To help launch the Carnegie Middle East program’s Arab World Horizons project, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry provided an address on U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Secretary Kerry’s Remarks
Thank you very much. Thank you all very, very much. Bill, thanks so much for welcoming me to your new home, but thank you for remarkably generous comments. I’m very, really touched to hear them from somebody of Bill’s caliber, because as all of you know, he really was the State Department’s premier career diplomat par excellence to everybody’s standard. And now that you’ve been away almost a year, Bill, I know you’re missing all the travel, the early morning meetings, the late night calls, and you’re just dying to return, right? (Laughter.) But all kidding aside, ladies and gentlemen, the door to the State Department for Bill Burns is always open. And from President Obama through the entire security team to me to every former secretary of state, there’s no better diplomat and there’s nobody you could be better led by here at the Carnegie Foundation for Peace than by Bill Burns. So Bill – please join me, everybody, in saying thank you for a remarkable career to this man – a remarkable career. (Applause.)
Now, if I behave myself, which is never for certain, I’m going to try and restrain my voice, not be as passionate as I want to be about every word that I’m uttering today, but I’m trying to save a little case of laryngitis and make sure that I don’t exacerbate it, because I leave tonight for Vienna for two days of important meetings and I want to make sure that I can actually talk during those meetings.
I appreciate the chance to speak today to you, an audience of experts and students who are on their way to being experts, but all of you who spend an awful lot of time thinking about some very serious issues. And the truth is that, for generations, Carnegie has been training the foreign policy leaders of the future and generating at the same time real-time solutions for those of us who are practicing at that time.
It’s an understatement to say today that we’re facing a very different world, a world of remarkable complexity. All of you have probably read Henry Kissinger and Diplomacy or countless other books as I have. And Henry would be the first to tell you – I had the privilege of having lunch with him in New York during the United Nations meetings – that he never had it coming at him with the numbers of different places and crises and in a world that is as multipolar as now. I mean, a bipolar Cold War with the former Soviet Union, the United States and West was pretty clear about what the choices were in many ways. It didn’t mean they weren’t tense and they weren’t difficult and that there weren’t some proxy wars, as we saw in Vietnam and elsewhere, but it truly was not seeing what we see today, which is a world of violence where it’s not state on state, with a few exceptions. It’s non-state actors who are confounding states and the global order, and that presents a very different challenge.
So I can tell you that despite the complexity, and I am certain of this, the United States of America is more deeply engaged today in more places on more important issues with impact than at any time before in our history. And I could document – I’m not going to run around the whole world, but I mean, I could start with TPP and I could go to North Korea and I could start talking about South China Sea, and then I could roll into Afghanistan and Pakistan and India and roll around the world. I’m not going to do that. I want to focus on one particular – and particularly important – area of the globe today, and that’s the Middle East. And I’m not even going to go into all of the aspects of it.
But 20 years ago next week, after attending a peace rally, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by an extremist who claimed to be doing God’s will.
At the funeral, King Hussein of Jordan, Rabin’s one-time enemy turned partner in peace, declared, I quote: “Let us not keep silent. Let our voices rise high enough to speak of our commitment to peace for all times. And let us tell those who live in darkness, who are the enemies of life and true faith, this is where we stand. This is our camp.”
At the same ceremony, Rabin’s granddaughter Noa, a teenager, said that, quote, “Others greater than I have already eulogized you. But they never had the pleasure to feel the caresses of your warm, soft hands, to merit your warm embrace, to see your half smile that always told me so much, that same smile which is no longer frozen in the grave with you.”
Now, these quotations remind us that beyond all the cold statistics, beyond the headlines of the daily newspapers, beyond the clapping talking heads on one show or another and eternally perpetual talk show circuits, the impact of violence in the Middle East, there is humanity. There is a humanity of people just like us who yearn simply to help one another and to share affection from one generation to the next. And beyond all the complexities in the region, there is also something fairly basic going on – a struggle between people who are intent on opening wounds, or leaving them open, and those who want to close them and who want to heal and build a future.
It is this struggle between destroyers and builders that informs every aspect of American policy in the Middle East. Now, this is the glue that holds the components of our strategy together – and we do have a strategy – whether we’re backing an electoral process in Tunisia, mobilizing a coalition against terrorists, trying to halt the sudden outbreak of violence as I was last weekend with respect to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, or striving to put in place new foundations for prosperity and stability. Our goal is to help ensure that builders and healers throughout the region have the chance that they need to accomplish their tasks.
Now, I’ve heard some Americans wonder aloud, “Why should we care about the Middle East? After all, we’re on the verge of energy independence, so why don’t we just walk away?”
And the answer is that it would be directly and profoundly contrary to our nation’s interests to try and do that. We have to remember that the Middle East is home to some of America’s oldest friends, including our ally Israel, but also our many Arab partners in this now more complicated world. We also learned from 9/11 that regional threats become global very quickly. And we have seen that ideas transmitted by terrorists in Raqqa and Mosul can reach impressionable minds in Minneapolis and Mississippi. We are aware as well that events in the Middle East can affect perceptions on every single continent because people on every continent are influenced by the spiritual and ethical traditions that have their roots in those ancient lands.
I hear about this everywhere I go. People are amazed. It’s good to see the former prime minister here. I am amazed – he knows what I’m talking about. All over the world – foreign ministers, prime ministers, finance ministers, presidents say to me when I visit, no matter where I am, “You’ve got to do something about the Middle East. You have to change this because it affects us.”
Now, it is true, of course, that we rely less on Middle East oil than we used to, but it’s also true that the energy market is global. And any serious disruption of Gulf oil supplies could quickly harm our financial systems, lower exports, cost millions of jobs. That’s an interest.
So the Middle East matters, and it matters way beyond oil, my friends. It matters a lot in the context of this world where we are trying to bring people together to seize a future. That’s why it is so appropriate that Carnegie is launching this ambitious project this week called Arab World Horizons to examine trends that will shape the Middle East for decades to come. And I encourage you to begin this project with a healthy degree of optimism. And before you conclude that I’ve had too much caffeine – (laughter) – let me emphasize I mean what I just said, I mean it.
A couple of years ago, we asked the McKinsey Company to study the economic prospects of Jordan, Syria, Israel, Egypt, and the West Bank. And a good starting place for all of you is to go back to the Arab report – study report on economic growth of a number of years which was stark in its appraisal of what had not happened that should have happened in many of the Arab countries in the region. But interestingly, my good friend, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah bin Zayed, recently also commissioned a separate study which similarly showed what we looked at through McKinsey Company where we looked at every sector from farming to tourism.
My friends, the potential for growth is simply extraordinary. The potential of this region to be a driving financial center, harnessing the incredible technology and capacity of peoples in many of the countries is simply extraordinary. Just imagine a future where people from the Nile to the Jordan to the Euphrates are free to live and work and travel as they choose; where every boy and girl has access to a quality education; where visitors are able to flock without fear to the world’s greatest tourist attractions. I mean, think of that – the world’s greatest tourist attractions. I’ve driven by them. I haven’t even had time to stop at some of them. The place where John the Baptist christened so many people including Jesus, the temple near it, a Muslim mosque, which is one of the oldest in the region and most important, the extraordinary history of the generations of struggle that have taken place in the Middle East. There is something there for everybody – even a atheist who is a budding architect would have trouble not having an interesting time. And where you have – neighboring countries are actually eager to trade. I hear this from the ministers in each of the surrounding countries – how much they wish things could just change so they could begin to engage in the normal commerce of the region and ready to cooperate on projects that actually link their economies together.
Now, sadly, we have become so accustomed to dwelling on the problems of the Middle East that we sometimes forget that, staring us in the face, are some incredible opportunities – and we all ought to be doing more to focus on those opportunities, because the people in all the countries are beginning to simply lose belief in any of their leaders. Palestinians don’t have belief, Israelis don’t have belief, and people in the surrounding Arab countries don’t have belief. And what it takes is real leadership and real decisions and real events on the ground to begin to change those hopes.
So we ought to be doing more, all of us – and here I specifically include governments in the region – need to take advantage of these huge opportunities that exist today.
Now, let’s be honest with each other. Apart from petroleum, Middle Eastern countries right now simply don’t produce enough of what the rest of the world wants; they don’t trade efficiently even among themselves; and they aren’t making wise use of their human capital. Only about one woman in four participates in the economy and youth unemployment is at 25 percent or higher. This leaves millions of unhappy young people who – because of the pervasiveness of social media – are completely aware of what everybody else in the world has and they don’t. Everybody’s connected 24/7. You can be impoverished and they still have a smartphone and they can still Google and they can still Facebook and they can still figure out what the other person has, and they can talk to those people and they do in very simple, declarative sentences.
So what happens to all that energy and ambition?
In the United States, the average age is 35. In the Middle East and North Africa, it’s under 25. And many of those countries have populations where it’s 60, 65 percent under the age of 30, 35. So the region’s future really depends on the choices that these young men and women are going to get to make. But who are they going to listen to? You need to talk about that as you have this conference. What ideas will command their loyalty? What might excite their imagination? Individually, each one of these young people is a story that will end either in frustration or in opportunity. And collectively, they present a profound challenge, because the outcome of that race between frustration and opportunity will do everything to define tomorrow’s Middle East.
So to be clear, there’s no single way, there’s no just one way to win this race.
Governments in the region have to look both inward at their own policies and they have to look outward in order to compete in the global economy. And boy, do they have to start making a lot tougher decisions than they seem to have been willing to make. You can’t fake it. You just can’t drift along and pretend somehow it’s going to resolve itself.
Business people have to help bridge the gap between what graduates actually know when they leave school and the skills that they need to have in order to get a good job. And by the way, that’s the same right here in the United States of America and every other modern country today.
Women and girls have to be given an equal chance to compete in the classroom and in the workplace.
And civil society has to have the right to voice new ideas, advocate for reform, and hold leaders accountable.
Now, the United States believes deeply in the future of the region. That’s why we remain so engaged. And that is why we have invested in a variety of worthwhile programs, everything from the rule of law initiatives in Jordan to public-private partnerships in the Palestinian Authority, which Salam Fayyad worked so hard, and I had the pleasure of working with him, to try to implement. But we also know that the pace of progress will depend, in part, on improved security – and that is a major goal of U.S. policy in the Middle East. And we don’t just mean security for one country or another. Israelis have to be secure; Palestinians have to be secure; the people in Gaza have to be secure; everybody has to be secure. And it’s our common enterprise now to fight for that security.
So here I go back to the struggle that I mentioned earlier about the destroyers and the builders. If the builders are going to succeed, they’re going to have to be protected from the dangers that are posed by terrorists, by strife, by violence, by weapons of mass destruction; and America’s security strategy in the Middle East is precisely designed to try to aid in each of these areas.
That’s why President Obama placed such importance on achieving a negotiated solution to Iran’s nuclear program. As all of you know, this man over here, Bill Burns, played a critical role in helping to get those talks with Iran off the ground and in helping to forge the interim plan that set the stage for the final agreement that we’ve reached, and that is an agreement that is imposing dramatic constraints on all aspects of Iran’s nuclear activities.
Ten days ago, the deal became official and the implementation began. And that implementation will require the mothballing of two-thirds of Iran’s centrifuges, the shipment abroad of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium, the destruction of the core of its heavy water nuclear plutonium reactor.
The whole process will be monitored by the IAEA and no sanctions will be lifted until that Agency verifies that Iran has done exactly what it promised to do. Now this gives Iran every incentive to live up to its commitments, just as it did, by the way, during the 18 months leading up to the final agreement. People don’t realize this, that almost – I think more than two years now – just about two years exactly of Iran’s compliance with the interim agreement has now taken place. And you haven’t heard of major breaches or anything because it’s been adhered to.
So I hope now that everyone who was for the agreement and everyone who was against it will come together to support its full and verifiable implementation. That’s the goal. And I promise you, I am absolutely convinced that the United States will be safer, our allies will be safer, and the world will be safer if Iran doesn’t have and isn’t anywhere close to getting a nuclear weapon. And we believe, as our Energy Department, our intelligence community, and our military know, that because of the verification measures and transparency of this agreement, we will know whether or not they are.
Now, as you recall, when negotiations were going on, there was speculation about what an agreement might mean for relations between Washington and Tehran. Was it possible that a breakthrough on the nuclear issue would be able to open the door to broader cooperation? Some welcomed that prospect and some, to be truthful, were alarmed by that prospect.
So I want to be clear that we meant exactly what we said: the Iran deal was considered on its own terms. Not, “What is it going to do here?” It was just nuclear – nuclear terms. It was the right thing to do whether or not it leads to other areas of cooperation. Now, we’re not making any assumptions about Iran’s future policies because we base our approach on observable facts. And what we see, obviously, is that Iran continues to engage in playing to sectarian divisions in the region and it continues to detain several American citizens, in our estimation, without justification. And Tehran’s policies are one reason that we are working so closely and so supportively with our partners in the region including the Gulf states and Israel.
In fact, we have established an unprecedented level of cooperation with Israel on military and intelligence issues; and we are coordinating in enforcing sanctions and in trying to stop terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hizballah from getting the financing and the weapons that they seek.
We also support Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens, and we do that in many ways. We also support all of the GCC countries in the work we did at Camp David and in Doha and that we will continue to do, and that I even reaffirmed when I was out in the region just a couple of days ago. Within the past week, I have met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with President Abbas, with King Abdullah, with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, others. And we all agreed on the importance of ending the violence in Israel, Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank, and of and making it clear that the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif will not be changed.
Now, I want to be clear that the kind of violence that we have been seeing in recent weeks hurts everyone: the innocent victims and their families; the Jewish and Arab residents of Israel; the Palestinians who yearn to have their aspirations realized – hurts everyone. And this is yet another indication of the folly of believing that efforts at permanent peace and reconciliation are somehow not worth pursuing. I can’t imagine the notion of just throwing up your hands and walking away and saying good luck. The current situation is simply not sustainable. President Obama has said that publicly many times. I’ve said it publicly.
And it is absolutely vital for Israel to take steps that empower Palestinian leaders to improve economic opportunities and the quality of life for their people on a day-to-day basis. And it is equally important – equally important – for Palestinian leaders to cease the incitement of violence and to offer something more than rhetoric; instead, propose solutions that will contribute in a real way to the improvement of life, to the reduction of violence, and to the safety and security of Israel’s – of Israelis. Firm and creative leadership on both sides is absolutely essential. A two-state solution with strong security protections remains the only viable alternative. And for anybody who thinks otherwise, you can measure what unitary looks like by just looking at what’s been going on in the last weeks. The United States absolutely remains prepared to do what we can to make that two-state – two peoples living side by side in peace and security – to make it possible.
Now, another core element of our security strategy in the Middle East is centered on the coalition that we have mobilized to counter and defeat the group known as ISIL, or Daesh. The list of crimes for which Daesh is responsible is truly mind-boggling. It’s as disturbing as anything that I have ever contemplated in my life. Daesh are smugglers, they’re kidnappers. They butcher teachers and burn books, destroy history. They execute journalists for doing their jobs, trying to report on the truth. They execute people just for their religious beliefs. They execute them for who they are by birth – nothing said, nothing done – just because they’re different. In Iraq, Daesh has been auctioning off women and girls, teaching – teaching people that the rape of underage non-Muslim females is a form of prayer.
According to Daesh’s online propaganda, their militants supposedly live in virtual paradise, but we’re beginning to see how different the reality really is. There are multiple reports of Daesh executing fighters who signed up and then had second thoughts and were trying to get out. Consider the case of a teenage boy who had been recruited in Syria and sent to Iraq. One morning, he approached a Shiite mosque in Baghdad; he unbuttoned his jacket, opened it up, told the guards, “I’m wearing a suicide vest, but I don’t want to blow myself up.” And the boy said later that he had volunteered to wear the vest because it was the only way that he could think of to escape. He had joined Daesh to serve his religion and fight Assad. But when he witnessed the execution of a young person very much like himself, he decided to reverse course and get out.
This past summer, the terrorists picked up sledge hammers and smashed half a dozen statues in the ancient city of Palmyra. They destroyed the Roman arch, as you know. They blew up historic tombs and destroyed a 2,000-year-old temple. Then they seized the city’s director of antiquities, the man who was trying to protect history, and they made him kneel in a public square, and they cut off his head. The man was 83 years old and spent a lifetime saving history. He’d been in charge of preserving Palmyra’s cultural heritage for more than 50 years.
My friends, between this Saturday night and Sunday morning, we’re all going to be turning our clocks back one hour. Daesh and groups like it want to turn the clock of civilization back a millennium or more. We simply cannot allow this to continue.
And that is why President Obama is ratcheting up what we are doing. Under President Obama’s leadership, we have led a 65-member coalition to take on Daesh. For more than a year, we’ve been doing that. And we have saved communities – Kobani and (inaudible) and Tikrit – Tikrit has seen 100,000 Sunni be able to return to their homes. And we’ve said from the beginning that this would be a multiyear effort, but I think we’ve already accomplished a lot. We’ve launched more than 7,300 airstrikes. We’ve forced Daesh to change how it conducts military operations. We’ve impeded its command and control. From the critical border town of Kobani all the way to Tikrit, we have liberated communities and made a difference in the nature of this battlefield.
I spoke earlier about the impact of our policies on ordinary lives. Last week – just to underscore to you the degree to which we are ready to take this fight, and the degree to which we are raising our capacity – a U.S. special forces operation carried out a rescue directed against a Daesh prison in northern Iraq. Our troops freed 69 hostages who were about to be executed one by one, with a mass grave that had already been dug.
Now, I have spoken to our people in our embassy. I talked actually with our special envoy, who is in Baghdad even as I speak to you right now. I talked to him last night. He told me he went and visited these people who had been released. He said you could not imagine the emotion – their expression of gratitude to President Obama and to the American people. And they told us of the enormous debt they feel to the family of Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler who gave his life in that operation. I think that’s a debt that we all owe, and I will say to you what I have said many, many times throughout my life: that we are deeply privileged to be represented and protected by the quality and caliber of the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States. And we express our gratitude to them.
Meanwhile, the – (applause). Meanwhile, I want you to know that the combination of coalition airpower and the Iraqi ground forces is being felt. We’re supplying Iraq with armored bulldozers and mine-clearing equipment that’s making it much harder for Daesh to resupply its fighters in Ramadi. An Iraqi force just retook the Baiji oil refinery, strategically located on the road that links Baghdad and Mosul. In northern Syria, the coalition and its partners have pushed Daesh out of more than 17,000 square kilometers of territory, and we have secured the Turkish-Syrian border east of the Euphrates River. That’s about 85 percent of the Turkish border, and the President is authorizing further activities to secure the rest.
Now looking ahead, we know that some of our key allies – including the British, the French, and the Turks – are stepping up even more with their help. And President Obama recently gave a green light to send more ammunition and other aid to our allies on the ground. The President has made clear that we are determined to degrade Daesh more rapidly.
Now, I want to underscore as well that military operations are but one of the many components of what the coalition is doing. We’re working hard to counter Daesh’s propaganda and to deter potential foreign fighters from joining it. In partnership with the UAE, we have established a center in Abu Dhabi that is offering positive messages across the region on the internet and all through social media, talking about politics, religion, and the responsibilities of faith. And we’re striving to cut off Daesh’s funding so that it becomes bankrupt politically, just as it is morally.
But ultimately, to defeat Daesh, we have to end the war in Syria. And that is America’s goal. In thinking about how to do this, you have to think about how the conflict began. Early in 2011, toward the start of the Arab spring, a popular uprising challenged the Assad regime, which father and son had ruled for more than four decades – 40 years, folks. Assad sent thugs to beat up the young people who were protesting in the streets and looking for jobs, looking for a future. That’s all they wanted. But the thugs went out and beat them up. And when the parents got angry at the fact that their kids were met with thugs, they went out and they were met with bullets and bombs. That’s how this started.
So having made peaceful change impossible, Assad made war inevitable and he soon turned to Hizballah for help, and Iran, and Russia. And this exacerbated tensions between Sunni and Shia communities, and it paved the way for Daesh to emerge. The result has been four and a half years of nonstop horror. This is a human catastrophe unfolding before our eyes in the 21st century. You all know the numbers; we have a fundamental responsibility to try to do something about it. One Syrian in twenty has been killed or wounded. One in five is a refugee. One in two has been displaced. The average life expectancy in Syria has dropped by 20 years.
My friends, the challenge that we face in Syria today is nothing less than to chart a course out of hell. And to do that, we have to employ a two-pronged approach, intensifying our counter-Daesh campaign and, on the other side, our diplomatic efforts to try to bring the conflict to a close. These steps are actually mutually reinforcing. And that is why we are stepping up the fight against Daesh by resupplying the moderate opposition fighters in northern Syria to help them consolidate the gains that they have made across broad swaths of territory and to begin to pressure the chief city of ISIL, which is Al Raqqa. We’re also enhancing our air campaign in order to help drive Daesh, which once dominated the Syria-Turkey border, out of the last 70-mile stretch that it controls. But at the end of the day, nothing would do more to bolster the fight against Daesh than a political transition that sidelines Assad so that we can unite more of the country against extremism.
We have to eliminate the mindset – which was encouraged from the beginning by both Assad and Daesh – that the only choice Syrians have is between the two of them; you either have terrorists or you have Assad. No, no, that’s not the choice. This is the mindset that drives those who fear the terrorists to side with the dictator and those who fear the dictator to side with the terrorists. And this is the mindset that has transformed Syria into a killing field.
We have a different vision. I just returned from meetings in Vienna that included a remarkable session, that broke some new ground, where we had the quartet of Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. And I will head back to Vienna tonight to take the next step in our discussions with representatives from an ever broadening group of nations, including Iran, which will join one of these multilateral gatherings for the first time. And while finding a way forward on Syria will not be easy – it’s not going to be automatic – it is the most promising opportunity for a political opening where recognizing what is happening – that Syria is being destroyed; that Europe is being deeply impacted; that Jordan is being greatly put under enormous pressure, Lebanon, Turkey, the region; and so many millions of Syrians are displaced within Syria itself, most compelling of all, the tragedy that Syrians are living every single day – the best opportunity we have is to try to come to the table and recognize there has to be the political solution that everybody has talked about.
As part of this diplomacy, I’ve had many conversations with my Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. And as everyone here knows, Russian airstrikes in Syria began about four weeks ago. So there’s a fundamental choice here. Is Russia there just to shore up Assad or is Russia there to actually help bring about a solution? We’ll know. We’ll put that to the test. And contrary to the claims of officials in Moscow, it has to be underscored that most of the strikes thus far have been directed not against Daesh, but against the opponents of the Assad regime. So that is not, in our view, the way to try to bring the war to a close. But that will be part of the discussion that we have in the course of our Vienna meetings. The likely results of that strategy, by the way, will be to further radicalize the population, prolong the fighting, and perhaps even strengthen the illusion on Assad’s part that he can just indefinitely maintain his hold on power. And if that’s what he thinks, I got news: there’s no way that a number of the other countries involved in this coalition are going to let up or stop. It won’t happen.
There’s another thing that’s critical, though. Russia, the United States, and others share an amazing amount of common ground on this. We actually all agree that the status quo is untenable. We all agree that we need to find a way to have a political solution. We all agree that a victory by Daesh or any other terrorist group absolutely has to be prevented. We all agree that it’s imperative to save the state of Syria and the institutions on which it is built and preserve a united and secular Syria. We all agree that we have to create the conditions for the return of displaced persons and the refugees. We agree on the right of the Syrian people to choose their leadership through transparent, free, and fair elections with a new constitution and protections for all minorities in the country. We agree on all that. Surely we can find a place where one man does not stand in the way of the possibilities of peace. So we agree that all of these steps can only be achieved – and Syria can only be saved – through a political settlement.
So my message to Foreign Minister Lavrov, to President Putin, to all concerned governments is that we each have a responsibility here to contribute to an early end to this Syrian disaster through a transition already agreed upon in the context of the Geneva communique that will unite the country and enable this beleaguered country to rehabilitate itself, bring back its citizens, and live in peace. That is the purpose of the inclusive diplomatic process that we’re continuing to pursue beginning with this trip back across the Atlantic this evening.
And before closing, I just want to make two additional points quickly.
First, to skeptics who say that democracy can’t make it in the Middle East and North Africa, I reply with one word: Tunisia. (Applause.)
Here, where the Arab Spring was born, we’re not finding a paradise. But we’re finding a place where leaders from opposing factions have been willing to put the interests of their nation above personal ambitions; where civil society played a vital role in spurring political dialogue; where power was transferred peacefully from one leader to the next in accordance with the rule of law; and where diverse perspectives, including both secular and religion, are not being repressed, but they’re actually being encouraged and taken into account. What is happening in Tunisia is important for the people there, obviously, but guess what? It is instructive for the entire region. Tunisia is showing what it means to be builders in the Middle East.
My second point is more of a plea: Please do not accept the view of some that the Middle East must inevitably be divided along sectarian lines, especially between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Nothing fuels the propaganda of Daesh and other terrorist organizations more than this myth. This simplistic and cynical view is not only not true historically, it’s not true today.
After all, the coalition to defeat Daesh includes virtually every Sunni majority nation in the Middle East, and Daesh, as we know, is made up of Sunni. And last June, when Daesh suicide bombers attacked and killed 27 Shiite Muslims while they were praying in Kuwait right at the start of Ramadan – and 27 were killed – what happened? The emir and the speaker of the parliament – both Sunni – immediately rushed to the site of the tragedy. Thirteen hundred people volunteered to give blood on the first day. Sunni religious leaders urged their followers to show solidarity by praying at Shia mosques. The government flew the bodies of the victims to Najaf for burial in accordance with family wishes. And back in Kuwait, 35,000 people of every single tribe came together and attended a funeral for others who were killed. The emir stood up and up and said the mosque will be rebuilt. And a Sunni businessman volunteered to do the job for nothing. Daesh will rise or fall on its ability to drive good people apart, and that is precisely why I say it will fail.
On that horrible evening 20 years ago, when Yitzhak Rabin descended the city hall steps in Tel Aviv and he walked towards his car and towards his killer, there was a sheet of paper in his pocket that would soon be stained with blood. And on the paper were the words to Shir LaShalom, the “Song of Peace” – words that warn of the permanence of death and hence the imperative of replacing hate with something better.
The Middle East today, my friends, is still marred by the sounds and spectacle of violence, but it need not be, because the region is also pulsating with life. It is the home of populations that are energetic, youthful, forward-looking, and far more interested in plugging into the world economy than slugging it out with historic foes. It is in them that we place our faith. It is for them and for their horizons that we dedicate our collective efforts. And it is with them that the United States of America is determined to turn back the destroyers and build a future that is characterized by prosperity, by peace, and by dignity for all people. That is a worthy fight.
Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)
John Kerry has served as the 68th secretary of state of the United States since February 1, 2013.
William J. Burns
William J. Burns is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He previously served as U.S. deputy secretary of state.