognizes it or not, a digital land rush is on. The U.S. risks losing influence over the next era of the internet by ignoring it. —Foreign Service Officer Brandon Possin, Politico , April 3, 2023. Contemporary Quote