Former US secretary of state John Kerry believes that the US should have played a more significant role in Syria at the outbreak of the conflict. Popular uprisings against Syrian president Bashar Al Assad in 2011 sparked the years-long war, which has claimed up to half a million lives and displaced millions more.
Speaking on the opening day of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, Mr Kerry said: "When I became secretary of state [in 2013], [Syrian president] Bashar Al Assad was particularly weak, members of his government were defecting, the opposition was quite strong.
“If the United States had taken a stronger position, we might have been able to get to Geneva and have the leverage to negotiate a transition that could have been more peaceful and ultimately reflected a better future for Syria.
“I lost the fight in the administration to argue that we should have taken a stronger position, so the United States held back and in the process of holding back more, it opened the vacuum that eventually Russia filled, together with the Iranians […] It was a critical moment in terms of foreign policy.
“The current situation in Syria is a scar on the entire international community […] I do not see Russian or Iran or any other country currently putting the money into the rebuilding of Syria that would be necessary, so Syria is almost a failed orphan state.”
Mr Kerry was at the book fair to promote his recently published memoir, Every Day is Extra.
He also launched a scathing attack on the “disruptors”, such as Steve Bannon and Russian president Vladimir Putin, who are, he says, “purposefully trying to pull things apart”.
Kerry argued that the global structures put in place after the Second World War, which “have made life better for the last 75 years”, were now under serious threat.
“You have disruptors, purposefully trying to pull things apart,” said Kerry. “Steve Bannon is working in Brussels, Rome and Spain, trying to encourage the people who want to pull things apart – anarchists, people who don’t believe in the structure.”
Mr Kerry, who ran for president against George W Bush in 2004 before serving in Barack Obama's administration, criticised Mr Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping for suggesting that the “United States of America is in decline”.
“President Putin and President Xi are actively going around the world talking about how the liberal order of the West is in decline and the United States of America is in decline,” said Mr Kerry. “Read the speeches […] It’s critical for us to be smarter, to push back against disruption.”
Mr Kerry was reluctant to speak about Donald Trump, but did voice his concerns about the readiness of the current administration to feed lies to the public.
“Now we see lies every day,” he said. “The American media has been dominated by this administration’s willingness to lie on any given day, thousands of lies and they’re all documented [...] It’s a very difficult time with the social media, with the Internet, with the ability of a lie to move around the world just like that. [You] push a button, the lie goes out, [and] it can go all around the world. It is much harder in today’s world for leaders to be able to persuade their people of basic facts.”
Mr Kerry also praised Abu Dhabi, describing it as “a miracle”.
“This is a long way from a tent in the 1970s, which I gather was the first book fair,” he said. “And it’s only gone [upwards] since, which is a reflection of the UAE and reflection of Abu Dhabi and your leadership.”