Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), if he had some capacity for self-reflection, would be humiliated. The foreign policy gambit with which he has been most identified — the courting of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad — is now over, universally regarded as a dismal and embarrassing failure. You see, even Kerry has discovered Assad is “no reformer.” Hundreds of dead Syrians and thousands more imprisoned have convinced him that the time for reform “was lost.” But that assumes there was a time when such a hope was realistic; you can’t “lose” what was never there. Kerry says, again unwilling to admit error, “He’s not a reformer now.” Or ever, Mr. Kerry.
But Kerry is in no mood for confessions. He tells Josh Rogin, “I said there was a chance he could be a reformer if certain things were done. I wasn’t wrong about if those things were done. They weren’t done. I didn’t hold out hope. I said there were a series of things that if he engaged in them, there was a chance he would be able to produce a different paradigm. But he didn’t.” Oh were that only true, Kerry might preserve his dignity. Unfortunately, for one of the most arrogant men in the Senate (the competition is stiff) the record says otherwise.
Rogin, who can barely disguise his amazement, reports:
Kerry, who has served as Congress’s point man on engaging the Syrian regime, told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as recently as March 16 — shortly after the current uprising had begun — that he still expected Assad to embrace political reform and move toward more engagement with America and its allies.
“[M]y judgment is that Syria will move; Syria will change, as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States and the West and economic opportunity that comes with it and the participation that comes with it,” said Kerry, who has met with Assad six times over the past two years.
Oh, and there is more where that comes from. In January 2010, the Associated Press reported Kerry words of wisdom:“Syria is an essential player in bringing peace and stability to the region.” Not so much, really.
In 2009, Kerry was singing the same tune:
“Syria could be, in fact, very helpful in helping to bring about a unity government,” Senator John Kerry told reporters after meeting President Bashar al-Assad.
“If you achieve that, then you have made a major step forward not only in dealing with the problems of Gaza but you have made a major step forward in terms of how you reignite discussions for the two-state solution . . . I think that Syria indicated to me a willingness to be helpful in that respect.” “I believe very deeply that this is an important moment of change, a moment of potential transformation, not just in the relationship between the United States and Syria but in the relationship of the region,” Kerry said. “While we will disagree on some issues for sure, what I heard and what I will take back with me and hopefully what we could put in place to take advantage of it, is the possibility of real cooperation on a number of different issues beginning immediately, beginning soon.”
And if all that were not enough (there are dozens of other examples — a Google search on “Kerry suck up Assad” gets 257,000 results), we should recall that Kerry and his wife were pals of the Assads. Lee Smith reported last year that “it is an open secret around town that the Massachusetts senator and his wife, Teresa, are enamored of Bashar al-Assad and his stylish first lady, Asma.” No matter how stylish, the Kerrys didn’t comprehend that a Vogue wardrobe is not indicative of good character.
I suppose losing Kerry is worse for Assad than LBJ losing Walter Cronkite. But losing the fantasy of a civilized, responsible Syria is rather bad for Kerry, too. This is the man who chairs the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee? This is the man some have on the short list to replace Hillary Clinton (who was also deluded about Assad)? Maybe he needs to stay home for awhile and leave Syria policy to the grown-ups — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and the other senators who are now pushing for an approach that accounts for the true nature of the Syrian regime, something that entirely escaped Kerry’s notice.
It is true that many in multiple administrations were duped by Assad (and his father). But no figure was so convinced of Assad’s reliability and so enamored of his own negotiating skills as John Kerry. And for that he deserves the most scorn.