The Obama Administration’s ‘Assertive Diplomacy’

by Jan 29, 2017Foreign Policy4 comments

US Secretary of State John Kerry addresses media in Geneva, Switzerland at the conclusion of the P5+1 Talks on Iran's Nuclear Program (Eric Bridiers/US Mission Geneva/Flickr)

John Kerry hails the Obama administration's "assertive diplomacy" as though the US's policies under his two terms wasn't the opposite of diplomacy.

John Kerry earlier this month penned an op-ed for the New York Times touting “America’s leadership” as “essential and effective” thanks largely to the Obama administration’s “assertive diplomacy”.

“This is evident, first of all, in our campaign to defeat the Islamic State”, Kerry asserted.

Yes, let’s look at that, shall we?


Kerry touts how the US has assisted the Iraqi government to battle the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS, ISIL, Daesh). Disconnected from that, much further down the page, he mentions Syria, writing how the Obama administration stuck with a policy of “using diplomacy to align key countries behind establishing a nationwide cease-fire, providing humanitarian access, marginalizing terrorists and promoting Syrian-led talks on creating a constitution and democratic government.”

Naturally, what Kerry doesn’t enlighten the public about is how, in fact, the Obama administration, far from using diplomacy in Syria, implemented a policy of regime change that included funneling arms to rebel groups whose ranks included Islamic extremists. As the New York Times itself reported in the fall of 2012, before the inconvenient fact was tossed down the memory hole, most of these arms wound up in the hands of the extremists.

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in fact had warned in a memo that this policy would empower the extremists and result in the rise of a “Salfist principality” (i.e., an “Islamic State”). The White House disregarded this warning because it wanted to leverage that extremist opposition to the regime of Bashar al-Assad to topple his government.

Of course, ISIS had its origins well prior to Barack Obama taking office. Its roots lie in the Bush administration’s illegal invasion of Iraq (“the supreme international crime”, as defined at Nuremberg). The core organization of what eventually became known as the “Islamic State” began as Al Qaeda in Iraq. But the Obama administration added fuel to that fire with its policy of regime change in Syria.

Of course, willfully fueling the rise of ISIS and otherwise acting to escalate and prolong the violence in Syria contributed greatly to the refugee problem. Many people in the streets now rightly protesting Trump’s bigoted ban on Muslims from certain countries and Syrian refugees were silent when Obama’s policies were making them refugees in the first place, and many voted for the war criminal Hillary Clinton who bears considerable responsibility for not just hating Muslims, but mass murdering them, and literally destroying entire countries.

The hypocrisy is palpable.


With respect to the Obama administration’s “assertive diplomacy” toward Iran, Kerry writes, “While making clear we would do whatever it took to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, we started with diplomacy, building the strongest international sanctions regime the world has ever seen, and testing whether Iran would negotiate a deal that could ensure its nuclear program was exclusively peaceful.”

So “assertive diplomacy” in Kerry’s parlance is defined as collectively punishing an entire civilian population for the crime of having a government that disobeys orders from Washington.

Incidentally, Iran’s nuclear program was already under an international safeguards regime, international inspectors were already active in monitoring the program, and there was no evidence that Iran had a nuclear weapons program. But what difference do such facts make when a nation refuses to obey orders from the self-proclaimed capital of the world?


What Kerry wrote: “When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, the United States could have responded as we had six years earlier, when Russian intervention in Georgia was largely met with rhetoric alone. But having repaired diplomatic ties badly damaged by the Iraq war, the Obama administration was able to defy skeptics by working with our European Union partners to impose sanctions that have isolated Russia and badly damaged its economy. We also bolstered NATO with a major expansion of our security assistance to allies in the Baltics and Central Europe.”

Whew. So much to unpack. First of all, what “invasion” of Ukraine? Russian forces were already based in Crimea by agreement with the Ukrainian government, and the Crimean people with its large ethnically Russian population voted in a referendum to accede to Russia. This idea that an army of Russian military forces rolled across the border to forcefully conquer territory is simply a fabrication.

Along similar lines, what actually happened in 2008 was not that Russia launched a war of aggression against Georgia, but rather intervened militarily when Georgia aggressed against South Ossetia, killing Russian peacekeepers in the process. Russia intervened to stop this aggression against the people of that territory.

More directly to our point here, note again how Kerry is defining “assertive diplomacy”: a policy of collectively punishing the entire civilian population for the crime of having a government that refuses to be subservient to Washington.

In this case “assertive diplomacy” also means continually threatening Russia militarily by means of NATO (the US promise not to expand NATO having been broken under the Clinton administration and further dishonored by the the government ever since).


In this case, there has actually been positive development toward normalization of relations under the Obama administration. But this hasn’t been achieved by using Kerry’s “assertive diplomacy”, but by taking steps to end the use of “assertive diplomacy”.

Enough said.

Israel & Palestine

Kerry writes: “Obviously, we haven’t solved every problem, particularly in the chronically combustible Middle East. But the United States was absolutely justified in stressing the need for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.”

This is a huge one to unpack. I’ve written an entire book systematically dismantling this doublespeak. Long story short, what “assertive diplomacy” means with respect to the Israel-Palestine conflict is that the US willfully support Israel’s crimes against and oppression of the Palestinian people to coerce them into accepting Israel’s demands.

The US envisions “two-state solution”, but this vision is directly contrary to the two-state solution grounded in international law and in favor of which there is otherwise an international consensus. The entire so-called “peace process” is the means by which Israel and its superpower benefactor have long blocked implementation of the two-state solution, it being premised on a rejection of the applicability of international law to a negotiated solution, as well as a rejection of the equal rights of the Palestinians.


The word “diplomacy” is defined by Merriam-Webster’s as:

  1. : the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations
  2. : skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility

Diplomacy means talking about differences and reasoning with others to work out differences and come to a mutual understanding.

Let’s be clear: What the Obama administration has spent eight years doing is not diplomacy. John Kerry’s “assertive diplomacy” is the opposite of diplomacy, entailing the use or threat of force to coerce the other side to bow to Washington’s will, as opposed to talking to them to try to understand each other’s perspective, allay each other’s concerns, and working together to overcome obstacles to peaceful and mutually beneficial relations.

Learn more about my book “Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”!

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About Jeremy R. Hammond

About Jeremy R. Hammond

I am an independent journalist, political analyst, publisher and editor of Foreign Policy Journal, book author, and writing coach.

My writings empower readers with the knowledge they need to see through state propaganda intended to manufacture their consent for criminal government policies.

By recognizing when we are being lied to and why, we can fight effectively for liberty, peace, and justice, in order to create a better world for ourselves, our children, and future generations of humanity.

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  1. Ali

    Hey Jeremy, I think you have a typo in your subtitle. Should that be “though” instead of thought”?

  2. William Brutton

    Just excellent Jeremy, very clear and concise view of John Kerry’s ill performance as Secretary of State. The hypocrisy and doble stardards he showed was astonishing. In the past 4 years My guts revolved every time I saw him speak, just as when I watched the two witches: Samantha Power and Victoria Nuland.

  3. Sasb1053

    Great article Jeremy.
    1. Cuba should have been done alot earlier.
    2. Israel/ Palestine too should have been done earlier by actually voting for a Palestinian State. This would have caused Netanyahu to foam at the mouth and actually show that he is dangerous and rabid. It reminds me of the Egyptian/ Israeli agreement that forced Sadat and Begin to shake hands and make peace. And that peace has lasted for almost 40 years. Carter told both that they were not leaving Camp David until an agreement was struck. But, Begin felt defeated and began to spit venom. So he helped sabotage a second term for President Carter. He did this not only because he was forced to make peace with the Egyptians, but the next term was time for a forced Palestinian State right down his Zionist throat. That would have been the end of his tenure as Prime Minister.
    Regarding the Obama Administration, hardly enough was done enough to keep the two state solution alive. Zionist thugs were calling him a Muslim and anti Semitic and a Jew hater. Yet, that Administration was the largest doner to the welfare State of Israel in history. If President Obama hated Israel, he would have voted for a Palestinian State 4 years ago. But, that vote wouldn’t be out of hate. It would be a vote of fairness from actual facts. In reality, every President has been threatened by the Israeli Lobby and most caved.


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