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John Kerry, former US Secretary of State talking about his book 'Every Day Is Extra' at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2019. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: A top former US official, who is visiting the capital, said yesterday that the war in Iraq was a big mistake.

Addressing the 29th Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF) on the opening day, former US Secretary of State John Kerry said, “The war in Iraq was a mistake. I think it’s one of the biggest mistakes the US has ever made in our foreign policy. I opposed going into Iraq except as a matter of last resort.”

He said, “It was not a war of last resort, it was a war of choice which was accelerated by the desire just to get it done, and in the process it alienated massive numbers of people.”

On Syria, Kerry said he campaigned for a more robust American approach while serving as secretary of state under the Barack Obama administration.

500,000

books on display

“I lost the fight in the administration to argue that we should have taken a strong approach. The US held back, and in the process of holding back, I think it opened a vacuum that eventually Russia filled together with the Iranians … And I think it had a profound negative impact on the perception of the US within the Gulf as a whole.”

Kerry, who took part in a one-to-one discussion with Zaki Nussaibah, Minister of State, spoke candidly about a number of topics, including his memoir ‘Everyday is Extra’.

He said his outlook was positive despite all the current challenges.

It [Iraq war] was not a war of last resort, it was a war of choice which was accelerated by the desire just to get
it done.

- John Kerry, Former US secretary of state

“There are times when it looks dark and horrible, but I’m an optimist about where we’re going because most of the problems we face are human-induced. We can change it, we just need the kind of leadership we had that won the Second World War, when people got together and said we’re going to win, and we’re going to do everything we have to do to win,” he added.

On his own public service, Kerry said it was down to his own personal experiences of serving in the Vietnam War as a soldier.

“What I drew from that experience is a sense of responsibility that if you’re in a position of service and it happens to involve war and you’re lucky enough to live, you also bear a responsibility to the people who didn’t get back to try to make certain their lives were not lost in vain, and that means committing yourself to a public purpose.”

UAE’s majlis system praised

The former secretary of state praised the UAE leadership, and said it was important for US governments to respect other systems of governance different to their own.

“Your government in many ways is more in touch with people sometimes than my government is, because of your majlis [system]. You have a leadership that works very hard to reach out and listen to people.

1,000

exhibitors from 50 countries

“Governments take all shapes and sizes … We have to gain greater respect for governments that are responsible and responsive around the world as long as they’re moving forward in a way that is advancing people.”

Book fair

The book fair, meanwhile has 500,000 book titles on display.

Organised by the Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi, it features more than 1,000 exhibitors from 50 different countries. Running until April 30 at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, the fair also includes several daily events for visitors such as seminars, workshops, author signings and entertainment activities.

With India as the event’s guest of honour, at least 30 Indian publishing companies are taking part. A host of Indian cultural activities will be held with the Indian pavilion bringing a delegation of over 100 members, including writers, performers and cultural figures.

“I am delighted that we are the guest of honour at the ADBIF, it is a very prestigious event and we have put in a lot of effort. We have a huge and nicely done up Indian pavilion (featuring) writers and publishers from India with a number of different languages,” said Navdeep Suri, India’s ambassador to the UAE.

“Over the next week, visitors can see much more than books, it’s a great opportunity to meet the writers, to listen to some Indian music, learn about Indian culture and engage with the performers who are here,” he added.

Details:

When: April 24-30
Where: Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
Timings: 9am-10pm, 4pm-10pm on Friday
Admission: Free to the public