Sec. of State John Kerry and Iran
Staunch Diplomacy. A Historic Iranian Nuclear Deal
Staunch Diplomacy. A Historic Iranian Nuclear Deal
Once a highly decorated young combat veteran, now a distinguished veteran American statesman, John Kerry first gained prominence in relation to his opposition to the Vietnam War. Yet history may show that his most consequential act may be his leading role in charting a new course in U.S.-Iran relations.
Kerry’s accomplishments began early. By age 27, he had earned three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star in Vietnam, co-founded Vietnam Veterans of America, and delivered an eloquent, influential war testimonial to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the invitation of Sen. William Fulbright.
Back in Massachusetts, Kerry became assistant district attorney, lieutenant governor, and in 1984, was elected U.S. Senator, a post he maintained for the next 24 years. With his keen interest in foreign policy, he also joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he had famously testified as a young man in April 1971.
John Kerry gained even wider prominence as the Democratic nominee in the 2004 Presidential race, losing to Republican Gov. George W. Bush of Texas. The successful smear campaign launched by Bush’s supporters attacking his military service (“swiftboating”) has since become part of mainstream political vocabulary.
In 2009, Kerry, became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And in January 2013, Pres. Barack Obama selected him to succeed Hillary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State.
Politics just might be a genetic predisposition for John Forbes Kerry. His father, fellow Yale alumni Richard J. Kerry (1915-2000), was a State Department official, U.S. Foreign Service officer and one-time adviser to Pres. Eisenhower. In his book The Star Spangled Mirror: America’s Image of Itself and the World (1990), the elder Kerry challenged the assumption of American exceptionalism, as exemplified by the likes of the “intensely moralistic” John Foster Dulles (whom he had known) and cited U.S. covert operations in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954) and Chile (1973).
A young John Kerry held views on Cold War strategy that were likely influenced by his father, but also paralleled that of Supreme Justice William O. Douglas or even certain black intellectuals of the era.
“Western imperialism”, argued Kerry in a prizewinning 1965 speech at Yale, “causes more fear among Africans and Asians than communism, and thus it is self-defeating.” In a subsequent Yale University speech in 1966, Kerry continued on this theme, foreshadowing some of his future pronouncements on U.S. entanglement in foreign lands. “In most emerging nations, the spectre of imperialist capitalism stirs as much fear and hatred as that of communism. To compound the problem, we continue to push forward our will only as we see it and in a fashion that only leads to more mistakes and deeper commitment.”
Such skepticism served him well in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where his investigations of the Reagan administration’s secret involvement in Nicaragua became central to the sensational Iran-Contra hearings, the biggest scandal of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Iran would resurface in Kerry’s life in a big way as 68th Secretary of State. On September 26, 2013, discussions between the USA and Iran got under way on the sidelines of the United Nations headquarters, the first meeting of its kind since the 1979 Iranian revolution.
Over the next two years, Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, along with his American colleagues and the P5+1, worked tirelessly to negotiate a settlement that would provide sanctions relief while ensuring a nuclear weapon remained unattainable for the Islamic Republic of Iran.
By March 2015, high level talks began in Lausanne, Switzerland, and in April, a framework agreement was reached. Finally, on July 14th, a historic nuclear deal was finalized in Vienna, potentially marking the beginning of, while not necessarily friendly relations, a new, more hopeful direction for the two nations.
Inevitably, there has been violent pushback from the Republicans in particular, who have vowed to do everything possible to kill the Iran deal when it comes up before Congress in September. The Israeli government, too, who had fought tooth and nail to prevent this day from happening, is predictably livid. Bibi Netanyahu denounced the deal as a “historic mistake”, and perhaps not since World War II has the name of Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister most remembered for his failed appeasement policy toward Nazi Germany, been mentioned with such frequency.
While John Kerry and the Obama administration are raked over the coals by opponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it might be useful to recall some of Kerry’s previous demonstrations of political courage under pressure.
“I will just share with you very personally, years ago when I left college, I went to war,” said Kerry, who entered on crutches. “And I learned in war the price that is paid when diplomacy fails. And I made a decision that if I ever was lucky enough to be in a position to make a difference, I would try to do so. I believe this agreement actually represents an effort...to come together with Iran to avert an inevitability of conflict that would come were we not able to reach agreement. I think that’s what diplomacy was put in place to achieve, and I know that war is the failure of diplomacy and the failure of leaders to make alternative decisions.”
To avoid direct military conflict and prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb with what amounts to an arms control accord, the United States has demonstrated the will, patience and bravery to negotiate with its most bitter, intractable enemy in the world.
Détente was achieved before with hostile countries like China and the Soviet Union, and more recently, the U.S. commenced the re-opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba after 54 years of estrangement. There’s no reason why serious diplomatic engagement shouldn’t be attempted with Iran.
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