(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State John Kerry argued Thursday that the United States cannot push its weight around in a changing and “complicated” world, and implied that the previous administration having done so has led to today’s security crisis in Iraq.
In an appearance at the Washington Ideas Forum, Kerry said that although the Obama administration wanted to see a less sectarian government in Iraq – a prerequisite for tackling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) threat – it could not have simply demanded that former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki be replaced.
“The United States couldn’t just crash in and say, ‘Hey, you’re out. Here are the guys that are in.’ That’s not our – it would be playing into all of the worst stereotypes that have brought us to the difficulties we’re living with today.”
The remark appeared to be a veiled dig at the Bush administration, whose invasion of Iraq in 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime.
(Kerry claims to have “opposed the president’s decision to go into Iraq” in 2003. Although in 2002, the then-Democratic senator from Massachusetts voted to give Bush the authority to attack, and when the invasion was launched the following March, he accused him of failing to exhaust diplomacy first.)
Kerry told the forum that “American power needs to be projected thoughtfully and appropriately.”
“Now you have more countries with more economic power in a globalized world, and they’re feeling their oats,” he said.
“They’re going to automatically react and say, ‘Well, wait a minute now, do we really want the behemoth United States, superpower of the world, telling us all the time what we have to do?’
“And so you have to approach these things a little bit differently,” he added. “It requires more diplomacy. It requires more dialogue. It requires more respect for people.”
‘Doubt’ and the Syria red-line episode
Kerry’s interviewer, Steve Clemons of The Atlantic, submitted that a problem faced by the administration was a sense that foreign leaders have “doubt in America.”
“There’s a doubt out there; it’s palpable,” Clemons said. “How do you fix that?”
In his reply, Kerry suggested that the primary reason for any such doubt was a misplaced reaction to President Obama’s failure to bomb the Assad regime after it crossed his “red line” by using chemical weapons against civilians in August 2013.
After vowing to punish President Bashar Assad for the attack, which killed more than 1,400 people, Obama struggled to win congressional or public support, despite Kerry’s own impassioned arguments in favor of such action.
Assad’s ally Russia then brokered a deal, negotiated with Kerry, to remove and destroy the chemical stockpile instead, and the airstrike plan was shelved.
Critics like former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden have called the so-called “red-line episode” costly and embarrassing, but Kerry maintains that the end result – the surrender of Assad’s declared chemical weapons – was far more beneficial, and he has voiced frustration that the achievement isn’t sufficiently appreciated.
Responding to Clemons’ question about “doubt in America,” Kerry said, “Well, it all came out of one thing, which is somewhat confounding, which was sort of the Syria issue and challenge at that moment.”
“But people seem to be thinking that it’s wiser to bomb for a day-and-a-half and do some damage than it is to get all of the chemical weapons out of a country,” he continued.
“We did the unprecedented. We got 100 percent of the declared chemical weapons out of the country and destroyed.”