By Jack Rosen, President of the American Jewish Congress
Published in The Hill, January 12, 2016
“People all over the world are looking to the United States for leadership. We are known as the indispensable nation for good reason. No nation has more opportunity to advance the cause of democracy and no nation is as committed to the cause of human rights as we are.”
When Secretary of State John Kerry made this statement in his confirmation hearing four years ago, no one could have predicted what that would mean for the Middle East and the international community.
In the immediate aftermath of Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing, it is important to reflect on Secretary Kerry's time in office and understand what a secretary of state can achieve.
Kerry’s credentials were second to none — a former presidential candidate, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, well-travelled and well-connected to many heads of state.
At the time, commentators believed that there could not have been a more worthy choice. For some, Tillerson is the opposite of that model. Questions have been raised considering his business associations, including his dealings with Putin, but it would be wrong to use the Kerry profile to judge Tillerson.
Anyone, myself included, who has been working long enough in international business and with foreign leaders on policy, will have come across people whose ideals they don't agree with, but who they dealt with to advance their company or organisational interests.
Who you have done business with does not necessarily lessen your support for America and it would be a mistake to assume that Tillerson’s business relationships disqualify him to be the next secretary of state.
Kerry looked like the perfect mould for the position, but the decisions he made may result in history judging his tenure very harshly.
Four years ago, no one present at Kerry's hearing would have thought to ask him, "Would you be happy to sit by and allow hundreds of thousands of people to be slaughtered in Syria?"
Or, "Is it acceptable to allow a country that openly declares it wants to wipe out its neighbor to be a threshold nuclear power?"
Yet, with the Iran nuclear deal and his policies regarding ISIS and Syria, that is exactly what has happened.
Culminating in his late December speech, Secretary Kerry’s record on Israel has been disastrous. He has targeted Israel in the U.N. and made the chances of constructive bilateral discussions less likely.
Rather than maintaining the long-standing U.S. policy of vetoing any resolution that interferes with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he allowed for the further isolation of Israel.
Kerry should have been preparing for a smooth transition to the new administration's policy goals, which would have included a veto on the previously mentioned resolution. Instead, Kerry chose to allow the U.N. to classify the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, as “occupied territory”.
Furthermore, while Israel has been the leading democracy in the region for generations, Kerry declared that it cannot be both Jewish and Democratic. The damage he caused in two weeks may take years to repair.
This is the position that Rex Tillerson will inherit. His approach to the U.N., which he has outlined on social media, will begin to correct the damage that has been done.
We will only be able to judge Tillerson by his actions, as we hope he will stand up and change the policy direction on Israel and the Middle East.