On July 14th 2015, TV screens and radio stations in the United States and around the world broadcasted President Obama's fourteen minute statement regarding the Iran nuclear deal. He talked about new beginnings, verification and the stripped capacities of Iran's nuclear program under the technical jargon of centrifuges, enrichment plutonium and stockpiles. Throughout the speech, President Obama’s affect appeared to reveal a man who is enormously pleased with the outcome and vindicated in his belief in the efficacy of negotiations and diplomacy.
As I listened intently to the outlines of the deal, I couldn’t help but think that this moment embodied President Obama’s governing style for all the world to see via foreign policy, in this case. What we know of Obama is his preference of trusting a small circle of advisors, delegate authority to the head of his cabinets with general themes, priorities and goals and report back to him. Once this is done, his intellectual acumen is activated, he pulls the information together for solitary consumption, followed by an outward display of his command of details. This announcement was vintage Obama.
As expected, the clown car of GOP presidential candidates offered up their own automated thoughts of apocalypse and appeasement, which serves to cover up their bemusement and envy. A former presidential losing candidate in John McCain, chimed in with his words of encouragement. “This president has staked his reputation on this foolish errand and I predicted all along that they would cave into whatever it was in the end. Over time, history will judge it very harshly.”
Obama’s follow up press conference on July 15th, was much longer and showed a very confident president defending the agreement on political, moral and practical grounds. In his eyes, the alternatives are unpalatable, shortsighted and unacceptable. He sounded so prepared for what is about to come.
Notwithstanding the real challenges ahead, there is one man that deserves a lot of credit in all this, John Kerry, the Secretary of State. Mr. Kerry, his team of experts and negotiators, fellow P5+1 foreign ministers and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, set out on this journey almost two years ago. In Kerry, Obama had a man with the intellectual gravitas to process, explain and synthesize complex details to various audiences. John Kerry carried out the negotiations with dogged determination and patience. Negotiations by its nature are laborious, repetitive, frustrating and often a measurement of wills more so than content. The occasional leaks to the press reflected mood swings of the participants in the enclosed suites, not significant changes in substance. John Kerry masterfully executed the tenets of diplomacy with the world powers by his side and the vision of a president who presciently put sanctions, common interests and alliances in place before serious negotiations occurred. John Kerry logged thousands of miles in travel, endured a painful biking accident in France resulting in a broken femur and kept pessimism at arm’s length. At times, his motives and White House loyalties were questioned along the way. He updated congress at hearings and admirably, and defiantly pushed back when needed political inquiry turned into political theatre. Kerry understood that an unprecedented achievement was in his grasp. Kerry was all in.
It seems so appropriate that this phase of foreign policy accomplishment has John Kerry’s hand prints on it. He served his country in the Vietnam War and received multiple military honors. His political career is extensive as a lieutenant governor, United States Senator for 28 years, unsuccessfully ran for president in 2004, returned to the Senate and diligently carried out his duties as chairman of the foreign relations committee.
In 2009, Kerry let it be known of his interest in the position Secretary of State. However, it wasn’t his time as Obama used the cabinet position as part of the healing process with Hillary and the Democratic Party. But his persistence would pay off in the long run. In 2013, he was nominated and confirmed to the position and all of the political landmines and diplomatic nightmares awaiting his arrival. John Kerry followed a legacy in waiting in Hillary and became an integral part of a historical presidency. Now, in this moment, his own legacy is forever stamped in American and foreign policy history. Well done, John. Well done.