Why Is Kerry Spilling Our Allies' Secrets? He Should Apologize

This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations site.

It seems that John Kerry is a problem even out of office. Whether his record as secretary of state was one of glorious achievement or abject failure is of course a matter of debate. I lean to the latter view.

But what he has done this week is less debatable. He has leaked other countries' secrets, for no reason other than self-aggrandizement.

Here is a part of the Washington Post story:

Former Secretary of State John Kerry says both Israel and Egypt pushed the United States to "bomb Iran" before the 2015 nuclear deal was struck.

Kerry is defending the deal during a forum in Washington. He says kings and foreign presidents told the U.S. that bombing was the only language Iran would understand. But Kerry says that was "a trap" in many ways because the same countries would have publicly criticized the U.S. if it bombed.

Kerry says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was "genuinely agitating toward action."

He could have said "some countries" or "some leaders" but chose to state what was said to him in secret, privileged, private diplomatic conversations by named governments. And to do so about leaders who are still in office, such as Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former US Secretary of State John Kerry at the annual ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem memorial on April 8, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. Gali Tibbon-Pool/Getty

And he chose to do so in an offhand manner at a conference where his goal was merely to defend his own record in negotiating the JCPOA [the Iran nuclear deal].

This is irresponsible behavior. It is the kind of conduct that tells foreign leaders they cannot trust our own leaders to protect private conversations, and suggests to them that candor is dangerous.

When a secretary of state, who often boasted of his years as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, behaves this way he deserves the kind of criticism that...Kerry is very unlikely to get.

Why not? Because people expect this kind of misconduct from him? Because he is out of office so he is free to spill secrets? Because "everyone knows" what Israel and Egypt were urging? These are all poor arguments.

Kerry should acknowledge that he spoke too freely and state that he regrets his action. He owes both those governments an apology. And he should pledge to be far more careful in the future about revealing the content of conversations that should not be disclosed for decades--including, that is, not in Mr. Kerry's memoirs.

Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington, DC. He served as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor in the administration of President George W. Bush, where he supervised U.S. policy in the Middle East for the White House.

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