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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Secretary of State John Kerry won’t trumpet it, but the Iran and Cuba triumphs mark the most monumental moment in American foreign policy for a generation. President Obama will be remembered for the breakthrough, but the craftsman whose name is on the woodwork is John Kerry.

Kerry has shown the fine stuff he’s made of this summer — reaching a deal on Iran’s nuclear program and normalizing relations with Cuba. Opening the Cuban embassy in Washington was a grand affair, long overdue. Palpably, the last brick of the Cold War wall fell over the heads of the Cuban-American vocal contingent in Congress.

Move over, Henry Kissinger, you are no longer at the head of the table, no matter how many more memoirs you churn out. Opening the road to China was worth writing home about — but over and over? Kerry achieved a way to find a peaceful footing with a true enemy, Iran. After all, as they say, you don’t make peace with your friends. Vibrant Cuba was left in the cold too long. Now I predict it will become one of our favorite neighbors.

But it’s bittersweet at best, to consider how such a capable eminence, Kerry, could have been president. The successful negotiations put his worldly talents into sharp relief. For gosh’s sake, he even speaks French as he has demonstrated a deft tenacity on the job. His father was in the Foreign Service.

You remember, back in 2004, Kerry was a presidential nominee before the American people snapped into seeing the ineptitude of President George W. Bush. Senator Kerry ran a good race, but the better man lost. A tragic war carried on, one which Kerry surely would have ended, knowing a lost cause when he saw one.

Americans like to look forward, not back, but the past is not that far away. It’s closer than it appears in the mirror.

In fact, this may be the perfect last chance to see how the lost war in Vietnam still counts at the highest level in our land. Kerry was a Vietnam War hero, and yes, so was Senator John McCain. Nobody planned the irony to play out this way, but President Obama wished to appoint national security advisor Susan Rice as secretary of state in 2013 to succeed Hillary Clinton. McCain balked at that — and forced the president into a far better choice.

It’s haunting to trace Kerry’s steps to his high office to the man whom he owes for the plum. McCain is his friend and (sometimes) partisan foe. However fiercely they may argue over this and that, they have a bond that can’t be broken. Kerry and McCain are both war heroes, yes, Vietnam War heroes. Both came under fire here at home for their war service, but they were naval officers who deserved better. Kerry’s valor was criticized by the “Swift Boat” crowd in 2004 and McCain was recently scoffed at for being a prisoner of war by venal Donald Trump, who is running for president with no political or military experience.

The lost war also shadowed Kerry’s homecoming. Showing political courage as a young man, he led a group of veterans who opposed the Vietnam War. He testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he would later head. And he asked a question that has never been answered, later asked in a Bruce Springsteen song: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

Reassuring Israel that the United States will always keep its security interests first and foremost is still part of Kerry’s work ahead. If the deal with Iran and other world powers is rejected, he said, “We’re not in the hunt.” Kerry’s vigorous defense of the deal on the Hill does much of the president’s advance work. You have to admire a man who overcame his generation’s misbegotten war, and did so much for his country — falling just short of his presidential hopes.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit Creators.com

Photo: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry checks his opening remarks before appearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington July 23, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron