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John Kerry Says the World Is Worried About America

Category: Diplomatic Relations,Politics

A memoir like your new book, “Every Day Is Extra,” often means people are shaping their legacy. Is that something you’re thinking about now? No, I don’t look at the book as a political book. I really view it as a personal exploration of my life. The things I write about are the things most people have heard about. It’s an opportunity for me to set the record straight in a number of cases.

You spent a lot of time with Senator John McCain and worked with him on normalizing relations with Vietnam in the 1990s. What will you miss about him? Just a camaraderie, a respect, a mutual willingness to tackle tough things and speak forcefully about controversial issues. And John was fun. He was quixotic at times and volatile, and that could occasionally be a challenge, but — and the “but” is capitalized — I think we shared a sense of obligation and a sense of commitment to duty and to live up to a certain ideal.

You write that you considered having McCain as a running mate during your 2004 presidential run. Did you really talk about that with him? We really talked about it. We met in my hideaway in the Senate. We both knew there were some big hurdles getting your own party to accept the idea of dealing with certain issues. In the end, John felt very strongly that he wasn’t prepared to make the leap. We flirted, but we never had a date.

The number of senators who have military experience is now way down to about 20 percent, compared with more than 70 percent in the early ’70s. What kind of ramifications do you think that has for policy? It’s a serious deficit. I’m not saying you have to have a specific percentage or something. But understanding how the military works, understanding the hierarchy, the sense of duty and honor and the weight of sending people into combat from the perspective of the warrior is a very important ingredient. It’s helpful in terms of other people’s perception of the decisions that you make or how you might be approaching them so that you can make sure it’s depoliticized.

When you met with Iran’s foreign minister earlier this year to try to salvage the nuclear deal, President Trump called that shadow diplomacy. I wasn’t negotiating. I was actually talking about what was then current American policy, because we hadn’t pulled out of it at that point. I don’t waste my time paying much attention to tweet world these days because it’s not about real things. The notion that an American citizen, particularly an ex-secretary of state, can’t have a conversation with a foreign minister is ludicrous.

When you look at the Paris climate agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, what do you find most frustrating about this administration’s actions against the work you did? Let’s all say we agree that there’s a problem or two with the T.P.P. and we’d like to fix it, make it stronger on some labor component or make it stronger on environmental issues. If you’re the world’s best negotiator and you have this opportunity to maintain leadership for the United States in a trade relationship across the Pacific, from Latin America and the United States and Canada all the way to Asia, wouldn’t it be better to fix it? Instead, our president just pulled out and left the other 11 countries to go make their own agreement. Well, guess what? They wrote out the things that were beneficial to our workers. It’s truly absurd.

Because you’re still in touch with so many diplomatic players around the world, what are they saying to you about American foreign policy under Trump? They’re completely confused and extremely worried. I don’t want to betray any confidences, but the words they use to describe the president are not particularly flattering. They understand that we have a president who is not steeped in history, not knowledgeable about what he’s doing and talking about. Most of them hold their breath and try to get through meetings.

Interview has been condensed and edited.

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A version of this article appears in print on , on Page 54 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: John Kerry Says the World Is Worried About America. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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