Senator John Kerry Addresses The Fletcher School Graduating Class of 201

Posted: May 28, 2011 in News and Views

Senator John Kerry started his speech with thanks. He said,he is  honored to be here today, and he is honored to receive the Dean’s Medal, particularly when the Dean is Stephen Bosworth. Below is text of his speech:

I’ve known Ambassador Bosworth for many years now. I first encountered him in 1985-86 when I was a young senator and he was a young diplomat and together we were trying to help restore democracy in the Philippines.

After 27 years in the Senate, I now know that you get few opportunities – if any — to make such an important difference in the history of an entire country. Stephen Bosworth had the chance in the Philippines — and it is no understatement that the historic transition from the autocratic regime of Ferdinand Marcos to the restoration of democracy under Corazon Aquino would not have happened without the skilled diplomatic stewardship of Ambassador Bosworth.

More recently, we’ve been fortunate to have his counsel on North Korea. That challenge is far from settled, but we are all glad that it is in the good Ambassador’s hands. And frankly, I can’t think of anyone more capable of helping to prepare the next generation of policy makers here at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

A couple of weeks ago, he told me you guys had a problem with two hawks dive bombing people on the campus. Why am I not surprised that at Tufts, Angry Birds is not just a video game


Before I get too far, please indulge me with a personal moment. I know all of you have powerful personal stories of how you reached this day. I’d like to offer a shout out to Navy Commander Spencer Abbot. He just returned from leading an Air Squadron in Japan after the nuclear disaster to receive his doctorate from Tufts today – and next weekend he is getting married to my cousin, Laura Winthrop. I thank him and any other veteran here for their service to our country. Now I’ve embarrassed him enough that he will sneak outta here without getting his diploma!

As I was working on this speech the other night, I couldn’t help but notice that some biblical experts predict that the world will end at exactly 6 o’clock tonight. After this week, not a minute too soon for Newt Gingrich. By the way, you might want to hold off paying back those student loans til Monday! You guys may have the shortest careers in history!

And by the way, I envy you. You had a lot of advantages we didn’t have when I went to college. You guys had Red Bull. I had to fake staying awake in class.

And one last piece of advice–delete some of those Facebook photos on your Facebook page. Some college memories just aren’t meant to be shared with the world—let alone Mom and Dad!

I know that you’ve all sat through a lot of lectures here at Fletcher. The last thing you need is a Senate filibuster, so I will keep my remarks brief.

What an extraordinary teaching moment the past few months have been. The rapid fire changes in world affairs reflect every challenge conceivable that you aspire to help tackle.

There is so much to wrestle with – and so much work to be done to get this moment right.

Here at Fletcher, you’ve already engaged in the world beyond our borders. And unlike the generation of Kennan’s long telegraph, you’ve also come of age in the age of wireless connections and instant messaging.

The world of text messaging continues to dazzle a lot of us. I just found out that “WTF” does not stand for Wonderful Tufts Faculty.

Seriously, all of you have a valuable intuitive understanding of the new technology shaping our world—technology that is breaking down borders, challenging autocrats, and empowering citizens more rapidly and dramatically than any time in history.

Just look at the work that Fletcher students have already done in crisis-mapping — taking a piece of software developed in Kenya and using it to create an online map after last year’s earthquake in Haiti — plotting every individual report of injured people, collapsed buildings, and dwindling supplies. It was a real-time map of a disaster that actually helped everyone from humanitarian workers to U.S. Marines respond —and it underscored a new world where software developed in Nairobi can be used by students in Boston to save lives in Port-au-Prince.

But for many policy makers, these technological innovations and the rapid change they’ve helped signal remain disorienting – adding new velocity to a foreign policy landscape that was already complex enough.

I know that we’ve been wrestling with complexity in foreign policy for a long time. Just a few years after I was elected to the Senate, the Berlin Wall came down, and the way we had been conditioned to think about international relations collapsed with it.

After 45 years of the Cold War, we didn’t even know what to call the new era. It was just the “post-Cold War world.” And we certainly didn’t have a doctrine to navigate it.

At first, the September 11th attacks seemed to give us a new paradigm. We knew who the enemy was. We knew we had to go after Al Qaeda. We knew that radicalism abroad could not be allowed to threaten us at home. So we stopped talking about the “post-Cold War world,” and we started talking about the “war on terror.”

But soon we discovered that the “war on terror” was perhaps as overly simplistic as the Cold War doctrine.

The Cold War at times tempted us to support authoritarian and undemocratic regimes as a bulwark against communism, and in the process we lost the battle for hearts and minds in those countries. We soon found that by seeing the Middle East almost exclusively through the lens of terrorism, we lost sight of the rising swell of economic and political discontent in the region that itself could breed extremism.

Our focus became too narrow, and our policy became unbalanced.

It’s true that the United States had long tolerated oppressive regimes in the Middle East. Our dependence on oil undercut our values in the region for decades. But after September 11th, more than oil, it was our fear that secular dictators were the only alternative to Islamic radicalism that empowered rulers to justify their repression at home and to extract ever-greater support from us. We failed to confront the reality that the extremism of Al Zawahiri first proselytized in Egypt’s prisons where zealots and democrats alike were imprisoned and tortured. And we were largely muzzled in public about the abuses we warned Arab leaders about in private.

Sometimes it was for very good reasons, as when Sadat and Mubarak agreed to peace with our ally Israel. But the ‘inconvenient truth’ was that, like it or not, our foreign policy relied heavily on our relationships with autocrats.

The Arab Spring has changed that calculation – for the better. The old approach was unsustainable, and it is collapsing far faster than anyone predicted – with the imperative that we must change the way we navigate the world.

For centuries, the people of the Middle East labored under a succession of foreign occupiers—Turkish, Mongol, European. Foreign powers left in the years after World War II. And when the occupiers left, in many cases, they were merely replaced with homegrown dictatorships and proxy powers. Undemocratic regimes buttressed by powerful, and unaccountable security institutions became the norm.

The result was complete civil decay. When people can’t trust their government, when they have no outlet for their frustrations, when their hopes are suffocated by repression, their anger builds—and their society erodes.

That erosion was accelerated by a lack of economic opportunity. Countries in the region rich in oil and gas pumped prosperity out of the ground but that pipeline flowed to ruling families not the people. Leaders did not invest in their populations—in education, infrastructure, and technology. Good jobs and sustainable economic growth were nowhere to be found, and too often resentment at the lack of middle class opportunity was channeled by demagogues and ideologues alike against the west rather than at their own governments.

All that changed this spring — not with the explosion of a suicide vest or an IED, but with the act of a single fruit vendor in Tunisia, a young man who said that no longer would he have his dignity denied. All those years of political and economic dissatisfaction suddenly led to revolution. Long-simmering grievances were brought to a head in Tunisia, and then magnified by technology that—overnight—inspired formerly isolated impulses into collective action. Arab television networks and social networks like Facebook and Twitter transformed a movement that might have stopped in the town of Sidi Bouzid and helped it spread instead throughout the Middle East.

The result was stirring triumphs in Tunis and Tahrir Square, unprecedented protests in Yemen and Bahrain, and brutal crackdowns in Libya and Syria.

And so, here we are at a moment of great uncertainty and, yes, great promise. With the entire region in flux, we have an historic opportunity to help set a better course and build a new relationship with its people. How we respond today, right now, will shape our strategic position in the Middle East—and how Muslims around the world see us—for decades to come. And that, believe me, will have a profound effect on our security for generations to come.

Make no mistake; two important events this spring underscored the stakes in the Middle East.

The killing of Osama bin Laden was a huge blow to Al Qaeda and its message of violence and hatred. But in reality, the potential deathblow to Al Qaeda and the next generation of Bin Ladens had already occurred in Tunisia and Egypt – and it is occurring now in Libya. The Arab awakening reminded the world of a way to provide opportunity Al Qaeda could never achieve.

For all the false promises of Al Qaeda and their call to jihaadism, the peaceful protests of Tunisians and Egyptians represented a blow against extremism that we could not have dealt ourselves.

For decades Ayman Al Zawahiri and his fellow radicals preached violence to overturn the Egyptian order. But within this year alone, the people of Egypt managed to liberate themselves in 18 days—emulating Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King. Ordinary citizens like Wael Ghonim, the 31-year-old computer engineer for Google—brought that change themselves with new media and with old time courage.

So, today, you graduate into a very different world. And the challenge to each of you is to answer, ‘What comes next?’

When destabilization allows people to upend an unjust status quo, to unseat a dictator, to find their voices after decades of silence, it holds the promise of a more equitable world. But this destabilization can also trigger humanitarian emergencies, worsen sectarian divides, and breed a lawlessness that energizes radicalism or invites a new Mubarak – a new strongman – to start the cycle of repression all over again. And in the end, that could allow a new generation of extremists, more violence, and greater risk to America’s security.

So it is essential for the United States to get this right. The question is how?

First, we must be on the side of the people. That is why it was important for the United States to clearly help show President Mubarak the exit, and why a no-fly zone in Libya was a vital bulwark against a Ghadafi massacre.

But that’s just the beginning. Going forward, we must fundamentally change our relationship with the governments of the entire region. For ten years we focused too much on leaders rather than people. We must now see the Middle East not solely through the lens of 9/11 but through the eyes of the people in 2011.

That means standing up for fundamental rights and pushing for reforms that address legitimate aspirations. It means helping citizens establish a new political culture by reforming security establishments, strengthening the rule of law, and promoting transparency. It means strengthening political parties, promoting free and independent media, and supporting fair and competitive elections. It also means understanding that elections are not an end in themselves. We must help build the institutions and culture of democracy.

At a time when the people of the Arab world are preparing for a new future, we must also do our best to break the stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians. On Thursday, the President delivered a very strong speech that charts a new course for America in the Middle East. He said what needed to be said, not necessarily what everyone wanted to hear, and that is exactly what the occasion called for. It laid out a clear set of principles for a period of great unrest in the Middle East, and clearly demonstrated America’s commitment to helping the people of the region. And with the new sanctions announced on Syria, it sent a clear message to President Assad and leaders in the region that violence was not acceptable.

Most importantly, the President did the right thing in laying out basic principles for peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, while making clear that Israel could not be expected to negotiate with anyone calling for its destruction. Now it is up to both sides to do what is necessary to resume negotiations that will deliver lasting peace and security for their people. And we must remain the critical agent of peace.

Resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine would go far in remaking the Middle East. But make no mistake –in the end, nothing will be more important than helping to build a better economic future for the Middle East as a whole. The revolutions belong to them not to us, but we know the impact that we can have at turning points like this. After World War II, the United States rebuilt the continent, and our enemies, and won allies and markets for us in the process. When the Berlin Wall fell, we again moved rapidly to aid the transition to democracy and free markets—giving several billion dollars to over nineteen countries–and two decades later, many of those countries we helped are thriving democracies, stable economies, and even valued members of NATO.

So here we are again in desperate need of a Marshall Plan for the Middle East. And John McCain has agreed to join me in introducing and fighting for just such a plan.

Only, this time – the stakes are even greater than they were after WW II. Today, 60 percent of Arabs are under the age of 30. Millions of new jobs are needed every year just to keep pace with the influx of workers and keep young people from the seduction of radicalism. But the supply has simply not met the demand. We can, together with the developed and near-developed countries of the world – and we must — help develop the region’s economies and grow the middle class so that the spark that lit the fires of the Arab Spring isn’t extinguished in a flood of indifference.

Our commitment must begin in Egypt. When I was in Cairo in March, I held a town hall meeting with 200 young Egyptians. They came from all walks of life. Some of the women wore headscarves, others wore mini-skirts. Some of the young men had pious beards, others wore Western suits. But all of them wanted a better future. What happens there now will affect not only 80 million Egyptians, but the entire Middle East. And in the end, it will affect us too.

And the news that no one wants to hear is that, just as it did before, it will take money. All of us in government and all of you at Fletcher must do a better job of communicating the reality that foreign assistance is not a gift to others; it is an investment in our own security, a security that comes from the wellbeing of all. Fiscal responsibility and global responsibility must go hand-in-hand.

Most of you probably remember Tom Hanks in “Charlie Wilson’s War.” There’s that final scene – when, after investing billions to help Afghans defeat the Soviets, we were unwilling to invest a few million on schools and opportunities to provide an alternative to the extremists. We know too well what came next. Here we are spending 120 billion dollars a year in a war in Afghanistan, and a tiny fraction of that in Egypt. That’s the imbalance we have to correct.

Imagine the difference we would make if we took 10 billion dollars – less than 10% of what we’re spending in Afghanistan — and put that toward economic development in the Middle East. As we draw down our troops and reduce the cost of the war, we should be re-allocating resources where they are so clearly needed, in a sustainable, cooperative way with the Egyptians and others who share our vision of the challenge.

In February, I announced one component of this effort: enterprise funds for Tunisia and Egypt that will invest in small and medium-sized businesses. If our efforts in Eastern Europe are any indicator, these funds can create thousands of jobs and repay the original U.S. investment – with interest. And they can help create new markets and investment opportunities that will ultimately benefit the United States and the entire global economy.

We cannot – and should not do this alone. The entire international community shares our interest in a stable and prosperous Middle East. We must be the convener and catalyst that also marshals the resources of countries in the gulf, of American corporations and of international financial institutions to invest in a different economic future than the one the region faces today. It is not enough to say that the old paradigms won’t suffice. We need bold new thinking – and bold action to match it.

This is where you come in. The challenge for your generation of diplomats, policy makers and thinkers is to be prepared to think differently and act courageously to define this new world and these new opportunities. You will need to fight back hard against increasing isolationism and short horizons – against exploitative politicians who play to simplistic slogans, always looking to the short term. But that is precisely the gift and responsibility that Fletcher has given you – as President Kennedy said: “It is time for a new generation of leadership for there is a new world to be won”.

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