A Conversation With John Kerry: Diplomacy in an Era of Disruption with Tom Friedman
Professor Klaus Schwab: Good afternoon, and before we start our session – and I know, Mr. Secretary, you will be in very good hands with my friend Tom Friedman – but allow me to be very personal. It’s your last session in your official capacity here in Davos, and I want to use this opportunity to thank you. You have been such a great friend and partner of the World Economic Forum. You have been a personal mentor to me. I remember the many hours we spent in your senator’s office many years ago already. You have been 11 times here in Davos. So that’s a opportunity to thank you from all our heart, and you, Mr. Secretary – I think you are an example and a role model for everybody in terms of your engagement for world peace.
And I can tell you the forum will continue to act as an ambassador and, let’s say, as a kind of keeper of your legacy. And in order to do so, I hope, even if you are not anymore in office, we have many opportunities to see you back. So thank you so much. (Applause.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you very much.
MR SCHWAB: Exactly.
QUESTION: Klaus, thank you. Mr. Secretary, it’s a treat and an honor to be able to do this with you. You’re at the end of your term. I’ve had a chance to cover four or five secretaries of state now, and yours was a very consequential secretary of stateship, both in what you achieved and what I think – what you tried to achieve. Look back for us a little bit. I want to just start – what are you most proud of?
SECRETARY KERRY: Getting here alive. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Since is the last time I’ll be talking to a secretary of state – (laughter) – I mean, it’s —
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I – let me just begin by saying that I don’t view this as an end. I’m ending a term of being secretary of state, but I’m not stopping being. And therefore, given the issues that are on the table and the challenges we face globally, I intend to be extremely active and involved and continue to press in the same direction that we’ve been pressing in.
What I think – if I had to summarize it, and I mean, it’s – and I hate doing that. I don’t like to —
QUESTION: Go ahead. But get – I want to get it on the record.
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t like to sort of say, well, this is the biggest thing or the – whatever. But I’m proud of the engagement of the Obama Administration. I’m proud of the vision that we applied to what we’ve tried to do. And I think people need to remember the state of the economy in 2008 in the fall. I mean, I can remember in the Senate watching a secretary of the treasury come up literally pale and quaking and talking to us about the imminent implosion of the global financial system. And the President of the United States, before he was even sworn in, began to weigh in with President Bush and make decisions. And he made some very tough decisions – I mean, bailing out the auto industry, doing the things he did.
Well, today, as I sit here, we are the strongest economy in the world by far. And the dollar is stronger than it has been in years. That is not great on some accounts, in terms of emerging markets and other things, but it nevertheless is a very important factor. And we have been engaged broadly around the world. In fact, I would submit to everybody here – and I’ll defend this anywhere in the world – the United States of America has been more engaged on more issues with more crises simultaneously and with greater outcomes and consequence to that engagement on a global basis than at any time in American history. And I am proud of all of the things that we’ve been doing simultaneously – an incredible kind of juggling act, if you will – between the rebalance to Asia, bringing China along twice to ratchet up the sanctions with respect to North Korea.
Is it enough? No, not yet. But remember how long it took to build the sanctions on Iran ultimately that brought us to the table. That also is an accomplishment of the Obama Administration. But the South China Sea, we have stood up for the principle of noninterference, of resolving things by rule of law. We’ve stood up for freedom of navigation. We’ve – done our exercises. We’ve mobilized, we’ve deployed, including the possibility of THAAD and Aegis in order to defend our allies and ourselves against the potential of a nuclear weapon and a reckless, young, untested, and impulsive dictator. We – if you all recall two Christmases ago, people were predicting a million people were going to die in Western Africa. Well, the President deployed 3,000 troops and we built health care capacity, and we stopped Ebola in its tracks. And we not only didn’t have a million people die; we saved hundreds of thousands of lives and had a minimal loss.
Afghanistan. We had a flawed election run by the international community. We had potential of no government or even civil war. And I managed to negotiate a new concept of a unity government. And Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Ghani have been working together – not always easy, but it’s still there and it’s held Afghanistan together. And we are working with various parties to reach out to the Taliban and see if their engagement could produce something.
Even with Russia, where we obviously have big differences, we also made certain we didn’t let them get in the way of the capacity to make progress. So Russia was in fact integral to the efforts to create a multilateral, unified front that brought about the Iran agreement.
And the Iran agreement itself – I mean, I can’t tell you. We hadn’t talked to Iran at a high level in 35 years. I met with Zarif in the United Nations. We forged a relationship. We built trust in a place where it’s very difficult to do that in terms of the outside forces that were pushing in on us. And the rest is history. There are now no longer 19,000 centrifuges spinning and enriching. There are 5,000, which is the agreement. There is no longer a 12,000-kilogram stockpile that could produce 10 to 12 bombs. There’s 300 kilograms – measurable, every single day. And you can’t build a bomb with 300 kilograms. They’re no longer enriching at 20 percent or higher. They’re limited to 3.67 percent, and we measure that every day. So I believe this is an agreement that can endure, and there is no question in my mind the world and the region are safer because a country with whom we still have differences – on Yemen, on Syria, on Hizballah, et cetera – is not hurtling towards a nuclear weapon, all of the tensions that that would create.
We are on the cusp of having the first generation of children born AIDS-free in Africa. Why? Because we plussed up that program, worked with the Gates Foundation, worked with NGOs, and have done, I think, an extraordinary job of changing life for people in – not just there, but elsewhere in the world who face this scourge.
QUESTION: And Paris? Paris, Paris?
SECRETARY KERRY: And so – and Paris. We had a trifecta. If we just did Paris, that would have been an enormous accomplishment. But we not – and by the way, the reason Paris was able to get done, frankly – I mean, just speaking candidly at the end here – was because we went to China. I went there within six weeks of my being sworn in – seven weeks, and the second trip I made – and we built off of the failure of Copenhagen and said we can’t do this. We have to find a way forward. The world depends on it.
And so we set up a working group with the intention of being able to announce our intended reductions in emissions within a year. And guess what? President Xi and President Obama stood up together and announced those reductions, and that galvanized the rest of the world to say hey, the two biggest emitters in the world are on board. They’re serious. And the world changed and we moved towards a signal to the market. Even though we know we are not holding the rise of our temperature to the 2 degrees centigrade that we need to hold it to, we sent a signal to the marketplace about the largest market in the history of humankind.
So I mean – and I’m just – honestly, I’m scratching the surface here. We have a plan for peace on Yemen that’s on the table now. President Hadi just accepted it a couple of days ago. It took longer than it should have. We hope to get to Kuwait. The new administration will have to manage that, but there is a way forward to settle the war in Yemen. Libya, we’re working with the Emiratis, with the Emirates, with the Egyptians to try to rein in General Haftar to create a responsible Government of National Accord that can solidify Libya. I mean, all of these things can be solved. And the reason I believe we’re where we are is because we’ve been willing to try to put engagement and negotiation ahead of a rush to war.
And I’ll just tell you, I just came from Vietnam – I was in Vietnam and I went back down into the Mekong Delta where I was as a young naval officer and it was the coda to four years of work, really. I mean, we did not have peace in 1975 or 1980 or 1985. We were at war with ourselves after Vietnam. You can remember a Newsweek magazine with a headline saying “Are there still POWs alive in Vietnam?” This was in the 1990s. So we had to de-myth – we had to get at that. We had to take every single shred of evidence from 1960-something on to find out if there were any prisoners alive or anything happened. I spent 10 years doing that, enlisted John McCain in the effort. We went together to Vietnam – 16 trips – and built a capacity so that President George Herbert Walker Bush could begin to lift the embargo, then we could move with President Clinton to the normalization.
And I went with President Clinton in year 2000 to celebrate that, but then we had another number of years where we built now something very different. Vietnam is now one of our strongest partners. We’re cooperating on security. We have ship visits going into Danang, going into Cam Ranh Bay again. We not only – I mean, I went there to, quote, “defeat communism” in the context of the post-World War II world in the 1950s and ’60s and we all learned what a terrible miscalculation of the realities it was to do that. And guess what? Without AK-47s and without M-16s, today, Vietnam is a raging capitalist country – authoritarian, one party, yes, but no longer communist. And it is moving rapidly with Facebook membership that’s quite extraordinary, dialogue, labor unions, other things happening (inaudible).
QUESTION: John, let me just pick up there if I could —
SECRETARY KERRY: Can I just leave one last thought?
QUESTION: Sure. Please – yeah.
SECRETARY KERRY: We just announced and we are building the Fulbright University in Ho Chi Minh City, which has been granted, after much discussion, pure academic freedom. It will be a integrated, world-class educational institution in Vietnam and it’s going to make a world of difference to the future. So to me, that’s the legacy. It’s engagement, it’s diplomacy. Doesn’t always work, it can fail, and war is the failure of diplomacy, but I’d rather be on the side of the ledger that we’re on. I think we’ve left this – our country and notwithstanding – I mean, there – and there are a lot to talk about in terms of the changes. You’ve just written a book on it. But a lot of those ills and anxieties get thrown onto the Administration and people say oh my God, the narrative is one of disengagement, et cetera.” It’s not. We’re more engaged than we’ve ever been in the history of our country.
QUESTION: So let me pick up there. If – I’ve only been here a few hours, but if I had to write a column right now, the headline —
SECRETARY KERRY: I’ve only been here a few minutes.
QUESTION: It’s – right – (laughter) – the headline would be one of total disorientation. We had the president of China give a speech this morning that if you had just read me the words, I would have told you I didn’t know President Obama came here – (laughter) – that – defending capitalism, globalism, free markets, free trade – and juxtaposed with the headlines in the paper that President-elect Trump is really indifferent to the fate of the European Union and thinks NATO is obsolete.
So there is – there are a lot of people here, Mr. Secretary – myself included – who are walking around with a pit in their stomach, a fear that so many of the things you just articulated and achieved could be reversed in a week.
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t believe they will be. I just don’t believe that. I mean, take Iran, for instance. If the United States were to decide suddenly and say, hey, we’re not going to pursue this and so forth, I’ll bet you – I haven’t talked to all of them, but I’ll bet you that our friends and allies who negotiated this with us will get together and that Russia, China, Germany, France, and Britain will say you know what? This is a good deal. We’re going to keep it. And Iran and the rest of the – and they will keep the – and we’ll have made ourselves the odd person out. We’ll have injured our own credibility in, conceivably, irreparable way – not irreparable – things – time and – that’s just too dramatic. But we will have done great injury to ourselves, and it will hurt for the endurance of a year, two years, whatever, while the administration is there. But it’s unnecessary because – (laughter, applause.)
QUESTION: These people have dirty minds. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY KERRY: I told you I was going to be active. (Laughter.) I didn’t say how active. No, I just – honestly, I —
QUESTION: NATO, the European Union —
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — what – a question that’s been posed to me here, and we can both only speculate, is: Is the president-elect putting these things out as a negotiating ploy or do they really believe some of this stuff?
SECRETARY KERRY: Nobody knows and I can’t – I’m not going to guess. I can’t come here and venture, but I didn’t completely answer the other question when I was talking about if you just did Paris – and this is – I want to —
QUESTION: Yeah, let’s talk about each one —
SECRETARY KERRY: Because I want to bring this into this issue of going backwards.
SECRETARY KERRY: If you just did Paris, it’d be one thing, but we did ICAO, the airlines industry. We brought the airlines industry together. The airline industry, put together, represents the twelfth largest emitter in the world. If it was a country, it’d be the twelfth largest emitter. They were not included in Paris so we brought the airline industry to the table and have an agreement.
We also, in Kigali – with a lot of work, I will tell you – I mean, I was on the phone to the Saudis, who needed high-ambient concerns being addressed and other countries that needed it, but we managed to work out a way to satisfy their needs but still bring the world to a place where we are going to reduce our dependency on HFCs – hydrofluorocarbons – which are a thousand times more damaging than carbon dioxide. And just what we accomplished in Kigali has the potential of keeping the warming of the Earth to half a degree – by half a degree Centigrade, restraining it. So those are three.
Then we got Russia – again, Russia cooperated – and Putin – I talked to him personally about it and he said, “I’ll evaluate it,” and he did. And guess what? They came out and they agreed to do it. So we have the marine protected area of the Ross Sea in Antarctica, the greatest marine protected area in the world. So I just —
QUESTION: What you’re saying is there’s a lot of constraints, there’s a lot of structural constraints on reversing some of these things?
SECRETARY KERRY: There are structural constraints but there are also possibilities, Tom, that I think, when I hear this narrative – which is a false narrative – that the U.S. wants to pull – no. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the days ahead, but we certainly didn’t want to pull back. We stayed deeply engaged in those places.
I mean, we created the International Syria Support Group. I did that personally. We pulled people together to Vienna. We had two meetings in a month during which we had Iran and Russia at the table. And we got everybody to sign off on a solution to Syria, which is you have a new constitution, you have political process – call it transitional process, whatever you want to call it, where people are working on the new constitution and how people are going to participate – and then you have an election.
Now, the parties are going to have to sit down and debate what Assad’s role will be or won’t be, but getting to the table has proven to be so difficult because of the – a number of dynamics inside Syria itself. But when it is solved – and I predict it will be – I believe that the parties are now reaching a state of —
SECRETARY KERRY: — near exhaustion, that they understand that the dynamics have shifted and it did the day that Putin went in, and you got to be honest about that. And therefore, I think there is a way to get to an endgame here and I regret that we won’t be there to sort of do that. But I’m confident it can be done. I have no doubt about it. And I think that people are shifting on sort of how that can happen because they realize they’ve got to focus more on ISIL, more on – and – but the bottom line is that I think that we have been able to deal with some of these issues in ways that some people didn’t like. But guess what? They were effective.
Let me give examples. Ukraine – there was a big debate: oh, you’ve got to arm them; you’ve got to give them lethal weapons; you’ve got to do all this stuff. Well, they were stopped. Look at Russia today. Make an – any of you – and you do this, I know – an economic analysis of Russia. Not a pretty analysis in terms of the ruble, in terms of debt, in terms of investment in the future, massive numbers of old people, the demographics. I mean, there are a lot of reasons to have serious concerns not about where they’re going sort of as they focus on this westward stuff, but where they’re going to go in the long run and what kind of – what that really represents. The sanctions worked, and we worked unbelievably hard to keep Europe united around those sanctions. And they have been, and so they didn’t get lifted. And Minsk, I regret, has not been fully implemented, obviously. But I think it had an impact.
We also engaged in the frontline state reassurance program for Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, et cetera, and we put $3.4 billion – which is a quadrupling of what was being spent – into this reassurance program. And in the last few days, you all have seen images of the Cold War, with troops going to these countries in order to provide a framework structure to make it clear Article 5 is meaningful and NATO is meaningful.
Now, I don’t know where the new administration is going, but my message to my friends in Europe – and they are friends, and I loved working with my 28 colleagues in the EU, who are all thoughtful and engaged folks – my message is Europe’s got to believe in itself. Europe’s got to remember what we – why we have been on this 70-year journey, which nobody should devalue, and people are devaluing it for lack of definition and perhaps even for lack of leadership to some degree. But Europe needs to recognize that the reason people came together was not just economic. In fact, it wasn’t even principally economic. It was to stop Europeans from killing Europeans. It was to stop the carnage that came out of World War I and World War II and going back in history – the Thirty Years’ War and so on and so forth. And it’s worked, folks. It’s been the most – literally on the face of the planet, no region, no assembly of countries has grown as significantly and as powerfully as Europe has, where the standard of living has gone up remarkably, where security has been stronger, where trade is taking place, and there’s been amazing progress.
And then all of a sudden the anxieties that you described so effectively in your book and have for years, which many of us have been talking about, are targeting certain people in political life to blame the wrong target. Trade is not the most culpable enemy for the loss of jobs; 85 percent of job loss in the United States of America is because of technology. And I can’t wait to see how the incoming administration deals with AI that’s coming down the road and a bunch of other issues. That’s the reality of where the challenge is: How are people going to work? What are they going to work at, how you do it?
And you’re not going to solve it by running away from this. You’ve got to see the strength in unity, and I think there is strength in unity. And this current process I think is very, very risky, and I think it emboldens people who would love to see Europe divided against itself. So I think we have to stop and think hard about where we’re heading.
QUESTION: One issue that you devoted so much time to and, I think, came up with one of the most creative security plans for was to preserve the two-state solution. You gave a really quite remarkable speech on the history of that whole diplomatic process. You took enormous grief from it from some quarters.
SECRETARY KERRY: Is it over?
QUESTION: Some – not from this quarter. But President-elect Trump says he’s going to assign his son-in-law to the peace process. His expertise seems to be that he once went to Jewish summer camp. (Laughter.) And I’m just curious: Is the two-state solution over, John?
SECRETARY KERRY: No. No, it’s not over, which is the point that I was really trying to make and I will try to emphasize here today. I am a passionate supporter of Israel. I believe in Israel, believe in the dream of the Jewish people having a homeland of their own, and I supported it completely and totally as a United States senator and as a Secretary of State. I have defended Israel in more fora and prevented resolutions that were one-sided or delegitimizing – just plain unfair – and we as an Administration have done that. President Obama vetoed many efforts to try to delegitimize or to move the BDS or go to the ICC or all these kinds of things.
But our credibility is important too. We’re a nation. The United States of America’s sovereignty and our policies and our morality also matter. And we have, Republican and Democrat administration alike, for years – for decades – been opposed to settlements. Now, I’ve had well more than 375 hours of conversations with the prime minister of Israel, whom I’ve worked with closely, and we’ve had many personal moments and real exchanges, and we consider ourselves friends. But in almost all those conversations I’ve said: Look, you’re affecting the ability to make peace. You’re changing the peace map and you’re doing it unilaterally. And if you continue to do that, you’re going to have trouble also with us, because our credibility’s on the line. We can’t say we’re against settlements and then turn around and turn away from an effort to try to do something about it when you continue to build.
So what’s happened is – and people don’t know this in the world, and it’s a hard thing to be the messenger of truth, because it quickly gets distorted into one sentence or one attack – but the reality is that in 1993 under Oslo, Area C, which is 60 percent of the West Bank, was supposed to be turned back over to the Palestinians, and it didn’t happen for a number of different reasons. And the Palestinians weren’t faultless in all that. But the concept is still something everybody signed up to and that matters, because you have to build capacity among the Palestinians to be able to be a state. I mean, it takes time. And none of us are – not me, not President Obama – none of us are suggesting that you’re going to pull out and suddenly turn it over in three years, five years; it’s going to be Gaza next week. Of course not. Can’t do that. Israel’s security is a paramount consideration as a final status issue.
But we saw a process taking place whereby the West Bank is slowly and steadily being eaten up, where municipal boundaries of settlements are expanded well beyond the settlement buildings themselves. And if you take all the concentric circles of the municipal boundaries around these settlements, you actually see that most of the West Bank has been reserved for the exclusive use of Israel. That’s not a Palestinian state. You see 11,000 demolition orders for Palestinian homes right now, and they’re taking place at an increased rate. You see the 110,000 settlers that were there in 1993, when Oslo was signed, is now 385,000 and growing. And 70,000 of them are east of the separation barrier, which Israel itself decided where it would put it and build.
So it’s impossible to say that every person you add isn’t a complication when you decide what kind of state you’re going to have. And if you keep building in the corridors where you could have contiguity between that state, you no longer have a contiguous Palestinian state. So it really was important for us to make a statement and, frankly, ignite a debate. And I think that debate is now on.
SECRETARY KERRY: Let me say to my friends in Israel that you cannot be a unitary state and be democratic and Jewish at the same time. It’s – you can’t do it. And already today, the population between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River Valley of non-Jews is greater than Jews. So – and the questions I raised in my speeches – already you have Palestinians in the West Bank living under Israeli military law. But Israelis living in the settlements are living under Israel civil law. So you already have two legal systems being applied to people who live in an area that’s supposed to be a state separate from Israel. What happens when those folks go down the road and start to raise questions about the future, about their rights, about their voting, and where they vote, and what law they’re under and so forth?
QUESTION: Can you imagine in the middle of this?
SECRETARY KERRY: So this is not a recipe – what is happening today, Tom – and you know this better than anybody – you cut your chops with From Beirut to Jerusalem. I mean, you understand this as well as anybody that that’s a recipe for permanent insurgency, permanent conflict. And unfortunately, the majority of the cabinet there today has already declared they don’t believe in two states. But the majority of Israelis do believe in two states. The majority of American Jews believe in two states.
And so all we’re trying to do is preserve what is the broadly accepted remedy for this conflict that has been accepted by people all over the world. And a couple of days ago in Paris, 70 nations came together and said – they didn’t bash anybody; it wasn’t negative; it was remarkably constructive, in fact, I thought. But they all embraced the imperative of holding on to the two-state solution.
QUESTION: Just quickly on this, that if Trump actually appoints his bankruptcy lawyer as ambassador, for the first time Bibi will have an ambassador from America that’s to his political right. I mean, we’ve never had an American ambassador anywhere near there. And I dare say he will miss you a lot, because I suspect – (laughter) – he goes into many cabinet meetings saying to the far right there, “Look, I’d do this, but John Kerry, that – he and Obama – I mean, I would do this, of course.” But they’re not going to have you as an excuse anymore. And when the debate was around two states, the debate within the American Jewish community was right/left – you think the line should be here; I think it should be there. But when it moves to one state, the debate will be right/wrong. And when that happens, you will fracture every synagogue and every Jewish institution in America, and, I would suggest, all over the world. And I think we’re close to that. So thank you on behalf of this one person for drawing that redline.
Last question: You served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. You traveled the world. You were a soldier for America abroad. And you got to be Secretary of State for the United States these last four years. What surprised you about the job? What did you learn that you couldn’t see from there that you could see from here, and that if you did get a chance, in a friendly way, to write your successor a letter that he should know about being the secretary of state of the United States in the early 21st century?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, first of all, it’s been a remarkable privilege and a great journey. And I don’t regret any moments of it, in that regard. A number of things have really struck me. First of all, I – well, let me come to that at the end.
In the beginning, I’d say to you – and I don’t say this – I think those of you who know me well know I say this without an ounce of chauvinism, without any arrogance at all, but Madeleine Albright’s description of the United States as the indispensible country just comes home to me every single day. And because we are blessed with this powerful economy, and because we have a military second to nobody on the planet, and because we have the value system that we do have, shared by many other people in the world, we have a responsibility. And I think it’s a privilege to exercise that responsibility, but you have to do it with enormous sensitivity and judgment and apply all the wisdom in the world you can find to do it properly. And we haven’t – though, I mean, I’m sure we’ve made mistakes. But I think our intent and our purpose has always been the best, the highest sort of set of possibilities. That’s number one. And the power that we have to have an impact is enormous. And I think people need to understand that.
The second thing is that it’s really dangerous to play to the lowest common denominator of American – of global political life. The history of the world, when economies are having a hard time and there is fear and anxiety in the workplace, enhanced by religious extremism and exploitation of ethnicity and sectarianism, you wind up with really bad outcomes. And the last century in Europe is the greatest testimony to that reality. And we got to be really careful here.
QUESTION: We have been here before.
SECRETARY KERRY: We have been here before, and with disastrous consequences. And so I find that in the Arab world and elsewhere in the world, in the Muslim world, the world of Islam, people are sensitive about this. People – most of these countries are really tuned in to not wanting to see it exploited and not wanting to have a confrontation. But there are dangerous forces out there and people who are falling into it who are exploiting that lowest common denominator and pushing a sectarian divide that could be very dangerous for everybody. And I think I would warn against that. I think it’s – we’ve got to be really careful.
The final thing I’d say is this: I know some people are looking at the world and saying, “Oh my God, the world order is coming apart,” and this and that. No, it isn’t, folks. And it won’t. I’m – I’ve been around long enough to remember walking the streets of New York in 1964 when Lyndon Johnson won a landslide race against Barry Goldwater, and everybody said, “The Republican Party is dead.” Four years later, Richard Nixon was president of the United States. And then we had Watergate and we lost Nixon, and then we’ve had – and I went through the assassinations of President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, all of this. This touched our generation. And so I’ve seen it bad.
The world we’re living in today is filled with possibility and opportunity and, yeah, there are some bad things happening like ISIL – that’s another thing, by the way. A lot of people said, “Oh, you’re going to go invade and go after ISIL.” Well, we did. We rebuilt the Iraqi army and we put together a 68-nation coalition. And now we have liberated Tikrit, liberated Ramadi, and liberated Fallujah, and we’re about to liberate Mosul, and we’re going to liberate Raqqa, and we are going to defeat Daesh. And we’re going to do it without losing our way of life and without losing our values and so forth. That’s not unimportant, Tom. And I would say to people, “Don’t just rush headlong to that sort of first easy political misstep.”
I think that the world we’re in right now is much more understandable than people are making it. All the anxieties of the workplace are absolutely legitimate and a lot of us have been talking about it for a fair amount of time. When I was on the super committee in the Senate, I tried to get people to do a global deal so that we dealt with entitlements and we dealt with the health care all at the same time and had tax reform —
QUESTION: In the work force, yeah.
SECRETARY KERRY: — tax reform simultaneously so we could repatriate $2 trillion and have an intelligent, simplified system that was fair, that allowed working folks who are not seeing the benefits of globalization earn more as they work harder and go up. That didn’t happen; it went the other way.
And there’s – and so I would warn strongly – now, obviously, the new president has tapped into the anger, but has he seen the way in which this can be solved that doesn’t undo your economic opportunities and that doesn’t create more barriers and more turmoil? I’m not sure. We don’t know the answer to that yet.
But I would say to everybody that there’s enormous opportunity right now. We have some very clear challenges, the foremost of which to me, beyond the sort of immediate threat of a Kim Jong-un or finishing Daesh and dealing with violent extremism, is to get underneath that violent extremism and deal with the – I talked about this in Davos last year – the failed and failing states of the world, bad governance, corruption, the degree to which we are seeing – the degree to which you see young people in country after country being deprived of a legitimate sense of possibility in a world in which they’re all in touch with everything else in the world, and everyone else, because they all have smart phones, they have all access, and they not only see what everybody else has – they see what they don’t have. And that’s – that to me is the great challenge.
We have a billion and a half kids 15 years or younger and fully – 350-, 400 million of them will not go to school. That’s our challenge. And I think that the global community has to come together and put together a modern-day Marshall Plan with all the lessons we’ve learned from the Millennium Challenge Corporation and from the virtues of good impact investing in the world, and there’s some good impact investing taking place. And while it’s not a 7X or a 5X return, which a lot of people like to try to find, it’s a 1-point-something X and there is a return. But there’s a bigger return in what it does to help build capacity and change communities and deal with this problem that’s coming at us of a world that feels disenfranchised.
Now, I think that if you really look at the world, technology has made, in the end, a more positive change all over the world. I mean, today a woman is less likely to die – 50 percent less likely to die in childbirth than they were 10 or 15 years ago. We’re below extreme poverty – 10 percent level for the first time in human history.
I mentioned the AIDS virtues. We’re curing diseases we never thought we’d cure, we’ve raised productivity, we’ve freed people up to go do other kinds of things. I mean, there are enormous virtues to what’s happening; we just have to make sure that it’s – that it’s flowing up and down the food chain in a more – in a fairer way.
QUESTION: Get the best opportunity and —
SECRETARY KERRY: But I think the new administration, frankly, is coming to power with the wind at their back, because of the strength of our economy and because of the role that we’ve played being engaged with countries in sound diplomacy over the course of the last eight years, and four for me. And I think that – I think there are great opportunities ahead of us if we will calm down, focus on what we know how to do, unite developed and near-developed countries in contributing to this pot, and build – do the infrastructure and other things.
One billion dollars of infrastructure invested in the United States of America creates 25 – 27,000 to 35,000 jobs. And an American who doesn’t understand that we don’t need to rebuild our rail – new light rail, new people moving, build roads, our bridges, our airports – I mean, we have massive infrastructure needs. We could do that actually leveraging private sector dollars with a minor amount of federal input, and some kind of discount rate at the federal window, and you’d have a spread sufficient to be able to attract a hell of a lot of capital to the job of rebuilding a nation. We could do that all over the world. When there are as many people who are poor as there are today – there are schools to be built, health care to be delivered, clinics to be built, teachers to be educated, children – I mean, there’s a massive amount of work to do.
So I’m an optimist. I believe that we will come out of this sort of hand-wringing and self-inflicted despair, and kick ourselves into gear and get things done.
QUESTION: Well, Mr. Secretary, if I could just close by saying – I’m not good at much, but I’m good at naming books, and I’ve got the title of your memoir, okay? And it comes from my friend Amory Lovins, the physicist who once – whenever he’s asked, “Are you an optimist or a pessimist,” he says, “I’m neither,” because they’re just two different forms of fatalism – everything will be great, everything will be awful. Amory says, “I believe in applied hope.” And I think you believed in applied hope, and I think you applied a lot of hope to your mission. And as one little American, I thank you for it.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, sir. Thank you.