by Arley Gill
The job description for every Secretary of State in the United States is set by his/her boss; the president. The policy positions will be taken at cabinet level with the president setting the tone of the discussion and ultimately saying, “yea’’ or “nay’’.
Once the policy is established, it is up to the different secretaries to execute; in the case of foreign affairs, it is the Secretary of State — not unlike the foreign affairs minister in Grenada.
It is with this understanding that I am of the considered view, that John Kerry is one of the most outstanding Secretaries of State in the USA in the last 50 years or so.
Looking at what was achieved during his term it is safe to say that the world is a safer place to live, but also, the United States has improved its image in the eyes of the world. Now, most Republicans in the United States may not agree with me nor will the leadership of Israel.
However, the agreement reached to roll back and to verify Iran nuclear programme is a major foreign affairs achievement of Kerry’s. Of course, it was done with other major western powers, as well as Russia and China. But, without US leadership, it would not have been possible.
Despite the criticism and condemnation of the Iran deal — coming especially from Israel and their Republican Party allies in the United States — I am of the view that it is giant step forward not only in keeping a lid on what Iran is up to; but also in bringing Iran more closely to the community of nations. As well, the agreement with Iran has implications for the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict, the Syrian issue, ISIS, Yemen, Iraq and — in general — the stability of the entire Middle East. I am of the view with an engaged Iran, more progress can be brought in that region.
Then, the thawing of relations with Cuba, and the reestablishing of diplomatic ties between the US and Cuba are arguably the symbolic end of the Cold War. For us, who stood in solidarity with the Cuban government and people for all these years, it is a dream come true. The warming of US/Cuba relations paved the way for American President Barack Obama to visit the Spanish-speaking Caribbean nation last month; a truly remarkable development.
No doubt, these two accomplishments — improved US/Cuba relations and the Iran nuclear agreement — will be outstanding legacies of Obama’s presidency. And with the significant role played by Kerry, plenty of credit must be given to the Secretary of State.
After Syria allegedly used chemical weapons in the present conflict with insurgents, Secretary Kerry was instrumental in brokering a deal with the Russians to have the Syrians hand over their stockpile to Russia; thus, averting military strikes.
The last few years also have thrown up diverse international crises, from the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, to the wanton terrorist killings by ISIS. As such, foreign relations have become more complex than ever before; relations now are not just political issues between states. Therefore, traditional methods of engagement are not always useful.
After the end of George Bush’s presidential term, with the invasion of Iraq that was premised and sold on falsehood, the US lost a lot of credibilities. The US suffered additional damage to its image in the world for its position in the Arab Spring; a position which inadvertently led to greater instability in the region and created the conditions for the birth and growth of ISIS.
And, current US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, who has been severely criticized by many fellow Democrats for supporting George Bush’s invasion of Iraq, lost tremendous respect also for her position on Libya and the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, while she served as Secretary of State. In retrospect, Clinton seemed only to have been interested in the title, Secretary of State, to include it on her resume for her eventual presidential bid.
A damaged image is not easily repaired. However, Secretary Kerry’s dedication, commitment, and hard work have enabled the United States to regain some respect.
Kerry’s recent visit to Hiroshima, as the first US Secretary of State to do so since 1945, is significant in my view. Here, again, is an attempt by the Obama administration — through Secretary Kerry — to build bridges across political divides. If anything, the US appears to be less bullish. Of course, if you look at Fox News network you may be convinced that the US has gone ‘soft’ and has lost respect all over the world.
Certainly, there are many remaining issues that need addressing; central among them is the Palestinian question. The issue of NATO and its relevance to world politics also needs reviewing, along with the perceived threat of Russia. Social issues like famine in parts of Africa, displacement of millions of people worldwide, and epidemics and poverty, will continue to be challenges for diplomats.
4 years is hardly enough time to deal with all the issues. However, I dear say that John Kerry has made a fair effort in his time for the betterment of mankind.