Liberty Expose: John Kerry and the Pursuit of Irony

As the school year has ended, this year’s round of commencement speeches has returned to the campuses of the United States. As one can suspect in the age of social media, clip-ready rhetorical quips were ripe. One of notable controversies included Vice President Mike Pence giving the commencement address at Notre Dame, which resulted in many students walking out of the graduation - ostensibly because they couldn’t bear the sight of a politician whom does not hold their views. 

My favorite of the commencement speeches was the address delivered by former Secretary of State John Kerry. Secretary Kerry spoke at his undergraduate alma mater, Harvard, and advised the Ivy League graduates to buy Rosetta Stone and learn Russian (he made these statements after opening the speech stating his intent not to be partisan.) I, for one, agree with Mr. Kerry. Consistent readers of this column would understandably be surprised of my common ground with the former Secretary of State. I did not share his jubilation when he announced the death of the Monroe Doctrine, and I don’t believe the Americans who served in Vietnam are equivalent to Genghis Kahn, as Mr. Kerry stated in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in 1971.

I do however believe those who seek careers in international affairs should be more fluent in Russian culture and politics. I believe this because the once knee-capped Russian Federation has returned to infamy on the global stage. After the so-called Russian reset (2009), which symbolically began with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presenting Ambassador Lavrov with a red button aptly mistranslated to not say “reset,” but rather “overcharge.”

Russia began a campaign of aggression and revanchism. Capitalizing on the turmoil and insurrection on an increasingly pro-Western Ukraine, Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula under the predication of protecting the ethnic Russian population. To this day, Russia continues to support separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine in a war that has resulted in such tragedies including the downing of an airliner. The invasion violated the 1994 Budapest Memorandum signed between the Russian Federation, Ukraine, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The Memorandum included Ukraine forfeiting their nuclear weapons, in exchange for the protection of Ukrainian sovereignty. Protect Ukraine we did: The United States and Europe fought an epic campaign of condemnation, harsh rhetoric, and sanctions. Russia still controls Crimea.

In 2016, Russia’s military adventurism expanded beyond their “near-abroad” into the horrors of the Syrian Civil War. Russia stated it was their intention to intervene militarily in Syria to halt the spread of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). Russia proceeded to prop up the Assad regime and bombard anti-regime forces. ISIS on the other hand, has received little such persecution at the hands of the Russian air force. The intervention in Syria was met with a scorched-earth campaign of condemnation and rhetoric. Russia continues to militarily support the Assad regime, despite its habit of committing war crimes.

Then there are the miscellanies other shenanigans committed by the Russian government. There has been the murders of anti-Putin lawyers, journalists, activists, and others brave enough to speak against the regime. Death usually comes from poison, though the occasional gunman is used. The Russian government has also began supporting the Taliban, whom, may I remind, the United States is at war with. The has been the dangerous fly-bys in the Baltic that pose perhaps the greatest threat to peace between America and Russia, due to the human errors associated with such reckless behavior by Russian pilots. Russia often mobilizes troops near the borders of Ukraine and NATO ally Estonia, the first to be done by Russia since the Cold War. Russia has increased its missile forces in Kaliningrad, the Russian-controlled oblast between Lithuania and Poland – both NATO allies. And as we all know, with much media attention, Russia has taken the liberty of attempting to influence foreign elections.

If one were to sort the offenses taken by Russia in chronological order, one would be interested to find that it happened under the tenure of Secretary Kerry, whom may I remind you, just joked about the Trump admission’s supposed propping of Russia to prominence. It was under Secretary Kerry that the liberal in order in Europe was bloodied by an annexation. It was under Secretary Kerry that Russia began providing military assistance to Assad and the carnage he is creating. It was under Kerry that Russia supported an Insurgency in Europe. It was under Secretary of State John Kerry that Russian became a threat to global peace and stability once again.

At the Harvard commencement address, Mr. Kerry pursed irony to the core. That being said, Mr. Kerry and the Obama administration’s Russia policy was only a fraction of the chaotic global portrait that is painted by American retreat from global responsibility. I have addressed this issue numerous times for good reason.

Yes, the prospective practitioner and student of global affairs should learn Russian, but they should also direct their attention to Farsi, as Iran continues to grow richer and more powerful. They should study Arabic, for the War on Terror has taken a turn, and Islamic terrorism is on the rise once again. One interested in world politics would of course be behooved to learn Mandarin, for China now sees itself as the true heir to Asian hegemony. All of this is because the Obama administration has pursued policies that were predicated on the Rousseauean idea that a world with less American involvement is a more stable. Once again, that notion has proven to be false.

On May 26th, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski died. The foreign policy of that administration can be paralleled to that of the Obama administration. It began with the idea of American retreat, and ended with the beginnings of a military buildup once it became evident that the Soviets didn’t share the West’s intentions. To give credit to the Obama administration, they attempted to pursue a similar path - one that seemed genuine in its pursuit of peace – however tepid it was.

More troops were eventually stationed in Europe, a military campaign against extremism began, and a sterner approach to China was taken. All a little late though. Often, through either political convince or to evade responsibility, Presidential administrations often blame a third third of foreign policy difficulties on the previous administration, and it is true that most Presidents inherit a difficult situation, including both Obama and Trump. But a successful presidency can respond to the difficulties instead of allocating blame somewhere else.

In the early days of the Trump foreign tenure, it is still unclear how President Trump’s foreign policy will unfold, or if he would dismiss his problems on forces greater then himself, which he has already done to an extent. Hopefully, this administration will be able to learn from the mistakes of the last. We can only watch, and hope that when the administration eventually ends, the statesmen of the 45th presidency won’t have to dismiss their failures by making political quips at college commencements.