Does John Kerry understand the world he inherited? Is he in denial?
Consider. At Davos, Switzerland, Kerry called it a “myth” that America is withdrawing, and “the most bewildering version of this disengagement myth is about a supposed U.S. retreat from the Middle East.”
Is he serious? How else does Kerry describe Obama’s pullout of all U.S. troops from Iraq and from Afghanistan by year’s end?
Syria is “someone else’s civil war,” says President Obama. If we do any strikes there, promised Kerry, they will be “unbelievably small,” and rest assured there will be “no [U.S.] boots on the ground.”
When al-Qaida and its allies seized Ramadi and Fallujah in Anbar province, Kerry rushed to the microphones: “We’re not … contemplating returning. We’re not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight. … this is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis.”
Yes, it is. But does this sound like the defiant “This will not stand!” of George H. W. Bush, after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait?
Moreover, a Pew poll last fall found that 52 percent of the nation approves of U.S. disengagement, saying America should “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.”
Staying out of other countries’ quarrels and other nations’ wars is what Americans want, and Obama is delivering.
Why does John Kerry deny the obvious?
To his credit, the secretary has undertaken three diplomatic initiatives, the success of any one of which could earn him a Nobel.
The Geneva II Conference on Syria, the U.S.-U.N. negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and the Palestinian-Israeli peace initiative.
Yet Kerry’s own undiplomatic conduct may be imperiling two of his initiatives, and naiveté and hubris may be blinding him to the coming collapse of the third.
On arrival at Geneva II, Kerry demanded that Iran be disinvited, then launched into a tirade insisting that Assad get out of Damascus:
“There is no way … that the man who led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern.”
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem was right back in his face: “No one, Mr. Kerry, has the right to provide legitimacy … except for the Syrian people.”
Dismissing Kerry’s call for a transitional government without Assad, Moallem implied that not only was Kerry’s position irrelevant – Assad currently holds the whip hand in Syria and is going nowhere – but irrational from the standpoint of U.S. national interests.
“Those doing suicide attacks in New York,” Moallem instructed Kerry, “are the same as those doing it in Syria.”
The Washington Post backed Moallem with a report that Ayman al-Zawahiri has called on all jihadists in Syria to line up in “one row-like, solid structure in confronting your sectarian, secularist enemy,” the Assad regime, that is backed by “Iran, Russia and China.”
“What makes our hearts bleed,” said Zawahiri, “is the hostile sedition, which has intensified among the ranks of the mujahideen of Islam.”
Can Kerry explain why America’s goal remains the ouster of Assad, when the offensive coordinator for the rebels who would take power is the successor to Osama bin Laden?
Asked what would happen should Iran backslide on the new interim nuclear agreement, Kerry rattled America’s rockets:
“If they do that, then the military option that is available to the United States is ready and prepared to do what it would have to do.”
Who is Kerry to threaten a war Congress has never authorized?
How does it advance diplomacy to threaten publicly to bomb your negotiating partners? Kerry talks as though he were back in the Senate.
The head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard dismissed Kerry’s threat as “ridiculous,” called his negotiating strategy “bankrupt” and warned that “the revolutionary people” of Iran are anxious for battle with the Americans.
If Kerry’s wants a deal, how does this bellicose bluster help?
Kerry now says that Iran will have to “dismantle” centrifuges. But is not America’s objective here proof positive Iran has no nuclear weapon or weapons program, and that its nuclear program is peaceful?
When did the destruction of Iranian centrifuges become the U.S. demand? Tehran has now planted its feet in concrete that there will be no dismantling of centrifuges, and “Bibi” Netanyahu is crowing that this means the failure of the talks.
As for an Israeli-Palestinian deal in which Kerry has invested 10 trips, Israeli Economics Minister Naftali Bennett calls it “a joke.”
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon says that Kerry “is acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor,” that his peace plan “is not worth the paper it is written on,” that he wishes Kerry would get his Nobel prize now, and leave Israel alone.
As for Bibi, who resigned from Ariel Sharon’s cabinet rather than accept a withdrawal from Gaza, he now says that not one settler on the West Bank will be uprooted, and not one settlement shut down.
Kerry is heading into a minefield. And so are we.