WASHINGTON – In his exit memorandum released on Thursday after four years in office, US Secretary of State John Kerry offered equal space to the Syrian conflict – in his words, a war “which has led to the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II” – as he did to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on which he expended enormous diplomatic capital lobbying to sustain a peace process.
On both conflicts – one hot and violent, one largely cold and political – Kerry credited himself in the document for tirelessly shuttling around the world to promote peace, devoting roughly two paragraphs to each.
“We have remained committed to realizing the vision of a two-state solution: a secure, democratic Jewish state of Israel living side-by-side with an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state,” he wrote. “During my time in office, we worked very hard to restart negotiations between the two sides
to see if progress was indeed possible. Unfortunately, the parties were not willing to make the difficult choices necessary to move forward with the negotiations.”
He also claimed the Obama administration “steadfastly, year after year, defended Israel from biased resolutions at the United Nations and other multilateral fora,” without anywhere in his summary mentioning its decision to abstain from a vote last month in the Security Council condemning Israel – and not the Palestinian Authority – for taking actions contrary to the pursuit of peace.
Similarly on Syria, Kerry highlighted US progress toward degrading and destroying Islamic State in its territory and his own personal effort to broker an end to the five-year-old war between its nominal president, Bashar Assad, and the rebels fighting for his ouster.
“We have continued to expend every effort, with all the key international players, to try to reduce the violence and increase humanitarian access for the Syrian people, which will help create the climate for serious negotiations between the parties to finally end the war,” he wrote.
But while Kerry took no ownership – personally or on behalf of the administration – for his role in the continuation of these conflicts, or in the failure to make progress toward their ends, he devoted generous space to a nuclear deal reached with Iran, for which he takes substantial credit.
“Leading with diplomacy, the United States painstakingly brought the world together – including countries like Russia and China – in an unprecedented coalition to establish an international sanctions regime intended to change Iran’s calculus,” the document reads.
“In reaching and implementing this deal, we took a major security threat off the table without firing a single shot,” it continues. “The United States, our partners and allies in the Middle East (including Israel), and the entire international community are safer today because of the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.]”
Kerry’s exit memorandum is not a self-critical retrospective on his tenure, but a promotional document for his legacy, highlighting what he considers to be accomplishments and under-representing challenges the Obama administration failed to limit or – as its critics have argued – even exacerbated.