Kerry exit memo filled with policies that Trump could undo

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at the State Department in Washington on Dec. 28, 2016.


By CAROL MORELLO | The Washington Post | Published: January 5, 2017

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John F. Kerry, in an exit memo written with the incoming administration in mind, on Thursday called for the United States to continue resettling refugees from the Middle East, and to keep up the battle against climate change.

"It would be a moral failing of the highest caliber to turn our backs on those in need - including and especially from countries like Syria and Iraq," Kerry wrote in a memo that was among about two dozen released by the White House from Cabinet secretaries enumerating their accomplishments.

Kerry devoted a significant share of his 21-page summary to climate change, which he said he had raised in virtually every bilateral relationship since becoming secretary in 2013.

"If we can build on this course in the decades to come, there is at least a chance that our children and our grandchildren will look back at the last years of this administration as the moment the world finally woke up to the threat," he said.

The Kerry summation is another marker in his long goodbye as he prepares to leave public office and a career in public service. He has been showered with awards on trips abroad. He has several public speeches lined up in the next two weeks, though none is expected to be as controversial as one he gave last week on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the dwindling prospects for creating an independent Palestinian state.

There was a poignant quality to Kerry's arguments, as many of the very policies he championed could soon be discarded or weakened. As a candidate and lately as president-in-waiting, Donald Trump has repudiated many of Kerry's initiatives - the Iran nuclear deal, the insistence that Syrian President Bashar Assad must step down, support for refugees from largely-Muslim countries torn apart by war and terror.

Kerry directly mentions neither Trump nor his own designated successor, Rex Tillerson. But aides said it is hoped that the incoming administration will read the case Kerry makes and consider taking the same path.

"The secretary is laying down a stark message about the consequences if some of these things are rolled back," said a senior State Department official. "He sees it as his responsibility as a statesman, as someone who has been a public servant for over 40 years."

The memo starts with Obama's 2009 inauguration, when the country was fighting two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Eventually, 160,000 troops came home even as the war against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State intensified.

"After eight years of relentless counterterrorism efforts, the al-Qaida that perpetrated 9/11 is today a shadow of what it was on Jan. 20, 2009," Kerry wrote.

He said much progress has been made in dismantling the Islamic State's caliphate, with the United States and its coalition partners helping to recapture 40 percent of the territory jihadists held in Iraq and more than a quarter what it controlled in Syria.

Kerry does not directly address what many foreign policy analysts consider the administration's greatest foreign policy failure, after Obama said Assad would cross a redline if he used chemical weapons, and then did nothing. Instead, Kerry notes the United States, working with Russia and the United Nations, destroyed 1,000 tons of Syria's stockpiles. He acknowledged, "unfortunately, other undeclared chemical weapons continue to be used ruthlessly on the Syrian people."

He also shows his frustration that Israelis and Palestinians never resumed peace talks, which Kerry spent nine months trying to make happen. "I sincerely hope for the future of both Israelis and Palestinians alike that their leaders will make the difficult choices necessary to advance the prospects for peace," he said.

Kerry describes the security relationship between the United States and Israel "stronger than it has ever been." There is no reference to the tension over an anti-settlement Security Council resolution passed without a U.S. veto, nor Trump's promise "things will be different" after he is sworn in.

Kerry provides a lengthy list of policies that Trump has criticized or contradicted.

The outgoing secretary of state argues for an aggressive stance against Russia, citing cyber attacks and its military intervention in Syria and Ukraine. Trump wants to improve ties between Moscow and Washington.

Kerry defends international trade pacts that Trump has trashed. He argues for closing the detention center in Guantanamo Bay; Trump has vowed to re-fill them with "some bad dudes."

He defends the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump called a "disaster" and the "worst deal ever negotiated." Kerry argues that with the deal, "we took a major security threat off the table without firing a single shot."

He praises international agreements to combat climate change. Trump has expressed some skepticism about the science of climate change. Kerry warns other countries "will react in highly unfavorable manner if we abdicate our responsibility."

But Kerry ends on a grace note that reflects how he relished his four years as America's top diplomat, sending best wishes for his and Obama's successors while "representing the greatest country on earth."

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