Dear Secretary of State Kerry:
Those in favor of a robust U.S. presence in the world are dismayed, to put it mildly, about the president’s choice for secretary of defense. Although foreign policy hawks have had their differences with you in the past, to be blunt, you are the best hope for maintaining the United States as that indispensable nation and the world’s only superpower. Because many errors were not made on your watch, you have the unique opportunity to clean the slate, put mistakes behind you and chart a more responsible and successful foreign policy.
Others may scoff, but Republicans are rooting for you to succeed and to do so in ways that further U.S. interests around the globe.
For starters, you can repair the U.S.-Israel relationship. A good place to start would be by denouncing a truly vile study by the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, funded by a grant for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, that equates Palestinian and Israeli textbooks. As this report explains:
[T]he study finds that, while neither Israel nor the Palestinians are guilty of “dehumanizing and demonizing characterizations of the other,” each side presents “the other as a violent enemy bent on destroying or dominating the self-community …”
One example of the latter is that Israeli textbooks depict Palestinians “negatively” by linking them to the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. (How this particular piece of history could be portrayed otherwise without rewriting it is beyond me.)
It is no wonder, then, that the Israeli Education Ministry decided not to cooperate in the study at its outset and now denounces its outcome.
In addition it would be wise to focus on the Palestinian Authority’s “unity government” with Hamas, making clear that the partnership cannot continue and/or it must explicitly accept the Quartet principles for any progress to be made on the “peace process.” Speaking of which it would be productive for you to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and to reemphasize the importance of progress on the ground and improvement in the daily lives of Palestinians.
Moving to North Africa, it is obvious the first term appointees messed up, ignored threats and let the area descend into chaos. You should make every effort to reverse that error. Building on the new strategic relationship with Morocco, aiding the French in Mali and providing ample assistance to Libya to build its security apparatus and civil society are essential. Why not, like the Marshall Plan for Europe, the Kerry Plan for North Africa?
Next is Russia. I see you have already dumped “reset” and for that you deserve praise. However, it would be helpful for you to continue to raise the cases of imprisoned dissidents, meet with democracy advocates and limit trade and economic partnerships with Russia so long as the dictatorship of Vladimir Putin persists.
Now we come to Syria, which is a sore subject with you, I know. But you can help repair your legacy (which includes all that unseemly ingratiating of Bashar al-Assad) for pushing for more involvement in aid and support for the rebels and urging the administration to set up humanitarian safe zones. Hillary Clinton has a Syria debacle on her record; you can have an end to a bloody civil war and a successful post-war Syria.
And then there is Iran. You were left, I know, with a sanctions policy that is not having the intended effect. The Iranian nuclear program is moving swiftly ahead. There is no way you want the first line of your bio to read: “As secretary of state, Kerry allowed Iran to get the nuclear bomb.” It is essential to remain firm on our bargaining position on abandoning nuclear enrichment (in fact why are we allowing enrichment up to 20 percent?) and to communicate seriously about a military option.
In some sense your past views and actions make your firm stances even more credible and important to a second term course correction. Coming from you, toughness on Iran, Russia and Syria will certainly get the world’s attention.
Best of luck, Mr. Secretary. You will need it.