Despite being on the verge of losing his voice, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday made a full-throated denunciation of Donald Trump's approach to policy-making without once mentioning the president-elect's name.
“Diplomacy and public life is about not having a tin ear,” Kerry said during an hour-long speech to the Women's Foreign Policy Group at a Washington hotel.
International challenges have to be confronted with honesty, determination and confidence, he said, and "not with slogans and with little pithy tweets" pretending to deal with the complexity of this age.
Otherwise, Kerry warned, "we will fail to be able to lead because we will not be taken seriously."
The secretary of state's comments came perhaps a day or two before President-elect Trump announces his nominee to succeed Kerry at the State Department. Among those most frequently cited in contention: the 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and retired four-star general David Petraeus, who was briefly director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Trump's supporters see the Republican candidate's victory in this year's presidential election as a repudiation of the Obama administration's foreign policy under Kerry and his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, whom Trump defeated on November 8.
VOA sent an e-mail to the Trump transition team's media office requesting a response to Kerry's comments, but there was no immediate response.
Americans are “filled with fear”
The administration faced severe criticism from conservatives during the past eight years, especially for its diplomacy dealing with Iran, Libya, the Middle East, North Korea and other hot spots.
Kerry, suffering from a cold that had turned his voice hoarse, acknowledged the deep divide in American society that clearly emerged during the 2016 election.
“There's great uncertainty in the body politic of our nation…A lot of people on both sides of the aisle see their lives in America today as filled with fear,” he said.
Kerry, who holds the record for the most countries visited in the job, added he has also seen this fear “all over the world.” He called isolationism a natural instinct throughout American history, but contended it is “folly to think we can build a brighter future by hiding from the real world or severing our connections to it.”
Isolationism is not the answer
The former U.S. senator from Massachusetts, who lost the 2004 presidential election to George W. Bush, led Obama's fight for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious 12-nation trade pact that Trump last week said the United States would quit on his first day in the White House.
Kerry on Tuesday continued to argue against “fending off a dragon called trade,” warning economic isolationism is the wrong path because no leader in any political system in the 21st century “can shut off globalization.”
“You tell me how the economy of the United States is going to grow if 95 percent of the world's customers live in another country?”
On the campaign trail, Trump as the Republican nominee broke with his party's orthodoxy on international trade deals, vigorously promising blue-collar voters that he would bring their jobs back from China, Mexico and other countries to reinvigorate American manufacturing.
Frustrated with Trump
Bracing for what he sees as the looming policy fights in the next administration, Kerry issued a mixed forecast to the women's leadership group.
“We cannot survive if we are a fact-free nation,” echoing the widespread frustration with frequent Trump pronouncements he does not back up with credible data.
But Kerry said he is confident that the United States with its checks and balances, a free and independent press and a vigorous and visionary civil society “is going to find a positive way forward” although there may be lurches on “the roller coaster ride” ahead.
And Kerry said he will be along for that ride.
“I am not going to go quietly into the night” during what is going to be “one hell of a debate over the next few years.”
That line was one of the few that generated applause among the predominately female audience.