Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria jihadists, Kerry was asked about Clinton’s remarks at Georgetown University last Wednesday.
“Hillary Clinton recently stated in this speech at Georgetown that America needs to show respect for our enemies and empathize with their perspective and point of view,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
“Do you believe as secretary of state that a key solution to our enemies such as ISIS and al-Qaeda is, quote, showing respect and, quote, empathizing with their perspective and point of view?” he asked.
“I don’t think she was referring – I’m confident, I know she was not referring to a group like Da’esh,” Kerry replied, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“I think, she’s – you know I think in terms of what she meant, there’s no question in my mind she was referring to those out there with whom we are not actively fighting or engaged in a war but who are behaving in ways that are clearly opposed to our interests,” he continued.
“There are plenty of people in that status, regrettably, whether it is in the Middle East in certain countries or in other parts of the world.
“I mean, we have a lot of tensions right now with Russia,” Kerry said, adding that it was important when dealing with Russian actions in Ukraine and elsewhere to examine its “posturing and where it comes from.”
In fact, the contentious remarks in Clinton’s December 3 speech were made in the context of negotiations with Islamic separatists in the southern Philippines, a group more akin to fellow jihadists in the Middle East than to an unfriendly government such as Russia’s.
The former secretary of state and likely 2016 presidential contender argued for the importance of women leading peace negotiations, and cited an example of such a conflict-resolution effort.
Clinton said hopes to end a long insurgency by the Muslim separatists in the Philippines had looked slim until “two strong women” took over the negotiations, “made inclusivity their mantra,” and helped to broker a peace deal.
“This is what we call smart power,” she continued, “using every possible tool and partner to advance peace and security, leaving no-one on the sidelines, showing respect, even for one’s enemies, trying to understand and – insofar as psychologically possible – empathize with their perspective and point of view, helping to define the problems, determine the solutions.
“That is what we believe in the 21st century will change, change the prospects for peace.”
Clinton was referring to a peace agreement signed last January between the government of the predominantly Catholic nation and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an Islamist group whose four-decade violent campaign cost more than 120,000 lives, and displaced some two million people.
During more than a decade of intermittent peace talks, MILF fighters periodically violated ceasefires, carrying out bombings and attacking Christian-majority towns.
In one March 2003 airport bombing, an American Christian missionary was among the 22 people killed. The MILF denied responsibility, although authorities accused an MILF member who was killed in the blast of having carried the bomb.
The same month, MILF gunmen armed with rocket-propelled grenades killed five people, including a six-year-old child, in a dawn attack on a Christian town called M’Lang. Elsewhere in the same area, Christian passengers on a bus stopped by MILF gunmen were singled out for their inability to speak the local Muslim dialect. Police said six of them were shot dead.
More than five years later, similar attacks were still taking place, with Christians being shot and hacked to death.
Although the MILF long predated groups like al-Qaeda, it was accused of collaborating with the terror network. In 1999, then-MILF leader Hashim Salamat (who died of a heart attack in 2003) told media his group had received funds from Osama bin Laden, and used them to build mosques, health centers and schools.
(In a 1999 biography of bin Laden, Yossef Bodansky of the U.S. Congress’ task force on terrorism and unconventional warfare wrote that the terrorist chief in the 1990s had bought property, opened bank accounts and set up charities in the Philippines, suspected to have been used to channel funds to terrorists.)
In 2003, then U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone warned the MILF to stop collaborating with the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the radical group behind the Bali bombings, or risk being designated a foreign terrorist organization.