United States Secretary of State John Kerry is desperate to leave behind a relatively commendable legacy. At the fag-end of his tenure and riding high on the assumed statesmanship, Kerry initially thought to reveal a plan that could set the ball rolling in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It might have been a bid to cement his status as a statesman -- the veracity of which could be both real and perceived. True that he served in the US Senate and succeeded Hillary Clinton. Achievements? Almost none. The last eight years of the Obama administration are largely empty on the diplomatic front and rife with disasters. And let's not even bring the controversial Iran deal as a saving grace.
The proposal for Middle East peace didn't come. What unfolded was a spiel on why the US abstained on the United Nations Security Council's resolution regarding Israeli settlements. It was more of a rebuttal of the incessant bickering by Benjamin Netanyahu and his cronies. Kerry reassured his Israeli friends about the continued US support, along with a refusal to acknowledge Palestinian statehood or endorse UN resolutions towards that end. More of an explanatory speech than an impressive parting shot by the top US diplomat.
Secretary Kerry combined tough-talk with overt displays of affection. He talked tough with Pakistan. Tough enough that he reportedly thumped on the table and addressed the Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Shraif by his first name, breaking away with the diplomatic protocols. He adopted a subservient stance with Iran during the nuclear talks, taking long strolls with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif in Geneva (for which the latter had a lot of explaining to do).
Both the strolls and the table-thumpings ended in failures. Iran got what it wanted and then doubled down on undermining American interests in the Middle East. Iran is the reason behind Bashar al-Assad's continued rule and the unspeakable misery it has unleashed. Russia's entry has further eroded the American influence. As for Pakistan, it didn't yield to US demands of clamping down on the Haqqani network, among others. Relations remain tense and American tough-talking is not going anywhere.
On Syria, Kerry adopted a policy that was surface-level ambitious but hollow from the inside. With Iranian courtship in full bloom -- and the attendant ignoring of its bloody game -- the Obama administration helped foster the environment that gave rise to ISIS. The non-existent red line became an important landmark of that era -- and later a sinister joke. Unlike Obama, Kerry admitted he was failing in Syria during a private conversation with US congressmen in 2014. The Russian hijacking of the situation in 2015 and the subsequent failure of the US to rein in on the regime atrocities or stem the ISIS proved that point. On a salvaging mission, Kerry did an about-turn and defended whatever shambolic policy the administration was following.
Kerry didn't bring any new doctrines like the "Asia Pivot" of Hillary Clinton. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was not his brainchild either. The vital ties with Europe came unraveling during his tenure. Obama shot down many of his suggestions, infuriating many in the State Department. That Kerry had little say in foreign policy formulation speaks volumes about his legacy.
The fall of Aleppo might have brought some comfort to Kerry, who had spent months negotiating one failed cease-fire after another. It will remain a major blemish on his career but he doesn't seem much concerned. Perhaps he's taking a cue from his boss, who has no remorse for the Syrian tragedy. Perhaps Kerry thinks deep-down he could have been a better president than Obama. Maybe he will write about this some time in the future. The world is waiting.